/ Travel & Leisure

What’s next for the Which? travel campaign?

Our travel campaign has championed the rights of consumers on a wide range of issues throughout the pandemic. Here are our successes so far, plus the work that still needs to be done.

From the beginning of the pandemic when international travel ground to a halt to the tenuous red/amber/green lists of 2021, it’s been an incredibly difficult period for travellers and the sector as a whole.

Through ever-changing government advice and multiple lockdowns, we’ve heard from thousands of people whose plans have been scuppered. Overseas holidays cancelled with no sign of a refund. Family reunions put on hold. Once in a lifetime events missed.

Our progress so far

We’ve been keeping a close eye on the ever-changing nature of the travel industry throughout the pandemic. Our travel campaign has championed the rights of consumers on a wide range of issues – not just refunds, but travel insurance, flexible booking policies and PCR testing.

We have had some major successes over the last year in our fight to ensure travellers were properly protected, including:

✈️ In October 2020, two regulators the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) took enforcement action against eight airlines and holiday companies to secure refunds for people who couldn’t travel during the pandemic.

✈️ In February this year, the CMA announced that LastMinute.com would face legal action unless it repaid over £1m to travellers after we reported them to the regulator.

✈️ In April, the Government committed to giving the CAA additional enforcement powers to act on airlines that have breached consumer rights.

✈️ In June, the CMA announced an investigation into British Airways and Ryanair over potential breaches of consumer law after they refused to issue refunds.

✈️ In July, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a letter to more than 1,000 insurance firms to remind them of their obligations to be clear and upfront about what COVID cover their policies actually offer.

PCR testing firm crackdown

We’ve been monitoring the PCR testing market and raising our concerns with regulators and the government for months (we published our first major piece on it in the March edition of Which? Travel). It is an incredibly complicated and sprawling market – which has resulted in confusion for travellers, misleading pricing, and poor service.

It’s good news that the government has finally announced that it is going to tidy up their online list of test providers and remove those who are not upholding their promises.

However, our research still shows that although the ‘10 cheapest’ providers on the government’s website listed tests costing £20, the actual price when you click through to the provider’s site can be more than three times as much sometimes not even including postage and packaging.

Other providers offer ‘genuinely’ cheap deals but require people to travel to a specific location and appointments are extremely limited. Our analysis of social media shows that price is the key issue that travellers are concerned about, with 72% of people mentioning it and 19% complaining about their test provider. 

Some countries have introduced price caps or government subsidies to ensure that people are not being ripped off for something which is a legal requirement to travel. Travellers shouldn’t have to shop around for something as crucial as a test provider – they simply need a service that is accessible, reliable, and delivered on time.

It shouldn’t be difficult – which is why we need urgent action to fix the market and make it fit for purpose.

As more and more people begin to book holidays and travel overseas it is vital that the PCR testing market is ready. The CMA agrees with us that there is a laundry list of problems in the market as part of their ongoing review and says it is ready to take enforcement action against any provider found to be breaching consumer law. 

Continuing to push for for action and enforcement

As travellers have been left struggling for months to choose a trustworthy, reliable test provider and having to pay the financial penalty when things go wrong, it’s critical that the government acts swiftly to remove test providers misleading customers from its site, and the CMA is prepared to take tough action against any firms flouting the rules.

We will continue to push for travellers to be put at the centre of this market, like they should have been from the very beginning.

You can join us in our calls to reform travel on our campaign page here.

Have you had a problem with a PCR test provider? Or anything else related to international travel that you think we should look at? Let us know in the comments.

Comments
Val Webb says:
2 September 2021

I had to go overseas for a work related matter and fully understood the tests I needed to take on my return. However, I then had to buy a 5 day release test. I went on to the Gov website to find a provider. I found a company charging £35 which I thought seemed very reasonable. When I went to checkout, a further £35 was added for delivery by Hermes, so the full charge was £70. I feel misled and conned. It does not cost £35 for a delivery. I recently paid for a delivery by Hermes and it cost £2.99 and for a much larger package.

Your site does not live up to its title. I wanted travel advice particularly being able to drive from southcoast uk to Holland. |Absolutely nothing. about going anywhere except complaints about testing

I’ve heard from several people that they bought the cheapest PCR testing kits for their Day 2 return to the UK just to enter the reference numbers in the Passenger Locator Form, but on return never bothered to take the test and have never been contacted. When I went to Germany for just one week I was able to take a free antigen test for my return flight and had only to pay 10 euros for a printed certificate. I was not required to take a day 2 test after my arrival there, so why here, especially as its not being enforced?

Michael Coleman says:
2 September 2021

I am 72 years old, travelling to Gran Canaria in 3 weeks. I don’t have a Smartphone. Passenger LOcator Form pre-travel – online only. Vaccination Certificate – I have a paper version. Covid test before flying home – results online only. PLF for return to UK – online only. Book covid Day 2 test – online only. This is all discriminatory against old folks like myself, who cannot operate these devices. I have poor eyesight, and am Tech-dyslexic. I phoned the Gov “helpline” – no paper versions acceptable or available. “You’ll have to get someone to help you”. So I sit in my hotel hoping that someone with a mobile phone will help me? And if they don’t? How do I get the QR codes to allow me to a. board the plane and b. re-enter my own country???

