The team investigates whether the great deals advertised for holidays are always quite what they seem - or if they are even available at all.
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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.
A holiday is supposed to be a time of relaxing,
not a time of more stress
and certainly not a time of stress whilst you're away.
You go into it with your eyes wide open.
If you think something's too good to be true, then it probably is.
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 it's an even warmer than usual welcome to Rip-Off Britain
because for this series, we're in the Canary Islands
investigating all things holiday and travel-related.
And today's stories are all about
whether that great deal you've spotted - you know the one,
the cheap flights or the last remaining hotel room -
really is as good as it seems.
Because with all those booking websites, the online travel agents,
and of course we mustn't forget the high street travel shops,
all clamouring for your custom, it's very easy to be seduced
by offers that may not be all that they're cracked up to be.
Perhaps because, and I bet a few of you have come across this,
that particular deal that you've seen is not actually available.
Or you've been drawn in by a price that quite suddenly rises
the very moment you try and book it.
Yes, I think you're right, we all know that that is a very familiar
scenario to all of us, in fact.
We'll also be looking at deals where the terms may turn out to be
not quite what you expected and along the way we'll have plenty of
advice to make sure that whatever it is you're signing up to, you end up
with the deal you expected to get in the first place.
Coming up, why hotel booking sites are under the spotlight to see
if the way they try and push you into making a decision is unfair.
So claims such as "three other people looking right now",
or "last booked two hours ago" -
we want to understand the basis for those claims.
Are those claims true?
And why thousands of cruise passengers could be setting sail
without the vital protection they need.
My time was ticking away, and we kept asking
when we would get this wheelchair but it just didn't happen,
and there was loads of other people around us actually saying,
"We're going to miss our flight, this is disgusting."
Now it's a fact that the internet has revolutionised our lives
in countless ways. Not least in the way we travel.
In 2016, over three quarters of holiday-makers
booked their trip online. That's amazing, isn't it?
And while, of course, there are many advantages
to having all that choice at your fingertips,
it can be difficult to know whether the deal being advertised
really is as good as the website or booking site would have you believe.
That's especially the case with sites dedicated to booking hotels,
where, as we've reported before, sifting through the hidden fees,
the promised discounts and hotel rankings can leave you
not only confused, but sometimes out of pocket as well.
Well, now the regulators have started to shine a light
on this area, launching an investigation
into whether customers are being misled.
And there are several key ways they reckon that might be happening.
Between us, we're taking more foreign holidays than ever before.
Brits went on over 70 million trips abroad in 2016,
with most of our flights and our hotels now booked online.
But while the internet is supposed to make it easier
to get a good deal on your travels,
there are concerns that when it comes to booking hotels,
not everything is quite as it seems
when we're looking for the best price.
Retired engineer Martin Knutt is among those who wonder
if the websites that dominate the industry
could be pulling a fast one.
I feel quite a lot of pressure,
particularly where I'm looking for somewhere
and it says "last one at this price".
And I am definitely being pressured to make a decision,
I don't always get the best deal.
And Martin's suspicions over whether hotel booking sites really do offer
as good a deal as it might seem appeared to be confirmed during
a driving holiday through the Czech Republic with his wife, Jennifer.
We were on the motorway towards Prague,
we stopped for some refreshments and found they had Wi-Fi,
so we get out the laptop, fire it up,
and start using, for the first time ever, a booking website.
Having selected a hotel,
we found one where the price worked out at about £130 a night
and this struck us as rather excessive
but, hey, it's a capital city.
And I was just about to press the button when the Wi-Fi failed.
Unable to confirm his booking online and guarantee a room for the night,
Martin got back on the road and decided to take a chance.
We found our way to this hotel
and I stopped by it and said, "Have you got rooms?"
And the chap said, "Yes, sir." "And how much?"
And, to my surprise, it was only £85.
That was more than a third cheaper than the price he'd been given
on a big-name booking site, saving him £45.
And as Martin and Jennifer continued their driving holiday,
their mistrust of booking sites only increased.
