Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Car hire damage rip offs - action at last

You read it here first. Following a report in the Daily Telegraph, the consumer watchdog Which? has finally twigged that car hire customers might be paying more than they should for repairs. It is calling for an immediate investigation to ensure customers aren't being routinely ripped of. It's two years since similar suspicions were aired in an  article on this website advising travellers to take out separate excess insurance to avoid paying  heavy extra insurance charges available from car rental companies res themselves. The excess, of course, is the amount you have to pay before the company's basic cover kicks in. I was once charged the full excess of £750 in Sicily for two scratches so tiny you would have been hard put to spot them. My subsequent argument with the rental company (to no avail) was: that they wouldn't have cost anything like that to repair. I also pointed out that having inspected many rental vehicles before driving off - as common sense dictates you must - I had observed many such bodywork blemishes, leading me to the suspicion that  renters wait until they have stung some other customers or customers  before even bothering to get the work done. Underlying the problem is a desperate need to keep the headline rental price as low as possible - a good example of the ways unfettered competition can sometimes work against the consumer interest. It's great news that the issue is at last gaining the attention it deserves, It's just a bit late.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Stunning new French b&b

An extraordinary b&b, recently opened in Troyes, in the French Champagne region, is already receiving rave reviews. The restored property, - Le Jardin de la Cathedrale - built around a courtyard garden a few steps from the city’s magnificent cathedral, was once the home and workshop of master glazier Louis-Germain Vincent-Larchier.  One of its four suites has windows composed of 15th and 16th century stained glass fragments that he collected. 

Another, once his workshop,  has an 18th century oak ceiling. I have visited the property but haven't had the chance to overnight there. However, at the time of writing it has received a rare ten out of ten score on It would make an excellent base for exploring this exceptionally beautiful city and its surrounding region. See my reviews of the city and area in the features pages at and

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

BA leg room cuts would be a marketing blunder

Free market competition should mean real consumer choice - not a race to the bottom. I'm a long legged beast, so you can accuse me of special pleading, but if British Airways goes ahead with its reported plan to cut leg room on short haul A320 and A321 aircraft it will have committed a significant error. The airline intends to add two extra seat  rows, cutting its seat pitch (the distance between most seat backs) by an inch. It claims "customers fly with us because we offer quality and value in all areas". In my book, quality and value don't add up to the cheapest fare. They are the twin incentives that persuade me - often though admittedly  not always - to pay a little more than I might to fly on BA's low cost rivals. The move may be counter productive. It threatens to alienate senior travellers in particular, for whom shaving few £s from their travel costs is not crucial.  

Monday, 20 February 2017

EX Man U ace's Iran problem prompts US travel reminder

Britain's Sun newspaper reports that the former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke was prevented from flying home to the Caribbean via Miami because he had played a charity match in Iran. Reaction to the story linked the incident to President Trump's travel ban - thwarted in its original form - on citizens of seven countries, including Iran. Sky News on line went so far as to directly blame the ban. But the footballer's problem is unlikely to have anything to do with that. The report didn't say whether Yorke was travelling under the ESTA *Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) visa waiver programme used, for example, but most UK holiday visitor to the US. This makes it crystal clear that the programme doesn't extend to anyone who has been in Iran (with limited government and military exceptions) since March 1, 2011. Yorke's match was in 2015. So with Iran now making its mark on the tourism map with ever sharper visibility it's worth repeating a warning I have given several times before: if you have travelled to Iran in the past six years you will need to apply for a visa to visit the US, with all the inconvenience and expense that entails.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

New Year - new low cost flights

Airlines continue to plan new low cost routes from the UK despite the fall in the value of the £ since the Brexit referendum. Here's a round up. With more are flights being announced pretty well every week, I can't pretend the list is comprehensive.

Remote Quebec province - new Montreal flights
Norwegian is shrugging off concerns that the current weakness of sterling will deter Britons from travelling to the US, upping significantly the number of transatlantic flights it operates from Gatwick. Los Angeles flights will depart daily from 15 April – up from five a week. Flights to both Fort Lauderdale and Orlando will increase two to three a week – from April 17 and 20 respectively. Oakland services will increase from three to five a week from April18. And starting on August 10 the airline will double its departures to New York - except on Wednesdays when there will be only one.

Iceland’s WOW will start flying between Reykjavik and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania next summer, with connecting flights from Gatwick and Edinburgh. From June 16 the budget airline will operate four round trips a week on the route, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. It says the approximate total journey time, including the stop in Reykjavik, will be eleven hours.

With the Canada expected to draw more British holiday travellers away from the US WOW is to up the frequency of flights from Reykjavik to Toronto and Montreal from four a week to daily. Its increased service will start on May 1 to Toronto and June 13 to Montreal.

New budget flights from Gatwick to Barbados will start in winter next year. Thomas Cook Airlines is to start its first seat only service to the Barbados next winter. Flights by Airbus A330 aircraft will operate between December 16 and March 17 (2018). 

easyJet will fly twice a week from Luton twice a week to Biarritz in south west France and Rhodes next summer and four times a week to Stockholm. Starting on various dates from May onwards it will also operate from Manchester to Preveza in Greece, Granada and Dubrovnik. And on April 27 it will start flying from Southend to Murcia in southern Spain.

