Episode 9 Rip Off Britain


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Episode 9

The team expose some surprising issues viewers have had with apparently 'free' cancellations and investigate the companies offering to help claim compensation for flight delays.


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Transcript


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We asked you who's left you feeling ripped off when it comes to your

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holidays and you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.

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Letting us come all this way

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to be told we're going home on the next day. Just furious.

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It has tainted the whole experience of booking holidays and trust in companies.

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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 are out of pocket and what you can do about it.

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Your stories, your money, this is Rip-Off Britain.

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Hello, and welcome to a special series of Rip-Off Britain here in Tenerife,

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where we're investigating all manner of problems that you've had with holidays and travel.

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Now, too many of them it would seem have been caused by those pesky terms and conditions,

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which can trip us up no matter where we are in the world.

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And I think that's certainly what has happened

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to some of the people that we're going to be meeting today,

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who really do seem to have found themselves at the mercy of the small print,

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regardless of how black-and-white their situations may have seemed originally.

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In situations like that,

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it isn't always obvious where to go to get your problem resolved.

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So we are very, very grateful to one of our viewers

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who has tipped us off about a little-known solution

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that if trying to sort everything out is getting you absolutely nowhere,

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it could well be the answer to your troubles, as well.

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Coming up... The claims companies promising to help you get back money you're owed by an airline,

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but would you be better off ignoring them altogether?

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I haven't seen a penny

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and they said they're going to pay me any day now,

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but it isn't here yet.

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And the couples convinced they had booked hotel rooms with free cancellation,

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so why did they end up having to pay?

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I could not cancel, I was going to have to pay for the room.

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This is absolutely outrageous.

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I just think it's unbelievable.

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Ever since the doors for claiming compensation for delayed flights were flung open in 2012,

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our inbox has been inundated with complaints from those of you who,

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for one reason or another,

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have tried unsuccessfully to get money back from their airline.

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And that's paved the way for dozens of claim management companies to spring up

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and offer to guide you through the process in return, of course,

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for keeping a chunk of any pay-out you get.

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But, as the people we're about to meet found out,

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just because you've paid for someone else to do the work for you,

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it doesn't mean that getting back what you're owed will be any easier.

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Airline delays at best can ruin your day

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and at worst can wreck your holiday.

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That's why a landmark EU ruling in 2012 introduced a guarantee

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that anyone delayed on flights in or out of the EU

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for more than a certain period of time - usually three hours -

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would be entitled to some sort of compensation.

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So Alison Wiltshire from South Wales was determined to get that money

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after a near 3½-hour delay

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on a British Airways flight to New York.

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The delay was at the start of our holidays,

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so once you get to the airport, you just want to get on holiday.

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And it did mean that we arrived in New York at 3.00 in the morning

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and the fact that there is compensation available,

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you know, for a delay that is over three hours, I thought, well,

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I'm entitled to claim it, I'll make the claim and see what happens.

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When she returned home,

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Alison started looking into how best to apply for compensation

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and decided that following the instructions on BA's own website

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would be the most straightforward option.

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But in the meantime, her son had been doing some research.

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When we came back from holidays,

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my son went online to just have a look about flight compensation

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and there was a website that offered advice,

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so he completed a form with very basic information - our names,

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the date we flew and the flight number - and sent an enquiry.

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He never got a response.

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In the meantime, I told him that I was going to take the claim up

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directly with British Airways so he said,

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"Oh, that's fine, because I never heard anything back from this company."

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And after two weeks,

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Alison received a cheque for £1,200 from British Airways -

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a welcome amount for the delay.

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It took about 20 minutes to complete the forms online

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and I just got the cheque and I was delighted with that.

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As far as she was concerned, that was the end of the matter,

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but then a letter arrived from a Northampton-based firm

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she had never heard of called Flight Delay Claims Team -

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not to be confused with companies of a similar name -

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and it was demanding a slice of her compensation.

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Totally out of the blue,

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I got a letter demanding a payment of over £700,

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saying I had breached my contract with them.

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It was the first I'd ever heard of this company and they were demanding

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payment and if payment wasn't made within 10 to 14 days,

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that they would be taking legal action against me.

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Alison looked further into the company and discovered it was one

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specialising in obtaining compensation for delayed flights.

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So assuming it was something to do with her delayed flight to New York,

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for which she had already had the compensation,

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she called the company to ask why it thought it was entitled to any of her money.

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To her utter astonishment,

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the agent on the phone told her that the company was acting on her behalf

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in all matters concerning this claim and when she asked how it had got all her details,

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the agent confirmed it was through the online form

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that her son had submitted all that time ago.

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The company, they claimed that he filled the claim form in for,

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it wasn't even a claim form, it was an enquiry form.

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So I'm guessing that that's how they got my details,

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just from an initial enquiry that my son made.

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But as far as Alison was concerned,

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all her son had done was make an initial enquiry with the company,

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not instruct them to pursue a claim.

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However, Flight Delay Claims Team told her

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that by ticking the terms-and-conditions box when submitting the form,

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her son had agreed to instruct the company to pursue a claim with BA

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on her behalf and, as such, it was a legally binding contract.

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Well, Alison was adamant that as she had already done all the hard work

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by liaising for a refund direct with BA,

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there was no way she was going to accept any of this,

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especially when she looked further into what the company was saying.

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When you click on the submit button,

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buried in the terms and conditions is a little bit of information

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that says you are entering into a contract.

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If you are going to enter into a contract,

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the details are supposed to be up front on the website.

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Before you submit any information, you're supposed to know

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that you're going to be charged for this service.