As I understand it, the Canaries are on the amber list, so a risky destination. Why go there and perhaps bring back an infection to others who have done their best to protect themselves, and others, from this horrible disease? I would consider saving yourself the testing hassle and protect your own health and that of the rest of us.

I feel the same. I actually bought a smart phone just in case we were able to go abroad – which seems unlikely given the palaver you have to go through!

To me that sounds like yet another outrageous breach of the so-called “equality” act, just like the appalling EXclusion forced on folk disabled like me with severe hidden disorders which no-one ever wants to know about. Honestly I don’t know why the UK government bother introducing such supposedly “anti-discrimination” laws if they’re never going to bother properly enforcing it. I think Which? should possibly be campaigning against all such appalling discrimination as there will always be people who are not able to use such fancy devices or systems etc. And I don’t have a “smart” phone either and I furiously object to being assumed and expected to have such a thing, it would be far too complex for me, I only have a basic mobile phone and I don’t understand everything on that. Have you tried contacting any disability organisations as I think some of them organise holidays for some disabled folk and they might be able to help you.

Did you made the need for assistance known to the package tour operator or airline at the time of booking? If not, I would still do so now and see what advice and support they might be able to offer.

You don’t need to fill in the PLF yourself or sign it. You can even set up an account and pre-fill most of the form before you leave. Can someone at home or at the hotel not do it for you? The only problem I can see is how you get hold of the QR code to present at the airport. Could you not give the hotel’s email address and have them print it out for you?

Scotland does not provide an electronic record of vaccination. Why can’t it just join the system used in England?

Margaret Marshall says:
2 September 2021

I had Covid- PCR positive test 6 August, only symptoms cold-like as double-vaccinated, negative on lateral flow test 14 August. I am part of National Statistics Office monthly PCR testing, so was declared positive on PCR test on 19th August and told to isolate – PCR tests can show “positive” from dead virus for 90 – 180 days ,so presumably I will be unable to travel abroad until i can get a negative PCR test, same problem with hospital appointments. I was pinged by EasyJet after flying from Gatwick to Belfast in July and had to isolate for 10 days although negative on PCR test.

Just money making exercise from rogues and scoundrels who are only interested in greed! All governments should be satisfied if two jabs have been administered and the record of that should suffice for travel. If it is alright for them to keep bringing in refugees and Indian nurses by the plane load that are not innoculated, then us who have got innoculated should be ok to come and go where we want whithout having money we do not have screwed out of us by these criminals.

Being double vaccinated does not stop anyone becoming infected with Covid-19, nor does it stop anyone from being infectious to others. So you could easily catch Covid-19 abroad and import it back into the UK.

The tests themselves do not prevent this entirely, but reduce the risks for the rest of the UK population, who still put the health of the nation before trying to exercise their entitlement to “come and go where we want without having money [to do so]”.

And what gives you the idea that Indian nurses are not innoculated against Covid-19? Where’s the proof of that?

We’ve decided not to travel overseas till 2022 at the earliest, mostly because it’s hard to a) keep up with the latest rules and b) to know what change between booking, travelling and coming home.

One thing that Which? should look at urgently is whether it should be promoting leisure flying at all.
August’s #CodeRed IPCC report gave 400 billion tonnes as the global limit to further CO2 emissions – that’s 50 tonnes per person on the planet, and just 5 year’s supply at the current UK emission rate of 10 tonnes CO2 per person per year (https://www.carbonindependent.org/93.html).
For people who want to do the right thing and live within the 50 tonne CO2 budget, flying is not affordable, and Which? should be giving accurate information on this so that people can make the right choice.

It’s a good flag Ian, though one more for Which?’s editorial side than for the campaign Jess is describing above.

Which? has a few stories on this so far, including:

It’d certainly make sense to have this information appear alongside other guides, so I’ll make sure the Travel team has your feedback.

Quoted in
@Telegraph @WhichUK’s @Roryboland
said: “We know many people couldn’t afford a UK holiday because demand and prices were so high, so for them, UK tourism is not working.”

I really don’t know what this statement means. Clearly, UK tourism is working if all the accommodation is filled. Just as prices escalate in school holidays (or, if you prefer, are reduced outside the high demand seasons) it has always been an industry driven by supply and demand; the private industry that provides for tourists seems to be regaining health. And survived after what must have been a pretty disastrous 18 months.

Is there a case to expand the accommodation available in the future? Or will this just be a blip, as predicted, until overseas holidays become safe? I would hope we do try to encourage continued use of UK destinations by providing more facilities, thus lessening the need for excessive air travel and pollution for example.

I’ll be supporting the UK staycation movement next week by travelling 4 in a car to a rented cottage in Dorset, at a price I am prepared to pay. So UK tourism seems to be working, in my experience. And I’ll also be in Torbay the following month at an hotel where the price is not very different from what I paid 2 years ago.

I am fed up with the misuse of the term “staycation” [a play on the word “vacation” which is an American expression].

