Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville investigate problems with big-name airlines, including the stranded Monarch passengers left out of pocket.
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We asked you who's left you feeling ripped off
when it comes to your holidays,
and you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.
Letting us come all this way
to be told we're going home on the next day? Just furious.
It has tainted the whole experience
of booking holidays and trusting companies.
Whether it's a deliberate rip-off,
a simple mistake or a catch in the small print,
we'll find out why you're out of pocket
and what you can do about it.
Your stories. Your money. This is Rip-Off Britain.
Hello, and welcome to Rip-Off Britain,
and our very special series of programmes
that are coming to you from Tenerife,
where we're investigating more of those problems
that you've experienced with your holidays and travel.
And, today, we're looking in particular
at the rather bumpy ride that some of you have had
-with the big-name airlines.
-You're so right,
because from flights being cancelled
to companies refusing to compensate you for delays,
or even worse, going out of business altogether,
a lot of you have told us it certainly wasn't plain sailing
when you jetted off on your last trip.
And very often, through no fault of your own,
you've ended up not just feeling let-down, but right out of pocket.
And the trouble is, it isn't always easy to know what your rights are,
especially as you may be told entirely different things
by different people. Well, we're going to be giving you
all the advice you need so that, if the same thing happens
next time you take to the skies,
you'll know exactly what you need to do.
Coming up, why, months after Monarch Airlines went bust,
some of the passengers left stranded overseas
are still hundreds of pounds out of pocket.
The thoughts that were going through our head at the time were,
-"How do we get home?"
-What are you going to do?
And the airport teams whose job it is
to try and stop birds from hitting your plane.
Potentially, a bird or an animal could strike the aircraft
and bring it down. That's the ultimate.
So, we're here to prevent that.
One of the biggest travel stories to hit the headlines in 2017
was the collapse of one of the UK's biggest airlines, Monarch.
Not only did 2,000 staff lose their jobs,
but over 300,000 holiday-makers were left stranded abroad,
and the travel plans for another half a million or so
were left in complete disarray.
Now, this not only highlighted just how tricky it can be
to keep an airline afloat, it also shone a light
on the sort of protection that consumers can expect
if they're caught up in situations like this when things go wrong.
Because whilst, eventually, every one of those passengers
who were still stuck abroad were repatriated,
for those yet to travel with the stricken airline,
things were a lot less certain.
One of the first big names on the scene
when the package-holiday market took off,
Monarch Airlines had been flying to destinations in Europe
and beyond since the 1960s. In recent years,
it had been carrying around 5 million passengers,
among them, the Parrys from Llandovery in South Wales.
We're quite a big family. There's me and my husband.
I've also got three sons by the name of Jacob, Jamie and Jack,
and then we've got a daughter by the name of Ellie.
Mum Sarah had booked all of them onto Monarch flights to Tenerife
as part of a trip arranged through
an online firm, A1 Travel -
a company they'd travelled with the year before.
Last year, we went for seven days,
and we decided that seven days wasn't quite long enough,
so we decided, this year, we were going to go for ten days instead.
And, altogether, it cost us about £5,500.
It had been a particularly tough year for the family.
Not only had her husband Daniel been out of action
after a serious back operation,
but with both of their youngest boys having cerebral palsy
and eldest son Jack having coeliac disease,
this family holiday to Tenerife really meant a lot.
We were really excited about just having ten days together,
because we do have quite a lot of hospital appointments and things,
as well, because of the boys' medical conditions,
so it was nice just to have a break away from routine
and just enjoy time together as a family.
But just three weeks before departure,
some bad news hit.
Monarch is the UK's fifth-biggest airline
and the largest ever to collapse.
Customers due to fly from the UK have been told
not to go to the airport.
Monarch Airlines had gone into administration
and was no longer operating,
which meant thousands of flights booked with the company
were instantly cancelled.
And I'd just gone online and checked my phone,
and then I read an article saying they'd gone into administration.
"Please contact the Civil Aviation Authority for advice."
Sarah was one of hundreds of thousands of people
to suddenly discover that the Monarch flights they'd booked
had been cancelled without warning.
No-one rang me from Monarch.
No-one rang me from any other company to tell me.