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Alison's quite right on that, but in any case,

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she couldn't see that the company had done a thing to deserve any of her compensation,

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not least because when she was dealing with BA,

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at no point had the airline indicated that there was another company involved.

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So I sent an e-mail immediately

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and followed that up with a recorded delivery letter

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confirming that I had not dealt with this company,

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I had not entered into a contract or an agreement with them

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and to ask them to stop pursuing me for this debt.

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Alison hoped that was the end of it but, less than a month later,

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while she was away on another trip,

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a further letter arrived from Flight Delay Claims Team,

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this time with a more definite threat of legal action.

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My daughter rang us to say

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that a rather official-looking letter had come

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and when she opened it, she told me that it was Flight Delay Claims Team

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and that they were taking me to court.

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And this was on the third day of a 10-day holiday so, as you can imagine,

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I just wanted to get home, I wanted to look at this letter,

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I wanted to ring them, I wanted to sort it out.

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So yet another holiday now spoiled.

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Alison called the company to protest,

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but was told to put it in writing and, despite doing so,

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she continued to receive letters demanding money.

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What's more, with each new one the company sent,

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the sum being asked for was creeping up.

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The amount differed every time they asked for it.

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Initially they were asking for about £792,

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based on me getting over £2,000 compensation.

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And I didn't - I got £1,200 compensation.

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But the amount they asked me for, every time I got anything from them

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asking for payment, the amount went up.

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Furious that Flight Delay Claims Team should not only want

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a slice of her compensation for work it hadn't done,

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but it was also threatening to take her to court,

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Alison went straight to the top and contacted one the directors

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and that seemed to do the trick as the case has now been dropped

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and she is no longer being pursued for the money.

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However, when we contacted the company about Alison's case,

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it told us that though it's sorry to receive any complaints,

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due to data protection it's not able to discuss individual cases.

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But Alison fears there may be other people keen to claim compensation

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for delayed flights, who have got themselves mixed up with similar claims management companies

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and that they might be losing out as a result.

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They are not regulated so, basically,

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they can do whatever they like.

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From this forum that we joined,

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we found hundreds of people that have had a bad experience

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with just this one company

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and I'm sure they're not the only company out there.

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And she's right on that because we have received a number of e-mails

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and letters from other people who found that getting involved

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with a claims management company to go after compensation for delayed flights

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can very often turn out to be a lot more hassle than doing it yourself.

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Among the people who'd say that is Lovelace Akpojaro

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from Dartford in Kent.

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He decided to make a claim after being stuck in Germany

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with his partner and daughter

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because of another delayed British Airways flight.

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It was a stopover at Dusseldorf which was supposed to be for about an hour and a half

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and we got delayed there for nine hours and, inevitably,

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when you're in the middle of these things, they don't tell you anything.

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They gave us vouchers to get something to eat and that was nice,

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but after a few hours then it's really starting to get quite inconvenient now,

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especially when you've got a young child.

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When they got home, the family contacted BA to see what it advised

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about claiming compensation.

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But Lovelace didn't think it sounded straightforward

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and, at the same time, he was tempted by an ad

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for what seemed a much simpler option.

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So here's the thing - remember when your flight was delayed?

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Well, that lost time could be worth hundreds of pounds in compensation.

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At the time, there was a lot of campaigns going on on TV

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for airFair flight delays.

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There were adverts in magazines, so on and so forth,

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and it just sort of came at a very convenient time.

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I thought, well, give it to the experts, airFair, they're on TV,

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they look slick, they will be able to do a good job.

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Certain that his nine-hour delay would qualify him for a pay-out,

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Lovelace went to the airFair website and filled in the enquiry form.

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Somebody called me up and talked me through what they can do,

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and they're very efficient, they can track down exactly what happened

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once you give them the flight number

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and I told them that we were delayed for nine hours

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and they were quite encouraging, saying, well, we should definitely...

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This should be a slam dunk, basically.

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You know, there will definitely be some compensation at the end of this.

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But four weeks after submitting his claim when he'd heard nothing further from airFair,

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his partner approached another claims company

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to see if it would make better progress.

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And Lovelace contacted airFair to let them know.

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I was starting to think that the time it was taking,

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it wasn't really worth paying 36% of the compensation to them

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for this service that they were giving me.

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So I phoned them up and asked them to withdraw.

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Initially they said, that'll be fine but you will be subject to some fees

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because this is outside the 14-day period, which...

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If it's got to be, it's got to be.

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AirFair pointed out that because Lovelace was cancelling his contract

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after four weeks and the company had already submitted a claim

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on his behalf, he would be liable to pay some costs.

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And the company suggested he contacted BA directly to say that, from now on,

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he would be taking the claim forward so all enquiries should be directed his way.

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But when Lovelace got in touch with BA to do just that,

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the airline had some unexpected news.

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It told him that his claim had already been settled some weeks previously

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and in fact his compensation, a total of £643,

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had already been paid to a firm of solicitors

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acting on behalf of airFair.

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Astonished to hear this, Lovelace contacted airFair again

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and the company said it would check its records and send him compensation.

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But weeks on, with no word from them,

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Lovelace began to doubt whether he would ever see his money.

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But determined to get his compensation,

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and backed up with a letter from BA confirming it had paid out,

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airFair finally agreed to hand over his money - minus its 36% fee.

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Yet five months on after first contacting airFair,

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he was still waiting for his cheque.

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I haven't seen a penny

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and they said that they are going to pay me any day now,

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but it isn't here yet.

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What they want to pay me, they want to pay me minus their fees

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for five months of frustration.

