Eight worst holiday rip-offs
Many of us are now only weeks away from our long-awaited summer break. But in all the excitement of deciding where to go and what to do, it's easy to end up paying over the odds.
In our heads, we're already sitting on the beach soaking up the sun, and don't much want to be bothered with the nitty-gritty details.
The travel industry relies on this attitude to charge prices that we would normally find unacceptable.
So before you start planning your break, make sure you're aware of the holiday rip-offs that could swallow up your precious spending money.
RIP-OFF 1: EXCHANGING MONEY AT THE AIRPORT
Ordering currency at the airport is asking for a poor exchange rate and with the current volatility in currency markets, it's even more important to secure a good deal.
A quick comparison reveals that it would cost £951.29 to get €1,000 at Travelex Heathrow, compared with £890.95 with Travelex's online service.
Some agents charge for delivery – unless you're ordering large amounts of money. For example, FairFX charges £6 for orders under £500. Others like Travelex, however, don't charge for this service. Either way, though, you're still getting a good rate.
It's worthwhile using comparison websites like moneysupermarket.com to compare services. Also ask your bank if it can give you a better deal as a customer.
Airport exchange services will try to bolster their credibility with large 0% signs and this seems to do the trick: 44% of us think 0% means the service is free, leading to nearly six in 10 of us basing our travel money purchases on this belief, according to pollsters Optimum Research.
But these exchange services usually claw back the commission by offering a less competitive rate.
"Be wary of low-commission claims," warns Bob Atkinson, travel expert for price comparison website moneysupermarket.com.
"What usually happens is that these services simply make their money back on the low or 0% commission by offering worse exchange rates. So compare the deals by asking yourself what's the final amount you will get."
RIP-OFF 2: CODE SHARING: THE PLANE TICKET LOTTERY
This little-known practice allows airlines to sell seats on partnered carriers in their own name. They do this to synchronise their schedules and baggage handling, which makes it cheaper and easier for air passengers to book connecting flights.
But the other side of code sharing is that if you want to book with a specific airline because of its service, you could pay the extra yet still find yourself on an inferior airline.
For example, if you fly from Manchester to Milan with British Airways it will cost you £280.30, but only £81.84 with code-sharers Flybe.
So how can you avoid this rip-off? Check your booking information to see if your flight is code-shared. 'Operating carriers' are the airlines you fly with, while 'marketing' or 'validating carriers' just sell tickets for the flight.
However, the airlines don't make it obvious which airlines they're partnered with. "It's difficult to try and work this information out," says Duncan Barraclough, travel expert for travelsupermarket.com. "But what it does highlight is the importance of shopping around."
RIP-OFF 3: PAYING FOR EXPENSIVE FOOD AT THE AIRPORT OR ONBOARD
A packed lunch may not be the most exciting start to your foreign travels, but if it means that when you arrive at your destination, you'll have saved enough for an extra-special meal out, it'll be worth it.
Rules limiting the amount of water you can take through departures mean you'll have to at least buy drinks at the airport, but even this is cheaper than buying onboard on some of the supposed 'budget' carriers.
Ryanair and easyJet, for example, keep costs down by cutting out niceties such as the in-flight meal. Even British Airways has dispensed with meals after 10am, simply offering drinks and nibbles.
"Airlines can get away with charging extortionate prices because once you're on board there's nowhere else to go," says Atkinson.
A 500ml bottle of Evian water costs 43p at the supermarket and yet the onflight price ranges from £1.50 at Jet2 and easyJet to £2.63 with Ryanair. The average markup on food is 380% and 343% on soft drinks.
If you've got the nerve, take along teabags or coffee granules and ask for some hot water – you've got nothing to lose. And it's common now for passengers to bring their own food onto flights, so there's no need to feel awkward.
RIP-OFF 4: THE CAR-HIRE CON
Booking car hire at the last minute or on arrival will cost you dearly. "It was widely publicised last year that there was a shortage of cars available for hire, due to fleets being cut back in the recession - and the result was high prices," says Barraclough.
For example, last minute prices in summer 2009 went up to £400 for a week's hire with Group A cars, due to limited supply. However, the price for a week's rental earlier in the year cost considerably less at £150.
Some of the real problems with car hire come not with the initial hire costs but from the additional charges that get piled on afterwards, or the sub-standard service.
When you go to collect your car, read through all documents you're given before you sign them. It's an effort, but they should detail what is and isn't included in terms of insurance cover and excess for damage.
