Episode 10 Rip Off Britain


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Episode 10

The team hear how one man's home was rented out to holidaymakers without him knowing anything about it. Plus the hidden charge adding hundreds of dollars to American hotel bills.


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Transcript


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We asked you who's left you feeling ripped off

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when it comes to your holidays,

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and you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.

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This can't be happening.

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It's a nightmare! Wake me up from it, please.

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It was just a shambles.

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That's the best way to say it, it was just a shambles.

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So whether it's a deliberate rip-off,

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a simple mistake or indeed a catch in the small print,

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we'll find out why you were out of pocket,

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and what you can do about it.

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Your stories, your money.

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This is Rip-Off Britain.

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Hello, and thanks so much for joining us here in Tenerife

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for our very special series that's investigating disasters

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that can happen when you're away on holiday.

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Now today, we're going to be setting our sights

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on some of the biggest names in the travel business.

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Some of them have been with us for years,

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and have got years of experience.

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Others, with more a recently-won reputation,

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are, kind of, new kids on the block

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but, either way, as far as you're concerned,

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they are still getting it wrong.

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Now, it may be that that's the reason you chose to book

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with a particular company in the first place,

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because it had a familiar name, a certain image -

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or it's simply regarded as having the best deals -

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but, while you might assume

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that going with one of the bigger players

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buys you better service if things do go wrong,

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I'm afraid that isn't how the cases we'll be looking at

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-actually panned out.

-Far from it.

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Indeed, the people who'll be sharing their stories with us today

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all feel incredibly let down

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by the way their situations were handled.

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They'd hoped for better from a big name

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but, in fact they'd say that,

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instead of living up to expectations,

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these well-known companies actually made things worse.

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Coming up...

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The hidden charge adding hundreds of dollars to American hotel bills.

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So, what are you paying for?

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And is it legal?

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The hotel's being greedy and it's just spoiling it.

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It's just spoiling all the holiday for people like me and my wife,

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and anybody else who is going.

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Your normal, average holiday-maker.

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And how your home could end up being advertised on Airbnb

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for holiday-makers to rent,

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without you knowing anything about it.

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When we eventually got the house back,

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the damage was such

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that there were burn marks on all the furniture,

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so something had been going on in there -

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I just don't know what.

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When you book a holiday,

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you'll typically assume that the price per night

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that's been advertised or you've been quoted,

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is going to be the total price that you'll pay

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when you finish.

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But not necessarily

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because, if you're one of almost four million Britons

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who regularly jet off to the United States each year,

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you may well have spotted that an increasing number of hotels

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are adding an extra charge to the bill.

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And it's one that,

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whether you use the services that it's supposed to be covering or not,

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you've got no choice but to pay up.

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Viva Las Vegas!

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A city of high rollers and high living

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that, from the moment they saw it,

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convinced Colin Towel and wife Lynne

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they'd won the holiday jackpot,

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and they've been coming back ever since.

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The reason why we like going back to Vegas

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is because it's just a mad, exciting city.

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It's got an atmosphere of nowhere else you can go,

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probably anywhere in the world.

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When you go in the hotels

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and you see all these high-roller gamblers

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from all over the world, it's so entertaining.

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It's unbelievable.

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And, though they enjoy a bit of action on the slot machines,

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they don't gamble when it comes to budgeting for their holiday.

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It's an expensive holiday, and it's something you save up all year for.

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We try to get the best deal we can,

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we're checking on the internet sites and things like that,

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and with this travel agent.

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But on their most recent trips,

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they've started to feel that the odds are stacked against them

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when it comes to working out how much cash they'll need to put aside

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for their holiday...

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because, when they've made it to the hotel,

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they've found themselves being asked to fork out

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a few dollars more than they'd like,

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thanks to an extra "resort fee" slapped on the bill.

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We've been going to Las Vegas since 2005

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and, when we started going, there was nothing like any resort fees

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but, in the last couple of years,

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these resort fees have crept in.

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It's an underhand tactic, the way they do it

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because the price of the room

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is in bold, big numbers,

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whereas the additional resort fees is in small print.

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Often, very small.

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And sometimes, as we'll see,

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it may not immediately be shown at all.

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A hotel's resort fee is typically a fixed daily charge added to the bill

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to cover anything from Wi-Fi

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through to bottled water or a daily paper,

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to the use of the pool and the gym.

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-12.

-12.

-It's a winner.

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Well done, well done.

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Some of the services it includes

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you might previously have expected to get for free

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or you may have no interest or intention of using them -

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but rather than being optional, they're mandatory,

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so you'll be forced to pay

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even if you didn't use anything that it covers.

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I feel really upset about having to pay for something that I don't use.

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If it's an extra, you pay for it as an extra.

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You should not be paying for things that you just don't use at all.

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But that's not the way most Vegas hotels see it.

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And a charge once limited to only high-end resorts

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has, over the last few years,

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come to be the norm wherever you stay on the Strip.

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Controversial these fees may be,

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but they're also completely legal after being signed off by the

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US Government's consumer protection agency,

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the Federal Trade Commission, in 2012.

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As long as hotels make clear what surcharges are for

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before customers make a booking,

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then a resort fee is totally above board.

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But on Colin and Lynne's last trip,

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because they hadn't known about the resort fees in advance,

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they were able to successfully persuade the hotel

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that they shouldn't have to pay it.

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They hit us with them at the reception desk.

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We argued it, and we says, "We didn't get told.

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"We didn't know anything about these resort fees,"

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and we got, you know, they let us off.

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We got the resort fees waived.

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But this year,

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because the couple now did know about the fees before booking,

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the hotel wasn't prepared to wave them

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and, as the charge can quickly mount up,

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in this case, the daily fee was an extra 32 -

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Colin and Lynne felt they'd no choice

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but to choose somewhere cheaper,

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further away from the strip at the heart of the Vegas action.