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Well, six days after we filmed with Lovelace,

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he did finally received his cheque and he thinks the whole process

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of claiming his compensation was unnecessarily complicated and costly.

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We put that to airFair which responded by saying a series of unfortunate events

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have surrounded this case and that though it had submitted Lovelace's claim right away,

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BA hadn't let it know that the compensation had been paid out.

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In fact, airFair went on to say that BA consistently fails

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to advise claims companies of successful claims

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and it blames the airline for the confusion and delays in Lovelace's case.

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It said when BA issued the cheque,

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it didn't provide any reference numbers,

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making it impossible to determine which client the payment related to,

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which is why it was unable to tell Lovelace that he had been successful with his claim.

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The company was also keen to point out that as soon as it

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was made aware that it had won the case on Lovelace's behalf,

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it sent him not just his cheque but also, as a gesture of goodwill,

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a refund of its success fee of £230.81.

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And it pointed out that over the last 12 months,

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it has regained a total of £1.2 million compensation

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for delayed passengers.

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Well, we took airFair's criticisms back to BA,

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but while the airline admitted mistakes were made in handling this case,

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it emphasised that there is no need for customers to involve claim firms

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which will keep back a proportion of any compensation.

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It advises customers to claim directly through the BA website,

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which it says can be done by filling out one simple form online.

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And with the benefit of hindsight,

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Lovelace now wishes he had done just that.

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Knowing what I know now,

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I definitely wish that I was just a bit more persistent

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and just stuck with it and approached BA

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and just gone solely through them.

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I know it would've been far less of a problem

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than going with these so-called specialists.

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The saying there's no such thing as a free lunch rings especially true

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with the people in this next film.

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Believing that they booked a holiday that included free cancellation,

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they were shocked to discover that when, unfortunately, they had to change their plans,

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the free part of the cancellation process

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didn't seem to exist after all.

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And despite thinking that they had done everything they could

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to prevent themselves losing any money,

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I'm afraid that's exactly what did happen.

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With the increase in holiday-makers who love to plan their own trips,

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hotel booking websites have boomed.

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All you need to do is type in where you're going and the dates you'll be arriving

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and these sites will provide a whole list of suitable hotels,

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from the cheapest to the most expensive.

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Laura and Michael may live on the sun-drenched island of Majorca,

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but they still like to get away on a holiday every now and again.

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And they have always found hotel booking sites a great help

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when deciding where to stay.

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I am hopeless at going online. I have no patience.

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But Michael's brilliant, he loves it.

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He sits on the price-comparison sites

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and it was on one of these price-comparison sites

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that he found Agoda.

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Agoda.com is a well-known travel booking website

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which compares prices of hotels and even flights.

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Laura and Michael were planning a mini break to Barcelona

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and found a really good rate on Agoda for a Travelodge there.

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And the couple say they deliberately chose a slightly more expensive room rate

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because it stated on the booking page that doing so

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would give them the option to cancel free of charge if they needed to.

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We paid quite a bit more, I paid quite a bit more,

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but I knew I could cancel within five days.

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But once they had made the booking via the website,

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they realised the hotel was not in the part of Barcelona they wanted to stay in,

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so Laura called Agoda.com to cancel.

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But she was in for a shock.

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She was very calm and she told me in no uncertain terms

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I could not cancel, that I was going to have to pay for the room,

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and I couldn't in any way explain to her, I had the cancellation policy.

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"Oh, no, you don't, you've opted not to have it."

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The problem was that while Laura is certain that at the time of booking

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she was promised free cancellation, the confirmation e-mail,

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which she didn't read in detail, says something very different,

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stating that if the room is cancelled,

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the total price of the reservation will be charged.

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This is absolutely outrageous.

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I just think it's unbelievable.

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You've got two contradictory things.

0:18:330:18:35

One I saw, unfortunately one I didn't see until afterwards.

0:18:350:18:38

But it was too late anyway, even if I had phoned them up and said,

0:18:380:18:42

"Look, I've booked with a cancellation policy, look here,"

0:18:420:18:45

they still would have charged me.

0:18:450:18:47

There was nothing you could do. You were hitting your head on a brick wall with these people.

0:18:470:18:51

We contacted Agoda.com about Laura's story,

0:18:510:18:54

but it failed to get back to us.

0:18:540:18:56

We do know, however, that the company insists

0:18:560:18:59

that the rate they selected was non-refundable

0:18:590:19:02

as stated in the confirmation e-mail.

0:19:020:19:05

But Travelodge has offered the couple a free night at a hotel

0:19:050:19:08

as a gesture of goodwill.

0:19:080:19:10

Even so, back at her home in Majorca,

0:19:100:19:13

Laura feels the booking process is confusing and misleading

0:19:130:19:17

and is annoyed at the idea of losing so much money

0:19:170:19:20

on a hotel room she never even stayed in.

0:19:200:19:23

This is about principle.

0:19:230:19:25

I cannot be the only one and I really, really hope that somehow,

0:19:250:19:28

that other people, if they know about it,

0:19:280:19:31

that they won't do the same.

0:19:310:19:33

Well, here at Rip-Off Britain, we've heard from a number of other people who have fallen foul

0:19:330:19:37

of the cancellation policies on hotel booking websites

0:19:370:19:40

and, as a result, been left hundreds of pounds out of pocket.

0:19:400:19:43

Many would say the small print and different rates available

0:19:440:19:48

make it all too easy to get confused and travel expert Bob Atkinson

0:19:480:19:52

agrees that with all of these sites packed with different deals and rates,

0:19:520:19:57

you need to be absolutely sure that when you see an offer or anything like free cancellation,

0:19:570:20:03

it definitely applies to the room that you have booked.