No e-mails. Nothing.
I'm still in shock, really,
because we've just arrived only to find this out.
Sarah immediately contacted her travel agent, A1 Travel,
to ask them what to do next,
and it was then that the impact of the Monarch collapse became clear.
The travel agent got back to me and said,
"We'll have a look at some alternative flights for you.
"We can find you some travelling from Birmingham Airport,
"but you're going to have to cut your holiday short by three days
"and it's going to cost you £2,300,"
whereas the original Monarch flights cost £1,300.
Sarah was shocked.
She'd assumed that, as she'd bought a package through A1 Travel,
it would book and cover the cost of the alternative flights,
but unbeknownst to her,
A1 Travel was also feeling the strain of the Monarch collapse
and was struggling to pay out for any
of the now rapidly increasing replacement flights,
which, a week before the family was due to travel,
led to another devastating blow.
I just happened to look online the Friday before we were leaving
and I just found out that the travel agent, A1 Travel,
had gone into administration.
I just looked at that and I just started crying,
cos I thought, "Oh, that's it now. That must be it.
"We can't be going on holiday. What can be done about this?"
Sarah had already lost her flights,
and now it seemed she faced losing the rest of the trip, as well.
Fortunately, another firm stepped in
to take over A1 Travel's future bookings,
and that secured Sarah's accommodation.
But without flights to get her there,
her holiday was still in jeopardy.
In desperation, she went online herself
and managed to find some for £1,800.
And though Sarah and the family did manage to have
their much-needed break,
the whole mess had left her out of pocket.
It's still not clear exactly how we're going to get money back.
We've still lost the original £1,300 that we paid to Monarch.
Then we've also had to pay an extra £1,800 on top for new flights.
Immediately after the collapse of Monarch,
industry regulator the Civil Aviation Authority
announced that those customers who had booked a package holiday
with Monarch Holidays, or, indeed, any ATOL-protected travel agent,
would be protected after the airline's collapse,
as travel expert Simon Calder explains.
If you've got an ATOL certificate, you're in a pretty strong position.
Whether you've booked a proper package holiday,
in which case, the tour operator is responsible for everything,
or you've booked a holiday which is covered by Flight-Plus,
you're in a good position. Many people, after Monarch,
who had booked through an online travel agent
with a Flight-Plus ATOL certificate
found that the company simply had to go out and buy new flights,
or offer them a full refund.
But, of course, it wasn't quite so simple for Sarah,
because the travel agent she'd booked through had also gone bust,
meaning that she didn't instantly get the protection
that she might have expected,
and had to stump up for the replacement flights herself.
Holidays are supposed to be such a relaxing, happy time,
but the whole thing was stressful.
Well, the good news for Sarah is that,
since we filmed with her, she has been able to claim back
the cost of her original flights from the CAA.
It told us that any A1 Travel customers
who'd had Monarch flights and incurred additional costs
in booking replacements will be able to do the same.
But I'm afraid not everyone who ended up out of pocket
after Monarch's collapse has been so lucky.
Pat and Billy Wills from Teesside were among 110,000 Monarch customers
already abroad when they heard that the airline was out of business
and that their flights home were cancelled.
The thoughts that were going through our head at the time were,
"How do we get home?"
It was just, like, feeling horrendous.
Then, all of a sudden, the pressure starts building.
What are you going to do?
Most of the passengers who feared they were stranded
were rescued by a huge-scale repatriation programme
organised by the CAA,
which saw more than 85,000 people brought home
on around 560 specially laid-on flights.
The two-week operation was hailed a huge success,
but not by Pat and Billy in Turkey,
because the last of these flights took off on the 15th of October -
just one day before they were due to return.
We were flying home on the 16th of October -
a day after the cut-off of the 15th -
and we were absolutely stunned that we weren't covered.
We couldn't understand why.
What was the difference between flying home on the 15th or the 16th?
To us, there was none.
So, then, it meant we had to go and find flights to get home
at our own cost.
Billy and Pat had fallen JUST outside of the period
in which the CAA would organise and pay for replacement flights
for those stuck abroad.
