Tales of miserable flight delays, over-booked hotels, ridiculous car rental charges and online booking disasters have filled the Travel Doctor postbag this year. I’ve claimed thousands of pounds in compensation for Times readers in 2015. Here are some of my success stories — with tips on how to avoid travel trouble in 2016.
Extra car rental charges
Random charges from car rental companies continued to enrage readers this year. Sophie Wood rented a car from Hertz in Sardinia but was late for her flight home and had to hand the keys to the clerk at the airport rental desk and run to check-in. In London, it wasn’t long before she received an invoice from Hertz in Italian requesting £518 on top of her original hire cost — supposedly the extras were for damage to the vehicle and petrol. Proof of the damage was never provided but Sophie was then pursued by Hertz’s debt collectors. After my intervention, Hertz cancelled the £518 charge and admitted that the service she received at its Sardinia branch was not up to scratch.
Top tip: It’s annoying and time-consuming but it pays to take photos of your hire car before and after the rental. And always check the rental agreement for sneaky, expensive add-ons, especially excess insurance premiums, before you sign.
Airlines refusing to pay compensation for delayed flights
The most common complaints in the Travel Doctor postbag in 2015 concerned airlines refusing to offer compensation for delayed flights. Amanda Oakley checked in with her three small children for an American Airlines flight from Manchester to Chicago and suffered two cancellations before they finally reached the US two days later. American Airlines tried to fob her off with vouchers in compensation but, because the cancellations were independent of each other, she and her family were entitled to claim £420pp for each of the two days, amounting to £3,447, under EC regulation 261, which deals with cancellations and delays. After I became involved she was offered the full amount in cash — not vouchers.
Top tip: EC regulation 261 is hated by the airline industry, which feels that compensation amounts are disproportionate to the air fares paid by the consumer. Some airlines are fighting in the courts for a clarification of “extraordinary circumstances” — which absolve them of blame for delays — and are refusing to pay as a result. So you may well have to fight a prolonged battle to get what’s due to you. Learn your rights (moneysavingexpert.com has a step-by-step guide) and be persistent.
Being bumped off a flight
The biggest refund I clawed back in 2015 was the £8,000 that Joshua Morris and his girlfriend were forced to spend on new flights to get home from a holiday in Thailand. They were flying via Mumbai — but Virgin gave away their seats on the fully booked flight to Heathrow and they languished for hours in a transit lounge because they didn’t have visas for India. Feeling abandoned by Virgin ground staff, they finally booked their own seats back via Dubai, however business class was the only option. Virgin said its staff were trying to confirm seats with other carriers but it quickly issued a refund. It has since pulled out of Mumbai.
Top tip: If you’re booking connecting flights, research the airport you’ll be travelling through and the visa requirements for that country. Mumbai has a bad reputation for flight connections, as do Los Angeles and Beijing, and without visas for entry there’s no chance of airlines offering hotel accommodation if there are long delays. If you’re travelling over a holiday period, it’s likely to be much harder to make alternative arrangements if things go wrong because flights are likely to be over-booked.
Hotel booking websites failing to make a booking
Booking hotels through third party websites can be a brilliant way of bagging a good deal — but dozens of readers have had their trips ruined this year by mistakes made by online agencies. Ben Jiggins booked the first two nights of his honeymoon at Crathorne Hall Hotel on the edge of the North York Moors through hotels.com but when he arrived with his bride it turned out that hotels.com hadn’t forwarded the booking or the payment of £218 to the hotel — and they spent their wedding night in a single room with a camp bed. With my help he finally received a refund of £315, which included the cost of a double room for the second night.
Top tip: If you book accommodation through a third party, check with the hotel that the reservation has been made and for the right date. Hotels are increasingly offering incentives such as breakfast and free welcome drinks for bookings made direct, so check the hotel’s site as well — room rates may well be the same.
Losing money through online bookings
Finally, many readers have complained about losing money through online bookings. Ruth Schmidt booked a flight to Linz in Austria to see her sick stepson through eDreams. Only after paying for her ticket did she discover discovered from her confirmation email that it wasn’t a non-stop service and that the connecting flight would arrive the next day. It required one extra click to display the flight duration and connection information so eDreams was not at fault but, with my help, Ruth managed to get a refund of £206 on compassionate grounds.
Top tip: Booking online seems so easy but mistakes are expensive. Whether it’s flight times or the correct spelling of the names on tickets, check and check again. And if you find a wonderfully cheap deal online that looks too good to be true, it probably is.