Holidays can be expensive enough without having to count the extra cost when it all goes wrong.
But the seeds of that disappointment are being planted now, as the travel booking season gets into full swing and easily avoided mistakes are repeated.
Airlines and travel firms have all stepped up their advertising campaigns over recent weeks as households finalise their holiday plans in a bid to shake off the winter blues. But that’s when the mistakes are made, whether it’s skipping the insurance small print, booking with dubious companies or using the wrong form of payment.
Thousands of Scots have been left out of pocket in recent years because cancelled flights, airlines and travel firms going bust – including Edinburgh-based Flyglobespan – and poor weather conditions.
While some managed to get their money back, those without insurance or who failed to take steps to protect themselves weren’t so lucky.
Bob Atkinson, travel expert at MoneySupermarket.com, said: “It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of booking a holiday and to make silly, simple mistakes which can end up hitting your wallet where it hurts.”
Here are the pitfalls to avoid during the booking and a few tips on ensuring you’re protected in case not all goes to plan.
1. Cover your tracks
If you’re in the process of booking your holiday it’s worth doing a bit of research on the airlines and/or travel firms you’re doing business with. A quick internet search may produce recent “holiday hell” stories concerned a particular provider, for example, or raise doubts over the solvency of the airline you’re thinking of using.
Book an Atol (Air Travel Organisers Licensing) or Flight-Plus covered trip if you can, for added security in the event of a company going bust.
“If in doubt ask the company you are booking with if they are covered, and if in doubt that the licence is genuine then check the licence with the CAA,” Atkinson suggested.
Your method of payment can also improve your chances of getting money back in case things go wrong. If you pay by credit cards (and it comes to more than £100) you’re protected under the Consumer Credit Act. That doesn’t apply to all debit cards, although Visa and MasterCard-backed debit cards offer a charge-back service that can enable you to recover your payment if a company collapses.
Whatever you do, don’t pay by cash, warned Atkinson.
“We saw some high profile cases of Scots losing money when the Zoom airline went under a few years back. One group of fishing guys paid thousands cash to the airline at the airport desk to go to Canada – and they lost all of their money.”
2. Pay attention
The most frustrating and potentially expensive mistakes made at booking are often the easiest to avoid. From mis-spelling names on the booking and picking the wrong dates to ignoring the baggage allowance and selecting the wrong airport, there are myriad ways to mess up what should be simple.
“Once you’ve found a trip you’re happy with, before confirming your booking make sure you check all details are 100% correct including name spellings, dates and departure airport,” said Atkinson. “Failing to do so could cost you a significant fee or with the only option to rebook your ticket.
3. Do your research
With so many airlines and travel firms going to the wall in recent years it’s worth looking into the financial stability of the organisation/s you book with.
The plethora of online travel firms available these days means we’re less likely to use a well-known name when arranging our trip.
Find out if a travel agent you’re not familiar with is a member of one of the trade associations, such as Abta (the Association of British Travel Agents), the TTA (Travel Trust Association) or the Global Travel Group. Your money is protected when you book with members of these bodies your money is protected.
If you’re going for a package holiday – where a flight and hotel is sold together – make sure the firm involved is part of the CAA Atol scheme, which provides extra protection if it goes out of business.
Licences can be checked on the Civil Aviation Authority website at http://www.caa.co.uk/application.aspx?catid=490&pagetype=65&appid=2
However, many people now arrange their own trips and book the various components separately. That means Atol coverage won’t apply, making it even more important to have insurance and/or book with a credit card or a Visa or Mastercard debit card offering charge back.
4. Get covered
Last but not least, take out travel insurance. Comparison websites have made it easier to find insurance and have also driven down costs, but many people pay a high price for failing to look beyond the price.
Try to arrange your insurance as soon as you book your trip, so you’ve got cancellation cover in place.
Jeremy Cryer, head of travel at Gocompare.com, said: “Your insurer will check when you were first aware of the potential disruption to your holiday before deciding whether your claim is genuine.
“It’s therefore a much better idea to take out your travel cover soon after you book your holiday than to leave it until just before you travel.”
Atkinson recommends holidaymakers should plan on being insured for at least the following:
• Medical expenses – £2 million.
• Personal liability – £1m.
• Cancellation – £3,000 or at least enough to cover your holiday cost.
• Baggage – £1,500.
• Cash – £250.
• Cover for scheduled airline failure and end supplier failure.
Delay cover, ie £20 an hour for the first 12 hours. Especially recommended for winter travel. One thing you should not do is rely on the insurance you’ve got as part of a packaged current account.
“It’s vital not to assume this cover is sufficient for you as it often does not cover trips outside of Europe, winter sports trips or even some trip of more than two weeks,” said Atkinson. “If yours is not good enough, upgrade or buy a policy from scratch that does work. Otherwise you may find your holiday is not covered and you will then face financial loss.”
There’s plenty that holidaymakers can do to protect themselves in the event of something going wrong with their trip – but sometimes you just can’t account for a firm that lets you down.
Linda MacLugash, husband Iain and her brother-in-law Mark saved diligently for 18 months so they could take his seven-year old son, Jack, pictured, to Lapland before Christmas. The dream holiday turned into something of a nightmare, however.
The £2,000 trip started badly when the flight from Glasgow to Finland was delayed for almost three hours. As the day unfolded, it became clear that the late arrival was just the beginning of the party’s woes.
From tiny changing areas and a shortage of holiday representatives to unlit pathways and organised activities that failed to materialise, almost everything that could go wrong eventually did.
“It was so dark the pathway could not be seen, and there were no signposts to guide the way or even advise us we were going in the right direction. “We were in total darkness and on more on one occasion we all stepped off the track to be almost waist-deep in snow.”
On being contacted by The Scotsman, the company involved, Transun, gave the following response:
“We are very sorry to hear that the family were dissatisfied with their trip. On the weekend in question, there was a delay on the outward journey caused by Glasgow Airport.
“Whilst extreme and unprecedented weather saw the temperature in Lapland drop to -35 °C, we were still able to offer all activities as normal.”
However, its claim that it was able to offer all activities as normal appears to be wide of the mark.
“We were promised a husky ride, a private visit to Santa’s grotto, a snowmobile ride and a chance to see some reindeer,” said Linda.
“The only ride we got was a husky ride, and a motorised sleigh ride to meet Santa.
“We missed out on seeing a reindeer, our own snowmobile ride, further snow activities and the gift shop.”
Even the snowmobile broke down, meaning the party had to get off and walk.
“We were left to walk with a seven-year old child through knee-deep snow and by this time my nephew was in tears. It was all proving too much for him and not the fantastic adventure that he had been promised.
“The day was a disaster from start to finish and not an experience you would want to remember.”
The day trip is described by the company as a ‘Winter Wonderland – a magical Lapland setting that will stay with you forever’, Linda pointed out.