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Everything's happening on the strip,

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but we've no option this time.

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The only other option was...

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just to boycott Vegas.

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We just wasn't going to go.

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After seeing what a money-spinner resort fees can be,

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even those Vegas hotels that had initially held out against them,

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have now embraced these extra charges,

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leaving Colin and Lisa worried that they'll soon be priced out of

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holidaying there altogether.

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They're not just a small percentage of what your room rate would be.

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They could be 25, they could be 30%, or more,

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of what your room rate is.

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It's just one big rip-off.

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The hotel's being greedy, really greedy,

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and they're all jumping on the bandwagon

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and it's just spoiling it.

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It's just spoiling all the holiday for people like me and my wife,

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and anybody else who is going - your normal, average holiday-maker.

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We've heard from other visitors to Vegas

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who have been left distinctly poker-faced by the resort fees

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that are being added to their hotel bills,

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including Mick Fraser from Preston.

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Many people I know, and I've been going for a good few years now,

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to Vegas, have been walloped with their credit card when they get there.

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You will pay and you will get charged.

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There's no getting away with it.

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And Peter Whalley, from Blackburn,

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found himself hit with an unexpected fee

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that, over the holiday, added up to 360.

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I wasn't happy, to say the least,

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and feel that this is the hoteliers of Las Vegas,

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who put this hidden cost on

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to the price of the rooms,

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and I feel it's wrong

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and it's not within most families' budgets.

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But this time, what happens in Vegas

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certainly hasn't stayed in Vegas.

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Resort fees are now catching on

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in many other popular American destinations, too.

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In the Florida Keys,

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you could have up to 39 a night stuck on the bill

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and, in New York,

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hotels may add around 43

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to their nightly fees.

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Such a big addition to your bill

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is something you'll want to know about

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as soon as you make an enquiry

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on how much a room is going to cost.

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But some say that doesn't always happen

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and that the resort fee may be hidden away,

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so you'll be drawn in by the lower headline rate.

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That's just one of the reasons why American senator Claire McCaskill

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has been campaigning against them.

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There is a rate for a hotel,

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and you think, "Boy, that's a good deal."

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Then you get to the hotel, you check in and, when you check out,

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there is a fee on your bill that you weren't anticipating

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and, all of a sudden, that good deal turns into a very bad deal.

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We believe that's deceptive.

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I think we need to change that.

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Senator McCaskill wants the States to fall more in line with the EU,

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where hotel booking sites and travel agents are required to be clear

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about all extra fees and what they're for,

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which explains why, here in the UK, travel website Expedia

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got into bother with the Advertising Standards Authority

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over how clearly these resort fees were displayed.

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The company was told to change an ad for a deal on a hotel in New York

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which it stated included all taxes and fees

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when, in fact, a resort fee of an extra 30 per person, per day,

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would be added on.

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And, as far as Colin is concerned,

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it still isn't always easy to spot these extra charges

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unless you really scour the small print.

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The price for the hotel is showing in bold numbers

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of a price of £1,804 per person -

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but, just below that, there's...

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In small numbers,

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it's showing a price which it's saying is due at the hotel,

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but it doesn't say exactly what the money is for.

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If they want to be fair,

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the price should be in bold numbers,

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so everybody can see what the price is, what they're going to be paying.

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The frustration that travellers like Colin feel

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is shared by our travel expert, Simon Calder.

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It's really very straightforward, what these hotels are doing.

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They want to disguise how much a room in their hotel actually costs.

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They know, if you're searching online

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on a price comparison website,

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their hotel is going to feature well

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and they think, "OK, we're going to have to take a loss

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"on the prices we're showing online

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"but, of course, once people get here and we add on that resort fee,

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"we'll be showing a profit."

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If you're going through a travel agent,

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you have every right to expect that that person will tell you in advance

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if there are any added extras.

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Our research team had a good look at the websites

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of some of the biggest names in the travel industry,

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and there's certainly quite a variation

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in how the Vegas resort fees are made clear.

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Ebookers, Expedia and Hotels.com

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all reference them next to the headline price,

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in a smaller font.

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However, you do have to dig a bit deeper

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to find out exactly what the charge is for.

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Opodo and Booking.com also highlight the resort fee

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close to the room rate,

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but you could possibly miss it if you're not paying enough attention.

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But Lastminute.com keeps the information about the charges to...

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Well, the last minute.

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We had to click through to book,

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then select a drop-down menu

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and read through a pretty lengthy bit of text

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to find any reference to the extra fee that you'll need to pay.

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The company told us it doesn't include the resort fee

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in its final price because it isn't part of the actual room rate

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and is paid directly to the hotel.

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But, it says the relevant information is made clear...

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Meanwhile, the headline hotel price on Virgin's website

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doesn't include the resort fee either.

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We had to scroll right down to the bottom of the page

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to find any mention of it being an additional charge, paid locally.

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Virgin told us, however,

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it does adequately reference these charges on its site across...

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But it says it will now go even further,

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and has added additional information

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to its main Las Vegas page.

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Finally, Thomas Cook's hotel prices

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don't take into account those Vegas resort fees,

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only flagging them at the very final stage,

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when you're about to pay.

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The company told us the information

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is clearly set out in the hotel information section of the website,

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but it's taking steps to make sure that the information is included

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earlier in the process.

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Well, all the travel companies we contacted stress they try to be

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as open and transparent with pricing as possible,

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and it's clear, at least, that some of them

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are as exasperated with resort fees as the rest of us,

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with several big names saying they're one of the most...