0:20:030:20:07

As with any transaction online,

0:20:070:20:09

you need to be careful when you're research and booking.

0:20:090:20:12

Experienced users may well be aware that a particular word is actually there

0:20:120:20:17

because it's part of a functionality of a website

0:20:170:20:20

and is not an actual promise.

0:20:200:20:22

And Bob also says that even if you're sure the booking page

0:20:220:20:25

is offering free cancellation,

0:20:250:20:27

you should always check the terms and conditions,

0:20:270:20:30

as they can sometimes differ.

0:20:300:20:32

Actually do read them and ask yourself the fundamental question with a hotel booking,

0:20:320:20:37

if I need to change this booking or if I need to cancel this booking,

0:20:370:20:41

what would I need to do?

0:20:410:20:43

And so that you've got proof of everything,

0:20:430:20:46

as you progress through your online booking,

0:20:460:20:48

Bob says it may be worth keeping a copy of each stage of the process.

0:20:480:20:53

My advice is to take screenshots of the transaction as you do the transaction

0:20:530:20:58

and have a good copy of not only the confirmation screen

0:20:580:21:03

but also of anything such as cancellation or amendment fees

0:21:030:21:07

that they may be charging.

0:21:070:21:09

That is something that David Neill from Ledbury now wishes he had done.

0:21:100:21:14

David enjoys trips around Europe

0:21:140:21:16

and he likes to make a rough plan for each trip before he goes,

0:21:160:21:20

which sometimes involves provisionally booking hotels along the route.

0:21:200:21:24

And last year, he was looking into a three-day drive

0:21:240:21:27

around the south of France with his grandchildren.

0:21:270:21:30

Oh, that looks lovely.

0:21:300:21:32

We went onto the booking.com site and put in the requirements.

0:21:320:21:37

One room, two adults, two children.

0:21:370:21:40

Put the ages of the children, 11 and 12.

0:21:400:21:42

Came up with a selection of hotels to choose from,

0:21:420:21:48

which clearly said on the screen "free cancellation, no payment".

0:21:480:21:53

This four-star hotel was a great price in a good location

0:21:530:21:57

and David is absolutely certain that the booking form made clear

0:21:570:22:01

that you would pay for the room on arrival

0:22:010:22:04

and there was a flexible cancellation policy.

0:22:040:22:07

No two ways about it, you know, at that stage of planning,

0:22:080:22:11

we would not have booked a hotel room with no...

0:22:110:22:15

..without free cancellation.

0:22:170:22:19

We just couldn't do that.

0:22:190:22:21

But after pencilling the hotels,

0:22:210:22:23

David noticed that the cost of flights was way too expensive.

0:22:230:22:27

So he decided to put his plans on the back burner.

0:22:270:22:30

He contacted Booking.com to cancel his booking

0:22:300:22:33

but was told he would need to call the hotel directly.

0:22:330:22:37

I contacted the hotel in France,

0:22:370:22:40

they then asked for a copy of the confirmation.

0:22:400:22:45

When she had that, she said it was a non-refundable amount.

0:22:460:22:52

Because they had taken the money out of my bank,

0:22:520:22:56

they couldn't cancel it, which I couldn't really understand.

0:22:560:23:00

The hotel pointed out to David that its confirmation e-mail clearly stated

0:23:000:23:05

that he would be charged for the room if he chose to cancel.

0:23:050:23:08

But David is resolute that when he had booked,

0:23:080:23:11

he chose the free-cancellation option

0:23:110:23:13

and that he wasn't supposed to be charged until arrival.

0:23:130:23:17

But without a screenshot of the booking, he couldn't prove any of that.

0:23:170:23:21

We had deliberately gone for a free cancellation on the hotel.

0:23:210:23:26

We're not novices.

0:23:260:23:29

It was quite clear it said free cancellation,

0:23:290:23:32

so I was somewhat surprised to find out on the confirmation e-mail

0:23:320:23:36

that even if we cancelled then, it is payment in full.

0:23:360:23:40

And indeed, two days later, it had gone out of my bank account.

0:23:400:23:44

Both the hotel and Booking.com refused to refund David the £320

0:23:440:23:50

for the room that he had never slept in.

0:23:500:23:53

Booking.com told us that it offers a variety of different rate

0:23:530:23:57

and policy options from which travellers can choose.

0:23:570:24:01

And that on this occasion David chose a low non-refundable rate,

0:24:010:24:06

which it says was made clear at every stage in the booking process.

0:24:060:24:10

Booking.com went on to say that when David first asked to cancel

0:24:100:24:14

the booking, it did try to help by contacting the hotel.

0:24:140:24:18

But it says the accommodation was unwilling

0:24:180:24:20

to waive the associated cancellation fees.

0:24:200:24:23

Well, clearly in both these cases,

0:24:250:24:27

there is very clear disagreement between the two sides.

0:24:270:24:30

Laura and David clearly believe

0:24:300:24:32

they chose the free cancellation option when booking their rooms,

0:24:320:24:36

but equally two big-name websites insist that they didn't.

0:24:360:24:40

And while it could be that they did make a mistake,

0:24:400:24:43

there's no doubt that with the variety of options on sites like these,

0:24:430:24:47

it can be all too easy for a booking to end up

0:24:470:24:50

not quite as you would expect it.

0:24:500:24:52

So Bob Atkinson says the key thing is always to check your confirmation e-mail

0:24:520:24:58

and query anything that does not tally

0:24:580:25:01

with what you thought you'd booked.

