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Travel

Travel firms to trust for your post-lockdown holiday

Titans that came up trumps in a crisis: Travel firms to trust for your post-lockdown holiday

  • Trailfinders tops the list for service and strong finances, writes Neil Simpson   
  • Kuoni is singled out by researchers at Which? for a fair-play refund policy
  • Smaller firms such as Inn Travel and Leger Holidays have also won praise 

Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at an important holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: travel firms to trust for your next holiday.

Look ahead to 2021 and you’ll find a series of amazing holiday deals already appearing. Trailfinders is offering savings of more than £1,500 per couple on seven-night wellness holidays in St Lucia – stays in an all-inclusive five-star hotel with complimentary spa treatments each day and dinner in a choice of five restaurants every night now costs £2,699pp.

Turn to Kuoni and you can find flights and ten-night self-drive tours through Florida to take in the Art Deco buildings of Miami, the shabby chic of Key West and Fort Lauderdale’s sandy beaches from £1,695pp. Alternatively, get away from it all on a 12-night tour of remote lodges and safari hotels in Namibia, on offer from Exodus from £3,199pp, including flights.

Putting on the style: The iconic Art Deco buildings of Miami can be seen on a Florida self-drive tour

But is it wise to book 2021 trips while the travel industry is in the midst of a storm over slow refunds on many of this year’s breaks?

No one can say where we may be next summer. But it is already clear which companies have treated their customers best throughout the coronavirus crisis to date.

Heading our hall of fame is Trailfinders (trailfinders.com), which tops the list for service and strong finances. While most rivals are offering customers only vouchers for cancelled holidays, it continues to offer refunds on demand. It has also won fans for its ‘virtual appointments’, with staff connected to their usual research and reservation systems from home.

Kuoni (kuoni.co.uk) is singled out by researchers at Which? for a fair-play refund policy, while Exodus (exodus.co.uk) has won plaudits for its flexible deposits plan. This means customers booking now can switch to any other holiday for free up to ten weeks before departure.

Solo traveller firm Friendship Travel (friendshiptravel.com) also has a good record for flexibility and refunds. Premier Inn (premierinn.com) gets a mention for recrediting cards quickly, while Caribbean specialist Sandals (sandals.co.uk) is on the list for helping pioneer discounts to NHS workers booking for next summer.

It’s equally important to know your tour firm won’t abandon you if things go wrong while you’re away. Experts in the Travel Counsellors group (travelcounsellors.co.uk) went to extraordinary lengths to repatriate clients when borders began to close in March.

Rare treat: Spot leopards on a bargain safari tour of Namibia

One Norfolk-based counsellor started organising emergency paperwork at 4am while tracking a series of back-up flights to get one couple home from Vietnam and another from the South Pacific.

Staff at Titan Travel (titantravel.co.uk) did similarly sterling work, including putting customers in Australia on a non-stop flight from Darwin to the UK when the original route via Singapore was cancelled.

And while those who booked travel through international firms such as Expedia say they were left hanging on phone lines for hours when the first wave of flight cancellations hit, clients of smaller, UK-based firms had no such problems. Holidaymakers with Inn Travel (inntravel.co.uk), Newmarket Holidays (newmarketholidays.co.uk) and Leger Holidays (leger.co.uk) have all won praise. Leger, for example, instantly moved this year’s cancelled bookings for the Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria to the rescheduled 2022 dates while honouring 2020 prices.

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Travel

53 best and worst travel firms for cancellation refunds revealed

Revealed: The 53 best and worst travel firms for coronavirus cancellation refunds – with Ryanair near the bottom and Hays Travel, Airbnb and Jet2 at the top

  • A poll asked 27,000 people to rate firms on their handling of coronavirus issues
  • Big names that did well in the survey included Jet2 Holidays and Booking.com
  • The findings will be reported to the Competition and Markets Authority
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for the travel industry, with millions of holidays and travel bookings either unavailable or cancelled.

Yet how firms treat their customers as a result of the pandemic various enormously, according to a major new investigative survey. It asked 27,000 travel customers to rate firms according to how they’ve dealt with problems arising from coronavirus and filtered them into a 53-place ranking.