Competition between low cost airlines at Stansted will heat up next summer when Jet2 launches flights from the airport for the first time. The airline will operate to a total of 25 European destinations – among them Madeira, Faro, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Funeteventura, Gran Canaria, Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Girona, Alicante, Malaga, Pula and Dubrovnik in Croatia, Zante, Kos, Crete. The airline will also begin operating from Birmingham airport next summer – with services to 15 of the destinations planned from Stansted. They include the four Canary Islands, the Balearics, the Algarve, Crete and Paphos.

Oslo: Ryanair will fly there in summer (Image shows Ola Enstad's divers installation

Ryanair continues to expand its services. The number of summer departures from Manchester to ten destinations – including Mallorca, Tenerife (South) and Faro – will increase next year, while winter flights to Berlin, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Wroclaw in Poland and Oslo’s Torp airport will now operate year round. From spring the low cost carrier will start operating from Liverpool to Bari in southern Italy, Barcelona (Girona) and Prague, fly year round to Marrakech and Sofia instead of just in winter and up the frequency of departures to Alicante, Faro and Gran Canaria. The airline has also announced big increases in services from Scotland starting next spring, with new flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow. It will fly from both to Barcelona (Girona), from the former to, Ibiza, Milan, Porto and Vigo and the latter to Lisbon, the Lithuanian Baltic resort of Palanga, Valencia and Zadar in Croatia. Also next spring it will begin flying from Stansted to Strasbourg and Luton to Faro. And Ryanair will start flying again from Aberdeen, with flights to Alicante and Malaga starting on February 17.

Romanian low cost airline Blue Air will launch flights from Liverpool to Rome, Milan (Bergamo) and Hamburg and Alicante. The services will take off at the start of next year’s summer timetable. The airline, which will now base an aircraft at the airport, started operating there two years ago with fights to Bucharest. This year it has added two other Romanian destinations: Bacau and Cluj-Napoca. It will also launch a new service from Birmingham to Cyprus next spring flying three round trips a week to Larnaca.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Holiday surcharges - how big a threat?

Ski holiday surcharges - will they spread?
How serious is the threat that Britons who have booked holidays overseas may face demands for extra payments? Ski and snowboard holiday operator Mark Warner is reported to be surcharging customers as a result of the weakness of sterling in the wake of the Brexit referendum. Several other companies - not necessarily wintersports specialists - are understood to be planning similar action. Why? Many operators bought all or some of their foreign currency needs on the forward market before the Brexit referendum, so they could set firm prices for an agreed period ahead. But they don’t all take that precaution. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum reliable travel industry sources even suggested some might have gambled that a remain vote would strengthen the £, rendering such housekeeping unnecessary. The Package Travel Act, a Brussels directive enacted in UK law, allows operators surcharge for any additional currency exchange or fuel costs, or unforeseen taxes. But they must absorb those costs up to 2% of the holiday price and offer free cancellation – and a refund of money paid - if the surcharge exceeds 10%. The size of a surcharge depends on the exchange rates at which they set the holiday price and the proportion of the package price costed in foreign currency. So the more expensive the accommodation, for example, the bigger the surcharge is likely to be. Of course, tour operators have had five months since the referendum in which to adjust the price of new bookings to its impact. But there’s a limit to the frequency with which they can reasonably do that – and it must be noted that the £ has recovered somewhat from its post vote nadir. In summary it would not be surprising if more firms imposed surcharges – but a more acute problem will emerge when existing forward buying contracts run out. One major ski operator, which does hedge its currency needs, has already indicated next season’s package prices will rise by 5 – 6% - and that’s after strenuous efforts to cushion the impact. Anyone planning a foreign holiday better hope the compass swings dramatically towards a soft Brexit or a very protracted extrication – and maybe that inflation prompts a rise in interest rates. Either or both should see sterling edge a little closer to its pre-vote value.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Will Trump win hit tourism?

Lexington Green, Massachusetts - will Trump win damage tourism?
What will a Trump presidency mean for tourism to the United States? Even in the run up to the election there were signs that young people in particular were deciding against travelling there - or at least delaying their decisions. Andrew Shelton managing director of the flight search and travel deals website Cheapflights says that during campaignng he company saw a steady decline in preference for trips to the US. Now that the unexpected has happened it may turn out to be a contest between sentiment and hard economics. If the dollar slumps against sterling the latter may triumph. However, the continuing Brexit farce make it unlikely that the $ will bounce back significantly against the $ - unless, that is, leaving the EU in any meaningful way begins to look more and more unlikely. By meaningful, of course, I mean an exit which will severely damage our trading relationship with Europe. Should sentiment prove the more powerful persuader, it will scarcely deter supporters of a hard Brexit. Against that women, traditionally more likely than British men to have the biggest say in picking destinations, may not feel that a Trump America is for them. And it is hardly likely that UK Muslims will be falling over themselves to holiday there, an effect which will be felt in many other countries.Then there is the issue of the visa waiver programme. Does Trump's anti immigrant rhetoric suggest a more general pulling up of drawbridges? A return to the days of tourist visas, which would clearly be replicated on this side of the Atlantic, would be a disaster for tourism and would threaten an adverse impact on international understanding. I have always thought the world would be a better place if Americans had longber vacations, during which to look more closely at other cultures. An increase in the number of countries subject to US tourist visa requirements would have precisely the opposite effect. In the words of Andrew Shelton: “Last year, the UK welcomed US tourists who spent £3 billion and whilst we’re confident that Brits will continue to want to visit the USA, what the ‘Trump Effect’ could mean for American tourists – faced with potential currency uncertainty and increased border controls at home – remains to be seen.”