A couple of weeks later, we were in Hungary, we found one or two hotels,
said they were fully booked and another one had a room
that was "the last one at this price".
We booked it, we got there, we got in.
However, the hotel was three quarters empty.
When he found out that there was a lot more availability
at this hotel than had appeared to be the case,
Martin couldn't help wondering
if people using these hotel booking sites
are being given information that might encourage them
to believe they need to act quickly.
It was very much pressure selling, trying to make you make a decision.
"Oh, my goodness, I'm not going to get in, I must book now."
Martin returned home, convinced that the world of online booking sites
isn't all that it seems.
And he's not alone in his concerns.
The Competition and Markets Authority, the organisation
specifically tasked with promoting competition between businesses,
so that consumers, businesses and the economy all benefit,
has long suspected that the practices of such sites
may be doing the opposite of what you'd think
and actually preventing consumers from finding the best deals online.
We heard concerns from a range of sources
about potentially misleading practices on these sites.
We heard concerns that the clarity,
the accuracy and the presentation of information
wasn't actually helping consumers -
it was making it more difficult for them to make choices
about their holiday bookings.
To find out if these sites are giving people a fair choice,
and indeed a fair price,
Nisha and her team at the CMA have launched a survey,
and they'd like your help.
We want to hear from consumers, so we've opened up a consumer survey.
Within two weeks of the investigation,
we've had around 2,000 responses to that survey,
telling us what consumers are experiencing.
All of that information will tell us more about the sector
and to understand whether sites might be breaking consumer law.
Not only is the CMA gathering information from consumers
about their experience of using hotel booking sites,
they've written to the companies themselves,
demanding information on their marketing practices.
We hope to report our findings in spring of 2018,
after we've gathered and analysed all the information
and we understand where the worst practices are
and how we need to tackle them.
If the CMA does uncover breaches of consumer protection law,
it can demand changes in the way these sites operate
and ultimately take them to court if its requirements are not met.
But, in the meantime, we asked Martin
to put some of the best-known booking sites to the test,
to see what he'd be told if he tried booking a three-night stay
in a particular hotel in Prague.
Would there be much of a variation in price,
and would he face any subtle pressure to make the booking?
I've heard that the Hotel Prague Inn is very nice,
so I'm going to try and book a long weekend there
for myself and my wife.
As you will see, there are a lot of booking websites here
which offer this hotel.
And we asked Nisha at the CMA to give her thoughts
on what she thinks he'll find.
When customers put in their search criteria,
so they put in their dates, they put in the destination they want,
up pops a list of hotels in a particular order.
At the top, there might well be
some recommended hotels or preferred hotels.
What's put those hotels at the top of the list
may not always be customer preference, but commission.
Hotels will typically pay the sites around 15%,
but they might pay extra for what's called "visibility" -
in other words, given a higher profile in the search results,
and that's something the CMA hopes to investigate a bit more.
One of the things we want to understand is about the commission
that's paid from hotels to online sites and, importantly,
how that influences the ranking and the listing and the recommendations
that consumers see when those search lists pop up.
Although I've been told the Hotel Prague's very good,
they think, "Maybe he'd like a different one.
"Here's one that's a bit cheaper,
"and here's one that's a great deal more expensive."
We want to understand, actually, what do consumers understand
when they see the listing?
Do they understand that the hotel might be recommended to them,
not just because it matches their search criteria,
but for other considerations, such as commission?
If that's the case, they might be making a choice
they wouldn't otherwise have made.
Martin has been given three different prices
for his chosen hotel.
This is Expedia.
£551, non-refundable, or £580 allowing for a cancellation.
Here we have LateRooms - the same hotel, the same three nights,
the price is £509.49.
I've now gone to Bookings.com,
and their price for a room with a view is £586,
and they say, "This is the cheapest price you've seen in Prague
"for your dates,"
and that is hardly accurate.
However, they do down here say,
"Standard room, you've missed it! sold for £424."
Now that is the cheapest.
Well...it may have been, but if it's not available now, so what?