Travel Counsellors came top, followed by Hays Travel and Airbnb, with travel agent Travel Trolley at the very bottom, followed by TravelUp (52nd) and Teletext Holidays (51st) – and Ryanair in 47th place.

Travel Counsellors has been rated as the best firm in the UK for dealing with coronavirus-related travel issues

Travel Trolley was rated as the worst firm for dealing with coronavirus-related issues

Hays Travel came second in the poll, which was carried out by MoneySavingExpert.com

THE BEST AND WORST TRAVEL FIRMS FOR CORONAVIRUS CANCELLATION REFUNDS 

1 Travel Counsellors 

2 Hays Travel 

3 Airbnb 

4 Jet2 Holidays 

5 Jet2 

6 British Airways Holidays 

7 Center Parcs 

8 Disney Holidays 

9 Trailfinders 

10 Haven 

11 Saga 

12 Hotels.com 

13 Booking.com 

14 Easyjet Holidays 

15 British Airways 

16 HomeAway 

17 American Airlines 

18 Ebookers 

19 Onthebeach 

20 Qatar Airways

21 Travel Republic 

22 Easyjet 

23 Expedia 

24 P&O Cruises 

25 Eurotunnel 

26 Aer Lingus 

27 Norwegian 

28 Riviera 

29 Eurostar 

30 Wizz Air 

31 Emirates 

32 Lufthansa 

33 Brittany Ferries 

34 Virgin Atlantic 

35 Cottages.com 

36 First Choice 

37 Tui 

38 Vueling 

39 Hoseasons 

40 Love Holidays 

41 Virgin Holidays 

42 Air France 

43 Secret Escapes 

44 STA Travel 

45 Sykes Cottages 

46 KLM 

47 Ryanair 

48 Opodo 

49 Lastminute.com 

50 Holiday Extras 

51 Teletext Holidays 

52 TravelUp 

53 Travel Trolley  

207  +91

1,017  +70 

924  +56 

1,621  +54 

1,593  +47 

289  +45 

202  +42 

147  +37 

233  +32 

212  +30 

151  +26

441  +21 

1,178  +18 

163  +10 

1,809  +8 

199  +8 

123  +1 

108  -11 

283  -18 

112  -21 

266  -27 

2,425  -28 

811  -28 

603  -30 

106  -35 

193  -38 

196  -42 

142  -45 

239  -46 

158  -48 

450  -48 

142  -49 

253  -50 

627  -51 

244  -54 

223  -60 

3,252  -60 

119  -61 

451  -68 

677  -70 

775  -73 

149  -76 

299  -76 

150  -77 

610  -79

596  -82 

2,563  -82 

283  -86 

550  -87 

291  -92

251  -94 

593  -95 

338  -95 

The table ranks firms by net score (number of ‘great’ votes minus the number of ‘poor’ votes – with ‘OK’ votes disregarded) and lists the number of responses for each. Only firms with more than 100 responses have been included.

Source: Moneysavingexpert.com 

Other big names that did well in the poll, which was carried out by MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE), were Jet2 Holidays (4th), Booking.com (13th) and BA Holidays (6th).

MSE said it will now be reporting these findings to the Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as well as the Competition and Markets Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: ‘This is a tough time for the travel industry. It’s one of the sectors worst hit by coronavirus, but it’s a tough time for the public too, many of whom are also in dire straits. And they’ve been strident in telling us that they’ll remember how firms dealt with them during this time – good and bad.

‘People aren’t just judging on whether firms failed to give a refund – though that plays a big part. Many poor ratings are also about difficulties in getting in touch, being given the runaround, and terrible management of expectations – such as Ryanair sending vouchers to those who’d specifically requested cash refunds.

‘People shouldn’t be annoyed with firms offering to move bookings or offering vouchers as refunds. Indeed I’d encourage those who don’t need the cash to take them, especially from firms with solid financials, as it’ll help keep the industry going and keep people in work.