A ‘staycation’ is when you stay at home while off work. If you leave home and go somewhere else for a spell that is a ‘holiday’ even if it is in your own country. A holiday does not have to mean going overseas; it never used to.

Whoops – sorry John! You are quite correct. I am just in favour of staying on holiday in the UK and avoiding more risky overseas holidays.

Staycation is now widely used to refer to holidays that don’t involve going abroad, so I don’t think Malcolm is wrong.

I know, and I wasn’t intending to criticise Malcolm. The word just struck a nerve. “Staycation” is now common usage, but I wish it wasn’t. I am all in favour of enriching our language but in this case it blurs different meanings [in my opinion].

“Out the window”, “would of thought”, and so on. Ghastly! I have a friend who ends all messages with “best”. Best what? . . . Fed up with it.

I’ve gotten accustomed to expressions that don’t seem quite right.

“Could of ….” always grated as well as “nucular”. I don’t really like “no brainer” either. Rap does nothing at all for me.
I didn’t take it as a criticism, John; I appreciated just what you meant.

“Nucular” is a particular irritant. I first heard it when George Bush used it in a TV interview. I can’t see what’s so difficult about pronouncing it the way it looks: Nuclear. I can accept local dialects changing the initial syllable from ‘New” to “Noo” but the word “clear” couldn’t be much, well clearer, really.

Mind you, it simply joins a very long list of spoken irritants for me. Starting with those who think the letter “H” is pronounced “Haich”, to those who use the auxiliary verb “are” with “None”. causing a shudder when they say “None of them were prepared to speak out…”.

Add to that those who answer every question they’re asked with “So…” and you can see the life of a pedant is not an easy one. And don’t get me started on the use of the apostrophe.

More seriously, people widely believe how they speak, how they use grammatical structures is unimportant. But curiously they don’t have the same attitude towards Mathematics.

John Ward says: 3 September 2021
I am fed up with the misuse of the term “staycation” [a play on the word “vacation” which is an American expression].

It might be, now, but…

vacation – origin late Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin vacatio(n-), from vacare ‘be unoccupied’ (see vacate).

Presumably “vacation” is the act of leaving – vacating – one’s home to spend a period somewhere else. Except on holy days when we go on holiday. Which?’s view that UK holidays are a “rip off” presumably stems from the term “having a break” as in emptying your bank account and going broke. I’m just going away for a few days. R &R.

Perhaps going on an overseas holiday at present should be called a “deprecation”?

Totally agree with:
Add to that those who answer every question they’re asked with “So…” It should be banned from TV interviews.

Also the use of:
– My bad (what you say when you forget your passport)
– y’know (It’s like y’know a plane)
– like (So, it’s like I was on my way to the airport like, and it’s like I forgot my passport . . .
(examples keeping on topic)

A worrying trend is teachers. You can have an accent and still talk properly but have you heard some TV quiz contestants who say they are teachers?

Sometimes I read some of my comments and cringe at the way they are written. They are often written in haste and time runs out before I can read and correct them.

Another phrase I hate is “Can I get . . . ?” for “A G&T please”. The bar staff’s answer should be “Yes of course. . . . Would you like me to make you one?”

Maybe we should have a Conversation about use and misuse of the English language.

I have learned that there is a tonic shortage. Perhaps ‘Can I get a G&T’ is the correct question. If not there. is a neat solution.

How about “movie” instead of “film?” A particular irritant to me. The result of too much Youtube!

There never has been a satisfactory term for what you get when you go to the pictures.

The Flicks, in my day.
You got fleas in some picture houses.

‘The back row’ always used to be reserved for courting couples when I was young.

Everything is ‘cool’ these days, even when it’s 30C outside.

When will Which get answers on how the government is going to handle travellers that are not vaccinated because of health reasons, travellers with natural immunity or any other valid reason not to having had the so-called vaccinations.
Why should anyone be penalized for choosing whether to have the jabs or not, or having a previous medical condition that would put their lives at risk if they took the vaccinations.
Every person has the right to chose what happens to their health/body, and forcing anyone to have a bio-weapon injected into their body is a violation of their human rights.
The Covid-19 problem will always be with us, same as the flu, common cold and the other so called ‘pandemic’ type illnesses such as Aids, Ebola, all possibly man made problems that suddenly stop or lose their urgency when something new arrives on the scene.

That is misunderstanding the purpose, which is to prevent people carrying a variant back to the UK to infect others.
You can choose not to be vaccinated (although all the evidence is you are at a far greater risk of damage to your health or death if you do). What you should not be able to choose is to infect others by not taking this precautionary measure.

This an emergency and, unfortunately, people for whom a vaccination would pose a personal health risk have to accept that they should not travel. It’s hard, but we have to think of the greater good.

Aids, Ebola, all possibly man made problems that suddenly stop or lose their urgency when something new arrives on the scene.

I believe you’re conflating two issues: the emergence of new and deadly diseases and the way the media operate. Also, I confess to being a little puzzled as to why you believe Aids and Ebola are ‘man made’. Perhaps you could elaborate?