0:25:010:25:03

If this doesn't match up,

0:25:030:25:05

you should contact the company pretty much straightaway

0:25:050:25:08

and give them the opportunity to do something about it at the beginning.

0:25:080:25:11

But after this experience, David, who has travelled the world

0:25:110:25:15

and booked many dozens of hotels over the years,

0:25:150:25:18

reckons that booking sites need to be much clearer

0:25:180:25:21

about the cancellation policies that are attached to different rates.

0:25:210:25:26

Basically, when I book something,

0:25:260:25:28

I want it to say what it does on the screen that I am looking at.

0:25:280:25:34

I'm not stupid. I can read things.

0:25:340:25:37

When we get a £30 cheap room, it says non-refundable. That's fine.

0:25:370:25:41

But if it says free cancellation, it should mean free cancellation.

0:25:410:25:46

Still to come On Rip-off Britain...

0:25:520:25:54

Getting nowhere resolving your holiday complaint?

0:25:540:25:57

We'll reveal how an avenue you won't have heard of could be the answer.

0:25:570:26:01

It was just a wonderful feeling

0:26:010:26:03

because we worked so hard to get to this point,

0:26:030:26:05

and to hear that we had won the case was just absolutely fantastic.

0:26:050:26:10

Fantastic.

0:26:100:26:11

Our travel expert Simon Calder is full of the secrets

0:26:150:26:18

that will save you money on your travels.

0:26:180:26:20

He has got plenty of tips on everything,

0:26:200:26:23

from how to avoid the crowds to the best way to steer clear of those tourist traps.

0:26:230:26:28

This time, Tunisia.

0:26:280:26:30

Three years on from the terrorist attack at a hotel in Sousse that left many people dead,

0:26:310:26:35

the north African favourite is now finally back on the map for UK visitors

0:26:350:26:40

and, to entice us to return, there are some great-value deals.

0:26:400:26:45

There are far fewer flights than there used to be

0:26:450:26:48

with the main departures from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester.

0:26:480:26:52

So you could get a flight from your local airport

0:26:520:26:55

and change en route in somewhere like Paris.

0:26:550:26:58

Most flights go to Tunisian capital Tunis, which is well worth a visit.

0:26:590:27:04

You can get lost in the maze of ancient Medinahs,

0:27:040:27:08

relax on sandy beaches or sample the delightful tasty Tunisian cuisine.

0:27:080:27:13

It's somewhere I like to base myself,

0:27:130:27:15

partly because it is a fascinating port city,

0:27:150:27:18

but also because it is the hub of the excellent Tunisian railway network,

0:27:180:27:23

one of the country's great joys.

0:27:230:27:25

Resorts such as Hammamet, Sousse and Monastir

0:27:260:27:29

are very well linked to the capital.

0:27:290:27:32

A first-class rail ticket from Sousse to Tunis costs just £4 or so.

0:27:320:27:37

But remember, children aged ten or over are classed as adults.

0:27:370:27:41

Consider a day trip by train

0:27:410:27:43

to the nearby archaeological site of Carthage.

0:27:430:27:46

But wherever you go, keep on top of when you need to change more money.

0:27:460:27:51

I reckon every country has its favourite foreign currency

0:27:510:27:55

and for Tunisia it is the euro.

0:27:550:27:57

But British pounds are still widely accepted

0:27:570:28:00

at reasonable rates of exchange.

0:28:000:28:03

Just make sure you change little and often

0:28:030:28:06

so you don't get left with a wad of Tunisian cash

0:28:060:28:09

to try to swap back at the end of your trip.

0:28:090:28:11

Tunisia is one of a number of countries that bans tourists

0:28:120:28:16

from moving money in and out of the country.

0:28:160:28:19

So remember, no respectable bureau de change in the UK

0:28:190:28:22

will supply or exchange the Tunisian dinar.

0:28:220:28:25

Upon arrival at the airport,

0:28:250:28:27

exchange a small amount of money and then shop around for the best deals.

0:28:270:28:31

Unusually, it is worth checking with hotels

0:28:310:28:33

as they have been known to offer competitive rates.

0:28:330:28:37

By the way, don't be tempted to think,

0:28:380:28:40

oh, I will just take the money home with me and bring it back on my next trip.

0:28:400:28:44

The Tunisian authorities have been known to conduct spot checks

0:28:440:28:49

on departing passengers, looking for Tunisian banknotes.

0:28:490:28:53

So instead be generous.

0:28:530:28:55

Keep the change.

0:28:550:28:57

That's a first.

0:28:570:28:58

Tunisia is an Islamic country and, of course,

0:28:580:29:01

you should respect local customs,

0:29:010:29:03

especially during the holy month of Ramadan, which, in 2018,

0:29:030:29:07

runs from mid-May to mid-June.

0:29:070:29:10

To avoid causing inadvertent offence,

0:29:110:29:14

men should save shorts for the beach and the hotel.

0:29:140:29:17

Women should cover up most of their arms

0:29:170:29:20

and most of their legs most of the time.

0:29:200:29:22

When in doubt, err on the side of modesty.

0:29:220:29:25

Now, when part of a holiday goes wrong,

0:29:290:29:32

knowing where to take your concerns to can be tricky to say the least.

0:29:320:29:35

And if you are being passed from pillar to post between the companies you're dealing with,

0:29:350:29:39

it can be really difficult and very frustrating to get the whole thing resolved.

0:29:390:29:44

But one Rip-Off Britain viewer, who found themselves in exactly this position,

0:29:440:29:48

stumbled across a route that even we hadn't heard of.