Will knowing he's already missed out on one possible deal
rush Martin into making the decision
to book at the higher price of £586?
There are only three rooms left, so it sounds like I've got to be quick.
This is exactly the kind of scenario
that the CMA is hoping to get to the bottom of.
So claims such as "three other people looking right now",
or "last booked two hours ago" -
we want to understand the basis for those claims. Are those claims true?
We're concerned that consumers might be rushing to make a booking
under a false impression of availability.
Now I'm going to look at Hotels.com,
and here we have a price of...
This is the same as the first one, £551,
and if you want to have the flexibility
to cancel before the end of the month, it's £580.
In this instance, Martin is given the choice of paying a higher rate
to have the option to cancel,
but part of being able to choose the best deal
is knowing that all fees are included in the price you're seeing.
So compulsory charges should be included in that headline price,
charges such as for tax, for booking fees,
for something called resort fees
that are sometimes used and added on at the end -
those are prices that the consumer should know about right up front,
so they know what they have to pay
and they know what they're going to get.
With £509.49 as his cheapest price so far,
Martin decides to leave the booking sites behind
and go direct to the hotel's own home page...
Right, Hotel Prague.
This is the hotel itself.
..to see if booking direct will save him money.
And they are quoting £528.
And that is cheaper than all of them, bar one, of the websites.
But, of course, you can always ring up the hotel and haggle.
Most hotels are happy to price match with online sites,
but on this occasion, the LateRooms price of £509.49
is Martin's best deal,
with Expedia and Hotels.com charging slightly over £40 more
and Booking.com just over £75.
Well, we contacted the various sites for their explanation on all this.
Expedia, of which Hotels.com is a brand,
told us it welcomes further discussions with the CMA
to ensure the market is transparent and to increase consumer benefit.
It stressed, however, that prices are dynamic
and can vary according to a number of factors,
including availability, any promotions available,
and the exchange rate. And it says customers find messages
on the current availability of hotels to be...
LateRooms said it's fully cooperated with the CMA investigation,
not only providing the information requested,
but also "sending supporting documentation to demonstrate
"our customer-centric approach."
It went on to say that the UK market
is the core focus of its business, so it's...
..and there have been no changes to its processes
as a result of the current investigation.
Meanwhile, Booking.com declined to comment.
Booking sites can be an incredibly valuable and useful tool
for consumers, opening up all sorts of choices for them
and saving them time and money.
But in order to do that, in order to be a force for good,
they need to give people clear and accurate information,
so they can make the best choice for them.
The CMA hopes its study will conclude in around 18 months
and, in the meantime, perhaps the best advice
is not to take what you see on these sites at face value,
or assume it's the best available price.
Shop around, don't be hurried into booking and always check
the final price before you hand over your payment details,
which is certainly what Martin will be doing.
My advice is when you look at these sites, see who it comes from.
I think the consumer doesn't get a good deal.
Well, it's easy to see why cruises are just so popular.
It's a chance to see plenty of new places in one trip,
the comfort of a cabin to go back to
and, of course, plenty of entertainment on board.
But as with any trip, you'll still need to have travel insurance
in case you need to cancel or if you fall ill and need treatment
either on board or at a local hospital.
And with these costs running into the hundreds,
even thousands of pounds,
you want a policy that's going to pay out and ensure you don't
have to end up having to get this sort of cash on the spot.
But, as we're about to hear,
making sure you've the correct cover may not be as simple as you'd think,
leaving the people we're about to hear from completely at sea.
Cruises are becoming a more popular holiday choice all the time.
Each year, two million of us now take to the ocean waves,
a figure that's likely to rise still further, as cruise ships continue
their transformation into floating five-star hotels,
complete with theatres, cinemas and swimming pools.
And for people like Ann Cater and Derek Taylor from Preston,
there's doubt why cruises are the number one holiday choice.
The best things about a cruise is the fact that it's freedom.
You get your theatres, your dinner, all served by nice waiters.
You can go to the theatre, you can do shows.