What's more, because the couple had booked just their flights,
it seemed that they did not have the same rights
as those who had booked a full package. As a result,
the couple ended up booking new flights to Manchester Airport,
from where they had to get a taxi all the way to Leeds Bradford
in order to pick up their car. In total,
their return journey cost them an extra £550.
So, as soon as Pat and Billy got home,
they got on to their travel insurance company
to make a claim for the money that they'd paid out.
Thought we would have been covered,
and then, when the lady come back to us after a pause on the phone,
she said, "No, there's an exclusion.
"When a firm goes into liquidation, we won't pay out."
Well, when we raised Pat and Billy's case with the CAA,
it told us that those without ATOL protection
who fell outside its repatriation window
should take the matter up with their insurers,
as, of course, the couple had done, or with their credit card provider.
And though that second route has now got the cost
of the original Monarch flights back,
they still remain out of pocket for the difference they had to pay
for their new flights and taxis to a different airport - around £250.
But, certainly, both they and Sarah would say that sorting out
the whole mess felt unnecessarily convoluted.
So, it's good news that the Department of Transport
told Pat that it's going to be looking at what can be done
to minimise the impact of similar events in the future.
It says it had already been planning to modernise ATOL protection
to bring it more in line with updated rules around package travel
and will now be exploring that further,
taking on board the lessons learned from what happened with Monarch.
In the meantime, Pat and Billy say they will now think very carefully
about how they book their trips in future.
This experience has taught us that - certainly me -
that if you're going to book anything,
make sure you're ATOL protected,
because if a company is going to go bust,
well, that can happen any time, I suppose,
but if you're ATOL protected,
you know for certain that you're going to be brought home.
Somebody will pay for you to get you home, at no cost to you.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well, our next report is about both.
It's a fact that thousands of birds
strike the engines of planes every year,
causing anything from minor delays to complete engine failure.
Indeed, so common has this kind of incident become
that many airports in the UK and around the world
now have full-time teams dedicated to scaring birds away
in order to keep things running smoothly.
What's more, the frequency of such events
used to mean that if your flight was delayed by a bird strike,
depending on where you flew from,
you might have been able to claim compensation.
But a recent EU ruling has put paid to all of that,
flying in the face of recent industry opinion,
in deciding that bird strikes are not something
anyone could see coming,
and that verdict is set to leave thousands of people out of pocket.
This is what a bird strike looks like.
Watch this flight taking off
from Manchester Airport in 2007.
A bird hits one of the engines, creating an emergency situation.
-Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. Thompson 253 Hotel.
Engine failure. We are continuing north-westerly
and then inbound toward Wallasey.
And, a few minutes later, the pilot makes a textbook landing,
bringing everyone safely back to the ground.
Thankfully, in this case, no-one is hurt or injured,
but passengers won't have escaped completely unscathed.
Many of them will now face lengthy delays
while a replacement plane is found.
Mary Stead from Southport knows all about that.
She experienced a long hold-up after an incident with an easyJet flight
supposed to be taking her from Belfast to Liverpool in 2017.
We arrived two hours prior to our flight.
We went through the airport security.
When we got through the airport security,
we went to go for a cup of coffee
and then my phone pinged, and when I looked at my phone,
it was a text message from easyJet to say my flight had been cancelled.
Mary was told that the next flight back to Liverpool
wasn't until ten o'clock that evening,
which meant a nine-hour wait at Belfast Airport.
Whilst she was redoing the paperwork,
I actually said to the lady behind the checkout desk,
"What's the problem?" And she said, "Oh, it's a technical fault."
There was nothing we could do.
Nobody came to us to explain why there was a delay,
why the flight was cancelled.
We just had to find a seat and make ourselves comfortable
for the rest of the evening, really.
The wait was particularly difficult
because Mary's husband, Norman, suffers from Parkinson's disease,
and to make matters worse,
the replacement flight was also delayed by 90 minutes.
We took off the tarmac at 11.35.
We eventually walked into my front door at 1.15am,
after being at the airport from one o'clock.
We were in a terrible state. Absolutely awful.
Once back home, Mary contacted easyJet
to ask for compensation,
believing that, as she'd been told it was a technical fault,
she'd be due some sort of pay-out.
