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?