Ann and Derek have been on many cruises over the years,
often travelling with one of the best-known names in the business,
Royal Caribbean, and last year they booked with that company again
to set sail from Barcelona in May.
We really looked forward to this holiday because we both needed
the rest and relaxation a cruise could give us.
We also paid an awful lot of money for this.
The trip cost £2,680 and it included flights from Manchester via Paris
and then onto the start of the cruise in Barcelona.
And as Ann needed some extra assistance,
they requested help in Paris
to make sure she made that connecting flight.
When we got to Charles de Gaulle Airport,
we thought we'd just go straight through with the wheelchair.
We were taken through customs, which was unnecessary
because we were on a connecting flight to Barcelona.
We were then taken to a collection point, where several other people
were waiting for wheelchairs.
These wheelchairs didn't arrive and there was somebody at the desk,
who we asked several times, "How much longer?",
because we were going to miss our flight.
Ann and Derek knew they only had one hour to make their connection
and, if they missed it, the cruise would just leave without them.
The time was ticking away and we kept asking
when we would get this wheelchair, but it just didn't happen,
and there was loads of other people around us actually saying,
"We're going to miss our flight, this is disgusting."
As they sat waiting for the wheelchair to arrive,
they could hear the final call for passengers
to board the connecting flight to Barcelona.
We were then eventually taken upstairs to the Air France...
..departure, where we were told that the plane had already gone
and the only thing they could offer us
was a further flight at 2:30 in the afternoon,
which would have got us into Barcelona at 4:30,
and the ship would have left at four o'clock.
Ann and Derek were devastated.
They knew that there was no chance now of making their cruise
and were furious that so little time
had been allowed for their connection.
We were extremely cross that it should happen because, basically,
I think Royal Caribbean should have known there was no way on earth,
even without the wheelchair,
that somebody could have crossed Charles de Gaulle Airport
to actually get to the other departure lounge.
Ann and Derek were flown back to the UK
and, when they got home to Preston, they called Royal Caribbean,
hoping to get a refund for the cruise they'd been unable to join
because of that missed connection.
But Royal Caribbean rejected their request,
saying that they did try to make arrangements for Ann and Derek
to board at the next port, but the couple had been so traumatised
by their experience at the airport, they turned the offer down.
Still, Ann and Derek had taken out annual travel insurance,
so they were confident that that would help them
get their money back, but when they got in touch with their insurer,
a company called Alpha Travel Insurance, to their horror,
they were told that they wouldn't be covered by that either.
It told them that the liability here
lay squarely with the cruise company, Royal Caribbean,
for not allowing enough time for the connection.
So, with no-one willing to help, Ann and Derek were stuck,
and they faced losing the entire £2,680
that they'd spent on their holiday.
I feel that Derek and I have really, really been let down
by the insurance company and the cruise company
because we really needed that holiday.
Well, at that point, the couple came to us,
and as we looked into their case it became clear
that their travel insurance, in common with many standard policies,
had a surprising exclusion.
It didn't, in fact, cover cruises at all,
and yours may not either because it's fairly common for anyone going
on a cruise to need to buy some sort of extra cover,
a fact that Ann simply hadn't been aware of.
I'm thoroughly annoyed with the insurance company,
because no way we knew we couldn't claim because of a clause
that stated cruises didn't come under their policy.
If we'd known this, we would have booked the correct insurance policy.
Well, when we spoke to Alpha Travel Insurance,
the company reiterated that it hadn't rejected the claim
because Ann hadn't purchased its cruise extension,
but because it was purely the fault of Royal Caribbean
that there hadn't been enough time to catch the connecting flight.
The insurer said that, in order to help keep prices down,
it does not offer cruise cover as standard,
but an additional option for those who need it.
So, even if Ann had paid an additional premium
for a policy with cruise cover, then it would be unlikely
that an insurer would have paid for her
to meet the cruise at the next port.
The problem being that most missed-connection policies
will only pay out for a delay,
and in Ann's case the flights were on time,
meaning that the insurer would put liability
firmly with the cruise company.
