Now, I don’t want to rub it in, but by the time you read this I’ll be on a beach in Spain. Don’t hate me too much. I’ll probably be spontaneously combusting in the heat or losing my apartment keys as per normal.
Because I’m quite good at making mistakes, loosing stuff, falling over and other day-to-day aspects of normal living that other people seem much better at, I like to prepare for every eventuality. Regular readers will already have seen my guide to holiday currency in the column last week. This week I’m going to look at things that can go wrong when traveling – and how to avoid them.
How to avoid the latest travel rip offs
The cost-of-living crisis looms large this year and if you haven’t been away for a while, prepare yourself. Everything is likely to be more expensive. From the moment you book your flight to when you sit down to eat, be wary of price hikes.
Many airlines have slipped back in to their old ways and are increasing prices for every aspect of the process, from booking to on board services. Tempting as it is just to pay up, stop and think about whether things like speedy boarding or faster security are really worth the money. Annoyingly, airports have also been increasing charges, including my pet hate – the drop off charge, which is over £7 for 15 minutes at some airports!
I’ve been contacted by lots of readers who have been caught out by confusion around carry-on baggage. Many airlines have introduced charges now for your standard ‘carry-on’ cabin bags, only allowing small bags (and I mean small) for free. Others allow you ‘one small bag and one ‘cabin bag’ as part of their premium deals. However, don’t mix up cabin bags with hold bags. Many readers have told me they have been billed on arrival for making this mistake and it costs much more to pay for luggage at the airport too.
It’s also come to my attention that airline food, drink, sundries and other ‘chargeable’ items have all gone up, in some cases by 25% or more. You can avoid all of this by doing a bit of reading up before you board. You can usually take on food and drink bought in the airport (not booze or hot food) on to flights which will save you some cash. Measure your small and cabin bags honestly – I’ve been told of some rather militant checks by some airlines. Wear a coat and fill your pockets if you’re running out of space! Oh – and please, please check your passport to make sure it meets the entry requirements. These are all different so read my article on the new rules here.
Next up, let’s tackle using your bank or pre-paid cards to buy things. I asked the team at Currensea, to do some research for me on what people might end up paying if they relied on their usual debit card and they found that the average family will pay £212 in fees alone from using high street bank debit cards and £188 for using pre-paid cards. That’s a night in a ritzy hotel! Currensea also found that half a billion is currently sat around on existing pre-paid cards doing absolutely nothing. Well, apart from decreasing, because some of these businesses charge ‘dormancy fees’ of a few pounds a month, meaning your forgotten travel cash is being whittled away. So go through your drawers, wallets and beach bags and find your old ones and spend the money.
The same research found that 60% of people were planning a trip abroad, and almost two-thirds are still relying on foreign currency for a chunk of their spending. Yet alarmingly, loads of people are still buying their cash at the airport. I can’t say this enough – don’t do it! You’ll pay a fortune and get rubbish rates – and lose out even more if you use the same places to change the money back on your return!
I’ve also received a ton of complaints about car hire firms who seem to be back up to their old tricks again. Remember, they know you are tired and just want to get moving when you arrive at the destination airport, so watch out for ‘upselling’. It’s essential to purchase an ‘excess fees’ insurance policy as returning a car with even a minor scratch could cost you a repair bill of £1,000 or more. But you can buy a decent one for the make and model you hire from a UK based firm from around £30 depending on the vehicle, country and duration of the trip.
Some people have told me that car hire firms have insisted they buy their own brand policies. Make them show you where in the T&Cs is says that this is a requirement. In the UK, businesses are banned from limiting you to their own insurance and most European rules are similar. If you find that the business has changed the make and model of the car, call the insurer to make the changes too. Don’t forget, photo the car from every angle before driving off, to avoid disputes later.
One last thing to bear in mind
Just when I think I’ve heard everything when it comes to travel, something new comes along and catches me by surprise.
I’ve written a lot in the past about insurance policies auto-renewing and why this can be a bad thing. However, if you are happy with your insurance company then this does at least allow you easy ongoing cover. I got a nice discount on my policy this year and assumed that my annual policy would auto-renew. When I was writing this article, my renewal documents had come through so I thought I’d call and check.
It turns out that a few insurance companies can’t auto-renew your policy if the card you previously paid on has expired.This would have meant I would have gone away assuming I was covered when actually my policy had expired. The moral of the tale: Check everything.
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James