/ Travel & Leisure

Tourist trap: have you been ripped off on holiday?

Tourists are an easy target for scammers and criminals – but also for businesses trying to pull a fast one. Have you been ripped off on holiday by a cafe, taxi or other business?

Been overcharged for a coffee, meal or taxi ride while on holiday? You’re not alone. Although you might plan the perfect and most economical holiday, it doesn’t always turn out that way in practice.

Tourists are often caught out by businesses charging more than what might seem reasonable – and a cafe in Venice is just the most recent to come under fire for saddling punters with a jaw-dropping bill.

The cafe in St. Mark’s Square charged tourists €43 (£38) for two espressos and two bottles of water – that’s €10 for 25cl of water and €11.50 for a coffee.

According to the cafe, the pricey bill was due to a surcharge they levy on customers sitting outside in the square, where views of St Mark’s Basilica can be enjoyed.

Other customers of the cafe have complained about this surcharge. One reviewer wrote on TripAdvisor:

“We naively didn’t look at the menu before ordering water and coffee for a family of five. €78 (£69)!!! Including €11 (£9) per latte and €9 (£8) for a glass of milk for a three year old. Avoid at all costs.”

Rip off rates

These stories are not isolated events. Earlier this year, Venice’s authorities stepped in after four Japanese tourists were charged just shy of €1,200 for a meal consisting of four steaks and a plate of mixed seafood.

Tourists from the same group were also charged €350 for three plates of seafood pasta at another nearby restaurant.

Venetian authorities have promised to investigate and crack down on businesses trying to exploit tourists – the mayor of Venice vowing to “do all we can to punish those responsible”.

But stories like these can only make you wonder how many tourists are being ripped off without knowing it – or without sharing it on social media.

Home truths

And it’s not just tourists abroad being ripped off either. There have been many uncomfortable examples in London recently of tourists being taken for a ride, literally.

In several reported cases, rickshaw drivers in central London have been charging tourists seemingly whatever they like for rides around the city.

In one example on Oxford Street, a rickshaw cyclist demanded £600 from tourists for a 30-minute ride, aggressively claiming he charged £10 a minute (which even then should have made the fare half of what he claimed).

Another example saw a rickshaw driver demanding over £200 for a trip between Marble Arch and Oxford circus.

We’ve got plenty of advice on how to avoid holiday booking scams, but how easy is it to avoid being ripped off once you’re there?

Have you been ripped off abroad for a product or service? How do you personally guard against getting scammed on holiday?


The biggest rip-off, particularly in Spain, is dynamic currency conversion.

Last year my girlfriend paid a restaurant bill in Spain with her UK-issued Revolut card, on which she had a EUR balance. AFTER she had authorised the EUR amount to be charged to her card and handed the card terminal back to the waiter, a message appeared on the terminal asking whether she instead wished to pay in GBP (which was 3.3% more expensive than the EUR amount). As the waiter was holding the card terminal, she clearly told the waiter “no” twice and that she wished to pay in EUR, given that she knew that this dynamic currency conversion is a scam used by many merchants, particularly in Spain, which serves only to generate additional revenue for the merchant. The waiter ignored her instruction and disingenuously pressed “yes”, causing her card to be charged the higher GBP amount without her authorisation. Although the amount was relatively small, the principle of Spanish merchants scamming non-Eurozone tourists by 3.3% is not one that she wished to support. Therefore she insisted that the merchant refund the unauthorised transaction. The restaurant manager eventually refunded the GBP amount to her Revolut card (which took a couple of days to appear on her Revolut account). She paid the original EUR amount again, this time processed correctly.

We have all seen the excellent advice to “always pay in the local currency“. However, this advice becomes irrelevant when Spanish card terminals allow the merchant to change the currency and amount AFTER authorisation; the currency amount authorised by the cardholder should always be final. Be warned!

The rip-off of dynamic currency conversion was covered in an article by Simon Calder in yesterday’s Independent:


The EU is best placed to ban dynamic currency conversion. The transaction currency (usually local currency) should be agreed between merchant and consumer before the payment card is presented. If it became unlawful for merchants to change the transaction currency after the payment card is presented, then the problem would go away. This is the simplest way to ban the practice.

I found another interesting industry source article on the problem at https://www.paymentssource.com/opinion/dynamic-currency-conversion-is-harmful-to-consumers

When a UK business tries to charge you more for a service that you have already consumed and no price has been agreed beforehand, then Section 51 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that “the consumer must pay a reasonable price for the service, and no more“.

This would apply in the above example of rickshaw drivers charging £10 per minute in central London, which is clearly not a reasonable price. I have also noticed that some UK restaurants omit the price of beer from their menus, and then charge more than £10 per pint for it when the bill comes, which is not reasonable either. Section 51 allows consumers to challenge such prices.

Of course “reasonable” is open to interpretation, and if the business insists that you pay its unreasonable price, you could instead pay a reasonable price and leave your name and address. If they want to take it further, it’s up to a court to decide what is reasonable, but very few businesses would take it further, particularly if you quote Section 51.

Patrick Taylor says:
16 August 2018

Excellent details and advice yet again NFH.

It seems such a shame that useful information is so often lost buried in a Conversation rather than stored in a searchable forum.

I would hope that most people would know to obtain an actual or estimated price beforehand. If you take your car to be fixed you can ask for a fault to be investigated and be given an estimate of the cost of repair before work proceeds. I was annoyed when a repairer went ahead with a job without following my instructions but the price seemed reasonable. When I found that they had not replaced the part I had paid for, I recovered my money.

If it seems embarrassing to ask the price of a pint of beer then it’s going to be much more embarrassing to drink it and then challenge the price.

I suspect the Japaneses tourists grasp of Italian was not great. And that is why if you are not familiar with the language , and / or the local customs you can get into a pickle.

If we recall the number of UK travellers that have trouble in the US with bringing back items, and taxes, and tipping, it is obvious that even the same language is no guarantee of a sensible outcome.

Some people will always be “marks” and there are crooks to fleece them. Not being a mark requires some effort like reading about the country or area and of course the FCO travel information.