But Ann remains concerned that had something gone wrong on the cruise,
she wouldn't have been covered.
And according to Graeme Trudgill,
executive director at the British Insurance Brokers Association,
not having the correct travel insurance
for a cruise is a common problem.
So it's really important for anyone going on one
to check if they have the right cover before they set sail.
You're going to get holiday travel policies
that exclude cruises completely.
You're going to get holiday travel policies
that are silent on cruises, you'll get policies where it's an add-on,
where you can buy it as an extra,
or you'll get a comprehensive travel insurance policy
that will cover cruises in their entirety.
One reason why you might need specific insurance for a cruise
is because if things go wrong while you're on board,
the cost of things like medical care can be far more expensive
than if you're on dry land.
There's some key things that you're looking for
with a cruise travel insurance policy.
First of all, you want to make sure your medical situation
is going to be covered, cos if you have to be evacuated - an airlift
or a forced disembarkation from the actual ship -
then there could be significant costs to you.
And cruises can be right up there
with some of the most expensive holidays on the market,
so should you need to cancel for any reason,
that would be a huge cost to your insurer.
Which is why it's worth checking
exactly what level of cancellation cover your policy includes.
You need to make sure you've got enough for your cancellation,
so a cancellation cover on a travel insurance policy, a normal policy,
is going to be about £3,000, £5,000, something like that.
But a cruise, of course, can cost £10,000, £20,000.
We even have some cruises for £100,000,
so you need to make sure that your cancellation limits are sufficient.
And perhaps the most important advice of all -
once you've paid for a cruise,
make sure you have insurance in place straight away.
It is important to buy your policy on day one,
the day you book the cruise,
because if you suffer a serious medical injury the next day,
then you need to cancel the cruise,
you need to perhaps get your deposits back,
and that's why you need your policy to start immediately.
I'm very pleased to say that despite all the stresses along the way,
Ann and Derek's story does have a happy ending.
When we got in touch with the cruise company, Royal Caribbean, it told us
that as soon as it was made aware by Rip-Off Britain that the couple
had been unable to get a refund through their travel insurance,
it contacted Ann to ensure a swift resolution.
And the cruise company has now given the couple a full refund.
And while that's great news,
Ann wants to make sure that no-one else booking a cruise
discovers too late that their travel insurance
does not cover them in the way they might have assumed.
Derek and I didn't know that you had to have cruise cover
in your insurance policy. And I feel that we should have been...
It should have been pointed out to us
when we bought this holiday insurance.
We were covered for a year and the year before,
and we'd been on several cruises before,
and I find the whole thing absolutely flabbergasting.
Still to come on Rip-Off Britain...
Why is it so hard to bag your holiday
at the bargain price you've seen advertised?
After this woman's experience, we put one company to the test.
Nothing about what I've booked and paid for is actually real.
I was so upset, so very upset.
Our travel expert, Simon Calder,
is full of the secrets to save you money on your travels,
and he's got plenty of tips on everything,
from how to avoid the crowds
to the best way to steer clear of those tourist traps.
This time, one of the top destinations
for British families, Orlando.
It's undoubtedly in THE theme park capital of the world,
with more than a dozen all vying for your business
within very close proximity of each other.
So Simon has this top tip to make sure you get ahead of the crowds
from the word go.
When you touch down at Orlando International Airport,
the challenges are just beginning. But with a little advanced planning,
you can enjoy a much smoother start your holiday.
For example, bypassing those long queues for passport control.
To do this, and you will need to sign up for Global Entry
before you leave, via the Home Office.
And though there's a £42 processing fee,
and an application fee of 100,
that gives you five years' membership to the scheme.
That's money well spent in Simon's mind,
as it can mean that you get through immigration in seconds,
rather than hours.
And don't forget to sign up for the electronic toll road pass
whilst you're at it.
The Orlando area is full of annoying toll roads,
so either enrol online for automatic payment,
or resign yourself to driving around
with a fistful of nickels, dimes and quarters.