But it was at that point that the words "bird strike"
entered the picture.
"We apologise that your flight was cancelled.
"However, it was a bird strike
"and we are not liable
"to refund any monies or any compensation."
And I was so angry.
You see, mention of a bird strike makes a big difference
when it comes to the question of compensation.
Under current EU regulations,
bird strikes are classed as beyond the control of airlines,
and, therefore, an extraordinary circumstance,
meaning airlines don't have to pay out compensation
for any delay one may cause.
But Mary doesn't think that's right.
I think it is the airline's responsibility to control this.
If they know that these things happen,
then they must have things in place
to try and prevent these things happening.
In fact, the whole issue of controlling birds
and keeping them away from runways and planes
has been a headache for airlines and airports for years.
In fact, there are around 1,500 bird strikes in the UK each year,
and every plane hit by a bird has to return to the nearest airport
to get checked out as a precaution.
The resulting delays and repairs
can have serious financial repercussions,
which is why a number of the UK's major airports
employ bird control officers like Trish,
who works here at Liverpool's John Lennon Airport.
Potentially, a bird or an animal could strike the aircraft
and bring it down. That's the ultimate,
so we're here to prevent that.
As well as scaring birds away,
Trish also has to try and stop them nesting -
no mean feat on a 220-acre site.
Due to its location - the airport's location -
there's birds all the time.
They operate on the tide, so it doesn't necessarily mean, say,
because it's night-time, birds won't fly.
If the tide's in at night-time,
then we get an awful lot of birds on the airfields.
If a single bird gets into the engine of a plane as it takes off,
it could be catastrophic,
so Trish has a number of tools in her armoury to keep them away,
including this speaker...
BIRDS CHIRP OVER SPEAKER
..which plays the noises of rival birds across the airfield.
The different seasons bring different types of birds.
Some birds are migratory birds, so, in the winter,
we get quite a lot of migratory birds,
which is a potential hazard, but, you know,
we do really well in controlling them.
The main aspect of the job is
for people to get on their holiday safely.
Even when they get on that aircraft, you know, out onto the airfield,
we're still making it possible for them. We're making it safe.
Without the work of teams like this one,
it's likely the incidence of bird strikes would be much higher,
and by managing the bird population around airports,
the consequences of such events can be minimised.
Such careful planning has led some lawyers to argue
that bird strikes are within an airline's control
because if preventative measures
like bird control officers are in place,
they can't really be classed as extraordinary.
Well, until recently, that was the conclusion
that much of the legal profession had reached,
with the thinking being that if a flight WAS delayed
because of a bird strike,
then passengers on that flight would be due compensation.
But then, in May 2017,
an unexpected decision at the European Court changed all that,
as Coby Benson from law firm Bott & Co explains.
Before the European Court decision in May 2017,
numerous judges reached the decision
that bird strikes weren't extraordinary.
They were an inherent part of running an airline,
that they were not an extraordinary circumstance.
In the meantime, the European Court was also tasked
with answering this question -
whether or not bird strikes were extraordinary -
and, for some reason, the judges at the European Court
reached an entirely different view.
So, whereas before, Mary might have been able to claim compensation
for an 11-hour delay caused by a bird strike,
that new ruling, which overrides all previous ones,
means it's no longer possible.
-Hello, Coby. Thank you for seeing me about this case.
She's come to see Coby to find out more.
Unfortunately, you have a bit of an uphill struggle now
since the European Court handed down its judgment in May.
However, there is potentially some hope for passengers such as yourself
and that's because the law says that
it's what's known as a two-part test,
so the airline has to show not only that
it was an extraordinary circumstance,
but also that they took all reasonable measures
to avoid the disruption that you experienced.
Could, for instance, they have fixed the plane sooner than they did,
and perhaps then you could have taken off with a bit of a delay
rather than having your flight cancelled entirely?
Or, for instance, did they look into other flights
that were available that day?
These would all need looking into in further detail.
But getting an airline to disclose this kind of information
can be tricky.
Unfortunately, all the information is held by the airline,
so passengers are ultimately at the mercy of the airlines
to disclose that information to them as early as possible.
The court rule's slightly unfair in that regard.