Ryanair came 47th in the poll. Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: ‘This is a tough time for the travel industry. It’s one of the sectors worst hit by coronavirus, but it’s a tough time for the public too’

‘Yet when people are entitled to monetary refunds, to make them sit on phones on hold for hours, often getting cut off to get it, when vouchers are available at the click of a button leaves people feeling rightly riled.

‘Sadly, out of the 53 companies rated, only 17 were net positive. Yet that means they should get even louder plaudits for trying to do it right.

‘They’re struggling, but are protecting customers too, and the likelihood is when this is all over, they’ll come out stronger and with more brand loyalty because of it.’

MailOnline Travel asked Ryanair, TravelUp and Travel Trolley for a comment but did not receive a response.

Airbnb came third in the poll, which produced a ranking of firms each used by at least 100 respondents

FOUR QUICK TIPS TO GET YOUR MONEY BACK 

The exact process to follow if your booking is cancelled and you want to get your money back will vary depending on the type of booking you have (flight, hotel, package holiday and so on).

Before asking for a cash refund, consider if you need one. At the moment, many firms are really struggling. This means it’s safer to demand a refund rather than settle for a voucher, in case the firm collapses before you can use it. But it’s also worth considering whether you’re in a position to show forbearance.

Having said that, if you’re sure that you do in your money back, here are a few brief tips to follow: 

1. Speak to the firm first and use its refund system. Always start this way. Give it a chance, use its systems.

2. If that fails, warn it you’ll take it further. If you can speak to the firm and it isn’t helping, warn it you’ll speak to your card firm. This costs firms and it’s cheaper if they do it themselves, so give them the chance.

3. If the firm won’t give you money back, ask your card provider. Speak to your card provider and ask it to do a chargeback – where it asks the firm’s bank for the money.

4. If this doesn’t work, your final action would be to take the legal route, perhaps through a county court.

Source: MoneySavingExpert.com.

Wayne Perks, Managing Director of Teletext Holidays, said in response to the survey result: ‘Despite having to put the most of our UK team on furlough, and having halved the size of our operation in India, the remaining staff have been working non-stop with suppliers to cancel holidays and negotiate the waiving of any cancellation fees from them, as well as answering any communication we receive.

‘We had to switch our phone lines off because the Indian government enforced a very strict lockdown in the cities where both our sales centres are located and we were unable to get staff into these offices. I can now advise that the restrictions are being eased and our sales centres are once again able to take calls, albeit at a reduced rate whilst social distancing is maintained. ‘

He added: ‘When we book holidays for our customers, we immediately pay for the flights, and therefore do not retain any of this money within our business. In addition, Teletext Holidays often pays hotels in advance in order to get customers the best room rates.

‘Teletext Holidays, therefore, acts as an agent and we are experiencing long delays in receiving monies back from airlines, with some telling us that we will not receive customers money until “the virus has passed”.

‘We have put in place a two-stage refund process, offering customers Atol protected refund credit notes which they can use up to December 31, 2020, for holidays travelling up to December 31, 2021. If they do not decide to take this option, we are offering full refunds from July 31, 2020.’ 

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Travel

Letting firms reported to competition regulator over Covid-19 refunds

Britain’s biggest holiday letting firms are reported to the competition regulator by Which? over concerns they are denying customers coronavirus refunds

  • Frustrated customers say they have been struggling to secure their cash back
  • They have complained about terms and conditions making refunds impossible
  • Some also say their requests are being met by a wall of silence
  • Holiday letting firms reported include Sykes Holiday Cottages and Hoseasons  
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Some of Britain’s biggest holiday lettings firms have been reported to the competition regulator after an investigation raised concerns they could be using unfair contract terms to deny customers refunds for coronavirus cancellations.

They have been reported to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) by Which? after frustrated customers of companies such as Sykes Holiday Cottages and Hoseasons got in touch with the consumer champion about problems in securing a refund for holidays cancelled as a result of the UK lockdown.

Which? says some complained about terms and conditions that make the refund claims process difficult, if not impossible.

Some of Britain’s biggest holiday lettings firms have been reported to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) by Which? over concerns they could be using unfair contract terms to deny customers refunds for coronavirus cancellations

Others describe being unable to contact the company they booked through or being passed between the company and property owner as neither accepts responsibility.