Apart from which of the theme parks to visit,
the other question on everyone's lips
is how to get in without having to spend all of your holiday money
just on getting through the park gates.
Disney and Universal are never going to be cheap theme park experiences,
but each of them has a kind of budget option.
For Disney, it's the Magic Your Way ticket.
For Universal, the Base ticket.
It's all swings and roundabouts, really.
But don't get too giddy,
and try and squeeze more than one park in per day.
These value tickets simply don't allow it.
And, anyway, it's unlikely that you will have the energy
for more than one of them.
Instead, head back your to hotel or villa for the rest of the day,
and take the weight off your feet.
The minimum drinking age for alcohol in Florida is 21,
and many bars and restaurants enforce the rule so zealously
that they will ask people in their 40s and 50s
for proof that they are aged 21 or over.
Now, of course, while it's flattering to be asked
to prove that you're over 21,
the charm does wear off if you like a wine or a beer
and you're restricted to soft drinks,
so always take your passport to the party.
Now, one thing we know makes many of you absolutely furious
is when you think you've found the perfect holiday deal,
but then, when you come to book it, the cost has suddenly shot right up.
And that bargain price advertised online
keeps slipping through your fingers.
Well, judging by the number of complaints
to our inbox about this very issue, you're in very good company.
And certainly for the people in our next film,
actually getting the holiday they paid for
has proved to be extremely tricky,
leaving them questioning whether that initial price
and the promises made ever had any truth to them at all.
There have never been so many companies competing
to sell us great holiday deals.
And, of course, the main thing we're going to be looking at
when comparing them all is their price.
But jumping in quick to bag the best bargain
doesn't mean you'll always get it.
As Christopher Douglas and his wife, Johanna, from Yeovil
have been frustrated to find out. When they book a holiday,
they tirelessly shop around all those online sites,
so that they can find the very best deal,
in order to enjoy time together that they rarely get at home.
The wife and I both work shifts, and we don't always meet -
sometimes we can go almost a week without seeing each other.
So, once a year, we try to get a week away, our time together.
So when the couple found a week's holiday to Fuerteventura,
it was on sale for £221 per person, and they were thrilled.
Eager to snap up the bargain,
Chris called the travel firm straight away.
We rang up the company, because it's contact only by telephone,
tried to book it, and when we went to book it,
they said all the rooms had gone.
And they then tried to upsell us to a room £100 more each.
So that made basically the holiday a lot more expensive,
almost double the price.
To his dismay, Chris was told the holiday he saw advertised online
was no longer actually available,
and to get something similar would cost a lot more.
Well, Chris was having none of that.
I didn't like what they were saying to us.
They advertised a holiday at that price, I said,
"Well, why can't you supply it at that price?
"Surely you shouldn't be advertising it at that price.
"If you put it up for offer, it should be available to me."
Politely declining the offer
to pay more than the price he'd initially seen,
Chris began another online search and, to his surprise,
he found many other agents doing the same thing -
advertising a holiday at a good price,
only to find out when he tried to book
that it wasn't available without paying more.
You end up going round in a circle, going through different suppliers,
trying to get the rooms at the price they do specify.
And they can't do it.
Chris did eventually find a holiday at a price he was happy to pay,
but he's now deeply suspicious of online travel firms
advertising holidays at a rate they simply can't deliver.
They knew fully well they didn't have the rooms available,
and they were quite happy to advertise that,
to get you to go to them.
The issue of false advertising of holidays
is something that we've looked into the programme before,
and quite a lot of you have been in touch
to say that you're very unhappy that the price you've seen advertised
suddenly goes up at the moment you try to book.
And trading standards expert Sylvia Rook
says it's a practice that can leave customers
not just confused, but potentially disadvantaged.
There are a number of companies that will offer you a service
of making you a holiday.
What they shouldn't do is advertise something
that they aren't aware if they can provide or not.
So the important thing is that, if they are advertising something,
they know that they can provide it.
