/ Parenting, Travel & Leisure

Booking a villa? Beware – kids could cost more than adults

A holiday playhouse

You may have noticed that children tend to be smaller than adults. So why should a family travelling with children pay more for a villa holiday if the kids take up less space than grown-ups?

I would never have expected it. Yet that’s effectively what can happen when a family books a villa with Thomas Cook.

At Which? Travel we’ve found it can be cheaper to book a self-catering villa full of adults than with a mix of adults and children.

When we came across the issue, we found it was £190 more expensive for four adults and two children to rent a villa in Cyprus for a week this summer than it was for six adults.

This is because Thomas Cook’s villas add under-occupancy fees if a property is not filled to its specified capacity.

And if the official capacity is, for example, six adults, then a booking with four adults and two children will attract an under-occupancy fee. So the family is being charged more for taking children rather than only adults.

Why charge more for children?

I don’t see how this can be fair. The company is not losing out on anything because some of the customers are children rather than adults. There might be a case for it in a hotel if some of the standard rate was based on adults spending a certain amount of money in the bar or other facilities, but not in a self-catering property.

Charging a family more for villa holidays with children in this way seems just as unfair as charging them more if they want to guarantee sitting with their children on a plane, something we know many of you feel strongly about.

Can pretending solve the problem?

When we asked Thomas Cook about this, it said it was the same policy across all of the company’s holidays, but offered us a way round it. This was to list the children as adults to avoid the under-occupancy charge.

This option feels wrong to me and I’d feel uncomfortable lying about my child’s age. But Thomas Cook said it was ‘common practice’ to ensure families got the best price.

The company confirmed that under occupancy charges could ‘rarely’ make child prices more expensive than adults’ because children did not count towards minimum occupancy levels.

It might happen only rarely, but it still seems crazy to me. There must be a better way.


Something else to note if you’re thinking about booking a villa holiday:

Thomas Cook’s spokesperson told us that the price supplements for children have no impact on flight bookings, but you would have to buy travel insurance separately, as the children’s ages are needed.

Surely when you book self-catering accommodation you book the accommodation for a set price no matter how many people are in it. Same price if you go by yourself or there’s six of you? Well that’s what I’ve always found. What’s the point of a complicated pricing structure?

I’ve never expected holiday prices to be “fair” to anyone. So I’ve never been surprised to come across pricing anomalies which – let’s face it – are there to make direct comparisons difficult. Hence I always shop around to find the best deal for my individual circumstances and generally avoid package holidays where pricing is not transparent.

And although I have children of my own, I’m not sure why there is a general expectation that children should be cheaper than adults; hence either childless travellers and/or travel organisers are somehow expected to subsidise them. They still take up a seat, eat more than some adults and don’t spend money on profitable extras like alcohol.

CL says:
17 June 2013

We have just booked a full board holiday at an apart-hotel in Majorca with Thomas Cook. We are 2 adults and 1 child (5 year old) in a 1 bed appt that has a maximum occupancy of 4.

Although I knew we would have to pay an under occupancy charge, I was surprised to see in the itemised invoice that we had been charged 2 lots of £202. So the presence of our 5 year old child does not seem to count at all towards the occupancy. Given that our child pays full airline fare, the under occupancy charge of £404 is a huge percentage of the accomodation fee.

I have read that Thomson opened a phone line to their customers to deal with possible refunds and was hoping that Thomas Cook would have something similar but havent seen anything. You live and learn I suppose….

Deborah Allum says:
2 August 2014

I have a holiday booked with Thomas Cook in two weeks. On reading the paperwork I noticed that we have been charged for three adults and one child. We are a family with two adults and a son of 11 and a daughter of 13. The price between child and adult is £1100! I read the brochure and it says child prices are up to 14. I contacted the lady who booked the holiday at a branch abd sge said we are paying for an apartment that has to have three adults in it so one child is classed as an adult.
we were not told this at the time. I thought we were in the standard villa of a double room then a sofa bed. I feel really aggrieved. Can anyone suggest what I can do?

Alan says:
2 June 2016

I got charged £ 297 for under occupancy to take me my partner and to kids on holiday i think this is shocking

My husband and i and my two children 10 and 15 are going to Florida in two weeks we have been charged £800! for so called ‘under occupancy’ which I term very loosely as no part of our apartment is not occupied!
We booked a one bedroom apartment with a sofa bed in the living area in which my two boys are sleeping on. On contacting Thomas cook was informed that this was because there was two adults and two children staying in the apartment not four adults! 1. Four adults would not occupy a one bedroom apartment! and secondly four bodies are occupying the only space available in a one bedroom apartment. Therefore where does the under occupancy claim come into place? I seriously think ABTA need to review Thomas Cooks unfair, unreasonable and unwarranted so called policy. I have read numerous similar stories , Somebody has to seriously address this issue. We all work too hard to save up every year to go on holiday then to be ripped off !