They don't require the airlines
to disclose everything that they have available to them.
The airline only has to give what is helpful to their case,
which really puts the passengers on a bit of a back foot.
Since we filmed with Mary, however, there's been some very good news.
Though easyJet has reiterated that bird strikes are clearly classified
as an extraordinary circumstance for which no compensation is due,
it's revealed that Mary's plane wasn't, in fact,
the one that the bird had hit.
The airline has told us that the plane she was due to fly on
was the one used to replace the one hit by the bird strike.
As such, her delay was down to a technical fault,
for which she is entitled to compensation.
Well, that's a relief for Mary, but she's still staggered
by how complicated this whole process has been.
I'm very unhappy with bird strikes.
It caused me a lot of heartache and a lot of pain,
and I wish somebody could actually prevent
a lot more bird strikes happening in the future.
The Trafford Centre in Manchester
was the base for our annual pop-up shop,
where our team of experts just love getting stuck into
as many of your consumer issues and problems as they can.
Carol and Keith Graham came to see Simon Calder
after what they'd expected to be a return visit to a hotel
they'd stayed in before
proved to be an altogether different experience.
We went to Cape Verde, to a hotel that we went to six years ago.
When we got there,
things weren't quite as we expected it.
You know, you walked into reception, you're thinking,
"I'm sure it was on the opposite side."
And walking down to the beach,
and we get to the opening and I just looked, and I said,
"I've heard of global warming,
"but where's the beach and where's the sea?"
Both Keith and Carol were totally confused.
Things at the hotel were just not as they remembered,
and then the penny dropped.
We thought we'd booked one hotel, where, in actual fact,
it turned out that we'd booked the sister hotel next door to it.
Was there a moment where you thought,
-"Has my memory betrayed me?"
-Yes, it does.
-Yeah, you do think that.
It turned out that, after they'd booked,
the hotel the couple had previously stayed in
had changed its name,
with another hotel close by taking it on,
and it was this second hotel that the couple ended up staying in,
which, unfortunately, wasn't up to the same standard
as the one they'd previously stayed in.
When you were there, did you say, "Look, this isn't what we'd booked.
"Please move us to the hotel we wanted"?
Yes, and they said,
"There is room there and it will cost you between £400-£600."
-That's just for a week.
-And that's for what you thought
-you'd already booked and paid for already?
As the identity switch happened after they'd booked,
Keith and Karen believe that they're entitled to compensation
because they didn't get the standard of hotel they'd paid out for.
We booked our holiday in August,
and the change of name didn't happen till November the 1st.
-And we went in December.
-And we went in December.
-Your complaint is simply, "We booked something."
"You didn't deliver it.
-"Therefore, we would like some compensation, please."
Keith and Carol have already made a complaint to the travel company,
who told them that there was nothing they could to do
and they would receive no compensation for the mix-up,
but the couple want to take this further.
So, you can either go to ABTA arbitration,
the Travel Association has a fairly good scheme,
or you can go to Money Claims Online,
-the small claims court...
-..and claim like that.
But I'd say you've got a pretty strong case.
Thank you very much indeed.
Since filming with us,
Keith and Carol followed Simon's advice
and they took their case to the small claims court.
Five months later, the travel firm finally agreed to pay compensation,
so that is truly a great result.
Also on hand to help out with advice was our legal expert, Gary Rycroft,
who joined Simon to meet Sam and Amy.
Well, Amy and Sam, it's very nice to meet you.
Amy feels that she's been mis-sold accommodation
for a holiday she was planning in Cuba.
We picked this hotel due to the rooms were a bit more modern,
cos it looked... Honestly, the pictures were really amazing.
But since booking the holiday,
the photos of the hotel on the website have changed,
and there's no longer any sign of the glossy, modern rooms
she thought they'd be getting.
-I was just going to ask Gary, actually. Is it then mis-selling or what?
Yes, I think that's the word, actually, Gloria.
So, Amy, you were induced to enter into the contract
because of the photographs that were on display at that point
and they have changed the website...
-..to now show accurate photographs.
That is a fundamental change in your contract,
because, as you say, Gloria,
the holiday that Amy was booking was misrepresented to her.