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Colin would agree with that and,

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while it's the hotels he is most irritated with

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for bumping up their prices,

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he does feel that holiday companies should always include resort fees

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in the main advertised price.

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What they could do to make it fairer

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is include the resort fees in the total price.

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That's the only fair way to do it.

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You shouldn't have to be paying for something that you don't use.

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Now, when the online rental company Airbnb

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came storming onto the market nine years ago,

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it transformed the travel industry.

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Homeowners got the opportunity to make money

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by letting out their property and tourists were able to stay in places

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giving a more authentic, and often budget-friendly, taste of a city.

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Now, the company's growth since then

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has been nothing short of spectacular

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and it's now estimated to be worth, wait for it...

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30 billion.

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But, as we highlighted last year, the opportunities it's created

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have also been exploited by fraudsters who've used Airbnb

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to advertise accommodation that simply does not exist,

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leaving holiday-makers stranded on arrival at their destination.

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Well, now it seems that there's a new problem,

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and it's one that really does raise questions

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as to whether Airbnb is doing enough to police its own site.

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It promises to be a unique holiday experience

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where, instead of being simply a tourist,

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you can immerse yourself in the culture of a city

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by staying in the home of a local as if it was your own home.

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'Wherever you go, don't go there.

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'Live there.

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'Even if it's just for a night.'

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Airbnb's rental website has helped over 60 million people

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in 191 countries either to stay in someone else's home

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or welcome holiday-makers into theirs.

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And until recently, Peter Mannion from Bristol has been a big fan.

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I've used it for holidays all around the world.

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We've had some lovely holidays -

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Cape Town, Hawaii,

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Los Angeles, San Francisco -

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and we've used Airbnb in all of them

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and we've stayed in some super places.

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Now, as that suggests, Peter loves to travel,

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so much so that -

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as well as staying in various Airbnb properties around the globe -

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several years ago, he bought a holiday home of his own

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near Alicante in Spain.

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It's a detached house in a piece of land with its own pool.

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It's a nice property, very quiet, very remote.

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But, four years ago,

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Peter realised that work commitments meant he was no longer

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getting quite as much use out of his Spanish property,

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so he decided to rent it out to tenants instead.

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It was interesting, going from having it as a holiday home,

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and only using it ourselves exclusively,

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to then letting it on a long-term let

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and knowing that your house is now going to become...

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almost owned by somebody else for 11 months,

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and that was a tough thing to do, for me,

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because we actually watched this house being built.

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It was half built when we saw it and decided to buy it.

0:17:010:17:05

And so we had some great times as a family.

0:17:050:17:09

Peter let his property out through a Spanish management company,

0:17:120:17:16

at a cost of 750 euros a month,

0:17:160:17:19

and everything with the arrangement appeared to be going very well -

0:17:190:17:22

until, that is, early last year,

0:17:220:17:24

when he began to receive complaints from his Spanish neighbour.

0:17:240:17:27

She started to tell us

0:17:270:17:30

that there were lots of different people visiting the house

0:17:300:17:34

and she could never contact our tenant,

0:17:340:17:37

who was in there.

0:17:370:17:39

The security company monitoring the property then rang to say that -

0:17:390:17:43

when an alarm had gone off -

0:17:430:17:45

it, too, hadn't been able to get a response from his tenants.

0:17:450:17:48

So, Peter contacted the Spanish management company

0:17:480:17:51

and asked them to take a look.

0:17:510:17:54

We spoke to the management company, and they would go round there.

0:17:540:17:58

The difficult part was that they

0:17:580:17:59

suddenly couldn't get access to our house.

0:17:590:18:02

DOG BARKS

0:18:020:18:03

There were two terrier-type dogs, big ones,

0:18:030:18:06

Staffordshire bull terriers or something -

0:18:060:18:09

ugly things, I've seen a film of them...

0:18:090:18:11

..that just barked consistently at the gate.

0:18:120:18:16

He never answered the gate.

0:18:160:18:18

Our agent went there

0:18:180:18:21

20 days on the trot, twice a day,

0:18:210:18:24

and couldn't get access to anything.

0:18:240:18:27

And that really was the catalyst for,

0:18:270:18:30

"Right, we need to go out there,

0:18:300:18:31

"take a look and see what's going on."

0:18:310:18:33

Peter's wife planned the trip

0:18:340:18:37

and went straight to the Airbnb website

0:18:370:18:39

to find somewhere they could stay close to their own property.

0:18:390:18:43

But, when she did, she made a startling discovery.

0:18:430:18:46

One of the properties she came across looked very familiar

0:18:460:18:50

and it didn't take too long to realise that,

0:18:500:18:52

without them having known anything about it,

0:18:520:18:54

their home was being advertised for rent on Airbnb.

0:18:540:18:58

I thought, "That just can't be right. That's such a surprise.

0:19:000:19:05

"Why...? How could somebody do that?"

0:19:050:19:08

Good question. And, to be sure it wasn't a mistake,

0:19:100:19:13

Peter asked one of his friends

0:19:130:19:14

to try and make a booking through the Airbnb site

0:19:140:19:17

and, sure enough, the tenant quickly confirmed that the property

0:19:170:19:21

was indeed available for rent.

0:19:210:19:23

Peter worked out that, by letting the home on Airbnb,

0:19:250:19:29

his tenant would have been making a very tidy profit.

0:19:290:19:32

My property was listed at £707 for a week.

0:19:320:19:38

So, that's about £100 a night and that was in June.

0:19:380:19:41

So working on that principle,

0:19:410:19:46

in one week, he could pay his monthly rent.

0:19:460:19:49

But by subletting the house without permission,

0:19:510:19:54

Peter's tenant was not only breaking the rules of his tenancy agreement,

0:19:540:19:58

he was also putting Peter into a very difficult situation

0:19:580:20:01

and he might have been doing it for years.