0:29:480:29:51

So if you're hitting a brick wall trying to get your problem sorted,

0:29:510:29:54

then listen up as we have some advice

0:29:540:29:57

that could be just what you are looking for.

0:29:570:30:00

Sometimes holidays simply don't go to plan, whether it's bad weather,

0:30:000:30:03

sudden ill health or even long delays.

0:30:030:30:06

All manner of unexpected events can not only ruin your plans,

0:30:060:30:10

but in some cases leave you seriously out of pocket as well.

0:30:100:30:13

As was the case for Jenny and Charles Hill from north London,

0:30:170:30:21

who had planned the trip of a lifetime

0:30:210:30:23

on the trans-Siberian railway from Russia through Mongolia to China.

0:30:230:30:27

It was like no trip we had ever thought of before,

0:30:290:30:32

so it was going to be special.

0:30:320:30:34

Something that we could remember and look back on

0:30:340:30:37

and really have some memories which would be absolutely fantastic.

0:30:370:30:42

The train journey was from Saint Petersburg to Moscow,

0:30:420:30:46

right through Russia and onwards and so we had to fly out from the UK

0:30:460:30:51

to Saint Petersburg and we had a stopover in Berlin.

0:30:510:30:54

But no sooner had the couple flown into Saint Petersburg

0:30:540:30:58

then their trip of a lifetime began to unravel.

0:30:580:31:01

We got to the place to collect our luggage

0:31:010:31:05

and we stood there and we stood there

0:31:050:31:09

and the carousel went round and round

0:31:090:31:13

and our luggage didn't appear.

0:31:130:31:15

And everybody else's seemed to have and had departed so...

0:31:150:31:19

A horrible sinking feeling of, you know, where on earth is it?

0:31:190:31:23

And what has happened to it?

0:31:230:31:25

Both the couple's suitcases were missing

0:31:260:31:28

with everything they needed for their holiday inside.

0:31:280:31:32

Our holiday was 19 days

0:31:320:31:34

and we only had the clothes we were standing up in.

0:31:340:31:37

Travelling on the train,

0:31:370:31:39

nothing is supplied so you had to have some food things with you,

0:31:390:31:43

which were in our cases,

0:31:430:31:45

and you had to have all those things as well as your clothing.

0:31:450:31:48

There was the awful feeling, is this the end of the trip?

0:31:480:31:51

We were seriously considering flying back to the UK

0:31:510:31:56

and organising that and just saying, scrub the whole thing.

0:31:560:31:59

Their airline, airberlin, reassured them

0:32:000:32:03

that when their suitcases turned up it would be in contact.

0:32:030:32:06

But faced with a very long journey and none of the things they needed,

0:32:060:32:09

Jenny and Charles turned to their travel insurance company for help.

0:32:090:32:12

I phoned the insurance company,

0:32:130:32:16

explained that we needed a lot of things as we were going on the train

0:32:160:32:19

and they said, that's fine, just go ahead, get whatever you need.

0:32:190:32:23

So instead of seeing various things we had been planning to see,

0:32:230:32:27

we had to find somewhere to shop.

0:32:270:32:29

So it was actually quite worrying, yeah, quite stressful.

0:32:290:32:34

But at least the couple had the reassurance that the extra money spent

0:32:360:32:39

could be claimed back once they got home.

0:32:390:32:41

And the day before they were due to catch the train,

0:32:410:32:44

they received some more good news.

0:32:440:32:46

We were returning back to the hotel with a suitcase and the things we had bought

0:32:460:32:51

and got a phone call about 7.00 in the evening

0:32:510:32:54

saying that one suitcase had been found.

0:32:540:32:56

Jenny's suitcase was at the airport ready to be picked up.

0:32:580:33:01

I was very relieved that this first suitcase was mine.

0:33:010:33:04

It was hers.

0:33:040:33:06

I would finally have some clothes that I could wear

0:33:060:33:10

and you were a bit disappointed that your suitcase was still missing.

0:33:100:33:14

Yes.

0:33:140:33:16

But with one of their cases safely returned,

0:33:170:33:19

the couple set off on their train journey across Siberia.

0:33:190:33:23

And it wasn't long before airberlin contacted them again.

0:33:230:33:26

We were halfway across Russia,

0:33:260:33:29

we got a text saying the second suitcase had arrived

0:33:290:33:32

and could be sent on to us.

0:33:320:33:34

But as we were constantly on the move,

0:33:340:33:36

it was impossible to really meet up with our suitcase,

0:33:360:33:39

so we asked for it to be sent back to the UK

0:33:390:33:43

and arranged for it to be delivered to our house here.

0:33:430:33:46

-That's Saint Petersburg.

-Yes.

0:33:460:33:49

But after their mammoth 19 days' journey,

0:33:490:33:51

the couple returned home to find the suitcase had not arrived.

0:33:510:33:55

And we got back and the suitcase wasn't here so, you know, gosh,

0:33:550:33:59

what on earth has happened to it? Where is it?

0:33:590:34:02

And all enquiries that we made to airport terminals

0:34:020:34:06

led to no result at all.

0:34:060:34:08

No-one seemed to know where it was.

0:34:080:34:11

Now, according to official Civil Aviation Authority guidelines,

0:34:110:34:15

if your suitcase has been missing for over 21 days,

0:34:150:34:18

then it is officially declared as lost

0:34:180:34:20

and you should be entitled to up to £1,000 compensation.

0:34:200:34:24

But in order to claim this money,

0:34:240:34:25

Jenny and Charles needed confirmation from airberlin

0:34:250:34:29

that their suitcase had been declared lost.