So, if, like Amy, you feel you were mis-sold a holiday
based on false photographs, here is what you can do about it.
Have the holiday company admitted to you
that the photographs you saw and relied on were not accurate?
-Well, yeah, through an e-mail. I got an e-mail yesterday.
So, I think, in that case,
you've got to go back to the holiday company
and give them some options to sort it out.
And those options might be a full refund,
and you can just go off and start again and book somewhere else.
Or you could say you will still go,
but as the rooms aren't going to be as good
as you thought they were going to be,
-you'd like a discount, please.
-What would you do, Simon?
I'd just make sure that I went to Cuba.
So, therefore, I'd be very much after the discount,
but if they weren't going to deliver that,
I'd say, "Thanks very much, I'll have my money back,
"and I'm going to find another holiday
"on the beautiful island of Cuba."
Since we met Amy, she took our advice
and contacted the travel agency,
who, after numerous calls and e-mails,
eventually agreed to give her a refund, which is excellent news.
But Amy says she would never book a trip
with the same company ever again.
Still to come on Rip-Off Britain, why airline loyalty schemes
may not always pay off in quite the way you'd expected.
You feel very down when you're not getting something
you believe you have genuinely earned.
Our travel expert, Simon Calder, is full of the secrets
to save you money on your travels.
He also has tips on everything from how to avoid the crowds
to the best way to steer clear of all those tourist traps.
This time, it's a year-round favourite -
The Canary Islands comprise the perfect escape -
just four hours flying time from Britain
and rather sunnier and warmer.
From Tenerife and Gran Canaria to tiny La Graciosa
and remote El Hierro, they're all distinctive,
and deliver sun, sea and plenty of interest.
But there's confusion about the islands' geopolitical status,
by which I mean, every few days, someone gets in touch and says,
"Simon, I'm going to the Canaries. I've got a British passport.
"Does it need to be valid six months?"
The answer is no,
at least for as long as Britain remains part of the European Union.
Spain is part of the EU, the Canaries are part of Spain,
so your passport is valid up to and including its expiry date.
But it's not that clear-cut,
because although the Canaries are part of the EU,
for customs purposes, they're not, which means...
You get proper duty-free,
but there are strict limits on what you can bring back to the UK -
just one litre of spirits and four litres of wine.
But none of that matters until you're leaving.
During your stay, make sure you soak up
everything that these volcanic islands have to offer.
There's plenty to explore, with UNESCO World Heritage sites,
their national parks, forests,
volcanic landscape and mountain villages,
and if it's around February time you're going,
then Tenerife hosts the world famous Carnival de Santa Cruz de Tenerife,
which honestly is well worth adding to your itinerary.
Getting about the island is plain sailing, as well.
The ferry network makes Canary island-hopping a real joy.
You can easily combine Tenerife with Gran Canaria,
and Fuerteventura with Lanzarote,
or take the overnight sailing from Tenerife to La Palma
and wake up on a deliciously distinctive island.
And once on dry land, there are plenty of ways of getting around
that would cost less than a round of drinks.
To explore your chosen island, there's no real need to rent a car.
The local buses are reliable and cheap.
It's just under ten euros
for the express pass from Playa de las Americas
to the Tenerife capital, Santa Cruz - a distance of around 50 miles.
If you've flown more than once with the same airline,
then you may well have joined its loyalty scheme,
the idea being that every time you fly, you build up points,
so that once you've collected enough,
you can exchange them for a discounted or even a free flight.
But, great as that sounds, it's not always necessarily that simple,
and you may not be able to cash in those hard-earned points
in quite the way that you expected,
leading quite a few of you to get in touch,
saying that you feel, well, rather short-changed.
From the early 1980s, airlines realised that
keeping customers regularly flying with them and not their rivals
was key to their survival,
and so frequent-flyer programmes were born.
Loyal customers could earn so-called air miles, or the like,
which they could redeem against the cost of future flights,
and today one of the best-known of these schemes remains this one -
Collect Avios when you fly...
Easy! ..when you hire a car with Avis,
and when you shop at Tesco.
Described as reward currency, the points you rack up
from all sorts of spending can be used to book flights on BA,
or its partners, Aer Lingus and Iberia.
