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TRAVELLERS UNRIPPED

22-04-2010

Seafrance

Since the skies over Britain cleared of planes, as a result of the ash cloud emanating from Iceland, the media has been awash with tales of ripped-off weary travellers struggling to make their way back to Blighty. But as former travel agent Andy Goff explains those criticisms should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Accusations levelled at ferry companies, rail companies, taxi drivers and hoteliers may have some truth in them but the general facts will be quite different.

Last week we were still in the Easter Holiday season - a time when, due to normal demand, fares and hotel prices increase.

It is often quoted that a return fare on Eurostar can normally be had for just £69 return but those ‘rip off merchants’ were cashing in and stranded passengers were being forced to pay over £200 for a one-way ticket.

Well I just looked on the Eurostar website and you can buy a return for £69 if you travel on the dates and times they stipulate. Book NOW for travel on 1st June.

‘NOW’ is the important word here. They only offer a limited number of seats at that price and if others book now and you don’t then the fare will be higher if you want to travel on a specific date at a specific time – when everyone else does as well.

It’s the same with flights. Travel off-season when airlines are struggling to fill their planes and you will pay a nominal amount plus all the airport taxes and security charges. Travel when everyone and his neighbour wishes to and you will have to pay a higher fare.

British Airways are NOW offering fares to European capitals from £49 one way including taxes. But you have to book by a certain date and travel on certain flights. The flight to Genoa on 7th July is available as I write, but may not be tomorrow.

Cross channel ferries are the same. To quote from Sea France’s website “You can now get to France for a great fare with SeaFrance Dover - Calais Ferries. We have introduced a great low fare from just £25 each way on our quieter crossings, meaning you can take a ferry to France for less without the hustle and bustle of a busy ship.”

See – “quieter crossings”.

Fewer passengers on a scheduled service which is going to leave anyway and it’s quite cheap. A pound a mile doesn’t strike me as exorbitant to reach the mainland.

Every travel service and accommodation provider offers a range of prices in order to make a profit. And profit is what makes the world go round.

When I was a travel agent – and I’m so glad I’m not anymore – fares were published in thick manuals that were complex to fathom.

There could be over a hundred fares to popular destinations depending on which airline, what date, which flight number, were there stop-overs involved, was there a higher intermediate fare point (I won’t go into HIFs, trust me, they are complicated), would you be back-tracking and loads of other rules and regulations which all had to be taken into consideration. Get it wrong and the travel agent paid the difference.

What I’m getting at is that all the bleating from pissed off travellers usually has no basis in fact and bears no relation to what is actually possible.

There was an occasion when I was travelling to Australia on Cathay Pacific. At the check-desk they announced that the flight was overbooked and they appealed for passengers who could travel the next day. I was in no hurry so I volunteered.

That night they fed and accommodated me at Heathrow, put me on a flight to Amsterdam and then business class to Hong Kong, economy to Sydney. On arrival I discovered my luggage was delayed so I was given money to buy some in Sydney and then won some dosh on a Melbourne Gold Cup sweepstake in a pub.

Travel brings out best and worst in people, sometimes broadens the mind and distributes wealth round the planet but it comes at a price with risks involved - both personally and financially.

Next time you want go cheap, go when everyone else wants to stay at home.

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