0:34:290:34:31

Without it they wouldn't get anywhere claiming back the money

0:34:310:34:34

from either the airline or indeed their travel insurance.

0:34:340:34:37

And I'm afraid that's how things turned out.

0:34:370:34:39

The couple say that despite numerous e-mails,

0:34:390:34:42

their inquiries to the airline went unanswered.

0:34:420:34:45

You honestly don't know what to do

0:34:450:34:47

because you think your insurance will pay

0:34:470:34:49

and then there is a reason why they can't

0:34:490:34:51

and you can't get hold of airberlin.

0:34:510:34:53

You should have rights as a customer,

0:34:530:34:55

but the whole process is going nowhere.

0:34:550:34:59

The battle with airberlin for compensation went on for two years,

0:35:000:35:04

although during that time the airline did make what the couple thought was a derisory offer.

0:35:040:35:09

We finally got an e-mail back saying,

0:35:100:35:13

"Since the replacement clothing you bought during your stay can be kept for future use,

0:35:130:35:17

"we will refund 50% of your expenses, amounting to 653 euros.

0:35:170:35:23

"But since we have to repay your insurance with the £500 they have paid you,

0:35:230:35:27

"this amount would need to be deducted for the final settlement.

0:35:270:35:31

"The remaining refund of 75 euros has been transferred to your bank account."

0:35:310:35:36

That offer was an insult, I mean, really...

0:35:360:35:38

..terrible.

0:35:400:35:41

Thoroughly disappointed with the final amount they were offered,

0:35:410:35:45

which fell far short of the value of the contents of their case,

0:35:450:35:48

and indeed frustrated by the time it was taking to sort it all out,

0:35:480:35:51

they seem to be running out of options.

0:35:510:35:54

But then a friend recommended another avenue she could try.

0:35:540:35:57

It is known as the European Small Claims Court

0:35:570:36:00

and is a court system that works in much the same way

0:36:000:36:03

as a Small Claims Court here in the UK.

0:36:030:36:06

You can make a claim against any company that is outside the UK

0:36:060:36:10

but part of the EU.

0:36:100:36:12

So I went to the website for the European Small Claims Court,

0:36:120:36:16

found the relative claim forms - there is four of them to do.

0:36:160:36:20

It takes three or four days to be sure you have got it right,

0:36:200:36:24

to look at the guidelines and understand what is being asked for.

0:36:240:36:28

Then you post it off to the Crown Court.

0:36:290:36:32

Jenny put in a claim against airberlin for £811.51,

0:36:340:36:38

which included the total expenses incurred,

0:36:380:36:41

the court processing fee and interest for the delay in payment.

0:36:410:36:44

And to her delight and relief, just over a month later,

0:36:440:36:48

she discovered the whole amount had been paid directly into her bank account.

0:36:480:36:52

Oh, it was just a wonderful feeling

0:36:520:36:54

because we worked so hard to get to this point

0:36:540:36:56

and so many times had thought we weren't going to manage it

0:36:560:37:01

and to hear that we had won the case was just absolutely fantastic.

0:37:010:37:05

Fantastic.

0:37:050:37:06

Fantastic feeling of relief and really it was quite astonishing

0:37:060:37:11

and to feel that we didn't have to go any further

0:37:110:37:14

and fight this any more.

0:37:140:37:16

The relative ease with which the process was resolved

0:37:160:37:19

with the European Small Claims Court compares very favourably

0:37:190:37:23

with the long drawn-out battle with airberlin,

0:37:230:37:25

which since filming this programme has gone into administration.

0:37:250:37:28

A fact which may explain at least some of the delays

0:37:280:37:31

the couple experienced.

0:37:310:37:33

But using this little-known court could well be the solution

0:37:330:37:37

to other disputes as well.

0:37:370:37:39

And indeed, solicitor Neil Quantic

0:37:390:37:41

is currently weighing up whether it might help in his case.

0:37:410:37:44

He feels he has been left over 4,000 euros out of pocket

0:37:440:37:47

after a villa he booked for a family holiday in Marbella

0:37:470:37:50

left him feeling disappointed.

0:37:500:37:52

We bought a week's stay in a luxury villa

0:37:540:37:57

with a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi.

0:37:570:37:59

This swimming pool was totally unusable

0:37:590:38:01

and the Jacuzzi was out of action.

0:38:010:38:03

The villa was dirty, there was broken furniture,

0:38:030:38:06

the air conditioning didn't work.

0:38:060:38:08

But critically it wasn't what we had paid for.

0:38:080:38:11

On day one of their holiday,

0:38:110:38:13

Neil contacted the owners of the villa to express his concerns.

0:38:130:38:16

But it appeared there was very little they could do to put things right.

0:38:160:38:20

We had no reassurance at all that the owners

0:38:200:38:23

could rectify the problem at all,

0:38:230:38:25

let alone in a time frame that was going to be acceptable for us,

0:38:250:38:29

given that we were only there for seven days.

0:38:290:38:31

Neil was offered an alternative villa,

0:38:310:38:34

but he didn't consider that up to scratch either.

0:38:340:38:36

It was a dumping ground, it wasn't ready for holiday let

0:38:360:38:40

and it wasn't anything close to the villa that we had booked,

0:38:400:38:43

so we didn't want to stay there as an alternative.

0:38:430:38:46

It wasn't anything like the villa we had booked.

0:38:460:38:49

Neil and his family didn't stay at either villa

0:38:500:38:52

and instead drove around Marbella until they found an alternative.

0:38:520:38:56

And once the holiday was over Neil started seeing how he could get back

0:38:560:39:00

the 4,000 euros he had paid for a villa that he didn't even stay in.