0:20:010:20:04

The issue is my liability,

0:20:040:20:06

as the owner of the property, and there are certain obligations,

0:20:060:20:11

under Spanish law and under insurance and coverage

0:20:110:20:15

for the people letting it.

0:20:150:20:16

Even more upsetting was the fact

0:20:160:20:19

that he simply had no idea who was using his beloved holiday home

0:20:190:20:23

or indeed what damage they might be causing.

0:20:230:20:26

The thought that I have no control over who is in my house is really...

0:20:260:20:32

..really perturbs me.

0:20:320:20:33

And what impact those people have on my neighbour,

0:20:330:20:38

who lives behind and is a woman on her own.

0:20:380:20:41

Now, you might think that,

0:20:430:20:45

as soon as Peter explained the situation to Airbnb,

0:20:450:20:48

that the company would remove the listing...

0:20:480:20:50

but you have to think again.

0:20:500:20:52

First, trying to actually speak to anybody there

0:20:520:20:55

proved a nearly impossible task.

0:20:550:20:58

There was no-one to talk to, you can only e-mail,

0:20:580:21:01

and that became, then, impossible

0:21:010:21:03

because the responses were clearly coming from a computer.

0:21:030:21:07

And when Peter did eventually hear back from Airbnb,

0:21:070:21:11

he was quite simply gobsmacked by the response.

0:21:110:21:14

My house could only be removed

0:21:140:21:16

by whoever had done it in the first place.

0:21:160:21:19

The frustration of that was incredible

0:21:190:21:22

because I'd explained to Airbnb

0:21:220:21:24

that this was my house and the tenant was breaking the rules.

0:21:240:21:28

It seemed to matter little.

0:21:290:21:31

Peter even resorted to e-mailing

0:21:330:21:35

the title deeds of the property to Airbnb to prove ownership,

0:21:350:21:39

but the company continued to insist

0:21:390:21:41

that only the member who'd put up the listing

0:21:410:21:44

was able to take it down.

0:21:440:21:46

I had no control over the situation.

0:21:460:21:48

It was impossible for me to be able to do anything.

0:21:480:21:51

I couldn't talk to my tenant, I can't talk to Airbnb

0:21:510:21:55

and I certainly can't talk to the subtenants,

0:21:550:21:58

so my lack of knowledge and my lack of ability to know what's going on

0:21:580:22:02

in my own house was of deep concern to me.

0:22:020:22:06

Understandably.

0:22:070:22:08

Unable to get Airbnb to remove the listing,

0:22:080:22:12

Peter even tried contacting the tenant to request that

0:22:120:22:15

the listing was removed, but he didn't respond.

0:22:150:22:18

So, Peter had no choice but to start formal eviction proceedings.

0:22:180:22:22

Two months later, the tenant finally left

0:22:220:22:24

but without having paid for the damage to the property,

0:22:240:22:27

paying the utility bills, or the last two months' rent.

0:22:270:22:30

All of which Peter estimates totted up to 6,000 euros

0:22:300:22:33

and, on top of that,

0:22:330:22:36

the Airbnb listing was still active.

0:22:360:22:39

We asked him once again, after he'd left,

0:22:390:22:42

would he please take the house off?

0:22:420:22:44

And eventually he took it off Airbnb and it's no longer on there.

0:22:440:22:48

With the listing finally offline and the tenant evicted,

0:22:490:22:53

Peter was, at long last, able to access the property

0:22:530:22:55

but I'm afraid it had been left in a pretty poor state.

0:22:550:22:58

When we eventually got the house back, the damage was such

0:23:000:23:04

that there were burn marks on all the furniture

0:23:040:23:07

and, I mean, most of the furniture was wrecked anyway.

0:23:070:23:10

We had to throw it away.

0:23:100:23:11

So, something had been going on in there.

0:23:110:23:15

I just don't know what and I'm unable to find out,

0:23:150:23:18

which is equally annoying.

0:23:180:23:20

The fact is that, as far as Peter's concerned,

0:23:220:23:25

it appears to be relatively simple

0:23:250:23:27

for someone to advertise a property on Airbnb

0:23:270:23:30

that they don't even own.

0:23:300:23:31

This experience tells me that they don't know who is the owner

0:23:320:23:36

and who has the ability to let that property

0:23:360:23:39

and whether they're breaking any laws.

0:23:390:23:41

Unfortunately, it seems that Peter's case isn't an isolated one.

0:23:420:23:46

Here in the UK, a growing number of landlords

0:23:460:23:49

are launching possession proceedings against tenants

0:23:490:23:52

who have sublet their property via Airbnb without permission.

0:23:520:23:56

When we got in touch with the company, it told us that it does ask

0:23:580:24:01

advertisers to certify that they have...

0:24:010:24:03

And it reminds them to check and follow local rules before they list

0:24:060:24:09

and indeed to check all of that throughout the year.

0:24:090:24:12

It adds that isolated incidents are rare

0:24:120:24:14

and it takes appropriate action on issues brought to its attention.

0:24:140:24:18

It says, in this case, it passed on a letter from Peter to the tenant,

0:24:180:24:22

who did eventually remove the listing.

0:24:220:24:24

Well, clearly, after all he went through, Peter thinks that Airbnb

0:24:270:24:30

should do more checks on its advertisers

0:24:300:24:33

but solicitor Gary Rycroft doesn't agree.

0:24:330:24:36

When you are booking through a site like Airbnb,

0:24:360:24:38

it's important to remember that they are just a booking site.

0:24:380:24:41

They are putting you, someone who wants a room,

0:24:410:24:43

in touch with someone who has a room available.