We're increasingly hearing from people who say that,
after finding the holiday they want, it's only when it comes
to handing over payment that they discover
the cost of their flight or accommodation
is going to be far more than the price they had initially agreed.
One of the people that's happened to is teacher Sarah Vince from Kent.
She thought she'd found the perfect holiday for her family,
using the website 321 Travel.
It was a seven-night, all-inclusive stay
at a four-star hotel in northern Spain,
on offer at £495 per person.
We were going to be staying at a four-star hotel with a spa.
My daughter and I really need to relax,
and we thought we could be really chilled out.
The flights from Gatwick to Gerona were at just right sort of times
as well, leaving at 7:50am,
so they'd get there around the middle of the day.
As instructed, Sarah called the number on the 321 Travel site,
which directed her to another company
that was part of the same group. It was called Travelate.
Straight away, over the phone, she was told that,
due to room availability, the price had gone up by £50 per head.
So £200 more than the advertised price.
Even so, Sarah agreed to the change and handed over her payment details.
She says she was told it could take 48 hours for the money to come out
of her account, but the very next day Travelate called her back.
The rep called me to tell me that there was a difficulty
with booking the flights. I asked her what the problem was,
and she said that it was an airport issue.
And asked if I could go from any other airports.
I informed the rep that I could only go from Gatwick or Stansted,
as they were my local airports.
And that it was finished with the rep saying,
"Leave it with me, I will call you back."
And Travelate did call back,
but with the bad news that the family now had to fly from Luton,
a fair old drive from Sarah's house,
and with an additional cost of £23 per person to boot.
Oh, by the way, there was something else.
The four-star hotel that Sarah thought
she'd already booked and paid for?
That was no longer available either.
The rep called me, she said, "Mrs Vince,
"I'm having trouble getting the last family room in this hotel."
So I said, "That's really good, because I don't want a family room,
"I've booked and paid for two rooms for four adults."
And she became very irritated and she said,
"Well, if that's the case, you cannot stay in this hotel."
To make things worse,
when the paperwork for the holiday came through,
Sarah noticed the flights were now leaving at 8:15 in the evening,
which meant that effectively they'd lost the whole first day
of their holiday, and instead of flying to Gerona,
they were now arriving into Barcelona,
which was much further from the hotel.
The holiday I'd booked doesn't really exist.
Because the flights have changed,
and now you're telling me I cannot have the hotel that I wanted.
So nothing about what I've booked and paid for is actually real.
I was so upset, so very upset.
So, despite being stuck with neither the flights
nor the hotel they wanted, the family reluctantly made the journey.
But when they arrived at the hotel in the early hours of the morning,
there was another problem.
Travelate had only booked rooms for five nights instead of seven.
The manager said we would need to an extra 192 euros per room, per night.
I got straight on the phone.
The rep at the travel agents, he was very apologetic,
couldn't understand what had happened,
and said he would get back to me,
and he would sort it out immediately.
But Sarah says it wasn't sorted immediately,
despite her calling the company again,
demanding that they pay for the whole seven nights.
I later on received an e-mail from the travel agents,
saying that we would need to pay the difference
and claim it back from the company when we got home.
At which point I thought, "No, I don't want that to happen.
"Because of all the trouble I've already had, I don't trust you."
While the company did eventually agree to pay
for one additional night, Sarah says it didn't pay
for the last night of the stay, even though the family's flight home
wasn't until the following day at 6:50 in the morning.
I realised now I wasn't getting anywhere,
and it was this particular day that I said to my husband,
"I've had enough."
I should have been enjoying time with my family.
By the end of the stay,
Sarah had forked out nearly £2,700 for a holiday
that was originally advertised for around £2,000,
and she just doesn't think that's right.
Didn't get the holiday I booked at all, really.
That was the most upsetting thing for me.
I'd planned it quite carefully.
To see if the problems Sarah experienced
were just a run of very bad luck,
which of course can happen with the best of companies,
or if it's something that might occur more frequently,
we tried booking our own holiday with Travelate,
to see what would happen when we attempted to secure a holiday
at the advertised price.