0:39:000:39:04

But he says he was told by the Spanish owners that, as he lives in the UK,

0:39:040:39:08

he stands very little chance of getting any money back.

0:39:080:39:11

We totally hit a brick wall with the owners.

0:39:120:39:15

They made it quite clear they wouldn't refund any of the rental we paid

0:39:150:39:19

and really the focus turned

0:39:190:39:21

to not whether they should or shouldn't refund us

0:39:210:39:25

but a view from them that we would never be able to catch up with them

0:39:250:39:30

because they weren't resident in England, they were resident in Spain.

0:39:300:39:34

12 months on, Neil hasn't received anything from the owners of the villa,

0:39:350:39:40

but he too wonders if the European Small Claims Court could help

0:39:400:39:43

and, despite spending over 20 years in law,

0:39:430:39:46

it is an option that Neil didn't even know existed.

0:39:460:39:49

I am a practising solicitor and have been all my career.

0:39:490:39:53

I have been dealing with UK courts, not a consumer specialist,

0:39:530:39:57

but hadn't come across at any point the fact that this European system

0:39:570:40:02

was available to consumers and could be used without the help of lawyers

0:40:020:40:07

in just the same way as our own small claims system

0:40:070:40:10

can be used here in the UK.

0:40:100:40:12

And while there is no certainty that he will win his case,

0:40:140:40:16

which would mean losing the fee you pay to register the claim,

0:40:160:40:19

Neil is just delighted to have another avenue to try.

0:40:190:40:22

Making a claim against a foreign company abroad might seem daunting,

0:40:220:40:27

but, as both Jenny and Charles found out,

0:40:270:40:29

the whole process is surprisingly straightforward.

0:40:290:40:32

And while Adam Mortimer from the European Consumer Centre

0:40:320:40:35

says the claim court should only be used as a last resort,

0:40:350:40:38

it is one that can be used in a real variety of situations

0:40:380:40:42

where you feel a company owes you money.

0:40:420:40:45

Such a wide range of cases that you can use this in.

0:40:450:40:47

Anything from flight delays, from just general consumer purchases,

0:40:470:40:52

goods not being delivered, car hire,

0:40:520:40:55

purchases that you have made for accommodation, the list is endless.

0:40:550:40:58

Any kind of consumer purchase.

0:40:580:41:01

Obviously as the UK heads towards Brexit,

0:41:010:41:03

there is some doubt over whether in future we will be able

0:41:030:41:06

to make a claim through the European Small Claims Court.

0:41:060:41:09

With leaving the EU, European Small Claims Court may not be an option for you.

0:41:090:41:13

This could mean getting a lawyer and taking a court case

0:41:130:41:16

through the country where the trader is based,

0:41:160:41:18

incurring high fees and a lengthy delay.

0:41:180:41:21

This is something that we'd obviously not like to see for consumers.

0:41:210:41:23

So perhaps the best advice is, get in quick.

0:41:230:41:26

And while Neil waits to hear the outcome in his case,

0:41:260:41:29

Jenny remains thrilled at how it all worked out in hers.

0:41:290:41:32

Without the European Small Claims Court,

0:41:320:41:35

we would not have been successful.

0:41:350:41:37

We would not have had the money refunded.

0:41:370:41:39

So the public really need to know about this

0:41:390:41:42

and the message needs to get out that there is something you can do.

0:41:420:41:47

Rip-Off Britain wouldn't be here without your stories

0:41:520:41:55

and we have got plenty of ways you can get in touch.

0:41:550:41:58

You can send us an e-mail to...

0:41:580:42:00

Or you can write to us at...

0:42:030:42:05

But please do not send us original copies of any documents.

0:42:120:42:15

And even if you haven't got a story that you would like us to investigate,

0:42:170:42:20

you can join in with the conversation on our Facebook page.

0:42:200:42:23

Just search BBC Rip Off Britain.

0:42:230:42:26

Well, let's hope we've giving you plenty of pointers on what to do

0:42:300:42:33

if you ever find yourself in situations

0:42:330:42:35

like the ones we have been hearing about today.

0:42:350:42:38

And remember, if all that fine print in the contract

0:42:380:42:40

is a little too complicated and off-putting,

0:42:400:42:42

you can always take your business elsewhere.

0:42:420:42:44

That's true and that very wise advice is just about where we have to leave it for today.

0:42:440:42:49

But I am delighted to say

0:42:490:42:50

we have lots more Rip-Off Britain programmes

0:42:500:42:53

coming up over the next few months.

0:42:530:42:54

Not just on the subject of holidays but investigating your stories

0:42:540:42:58

about food and indeed any consumer topic

0:42:580:43:01

that has left you feeling let down or indeed ripped off.

0:43:010:43:04

And of course it goes without saying,

0:43:040:43:06

we would not have any of these programmes without you

0:43:060:43:09

and without all of the experiences you are prepared to share with us

0:43:090:43:12

so that others don't get caught out in the same way.

0:43:120:43:15

So please do keep your stories, your e-mails and your letters coming.

0:43:150:43:18

We really are very grateful for every single one of them.

0:43:180:43:21

And we will be back to look into more of them very soon.

0:43:210:43:24

-So, until then, from all of us on the team, bye-bye.

-Bye.

-Bye.

0:43:240:43:28

Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville expose some surprising issues viewers have had with apparently 'free' cancellations and investigate whether the raft of companies offering to help claim compensation for flight delays are worth bothering with.

An unexpected route to solving travel problems is revealed, and Simon Calder has more trips on visiting a top holiday destination.