/ Travel & Leisure

Ever had a dream holiday turn into a holiday nightmare?

Sad traveller

If you’re jetting off this half term, we hope you have a stress-free trip. But we know that’s not always guaranteed, so here’s your chance to vent about holiday nightmares. You might just help launch a new campaign…

It doesn’t take much to put a dampener on your holiday. When my sister and I went away last year, we found the news that the swimming pool was closed devastating.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can now concede that a closed swimming pool is not, as it felt at the time, the end of the world.

Holiday nightmares

More severe holiday horror stories, however, aren’t hard to come by. One friend told me how he spent all night camped out at the airport only to find out his flight was cancelled. Another arrived at her destination only to discover the 5* luxury hotel she was sold looked more like her old school – the food tasted no better.

Previous posts here on Which? Convo have revealed stories of weary travellers being picked up from the airport by the tour operator only to be told that their hotels are fully booked and that they’ll have to stay in a different hotel. One traveller, B, was even moved to another city:

‘I once booked a 4* hotel in Paphos, Cyprus with Thomas Cook. This was a deal for ANY 4* hotel.

‘On arrival in Paphos we were escorted to coaches and divided between two coaches. We were then informed we were not staying in Paphos but we were going to a hotel in Limassol… some 50kms away. One lady sat down on the tarmac and wept.’

Help us with your stories

Holidays are precious, so we want to give you the chance to vent about when things go wrong. Your views could even help us kick start a new Which? campaign…

Have you ever arrived at a hotel to find that it wasn’t what you expected? Have you ever been told that your booking would have to change? Have you ever had terrible customer service? Or do you have another holiday nightmare you’d like to share with us?


The days of going into a travel agent and choosing your holiday based on 1 picture in a brochure are happily long gone. In the past, I have stayed in quite a few places that were below an acceptable standard.

With the internet, it is now possible to get reviews and see many pictures of your accommodation before you book.

These days, I think there is no excuse for why a travel company cannot tell you where you are staying when you book even if it requires a phone call for a last minute booking. I think getting a deal for “any hotel” is just a way of getting customers into undesirable accommodation. That was my experience the one time I did that many years ago.


Hi Alfa,

Did you go through one of those mystery hotel sites? Where did you end up? I have always been tempted to do one. But, you seem to have confirmed my worst fears…


It was a last minute holiday booked through a High Street travel agent with one of the well-known tour operators.

The only accommodation we could get was a 3* apartment allocated on arrival. It turned out to be a very noisy, zero star, really tatty one room that they would not change as there was no other accommodation available. At the time, we couldn’t afford to pay for another place to stay so had to put up with it.

We checked the tour operator brochure when we returned and it was not listed. We had looked at their 3* when booking and they looked acceptable.

But it was pre-internet.

Rob Cheetham says:
28 May 2014

I booked 6 flights to Goa India in April 2013 for March 2014 for 3 weeks, I went into Thomas cook on the town centre where I live to make some amendment’s. Only to be told that my flight’s didn’t exist. Unbeknown’s to me my brother in-law had been in to cancel 4 flight’s for him & his family. Even though the Booking was in my name they allowed him to cancel, but not just his 4 flight’s but mine and my wife’s also. When I finally sorted it out it cost me a further £623 pound’s to get my 2 flight’s back!! So that’s when I vowed never to go with Thomas Cook again Rip-Off’s.


Why blame Thomas Cook. I trust your brother in law reimbursed your £623.


I tend to think Thomas Cook have done no wrong and could probably have done no right in the circumstances. With hindsight one could say that leaving a booking unrevisited for many months could be a little risky as anything could have happened, even unintentionally. Perhaps Mr Cheetham didn’t have his brother-in-law’s authority to book the holidays in the first place. I guess there’s more to this tale than we are told. The lesson for travel agents should surely be that they check that the person commissioning the booking has the authority of the other members of the party [especially if giving different addresses]. That might have been one of the tick boxes on the form that should have received more attention in the Thomas Cook shop; in my experience airline websites require the customer to confirm that they have the consent of any other passenger for whom they are booking or changing the seating, but this is usually a perfunctory tick-box procedure that is more for the airline’s protection than the customer’s.


Pre-booked & paid for return transfers with Holiday Taxi’s a couple of years ago. Holiday was to/from Majorca. Outbound all fine. Upon return (as many people know) clients have to re-confirm the return transfer and pick up time. The day we were due to leave was the annual ‘iron man’ sport event in north Majorca. All roads in and out of certain resorts would be closed at a certain time, for quite a few hours. We were aware of this in advance. When we confirmed the rtn transfer with the provider, they gave us a ‘late’ time that we questioned (knowing roads would be closed).
Provider was adamant the time allocated for pick up was sufficient. They collected us at that time (and other passengers for other flights) and within 15mins – we came across a road block. There was no way out!
This resulted in us missing our flight home, all due to their error in the pick up time! (Other providers allowed for the sport event/delays). We had to pay for new flights home to a different airport as there was no flight to our original departure airport. We had to pay upfront / cash for a very expensive taxi to take us home. I did manage to obtain confirmation before we flew home that a full refund would be provided for the taxi fare. That wasn’t easy! I kept all receipts. Upon return home, after much perserverance, escalation to senior management & emails (with significant determination!) I eventually obtained full refunds with some additional compensation (that I requested) due to the fact that the whole matter took up precious time which it should not have! All due to their mistake!