But far from offering limitless horizons,
some of you have contacted us saying the scheme has left you feeling
like you've actually had your wings clipped.
Brian Blair from West Lothian
has been collecting Avios points for years,
and when British Airways e-mailed with an offer
to buy a whopping 135,000 Avios points
for £1,615, he jumped at the chance.
It seemed an easy way to more quickly build up the points
that could take him where he wanted to go.
I was very excited because I wanted to visit Reykjavik
to see the northern lights in Iceland,
and it was one of the dream trips that I had on my list.
Brian's new points could be used either to buy
one of the handful of seats reserved for Avios members on a flight
or as part payment on a discounted fare.
But when he tried redeeming them to get that discount,
he was horrified to discover that the points that he'd bought
were now worth far less than the amount that he'd paid for them.
When I made up my dream list of the places I wanted to visit,
I found, to my horror, that the Avios value only came to about £900,
when I expected it to come to the full amount
that I had outlaid initially, which was £1,600.
I was absolutely horrified.
With his points worth less than expected
on every flight that he looked into booking,
Brian was left feeling very aggrieved.
I was getting very, very upset with the airline.
I had flown with them before
and the customer service was appalling, in my opinion.
An equally frustrated Avios member is John Latter from Tetbury.
He collects points using his American Express credit card.
The attraction with the Avios system is that
if you spend over £10,000 a year on your credit card,
you then qualify for what they call a companion seat.
And that free extra seat is especially handy for John,
as, each year, he and his wife travel
to visit their grandchildren in Japan.
So, after months of faithfully collecting his Avios points,
he was thrilled to have built up what he thought was enough
to get not just that companion seat,
but an upgrade for the pair of them, too.
Yeah, I was quite excited that I'd be able to book an upgrade
into business class
and receive the free companion seat for my wife in the same class,
essentially free of charge, other than the airport taxes.
But when he tried booking four months ahead
of the dates that he hoped to fly, BA told Brian that,
while he could have two economy seats,
there were no business class seats available to Avios customers.
When I questioned British Airways about this,
they explained that there are only two business class seats
and six economy class seats,
and they are booked up very quickly.
And having asked the young man how soon you could book,
he said the earliest was 355 days
prior to you booking.
Disappointed but relieved that at least his wife had qualified
for a free seat, John took the deal,
but he was determined that, the next time,
he would get all the benefits that his spending entitled him to,
by booking a full year in advance.
Unfortunately, however, despite getting back onto BA
as soon as he was back in the UK,
John was again told that, due to restrictions
on the number of seats available to Avios customers,
there was nothing available.
You feel very down when you're not getting something
you believe you have genuinely earned.
Having been exceedingly disappointed with this whole system,
we abandoned it.
With both Brian and John feeling deflated by their Avios experiences,
they're meeting with frequent-flyer expert, Rob Burgess.
He's become so familiar with how to make the most
of these kinds of schemes
that he claims not to have bought a flight in five years,
instead, travelling the world with his various rewards,
and he's set up a website sharing his tips.
-Brian, nice to meet you.
-Good to meet you. I'm Brian. Cheers.
John. Pleased to meet you.
First, Brian wants to know why the points he paid more than £1,600 for
didn't end up having anything like that value.
So, a couple of years ago, they brought in this new model,
whereby you can use your points for any flight for a cash discount.
The problem is, as you found, if you try and use your points
for a cash discount on a flight, you don't get great value for them.
The real way to try and maximise the value
is to try and get one of the limited number of seats per flight
which are made available for a full Avios redemption,
where you can pay for the entire flight,
apart from the airport charges and taxes, using your points.
If you're prepared to do that,
you'll find you will get decent value for your points.
Brian's Avios options are also limited
because BA has less flights from his local airport, Edinburgh,
than it does from, say, Heathrow. Again, Rob has a solution,
although it's still not quite what Brian was hoping for.
Living outside of London, you need to be more flexible.
Luckily, British Airways partners with various other airlines
and you can also use your points to redeem with them.
So, from Edinburgh, you can redeem on the American Airlines flights
to New York and onwards in the States.
Finnair fly from Edinburgh to Helsinki,
and then onwards into Asia.