Which? says it checked the terms and conditions of five of the UK’s biggest holiday letting companies – Sykes Holiday Cottages, Holidaycottages.co.uk, Hoseasons, Cottages.com and English Country Cottages – to understand consumers’ entitlement to a refund for cancellations under these circumstances, and found terms that could potentially be challenged as unfair under the Consumer Rights Act.

The consumer champion says that in four of the five contracts, the terms set out how owners of properties rented through the sites are allowed to cancel the holiday if circumstances outside of their control prevent them from being able to provide the property, but do not explain what the consumer’s right to a refund would be in these circumstances.

Which? says it is concerned that if the right to a refund isn’t provided by additional terms between the property owner and the customer, property owners have too much leeway to keep a customer’s money if a booking is cancelled – making it potentially unfair according to the law.

The Holidaycottages.co.uk contract was the only one not to contain this potentially unfair cancellation clause. 

Hoseasons, Cottages.com and English Country Cottages also tell customers that bookings are subject to the additional terms and conditions of the property owner and that these are ‘available from the suppliers if you ask’.

While the booking terms say other information may be provided to the consumer during the booking process, if this doesn’t include these additional terms and they are only available on request, Which? believes this could also potentially be challenged as legally unfair.

One consumer who complained to Which?, Jessica Tappin, says she has been waiting for over a month for a full refund from Sykes Holiday Cottages, after receiving a partial refund and being told the remaining balance would be credited to her account.

Which? says some customers with holiday cottage bookings have complained about terms and conditions that make the refund claims process difficult, if not impossible (stock image)

When she still had not received the outstanding sum and heard of other customers getting full refunds, she tried sending a letter from a solicitor – but she told Which? that she has still not received the remaining payment.

Meanwhile, Adam Kemp is also waiting for a refund from Hoseasons, who told him he could not claim a refund without cancellation insurance, despite not cancelling the holiday himself. The company sent him a voucher for the value of the holiday instead.

Adam told Which? that Hoseasons pointed him to its terms and conditions about compensation in the event of circumstances beyond its control, which state that the company doesn’t cover additional losses.

But Hoseasons did not point to any terms around refunds for cancellations made by the owner of the property.

Which? says that this week, the CMA has launched an investigation into unfair terms and bad practice in the UK holiday lettings sector.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘With the coronavirus outbreak wreaking havoc on holiday plans, it’s extremely concerning to hear of so many people being refused refunds from some of the UK’s biggest players in the holiday lettings market.

‘The CMA must investigate, and where terms are unfair, take action to ensure that companies act fairly so that holidaymakers are not left out of pocket for their cancelled holidays.’

Which? claims that some customers describe being unable to contact the company they booked through or being passed between the company and property owner as neither accepts responsibility for refunds 

A spokesperson for Hoseasons, cottages.com and English Country Cottages, said: ‘We are doing all we can to help customers and homeowners during these exceptional times. This includes offering price-matched breaks for the same or equivalent date in 2021, as well as refunds in appropriate circumstances.

‘We have responded and adapted to the evolving issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic as we have received new guidelines from the government. Following the statement from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) yesterday we have now expanded the options available to support any customers who were due to travel with us during government-imposed travel restrictions and who prefer not to accept one of our vouchers.’

A spokesperson for Sykes Holiday Cottages said: ‘We are doing everything we can to support our customers, property owners and employees during this difficult time.

‘Where customers have been due to travel on or before May 7, 2020, and we have received owners’ consent, we have issued thousands of customers with all funds returned to us by the owner of the property, paid directly to customers’ original payment methods.

‘If that refund does not match the price originally paid, as a goodwill gesture we have applied an ex-gratia credit to customers’ Sykes Holiday Cottages accounts to represent the fees we have been paid by owners for facilitating these bookings. These can be used on any holidays departing within 24 months.

‘Due to the volume of bookings affected, we are working with owners to process these refunds as quickly as possible and we would like to thank our customers for their patience.’ 

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