You may prefer to pay extra upfront to reduce this fee in the event of any damage. Also watch out for guarantees on extras such as car seats.
RIP-OFF 5: AIRPORT PARKING
Once again the old adage 'be prepared' rings true. Roll up on the day and you'll have to pay £16.30 a day at Heathrow, reducing slightly to £15.70 a day for stays over four days.
A week's stay would cost £109.99. But pre–booking reduces the cost by nearly half: one week at a long-stay car park would cost £63.80 on a supersaver deal.
Check the transfer times and look for the park mark, which is handed out by the police to secure car parks.
While the cheapest prices will require booking considerably in advance, even reserving a space the day before can still save you money – so there's really no excuse.
Single travellers might fare better taking public transport. You can get the tube to Heathrow, and most airports run a train or bus shuttle service. An adult return, booked online, for the Stansted Express costs £24.50.
Depending where you live in the country, this might be more economically viable than paying petrol and parking costs. If you input how many miles you intend to drive into the fuel-economy.co.uk website, it will calculate the cost of your journey.
RIP-OFF 6: BUYING TRAVEL INSURANCE FROM A TRAVEL AGENT OR AIRLINE
The convenience of buying travel insurance from your travel agent or airline is often cancelled out by the potential expense and poor level of cover you could end up with.
"It's a bit like buying mortgage protection insurance through your mortgage provider – it's not always the best policy," says Barraclough.
That's not to say that buying travel insurance this way is always a bad thing, just that you should compare different products to see which suits your travel requirements best.
EasyJet's travel insurance has been given five stars by independent research specialists Defaqto, and it more than covers the minimum amount of suggested cover.
Travel policies should cover at least £2 million for medical expenses; £1 million personal liability; £3,000 cancellation: £1,500 baggage; and £250 cash.
In addition, you also need to read through the policy documents to see what is and isn't included for cover. Also look at the excess to see if you're happy with the level you're expected to pay – this can range from nothing at all to hundreds of pounds.
RIP-OFF 7: USING YOUR CARD ABROAD: THE CONVERSION SCAM
When using your card abroad you may be asked if you'd rather pay in the local currency or sterling. Always opt to pay in the local currency; if you choose to pay in pounds the charge is converted from local to sterling and back again.
Known as 'Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)', this may be helpful to see how much something costs in pounds, but the exchange rates will inevitably be poor.
Remember, it's the cardholder's right to choose which currency they pay in and if a vendor tries to enforce DCC, you are within your rights to refuse.
RIP-OFF 8: MOBILE PHONE CHARGES
To use your phone abroad you will have to pay to receive calls as well as making them. These 'roaming charges' apply because your home network has to pay a foreign mobile network to send calls to your phone.
Last year the European Commission ruled that all networks had to drop text prices to 11p a text, and as of 1 March 2010, all operators must provide a €50 (about £45) cut-off facility so that customers don't suffer a nasty shock when they check their bill after a holiday.
Regulations are all well and good, but you could still easily get caught out, as Darren Cronian, founder of travel blog travel-rants.com, found.
"I'm in New York at the moment, and my mobile phone bill is around £55 due to roaming charges for internet and email," he says.
"The networks are supposed to be reducing the cost of roaming fees, but I don't see any evidence of this."
Frequent flyers might want to consider adding a roaming add-on to their contract. This can cut international call costs by anything from 10% to 90%, depending on the destination.
Vodafone customers, for example, can get lower call rates in parts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand with its free passport add-on. Cronian advises purchasing a local SIM card: "You might have to unlock your mobile phone to use another operator."
This is more usually a feature of car insurance but it can also crop up in contents, mobile phone and pet insurance policies. An excess is the amount of money you have to pay before the insurance company starts paying out. The excess makes up the first part of a claim, so if your excess is £100 and your claim is for £500, you would pay the first £100 and the insurer the remaining £400. Many online insures let you set your own excess, but the lower the excess, the more expensive the premium will be.
The difference between two currencies; specifically how much one currency is worth relative to each other. For example, if £1 is worth $1.50, converting sterling to US dollars, the exchange rate is 1.5. Converting dollars to sterling at those levels, the exchange rate is 0.66, so $1 is worth 66p. There are a wide variety of factors that influence the exchange rate, such as a country’s interest rates, inflation, and the state of politics and the economy in that country.