In general, the best value from the Avios scheme
is short-haul flights into Europe or premium economy,
long-haul business class or long-haul first class.
I hear what you're saying, Robert.
I have no intentions of flying long-haul business class.
That wasn't the reason I bought the miles in the first place.
I think it's not clear, when I purchased them,
what you would need to do to get your money's worth.
And the news isn't much better for John,
who'd hoped to use his points on particular flights.
Again, Rob says total flexibility is key
to making frequent-flyer schemes work the way
that you hope they will.
And on routes like the one John is targeting to Japan,
to get what you want, you need to get in quick.
Avios seats are seats that BA cannot easily sell.
Tokyo is a very, very busy route.
It's a very pricey route, especially in cherry-blossom season,
and if you really want to go on a particular day,
you have to target that 355 days out and get on the phone at midnight
and grab the two business-class seats
or the four economy seats, which come up immediately.
If you don't do that, then you are sitting there checking
once a week or so to see if BA's made some more seats available.
Sometimes, you'll get lucky. Sometimes, you won't.
Of course, we've heard similar complaints
about the frequent-flyer programmes operated by other big names, too.
And while it might seem a bit churlish
to quibble about something that's a reward,
when the people who've been in touch with us haven't had the benefits
that they'd hoped for,
or their points expire, as is often the case,
they do end up wondering if their loyalty has been misplaced,
and if these schemes really are all that they're cracked up to be.
Meanwhile, we asked BA about Brian and John's experiences
when they tried to cash in their points.
While sorry they were disappointed,
the airline told us it has 10 million Executive Club members
who value spending their Avios on new flights.
It said all the terms are clearly explained on its website
and in the terms and conditions,
and it has various tools to help customers find seats
wherever they want to travel.
BA also said 9 million redemption seats are reserved
every year for customers who wish to pay entire fares with their Avios
and the points can be used in part payment for any flight.
And Avios itself told us
it's committed to offering customers good value,
and as many opportunities as possible to spend their points.
But it reiterated that the seats available
will vary from route to route, and from week to week,
depending on commercial demand.
As for Brian and John,
they each still have tens of thousands of Avios points,
and while, after meeting our expert, they've got plenty of ideas
on how to use them to best advantage,
John is not convinced that with any such scheme
you'll always be able to spend your points
exactly the way you would like.
We are accumulating Avios,
and in the event that we can find a direct flight
and use the Avios with another airline, we will,
but it isn't to say that we're not going to be faced
with exactly the same situation.
The truth is that Rip-Off Britain wouldn't be here
without your stories, and we've got plenty of ways you can get in touch.
You can send us an e-mail to...
Or you can write to us at...
But please do not send original copies of any documents,
and even if you haven't got a story that you'd like us to investigate,
you can always join in the conversation on our Facebook page.
Just search "BBC Rip-Off Britain."
Well, I'm afraid that's just about it for today,
but I have to say that whilst I obviously knew that
many thousands of people had been affected
by the collapse of Monarch Airlines, what I had not realised
was that there was still a huge number of people
who still have their situation to be resolved.
Nor me. To be absolutely honest, from all the news reports
at the time about flights being laid on to bring people home,
I'd got the impression that most cases were done and dusted.
But, of course, that's what we're all here for -
to highlight any of the problems that you're having difficulty with.
And if you want to get something sorted out,
that's even more special.
Absolutely. So, if there's something that you're struggling with -
and it can be to do with any consumer issue, not just holidays -
then do please let us know and it could well be something
that we investigate on a future programme.
In the meantime, thank you very much for your company today.
-We'll see you again very soon, but for now, from all of us, goodbye.
Problems with big-name airlines are the focus of this edition's investigations from Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford, and Julia Somerville. They reveal why, months after Monarch went out of business, some of the passengers left stranded overseas are still hundreds of pounds out of pocket.
Also, after a landmark ruling leaves holidaymakers unprotected if a bird hits the plane, the airport teams whose job it is to stop that happening demonstrate their tactics.
Plus travel expert Simon Calder has money-saving tips for anyone visiting the Canary Islands, and viewers unhappy with airline loyalty schemes discover how to get the most from their points.