We went for a seven-night stay at a three-star all-inclusive
in the Greek resort of Georgioupolis,
for what seemed like a bargain price of £570.54.
When we called Travelate to book the holiday,
we were asked to pay a fee for using a credit card,
adding £21.39 on to the balance,
and then another fee called an AGS fee.
So now, instead of paying the advertised price of £570
for the holiday, we were being charged almost £90 more.
We didn't book the holiday at this point,
and told them we would call back later.
But as had happened with Sarah,
we then received a call with another change from Travelate,
in our case telling us that there were no longer any rooms available
at the rate we'd seen,
and to stay in the hotel we'd need to upgrade,
and the upgraded room would cost another £70,
which again rather bumped up the price we'd initially seen.
Our £570 holiday would now cost £720.
Now, at this point, we were given the option to cancel at no cost,
and with the price of the holiday having now risen by more than £150,
we didn't proceed with the booking.
Now, while we've had quite a few other complaints
about either 321 Travel or Travelate,
they are by no means the only companies you've contacted us about
whose prices end up higher than expected.
And this sort of thing is just as familiar to Sylvia Rook,
who's sceptical about the way that some online companies operate.
Do your checks before you decide to use a company.
If you start having any suspicions, if the price starts going up
or the description of the holiday starts changing,
think about walking away.
Sylvia suggests, as Sarah has been doing,
you keep good notes on everything that's happened,
and if you have a complaint about a company,
put things in writing as soon as possible.
Keep a copy of the letter,
and explain exactly what happened right from the beginning.
In particular the fact that you agreed to one thing
and you were provided with something else.
When we got in touch with 321 Travel about Sarah's story
and our own findings, it told us that prices seen on its website
are not live and are subject to change.
It says that only when Sarah rang was she given the live price,
which she accepted. But it's adamant that, at this point,
no money was taken from her account and she was advised that the...
The company then told her that,
as she was booking during peak holiday times
and only three days prior to travelling,
her first choice was not available.
It went on to offer an alternative,
which it says there was no obligation for her to accept.
And it completely rejects Sarah's version of events,
saying she had agreed to all the changes that were presented
but no moneys would have been taken until she accepted everything
that was suggested. The company says it covered
some of the increased costs along the way
and at all times behaved in a fair, reasonable and professional manner.
It says it tries its utmost
to ensure its pricing and availability is accurate.
But, back at her home in Kent,
Sarah has a note of caution for anyone who might be tempted
by an offer that seems just too good to be true.
I don't think it was real.
They tried to draw me in and then just kept adding bits on.
And I would imagine it happens to people and I won't be the last,
but I would really recommend to people
that they research the travel agents.
You get a number to ring and a code.
Before you ring that number, you need
to make sure that you've researched that agent.
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Well, I'm afraid that's all we have time today,
but I must say I find it really dispiriting
to see the kind of tricks that some companies will use
to get your business.
I mean, clever advertising is one thing, but I think
some of the examples that we heard today go way beyond that.
They really do, don't they? And it just does go to show that
if you've got a sneaking suspicion
that a deal is too good to be true,
or the offer is way better than any others out there,
then trust your instincts, because the chances are,
if it was that good a bargain in the first place,
it would have been snapped up long before you came across it.
And remember, if you're unhappy with the tactics of any company,
whatever it is they're selling, not just holidays,
then then do please get in touch with us. You never know,
it might be your story we're investigating on the next programme.
For now, though, huge thanks for your company,
and until the next time we see you, from all of us, bye-bye.
Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville investigate whether the great deals advertised for holidays are always quite what they seem - or if they are even available at all. With viewers furious at what has happened when they have tried to bag the bargain prices they have seen, there is a test to see just how much the costs can rocket.
Also, why thousands of cruise passengers could be setting sail without the vital protection they need, and the hotel booking sites under official scrutiny to see if the way they try and push you into making a decision is unfair.
Plus Simon Calder has tips for saving money when visiting the theme park capital of the world, Orlando in Florida.