0:24:430:24:46

They aren't taking on responsibility

0:24:460:24:48

for checking out the facts about that room,

0:24:480:24:50

they aren't checking out if that person has the legal right

0:24:500:24:53

to rent the room to you

0:24:530:24:54

and they aren't giving any warranty as to your safety

0:24:540:24:57

while you're staying there.

0:24:570:24:58

So you, as the consumer, as the person booking the room,

0:24:580:25:01

have to take it upon yourself to do diligent checks

0:25:010:25:04

to make sure you're getting what you expect to get

0:25:040:25:06

and that you are going to be safe while you're there.

0:25:060:25:09

But you know, those checks are easier said than done.

0:25:110:25:14

Unless, before you confirm any booking on the site,

0:25:140:25:16

you're prepared to ask the person renting the property

0:25:160:25:19

to e-mail proof of ownership.

0:25:190:25:21

Which is why, I'm afraid, Peter, once such an ardent fan of Airbnb,

0:25:230:25:28

is now no longer confident of ever using it again.

0:25:280:25:31

I'm very concerned about how I go forward in the future.

0:25:310:25:35

There needs to be a change in terms of how Airbnb monitor properties

0:25:350:25:41

and how they validate whether the property is owned

0:25:410:25:45

and who owns the property.

0:25:450:25:47

My concern now is, when I book a property on Airbnb,

0:25:470:25:51

am I allowed to?

0:25:510:25:52

Still to come on Rip-Off Britain,

0:26:000:26:02

the holiday organisation keen to reassure travellers

0:26:020:26:05

it's got their backs, but is that always the case?

0:26:050:26:08

It's just very disappointing and very...

0:26:080:26:11

..disturbing, really, that that's how they perceive themselves

0:26:120:26:17

and that's how they put themselves out to us as customers.

0:26:170:26:20

Our travel expert, Simon Calder,

0:26:230:26:25

has all the secrets to save you money on your travels.

0:26:250:26:28

He's also full of tips on everything -

0:26:280:26:31

from how to avoid the crowds

0:26:310:26:32

to the best way to steer clear of those tourist traps.

0:26:320:26:35

This time, he's got tips on how to avoid some new

0:26:370:26:40

and very classic scams.

0:26:400:26:42

How long does it take to get from an airport into town?

0:26:420:26:46

Usually a good half-hour, isn't it?

0:26:460:26:48

Sometimes an hour. But sometimes, unscrupulous taxi drivers

0:26:480:26:52

have been known to say to people, "Oh, is it your first time here?"

0:26:520:26:56

And if you say, "Yes, it is,"

0:26:560:26:58

they'll take you for a run right around the houses.

0:26:580:27:01

Costing you big bucks.

0:27:010:27:03

I think we've all been there.

0:27:030:27:05

Ask at the information desk at the airport

0:27:050:27:07

how much the fare should be and whether it's a fixed rate

0:27:070:27:11

or if you pay what's shown on meter.

0:27:110:27:13

Here's a taxi problem that's particularly acute

0:27:150:27:18

in countries where they have high denomination notes.

0:27:180:27:22

You've got 50,000 pesos or roubles, or whatever.

0:27:220:27:26

You hand it to the driver.

0:27:260:27:28

Ahh! He drops it.

0:27:280:27:30

Even more mysteriously,

0:27:300:27:32

when he picks it up, it's turned into a 5,000 note.

0:27:320:27:36

So, that means you'll get change from that

0:27:360:27:39

and he has pocketed 45,000 of your money.

0:27:390:27:43

The way to avoid it, well,

0:27:430:27:46

when I'm handing over a high-value note,

0:27:460:27:48

I say, "I'm giving you 50,000,"

0:27:480:27:51

so there's no room at all for any dispute.

0:27:510:27:55

Good man, Simon. And if you've survived the journey in from the

0:27:550:27:58

-airport without being ripped off...

-Thanks very much.

0:27:580:28:01

..don't let your guard down.

0:28:010:28:02

Popular destinations for tourists

0:28:020:28:04

are also popular with street criminals.

0:28:040:28:07

Almost all the locals you meet have your best interest at heart,

0:28:070:28:11

but there are the occasional rogues.

0:28:110:28:12

Watch out for pickpockets.

0:28:120:28:14

If you get a warning like that, what's the first thing you do?

0:28:140:28:18

You check your pockets,

0:28:180:28:19

revealing to the whole world exactly where your valuables are.

0:28:190:28:24

These days, plenty of us take valuable technology on holiday

0:28:240:28:27

in the shape of laptops and Smartphones,

0:28:270:28:30

but I'm afraid we don't always bring them home.

0:28:300:28:33

Summer in the city, and it's the best of all possible worlds.

0:28:330:28:38

You've got a glass of wine, you're checking your messages,

0:28:380:28:41

and then a fellow tourist arrives to seek your help.

0:28:410:28:44

Of course, you're happy to oblige,

0:28:460:28:47

giving directions as best as you can.

0:28:470:28:50

So nice to be able to help a fellow tourist -

0:28:500:28:53

and only then do you realise your phone's gone. Ahh!

0:28:530:28:56

Holiday scams are designed to take advantage of your good nature,

0:28:570:29:01

so Simon has one last warning of a time-honoured con.

0:29:010:29:05

How many times have you been in a big tourist attraction

0:29:050:29:08

and somebody has asked you to take their picture?

0:29:080:29:12

But it's not always as innocent as it looks.

0:29:120:29:15

As you find out when you...

0:29:150:29:17

hand the camera back.

0:29:170:29:18

They're going to swear that you dropped it and you've broken it,

0:29:180:29:22

and YOU have to pay them some money,

0:29:220:29:24

otherwise it's going to turn very nasty indeed!

