Thursday, 30 April 2009

Many holidaymakers unaware of financial risks survey shows

One in ten travellers wrongly believe they will always get a free flights home if their holiday company or airline goes bust, according to a YouGov survey organised by the Department for Transport.

And 28% percent of assume their travel insurance automatically covers them if they book flights directly with an airline when some policies do not include such protection.

Two thirds (66%) know that if they book an trip with a company holding an ATOL (air travel organiser's licence) they will get their money back and - of they are abroad when the firm goes under - be brought home at no extra cost. But a surprising 30% are unaware of this protection.

Younger people (aged 18-34) tend to have less understanding of their rights and options for financial protection than those aged over 35, the survey found.

It suggests almost one third of holiday travellers could be vulnerable if an airline of other company essential to their trip collapsed. The problem has been made more cut by the fact that so many people - 55% says the survey - now organise their trips on line. They may not realise that when they click through from one site to another - from an airline to a hotel or car hire site for example - they may not be booking an ATOL protected package.

The Government is urging travellers to think more carefully about financial protection. It is offering further advice at www.direct.gov.uk/holidayprotection It has been prompted to concentrate on the issue partly by last year's XL collapse, when Ministers were keen that unprotected travellers should not be left stranded but should be brought home along with those who had travelled under the ATOL scheme provided they repay the cost later. The Civil Aviation Authority, which arranges such bail outs, has been trying to get the money back from these passengers -but it is not always easy.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Holiday protection levy set to treble

The levy to protect package holiday customers from losing money or being left stranded abroad when tour operators go broke should increase from £1 to £3 per passenger, the Civil Aviation Authority proposed today.

In a consultation paper sent to the travel industry it blames last summer's collapse of airline and tour firm XL and the likely downturn in travel.

The XL crash devastated the fund which the levy was designed to establish - and which had only just begun to be built up. Reluctance to travel, partly because of the weak £, looks likely to reduce the amount of cash coming in at a time when the recession threatens to push more tour firms out of business.

The CAA anticipates a decision on the increase from Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon by summer. If it gets the go ahead it will increase the levy from October 1.

The levy is used under the ATOL system to ensure passengers are not left out of pocket and to pay for their repatriation.

The Authority and the Government are also reviewing the still unresolved issue of what exactly should be covered by the ATOL scheme. It is looking at the possibility of exending cover to any flight sold with some other travel do not form part of a pre-arranged package. It may also bring bring into the net holidays by surface transport - such as those including ferry travel.

But one problem is that some changes may need primary legislation. It is hard to see Government making passenger protection a priority with the country still deep in recession and a General Election looming unless there are votes in it.

And the whole vexed issue of consumer protection for leisure travels remains so labyrinthine that it is unlike to make the most compelling of campaign material.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Mobile phones as boarding passes

A system allowing passengers to use mobile phones as boarding passes is being tested

Travellers use phones carrying their frequent flyer information and fitted with short range wireless communication technology. This recognises them and provides an electronic boarding pass when they swipe it across a reader in the terminal.

The service is available to members of frequent flyer schemes operated by the airport and Air France travelling on the Nice - Paris Orly route. The trial is a joint iniative between the airport, the airline, computer reservations giant Amadeus and hardware provider IER.

Its backers claim the system works even when a phone is switched off or out of battery power.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Time to cut exchange rate profits

Do not pass up any opportunity to whinge to your bank about the iniquity of tourist exchange rates.

Yesterday the official rate was almost €1.14 to the £. The Guardian newspaper's tourist rate table this morning showed "bank sells" at €1.07. That's a charge of about 6% on the transaction. And when you wanted to cash in any unspent Euros, banks were buying them at €1.18

When tour firms, airlines and hotels are hit by recession they respond by offering better deals. Not the money changers. Cutting the percentages would encourage spending and keep more people in tourism jobs. It would also go a little way towards raising our credit crunch jaded spirits.

At a time when everyone is feeling the pain - how about a little less profiteering?

Car hire - excess excess

Renting a car for a forthcoming trip I am offered extra insurance of €20 a day to wipe out a potential €650 excess on the cost of any damage. I need the car for 13 days, so at the current exchange rate that's roughly £240 to cover a possible loss of £585. Further comment is unnecessary.