Voucher fails

Remember back in March 2020 when the reality sank in that we wouldn’t be going on holiday abroad for quite some time? Well, it’s 2022 and while I’ve seen many thousands of complaints about refunds, many more people have vouchers for airlines and holiday firms lying around. Only those vouchers don’t last forever.

The majority of the airlines I spoke to extended their vouchers to allow for the fact that holidays weren’t ‘bookable’ – but be warned, those vouchers may be just about to expire. I’ve recently heard from many, many unhappy people who’ve been informed that their voucher expiry deadline has passed. Don’t expect a clear reminder from an airline or holiday firm. And don’t expect the voucher to automatically be applied at checkout.

Before you book, log on and locate the vouchers, find out how to use then and when in the booking process this occurs and ask about any other quirks. For instance, I recently discovered one major airline only allows you to use one voucher per booking – and if you try to book separate flights, it will only let you book in the currency the voucher is in. So forget using the voucher on a return flight.

Covid cancellations

Restrictions may have ended in the UK, but Covid rules still apply in many countries around the world. So don’t assume that you’ll be able to waltz in and out without jumping through a few hoops. Some countries are still effectively closed to holiday makers, so check before you book.

The rise of the Omicron variant means a highly contagious version of Covid can not only ruin your holiday plans at the last minute, but as we’ve seen recently, it can take out the people you need from airline staff to airport security and baggage handlers. That’s why it doesn’t hurt to see if you can get a refund or new date if your holiday can’t take place. Check with the hotel or apartment too in case you need to shift your dates.

Airport queues and airline cancelations

Pre-pandemic, complaints about flight delays and cancellations regularly topped Resolver’s ‘most complained about’ lists, with hundreds of thousands of complaints. Though the Government has announced that post Brexit, some changes may be made to the rules, for now, they are more or less the same. I’ve got an all-new guide here

The key issue for many people is the circumstances under which you might get compensation. It’s a very general rule, but if your airline could have anticipated the problem then they usually have to compensate. That includes technical problems and even their staff going on strike. If the situation is out of their control, like air traffic control strikes, then you probably won’t. Now in recent weeks, we’ve seen airport chaos where people couldn’t get through security or check in due to massive queues. This is a grey area and we’ll have to see how airlines handle this, because in theory the situation is the fault of the airport. Most seem to be allowing people to rebook but make sure you make some noise (nicely) if you’re waiting and running out of time.

Oh and don’t forget the old rules about liquids still apply. Airport staff have told me that hand luggage searches are up massively due to people forgetting the old rules.

Price rises are back

Over lockdown, many of the annoying extra costs that airlines and holiday firms sometimes apply were suspended. But many of them are back – and the only way to know for sure what you might pay is to look in to the airline’s charging structures before you book. By far the biggest source of teeth gnashing is the cost for changing a booking, from moving it forward to correcting typos when you entered in your details. Unfortunately, airlines can charge these, which means you need to be absolutely sure about your dates before you book.

Airlines had learned before the pandemic that people pushing the cabin bag limits were costing them time and money due to problems getting everyone on the plane and items in the overhead lockers. Restrictions are much stricter now so get that tape measure out or face a hefty charge at check in. Watch out for ever increasing charges for seats too, with some legroom options pushing £50!

Algorithms

Travel firms are experts in the mysterious world of algorithms – the computer technology that predicts everything from demand to pricing. One of the biggest complaints I hear is how a flight or hotel room can go up in value in the space of an hour or two. That’s because the algorithm reacts to how ‘in demand’ a destination or hotel is at any given time. So look online later in the evening or mid-afternoon during the quiet spells for the best deals. The more people are online and looking, the pricier a holiday might get – well that’s the theory anyway. In truth the pricing of holidays is shrouded in mystery.

Don’t panic buy. If you know where you want to go, shop around, check hotel prices direct on their websites and be wary of ‘pressure selling’ – those tickers on websites saying there are ‘two rooms left’. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) warned the big online holiday firms about misleading ‘last room’ offers.

Apartment websites

The holiday industry might be gearing up for a bumper year ahead, but many apartment websites haven’t done their housekeeping. I’m getting loads of complaints about apartment bookings that are suddenly cancelled when the owner doesn’t confirm the booking. Many apartment owners shut down their operations over the pandemic but didn’t update website entries. This matters because you can still be debited and lose loads of cash in currency exchange rate conversions when the booking is subsequently cancelled. Email the owner before you book to confirm the apartment is available.

Travel traumas

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that things can change, often very quicky indeed. So if you’re booking a holiday, it’s more important than ever that you prepare for sudden changes in travel rules – both home and away.

Check with both the airline and accommodation provider before you book about your rights if you can’t travel because of UK rules, foreign countries shutting their boarders and (God forbid) another wave of Covid. Get it in writing if you can or take screenshots of the T&Cs when you book. Ask if you can get a cash refund if you can’t travel, vouchers or if you can move the holiday forward.

Credit cards

Speaking of being cautious, if you have a credit card, why not use it to book the holiday? If you spend over £100 and there’s a problem, the firm goes bust or you don’t get what you paid for, then you may be able to make a claim under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act against the card provider if the holiday firm isn’t playing ball. The problem has to be pretty full on though – you can’t insure against not enjoying your holiday! In order to be covered, you have to have bought direct from the business, not through a third party.

Travel agents, marketplaces and packaged holidays

Most of the complaints I see are about online travel marketplaces – where you buy from a business that brings together flights and hotels but doesn’t provide the services. If you buy from one of our many fabulous independent travel agents, you’ll get a much more personalised service and more protection from the schemes they are members of if things go wrong. The same goes for packaged holiday providers too!

One last thing…

I can’t say it enough – don’t leave home without travel insurance. Start it from the day you book the holiday. Our mates at MoneySavingExpert have a regularly updated guide to the best buys too.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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