0:29:240:29:27

Now, if you've ever booked a package holiday,

0:29:330:29:35

you may well be familiar with this,

0:29:350:29:38

it's the logo of ABTA,

0:29:380:29:39

it's the Association of British Travel Agents.

0:29:390:29:42

The organisation that doesn't just represent the industry

0:29:420:29:44

but has a role in protecting us as well.

0:29:440:29:47

Seeing these four letters on a company's website or brochure

0:29:470:29:51

should be the reassurance that,

0:29:510:29:53

if anything goes wrong while you're away,

0:29:530:29:55

you'll be able to get some help.

0:29:550:29:57

But I'm afraid some of you have been telling us that -

0:29:570:29:59

when your holiday has fallen short of the mark -

0:29:590:30:01

so, too, has the help you've had from ABTA.

0:30:010:30:04

Indeed one couple in particular, Mike and Hannah Hamm from Margate,

0:30:040:30:08

were left wondering if there was really anything more to ABTA

0:30:080:30:11

than just those four letters.

0:30:110:30:13

Waves lapping on the shore, soft, sandy beaches.

0:30:170:30:21

Scenes like this are the stuff holiday dreams are made of.

0:30:210:30:24

But when a trip goes wrong,

0:30:260:30:27

you'll want someone to turn to who can help sort everything out.

0:30:270:30:31

And that's what we're always encouraged to believe we'll get

0:30:310:30:34

if we book a holiday with a company that's backed

0:30:340:30:36

by the Association of British Travel Agents

0:30:360:30:39

or ABTA.

0:30:390:30:41

All members abide by our code of conduct,

0:30:410:30:43

while all package and flight-plus holidays

0:30:430:30:45

they sell are financially protected.

0:30:450:30:47

And the recommendation in ABTA's ads to "look for the logo"

0:30:490:30:53

has certainly got through to the people we spoke to.

0:30:530:30:56

I think they cover you by way of some form of guarantee

0:30:560:30:59

if something goes wrong.

0:30:590:31:00

I would expect that it would be offering me some kind of insurance.

0:31:000:31:05

You see the ABTA logo

0:31:050:31:07

and you assume that every element of your holiday is covered.

0:31:070:31:10

And it was because of the ABTA logo that Mike Hamm, from Margate,

0:31:120:31:15

and his wife Hannah were happy to book their most recent holiday.

0:31:150:31:20

It was our second anniversary and I wanted somewhere...

0:31:200:31:23

idyllic, romantic...

0:31:240:31:25

..to take my wife for a little celebration.

0:31:270:31:29

So, Mike splashed out and booked a trip

0:31:310:31:33

to the Greek island of Mykonos

0:31:330:31:35

with a company called Travel Republic,

0:31:350:31:37

whose website displays that all-important ABTA logo.

0:31:370:31:40

We'd never been to Mykonos.

0:31:410:31:44

We had particularly liked Greece previously,

0:31:440:31:47

and Greek islands,

0:31:470:31:49

and we'd heard that this was an idyllic, beautiful place to go.

0:31:490:31:53

We were going to have an amazing time.

0:31:530:31:55

And if, for any reason, they didn't,

0:31:560:31:58

thanks to that logo, Mike knew who to call.

0:31:580:32:02

I felt that, should anything go wrong, I could contact ABTA,

0:32:020:32:05

they would deal with the holiday company

0:32:050:32:08

or the hotel, on my behalf,

0:32:080:32:10

and rectify any of these problems and deal with it for me.

0:32:100:32:14

But that isn't how things worked out because, thanks to all the companies

0:32:150:32:19

that might now be involved in a typical holiday booking,

0:32:190:32:22

the support you will get from ABTA

0:32:220:32:24

won't necessarily be what you expected.

0:32:240:32:27

As Mike discovered himself too late.

0:32:270:32:30

From the moment they arrived at the hotel,

0:32:300:32:33

it was clear that the trip wasn't going to be

0:32:330:32:35

quite what he and his wife were hoping for.

0:32:350:32:38

We arrived late,

0:32:380:32:39

opened the door and it was, literally, a building site.

0:32:390:32:43

There was plasterboard, hammers,

0:32:430:32:46

nail guns, scaffolding. It was just incredible.

0:32:460:32:50

Staff explained that the hotel was being repaired after a severe flood

0:32:510:32:55

and they immediately agreed to move the couple to a sister hotel,

0:32:550:32:59

but Mike wasn't impressed with his first night there either.

0:32:590:33:02

Two o'clock in the morning,

0:33:020:33:05

I woke up and I actually thought there was people in my room.

0:33:050:33:08

I've jumped out of bed, turned the lights on,

0:33:080:33:09

there's no-one in the room, what's going on?

0:33:090:33:11

And the room next door, it was like, the wall was so thin,

0:33:110:33:14

I could hear everything they were doing.

0:33:140:33:17

The next morning, Mike complained again and was moved to a third hotel

0:33:170:33:22

but, with a whole day and night of their five-day trip gone,

0:33:220:33:26

he wasn't at all happy.

0:33:260:33:28

I'm very frustrated, at this point,

0:33:280:33:31

and I'm almost booking my own flight home.

0:33:310:33:34

My wife, sort of, talked me down, calmed me down a bit,

0:33:340:33:37

said, "Look, it is a beautiful place, the island..."

0:33:370:33:40

"..even if we don't stay at the hotel, we'll spend our days on the beach."

0:33:410:33:45

And for the last few days of their holiday, Mike was able to relax

0:33:470:33:51

but, when they got back to the UK, he complained to Travel Republic,

0:33:510:33:55

which agreed to take the matter up with the company it had

0:33:550:33:58

used to book his rooms, a business called Hotelbeds.

