/ Travel & Leisure

Automatically opting me in to travel insurance? No thanks

Have you booked a holiday and found that travel insurance was automatically added to your bill, without you being asked? Or a transfer from the airport you didn’t want? How about luggage you didn’t have?

All those things happened to Which? Travel researchers when we checked out 188 travel companies to see if they opted customers in to extras.

And we found that without even asking us, a whole host of companies decided that we wanted the insurance they offered and were happy to pay for it. These companies included Cottages4you, Hoseasons, Lastminute.com, Lowcost Holidays, National Express, Newmarket Holidays, Saga, Shearings Holidays and Travelodge.

Optional transfers were added by Easyjet Holidays, Lastminute.com and Lowcost, which also automatically added check-in luggage, as did Flybe.

A whole host of holiday extras

Other items that we were automatically opted-in to included an ESTA document (to travel in the US) for which tour operator Travelsphere charged us £27. The company did this even though an ESTA can be bought directly from the US Customs and Border Agency for just $14 (£9). And since it lasts for two years, we might have already had one anyway.

United Airlines decided we were happy to pay $150 (£95) for an upgrade that included extra legroom, early boarding and lounge access. I’m sure this luxurious experience would have been good, but it would have been nice to have been asked first.

Car hire brokers Argus Car Hire and Holiday Autos opted us in to extras that would cut down the amount of excess we’d pay if the car was damaged. Surely we need the chance to say ‘no’?

As well as insurance, another issue that kept coming up was charity donations. Several travel companies and three zoos automatically opted us in for a donation.

I choose the charities I donate to, and do so by direct debit every month. I don’t really want someone else deciding whether I should give more. And I don’t think that makes me a miser – if I was asked if I wanted to donate, I might well have said ‘yes’.

Putting a stop to auto opt-ins

Some of the companies involved argued that customers liked being opted-in for items such as insurance, but I would always rather be given the choice to decide whether I want something.

Thankfully, automatic opt-ins are being outlawed by the European Consumer Rights Directive, which must be incorporated in to UK law by the end of next year. Its provisions will affect hundreds of travel companies. But I’d like to see travel companies stop automatically opting people in now, rather than waiting for the Directive.

So, do you think it’s OK to be automatically opted-in to things like insurance or charity donations? Or is it just a way to trick us in to paying more?

Alan says:
11 March 2012

Thomas cook and Thomsons tried to make us take out travel insurance with
them even though their Insurance quotes were 40 – 50% more than the Post Office or a private Insurance Company, needless to say,we never accepted their Insurance but opted for our own.

[Hi Alan, your comment has been slightly edited for libel reasons. Thanks, mods.]

I wonder what would happen to anyone with a health condition that would attract a higher premium for holiday insurance. No doubt there is something in the Terms & Conditions about this and if a holidaymaker simply accepts the insurance they would probably not be covered if they are unfortunate enough to have a medical problem.

It is about time that consumers were better protected against sharp practice such as the need to opt-out of extras. In this case I feel it would be fair for the holidaymaker to be covered because they have paid the premium and the company has not requested medical information. Time to play unscrupulous companies at their own game, I think.

Sophie Gilbert says:
12 March 2012

So far I have been “lucky” and have found it easy to opt in or out of any added extras, but I can see it being a problem sometimes, if you aren’t careful enough, if the website layout isn’t clear enough for example, and/or if you don’t expect something like transport to/from airport to be automatically added in. I think we should only ever have to opt in extras, never opt out.

The charity donation thing is unbelievable to me. I’m flabbergasted by that. The rest is bad enough, but how dare be so presumptuous!?

I would think that after the PPI debacle these companies would have learnt their lesson.

Including unrequested ‘extras’ in a package, then putting the onus on the customer to opt out if they spot the clause, is clearly mis-selling as the OFT describe it.

Which, time for you guys to get active on this and start demanding refunds for all who have been mis-sold these add ons.

One thing we can do is add a the following rider in very small print somewhere on any documentation we have to sign and return.

By accepting payment you [insert company] agree to refund the full cost of this agreed [holiday or what ever] within 28 days of the despatch date of this document if you choose not to do this please tick this box = and return a copy of this document to me. Failure to return this document within 14 days of the despatch date of this document will be accepted as your consent to these terms.

Annoyed says:
2 April 2012

I booked a holiday with easyjet last year and have just noticed that i have paid for travel insurance when i do not remember ticking a box for this extra. It is too late to claim back as the 14 days have expired. Has anyone else had the same experience.

Mark Holmström says:
22 April 2012

I am waiting for a reply to this enail, which I recently sent to National Express:

When I book a coach journey, travel insurance is shown as an ‘optional extra’, yet it is added automatically to the bill unless I take care to cancel it. This is inertia selling, which is wrong. People booking in a hurry may not realize they are being charged for insurance they do not want.

I suggest you show this option only when the total bill has been calculated & is ready to pay. Passengers can then take positive action if, & only if, they want insurancE.

Passenger Focus advised to me write to you first, & to take the matter up with them if necessary.

John says:
26 April 2012

I am in dispute with SAGA at the moment becuase their letters of notice for the next year’s insurance premium assume that the level of cover needed is the same. We happened to start with SAGA with a visit to the most expensive Americas and have been paying at that rate for several years, not realising that the Europe rate was much cheaper.

My point is that SAGA should point out the premiums for different levels of cover in that letter – they refuse and refer us to the small print.

My only conclusion about this intransigence (I am not asking for compensation) is that they are benefitting from our conservatism and naivity.

SJ says:
5 April 2013

Holiday Extras have just automatically added in cancellation protection and credit card fee, to a 5 day airport parking reservation – I am normally careful to uncheck add ins – but hadn’t thought to look for this. Surely this is mis-selling at its worst.

I hate Opodo says:
25 June 2013

Opodo automatically opted us in for their Opodo Extra service. £15 charge for a service that apparently allows you to contact them by phone. The first call we’ll be making is to ask for our money back!