We have never yet had a problem with the tour operator failing to organise a timely pick-up from the hotel to get us to the departure airport in good time but it was a close-run thing at Venice one time as the roads were clogged, the airport was bursting, and the check-in staff were largely absent.

I also remember an occasion when we were idly dozing at an airport and we were suddenly summoned by loudspeaker to the gate for our flight which we thought would be at least an hour later. The flight had been listed on the departure screens but we thought it was a previous one and were waiting for our departure time to be listed. Unfortunately, Thomas Cook had not adjusted the documentation for what is a regular routine flight to allow for the clocks going forward. By running at the double we made it onto the end of the queue for the plane and we had booked seats so there were no problems, but now we always verify the departure times not only to ensure they are correct for Winter/Summer Time but also to check whether the departure times from foreign airports are expressed in local time or GMT or BST. I find BA cut it a bit fine at times on when they open the check-in/bag-drop positions; they were fairly disorganised when departing from Miami last year when some of the systems broke down, passengers were queuing in the wrong places, and the baggage conveyor decided to disengage from its traction motor. The unknowing staff turned up to do the check-ins and discovered that everything was a complete shambles; they got it sorted though and some manual labour was rapidly deployed, but not before some of the pasengers were either getting very stroppy or having palpitations about missed connections etc. That’s the good thing about holidays, there always something to talk about afterwards.


Well done Naomi for not giving up! It seems terribly unfair that you were left out of pocket for their mistake. Did you only book your transfers with them? If you booked more than your transfers with them you might be covered by The Package Travel Regulations. Have a look at our guide here: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/package-travel-regulations

John, thanks for all your comments. You clearly have had your fair share of holiday horror stories. I am the same as you: when holidays go wrong I always know that at least I will get a good story out of it. I once had to be repatriated from Vietnam. And yes, I am still talking about it.

Ian Bradford says:
30 May 2014

I rented a villa called Casa Alegria in Spain (Javea) 2 years ago through a company called White Coast Property Management which I found through HomeAway.co.uk. My elderly parents were going with me and when we arrived the house was very nice but there was the most appalling building noise from a nearby building site – pounding through rocks which went on from 8.00 to 17.00 with an hour break at lunch. It made it impossible to sit outside or even have the house windows open. I emailed the agent and suggested it was a problem and her response was “no one else has complained so I can’t help you there”. In fact I spoke to a neighbour who said that another owner was trying to sue the building company for lost rental. I find it inconcievable that no-one else had complained. On my return I discussed this further with agent and she refused to give any discount. I tried to write an honest review a number of times on HomeAway’s review system and each time the review was rejected for a different reason. It seems as if they would not accept a review that was in anyway negative. I looked this up online and there a were people saying that this was the case – they will only accept positive reviews – very useful!


Hi Ian. I am very sorry to hear of your travel trauma! This might be coming too late to be helpful, but we have a section on our free consumer rights website dedicated to giving advice about what to do when your holiday accommodation does not meet expectations.

Worth a look if you have a similar problem in the future: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/problem/i-havent-got-what-i-asked-for-with-my-holiday-accommodation

Erik99 says:
30 May 2014

Several years ago my wife and I went to Madeira. The first full day of the holiday we went on the famous “road toboggan”, a kind of wicker sofa on runners that slides down the steep hills guided by two men with ropes. A hundred metres or so from the start, one of the men tripped and the other tried to hold on, pulling the toboggan round before he too had to let go, so that we were sliding downhill backwards. We collided with a parked car, which smashed the wooden back-rest of the seat, right in the middle of my wife’s back. I had a few bruises, but nothing serious, while my wife was unconscious, her face the colour of ivory. When she came round and the ambulance had arrived, the (evidently untrained) ambulance men encouraged her to stand up and walk about, despite serious pain. X-rays later revealed that she had seven broken ribs and her pelvis was broken in three places, meaning that walking about could easily have been fatal, even with her spine undamaged. We finished our fortnight in a private hospital, she in bed and I visiting, and we returned home occupying three complete rows of seats on the plane because she was on a special stretcher, and accompanied by a nurse who had come out from Britain, then by private ambulance to our local hospital. And the moral is – make sure your insurance is in order, because even with an EHIC (which would not pay for a private hospital) the repatriation would cost thousands of pounds.