0:33:580:34:02

Word soon came back that Hotelbeds was prepared

0:34:020:34:06

to offer a refund of £210, around 35% of the accommodation costs,

0:34:060:34:11

but Mike didn't think that was good enough because the whole trip

0:34:110:34:15

had been based around a hotel that had let him down.

0:34:150:34:18

In my opinion, it goes deeper than that because, had I not liked

0:34:180:34:22

the hotel and wanted to go to that particular hotel,

0:34:220:34:25

I wouldn't have booked a flight to go there.

0:34:250:34:27

It's the whole package that I need compensation for.

0:34:270:34:31

So I replied and said, in bold letters,

0:34:310:34:35

"Your offer of 35% of the accommodation cost

0:34:350:34:38

"is NOT acceptable."

0:34:380:34:40

Unhappy with what he'd been offered,

0:34:410:34:43

Mike decided to take his complaint further and put to good use

0:34:430:34:47

the ABTA logo that had given him the reassurance

0:34:470:34:49

to book with Travel Republic in the first place...

0:34:490:34:53

but he was surprised by ABTA's response.

0:34:530:34:55

I then got a reply saying,

0:34:560:34:59

"We've spoken to Travel Republic,

0:34:590:35:01

"you booked your room with Hotelbeds...

0:35:010:35:05

"..they are not ABTA registered so, therefore, we can't do anything...

0:35:060:35:11

"and that is the end of it."

0:35:110:35:13

They wouldn't look into it any further because these individual

0:35:130:35:17

companies, who were not Travel Republic, were not ABTA registered.

0:35:170:35:21

So, while Travel Republic was a member of ABTA,

0:35:240:35:27

the company it had used to book accommodation wasn't,

0:35:270:35:29

so ABTA said it couldn't help.

0:35:290:35:31

Which, as far as Mike's concerned, is rather at odds

0:35:310:35:35

with the impression you might get from seeing its ads.

0:35:350:35:39

'But if you can't resolve an issue

0:35:390:35:41

'with one of our members,

0:35:410:35:42

'ABTA can help, and you can access

0:35:420:35:44

'our independent complaints resolution service.

0:35:440:35:47

'So, always look for the ABTA logo.'

0:35:470:35:49

After watching an advert like that, that's all singing, all dancing,

0:35:490:35:52

"We're the best, we're going to help you, we'll look after you,"

0:35:520:35:55

it just increases the frustration.

0:35:550:35:57

Because it's blatantly not correct.

0:35:570:36:00

The advert's not correct.

0:36:000:36:02

And you can see why he might think that,

0:36:020:36:05

but things aren't quite so clear cut.

0:36:050:36:07

So how exactly does ABTA help if your holiday doesn't go to plan?

0:36:070:36:12

Well, if you book a full package through one of its members,

0:36:120:36:15

it'll cover the cost of your holiday if that company goes bust,

0:36:150:36:19

it will even get you home if you're currently abroad.

0:36:190:36:21

Added to that,

0:36:210:36:23

ABTA members all agree to comply with certain standards

0:36:230:36:26

and, if you can't resolve your complaint direct with them,

0:36:260:36:29

then ABTA can organise arbitration

0:36:290:36:31

to find a solution that suits both sides

0:36:310:36:34

but, as Mike discovered, all that changes

0:36:340:36:37

if the ABTA member you've booked with

0:36:370:36:39

gets part of your trip from a third party

0:36:390:36:42

because the protection you might assume you're getting

0:36:420:36:45

doesn't automatically filter down.

0:36:450:36:48

We put Mike in touch with our travel expert, Simon Calder,

0:36:500:36:52

who explained Travel Republic's site does make that clear,

0:36:520:36:56

though you might not instantly realise the significance.

0:36:560:36:59

I've had a look at the Travel Republic

0:36:590:37:02

and at the bottom right, small letters, it does say,

0:37:020:37:04

"Oh, by the way, we're an agent only

0:37:040:37:07

"AND if anything goes wrong with any part of your holiday,

0:37:070:37:10

"well, your quarrel is with the supplier."

0:37:100:37:13

So, effectively, "Good luck, everybody."

0:37:130:37:17

I wouldn't have booked with Travel Republic

0:37:170:37:19

had I known that there was no actual affiliation, with ABTA,

0:37:190:37:23

for the booking.

0:37:230:37:25

The fact that it was on the website doesn't mean a thing.

0:37:250:37:28

Now, had the supplier - in this case, Hotelbeds -

0:37:310:37:33

been an ABTA member,

0:37:330:37:35

then ABTA would not only have been able to investigate

0:37:350:37:37

Mike's complaint directly,

0:37:370:37:39

it would also have been able to award additional compensation

0:37:390:37:42

if it felt that was appropriate.

0:37:420:37:43

But Simon thinks that, unless you're booking a complete package holiday

0:37:450:37:48

or at the very least a flight and accommodation

0:37:480:37:51

together from the same company,

0:37:510:37:53

then ABTA protection may not amounting to much anyhow...

0:37:530:37:56

..and I'm afraid that's how Mike feels, too.

0:37:590:38:03

Go on, then. Up, up, up.

0:38:030:38:05

If there had not been an ABTA logo on the Travel Republic website,

0:38:050:38:09

I wouldn't have booked.

0:38:090:38:11

I would have looked elsewhere for a company that did have ABTA on it

0:38:110:38:15

because, up until I found out that it means nothing,

0:38:150:38:20

I actually felt that it did hold quite a big sway

0:38:200:38:24

as to my protection as a consumer.

0:38:240:38:27

Well, when we put Mike's concerns to ABTA,

0:38:290:38:32

it reiterated that, in this case,

0:38:320:38:34

Travel Republic, an ABTA member, was...

