James Walker: Avoiding package tours can carry its own risks

Holidays have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. With the collapse of Thomas Cook, the big question for people planning holiday is: how do I avoid this happening to me?

Tourists renting with Airbnb aren't always welcome
Tourists renting with Airbnb aren't always welcome

Many are turning to organisations like Airbnb and other apartment letting businesses as an alternative to traditional packages. But there are risks there too for the unprepared.

So what are your rights when using lettings companies, if things go wrong?

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Take out insurance and tell your insurer where you’ll be staying. Most insurance companies will cover holiday lettings, but they have to be legit. Check your insurer’s advice and rules before booking. There may be different rules for staying in apartments when it comes to things like keeping your valuables safe, for example.

Research, research, research. If you’re booking a holiday apartment that’s owned by an individual (as opposed to a hotel) you need to do as much research as you can. Look at the location on a map (do a street view too if you can). Check online for notes about the neighbourhood. Look into verified reviews from people who’ve stayed before.

Watch the backlash. Tourists aren’t too popular in places like Venice and Barcelona these days. Holiday lettings have massively pushed up property prices, so support the locals and book hotels in these places where you can. Check online to find out what countries are banning holiday lettings or restricting them – don’t assume the booking company will tell you. We’ve recently seen a number of complaints from people who’ve been told by their hosts to pretend to be relatives or hide from security or concierges.

Cold feet. Before you book find out what your rights are if you want to cancel. Many people have told us that they found out an apartment was fake or mis-advertised but were told they couldn’t do anything until they turned up. Make sure you have all the details about cancellation rights and what happens if the booking turns out to be dodgy.

Bag drops. Everyone gets caught out by this one. Unlike a hotel, your letting won’t usually allow you to leave your bag when you check out, which usually results in you dragging it around with you on your last day. Book your flights or plan ahead to allow for this. Some cities have luggage lockers – but again, you might not be covered under some insurance policies if you use them.

In a worst case scenario. From armed police arriving to double bookings, you might find yourself without accommodation. While your booking website might have a complaints procedure or guidance, I’d take a credit card with you, just in case you need to check in somewhere new at short notice. Get receipts and make a complaint when you’re home.

Beware scams. There are a lot of fraudsters out there. The holiday lettings scam works when the host offers you a better rate if you book direct (go off the booking site, in other words). You’ll be asked to make a payment by money transfer or another non-secure method. Then you arrive on holiday to find that you’ve been conned. Always book through the official website and always pay using their specified methods of payment. If you pay by cheque, transfer or in cash you’ve got very little in the way of rights if something goes wrong.