0:38:340:38:36

And Hotelbeds, as we know, not an ABTA member,

0:38:380:38:41

was the service provider with whom Mike actually had his contract.

0:38:410:38:45

But it's sorry to hear that the couple is unhappy so, since filming,

0:38:450:38:49

ABTA has offered Mike access to its arbitration service,

0:38:490:38:52

although it went on to tell us

0:38:520:38:54

that it does consider that Travel Republic has met its obligations

0:38:540:38:57

under the organisation's code of conduct.

0:38:570:39:00

And Travel Republic itself echoed that,

0:39:000:39:03

telling us it follows ABTA's code of conduct

0:39:030:39:05

to provide customers with the best service

0:39:050:39:08

and it will assist to make sure suitable outcomes are reached

0:39:080:39:11

for any complaints it receives.

0:39:110:39:13

It went on to say that it works with a...

0:39:130:39:15

But as those suppliers are detailed

0:39:190:39:22

in the booking conditions, before a trip is confirmed,

0:39:220:39:25

there is an opportunity to check which of them is ABTA-registered.

0:39:250:39:28

There was, however, better news from the Myconian hotel company

0:39:300:39:34

that owns the first two hotels Mike stayed in.

0:39:340:39:37

Anxious to reverse the couple's negative impression,

0:39:370:39:40

it's offered them a three-night stay

0:39:400:39:42

in one of their hotels absolutely free.

0:39:420:39:44

With more of us than ever now booking through companies that sell

0:39:480:39:51

holidays made up of elements from different suppliers

0:39:510:39:54

rather than one simple package,

0:39:540:39:56

former financial ombudsman Martin James believes

0:39:560:39:59

we'd be better served if the industry could establish

0:39:590:40:02

its own independent ombudsman service

0:40:020:40:04

to protect all customers, rather than have us rely on an organisation

0:40:040:40:09

more limited in who it can help.

0:40:090:40:11

ABTA is a trade body which allows you to make complaints to them

0:40:110:40:15

and they arbitrate. They basically negotiate on your behalf

0:40:150:40:19

between you and one of their members.

0:40:190:40:21

But that's very, very different to making a complaint to an ombudsman

0:40:210:40:25

or indeed going through the courts.

0:40:250:40:27

And if you're not satisfied, you may find that the courts

0:40:270:40:30

are the only options available to you.

0:40:300:40:32

Giving organisations, like ABTA or indeed other trade bodies,

0:40:320:40:36

an ombudsman service or more regulations that they have to follow

0:40:360:40:41

would empower consumers more.

0:40:410:40:43

So you don't find yourself stuck in the middle of a number of

0:40:430:40:46

companies arguing about something bad that's happened to you.

0:40:460:40:49

But until that happens,

0:40:510:40:52

keep in mind that, whatever you might assume from its ads,

0:40:520:40:55

the help you'll get from ABTA will depend entirely

0:40:550:40:58

on the nature and detail of the holiday you've booked

0:40:580:41:01

and, as Mike's found out too late, there can be more factors involved

0:41:010:41:05

than simply whether a company displays that ABTA logo.

0:41:050:41:08

In the future, if I book something, I won't expect that kind of backup.

0:41:080:41:14

I'll just make the most of the holiday, enjoy it while I'm there,

0:41:140:41:18

and hope that nothing goes wrong.

0:41:180:41:20

If you've got a story you'd like us to investigate,

0:41:280:41:30

we now have even more ways to get in touch.

0:41:300:41:33

You can join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

0:41:330:41:36

Just look for BBC Rip Off Britain.

0:41:360:41:38

As well as the most up-to-date news,

0:41:390:41:41

you'll also find exclusive behind-the-scenes clips

0:41:410:41:44

and pictures from the show.

0:41:440:41:46

Or you can log onto our website...

0:41:470:41:49

..where there's plenty of advice and fact sheets

0:41:520:41:55

full of tips on how to avoid getting ripped off.

0:41:550:41:57

If you'd like to send us an e-mail,

0:41:590:42:01

then our address is...

0:42:010:42:02

Or if you want to send us a letter,

0:42:050:42:07

then our new address is...

0:42:070:42:09

Well, I think it's pretty clear from our stories today that,

0:42:200:42:23

just because there's a big name involved,

0:42:230:42:25

doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to assist you

0:42:250:42:28

in the way that you would expect if things start to go wrong.

0:42:280:42:31

You may actually find that their responsibilities

0:42:310:42:34

are rather more limited than you first realised.

0:42:340:42:36

How true is that?

0:42:360:42:38

But meanwhile, I was particularly interested to hear it all spelt out

0:42:380:42:41

what the travel Association ABTA will and won't help with.

0:42:410:42:45

Now, we've had it all drummed into us, year after year,

0:42:450:42:48

to look out for the ABTA logo but, to be honest,

0:42:480:42:50

while I have done that, I hadn't

0:42:500:42:52

really stopped to think fully about what it actually means.

0:42:520:42:55

No, me neither.

0:42:550:42:56

Well, if you feel let down by a big name, and not just in

0:42:560:43:00

the world of holidays, then do please tell us why.

0:43:000:43:03

We've got lots of programmes coming up,

0:43:030:43:05

covering a huge range of consumer topics

0:43:050:43:07

and it's your experiences that shape them all.

0:43:070:43:10

For now, though, thanks a lot for watching and, from all of us here,

0:43:100:43:13

-goodbye.

-Goodbye.

-Bye-bye.

0:43:130:43:15

Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville hear how one man's home was rented out to holidaymakers without him knowing anything about it - and it seemed there was little he could do to stop it.

Plus the hidden charge adding hundreds of dollars to American hotel bills.

Travel expert Simon Calder gives advice on avoiding holiday scams, and the team unpicks whether ABTA protection means what you might assume.