Thursday, 26 April 2012

Changes to the industry and what flight-plus will mean for consumers

Britain’s original holiday protection scheme which has lasted 20 years will begin to change from 30th April. The ATOL Scheme was originally set up to protect consumers who booked package holidays in the event of their travel company going out of business or if they need to repatriated when stranded abroad. It would be an understatement to say that there has been some grey area over the rules in recent times. Developments in technology has allowed the dynamic package sector to boom and these packages have proved extremely popular due to the price point that they are sold at and greater flexibility over holiday destinations and durations.

However, problems over dynamic packages have arisen due to operators of such websites selling packages as individual items rather than complete packages. This has meant that although clients think that they have bought a package, they have in reality three individual elements such as flight, hotel and airport transfer.  This has created more problems for consumers rather than the agent as if one element of their trip fails and they are left out of pocket for the other parts of the holiday (as well as the original element in some cases!). Some agents have sought to maintain that elements are individual in order to escape liability and to pay large bonds to ATOL and ABTA where clients perhaps wrongly presumed that they were covered in an old fashioned sense.

The CAA has sought to solve this problem by offering greater clarity of what is and isn’t protected. Known as the Flight-Plus system, it will mean that many more bookings which combine a flight and hotel will be protected by the ATOL scheme in the event of supplier failure. Although the system has sought to offer clarity, there are some key things to look out for in order to avoid being caught out.

One thing to be careful of is if you have booked flight and hotel via an airline in one go. This is because it would require primary legislation in order to implement such a requirement upon airlines. There are some exemptions to this rule however as British Airways and easyJet do protect such bookings if they are all made in one transaction. Are things still clear?

It is also worth pointing out that as with all things governmental, the system has been delayed before being completely rolled out. This means that although from Monday you should be told if you have protection or not, you will have to wait until 1st October before customers receive written confirmation of whether you are covered or at risk. From October all flight-plus arrangements will be accompanied by a certificate from ATOL.

One of the good things to come out of the new scheme for the consumer is that for bookings made via a travel agent with ATOL protection all travel arrangements that combine a flight and a hotel stay or a flight and a hire car booking will be covered – as long as the separate bookings are made, or requested by the customer, on the same day or ‘within a day either side of each other’ through the same website, travel agent or tour operator. I can see these rules driving travel agents mad, but rules are rules!

It is reported that some 50% of holidays booked are now not covered by ATOL whereas 10 years ago around 95% were covered under the scheme. it is about time that the bonding either moved with the times or was phased out completely. It looks like the system will be around for a while yet and this is important for the peace of mind of British consumers once they make their biggest annual expenditure.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

April showers brings extra holiday bookings as bad weather continues

There has been some silver lined clouds for travel agents (very sorry for that one) as operators have reported that there has been a rise in holiday bookings in the sun following recent bad weather.

I can confirm that our own calls and hotel bookings have been strong for April, especially after such a balmy March. Virgin Atlantic also concur with this and have revealed that bookings have increased by 37 per cent compared with April 2011 with Caribbean destinations especially popular.

Greg Dawson of Virgin Atlantic said: "Britain's bad weather has created a flood of passengers eager to fly to sun-soaked destinations such as Barbados, St Lucia and Antigua."

For those lucky enough to have some job security now could be a good time to book holidays as prices are competitive, there are also extra bank holidays due to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics could also make many people travel out of UK if they live in areas which will be swamped with fans.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

easyJet launch new routes targeting business and short breaks

easyJet have today announced nine new routes from UK destinations. Routes include direct flights from Manchester to Tel Aviv and flights to the Isle of Man, Turin and Tallinn from London Gatwick.

London Southend will operate services to Geneva and Venice whilst other routes include Newcastle to Amsterdam, Bristol to Copenhagen and a domestic service connecting Birmingham and Belfast.

Commenting on the expansion, Paul Simmons easyJet's UK Director said:  “Our schedule has been increased across the network to ensure our passengers can visit the most popular city and sun destinations. I’m confident our addition of nine new routes further opens up the best European and mid-haul destinations making travel easy and affordable for all.”

The new services will add an estimated 230,000 extra seats to easyJet's winter schedule.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Thomas Cook Olympic charges uncovered by The Sunday Times

An investigation (or simple arithmatic) by The Sunday Times has revealed that Thomas Cook are selling Olympic packages with a huge mark up despite Olympic tickets being banned from sale above their face value.
The report by The Sunday Times highlighted a package with two tickets for the men's 100 metre final with one night in a Travelodge and travel pass retailing for just under £3000. The deductions for the Travelodge (£325.92) and travel passes (£58.40) meant that the cost for each ticket was £1,306, triple the face value of £420.

The report by The Sunday Times could be viewed in one of two ways. There is some grey area and Thomas Cook could simply claim to be selling the hotel room for £2100 and they were still selling the tickets at face value. Alternatively it could be argued that Thomas Cook are attempting to profiteer by selling packages at huge mark ups.

I think I fall into the first camp and can't blame Thomas Cook for attempting to recoup some of the huge outlay made in order to become an official seller of Olympics packages. They have sold their fair share of dud packages at £500 or less and any sane business person would be attempting to sell the best packages at the best price in order to still be in business by the end of August.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Birmingham Airport boss accuses BAA of ‘conning industry’

The chief executive of Birmingham Airport has dismissed claims from his BAA counterpart that Chinese airlines are only willing to fly into Heathrow rather than smaller regional airports in the UK. Paul Kehoe of Birmingham Airport said that at the same time that BAA was making the claims, he was in Chengdu talking to Chinese airlines that were willing to consider any entry point into the UK.

Kehoe is particularly aggrieved that BAA have stated that the British economy requires new runways in the south-east and that it is a ‘con’ perpetrated by BAA which goes unquestioned due to their dominance. 

In his defence, Colin Matthews of BAA counteracts Kehoe’s claims by arguing that if Chinese airlines wished to fly into alternative airports where capacity exists, they would have already done so. Speaking about the issue, Matthews said:

"It is a mistake to believe that flights displaced from Heathrow will automatically fly to Stansted, Gatwick or Birmingham instead. The message I hear from airlines is clear: if there's no room at Heathrow then flights will move out of the UK altogether.  Instead of Britain taking the lead in forging new links with growing economies like China, we are handing economic growth to our competitors by turning away airlines who want to bring jobs, growth and trade to the UK."

Despite these strong points from Colin Matthews, Kehoe still believes that there is scope for other airports to obtain a percentage of the lucrative Chinese market. He also believes that it is not the airports that are necessarily the problem but visas and airport taxation that are playing a part in putting Chinese airlines and visitors away from the UK.

He also sighted BAA’s strong position within the airline industry where every leader with the exception of Michael O’Leary is scared to upset the airport owners as their business is reliant on lucrative slots at BAA’s airports.

Paul Kehoe has some valid points and I would very much welcome an aviation industry which is not southern heavy. This is no doubt wishful think but Birmingham’s runway extension will allow further long-haul flights while the proposed HS2 (a very long way off yet) will bring London within an hour of Birmingham.

There must also be continued lobbying to the Government over its choking affect from APD which severely affecting the economy. The increased revenue from a rise in APD is having the same effect as paying the minimum amount each month from your credit card bill. It does nothing to the debt and keeps you in the same or worse position.   The process will take longer than anyone would wish for yet should hopefully readdress the balance if the government is willing to use some common sense.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Beware of Spanish car rental charges: Which? report states

A report by Which? has found that British travelers to Spain risk seeing the cost of a rental car trebling due to 'hidden fuel charges.'

The charges are revealed now that the old system of collecting a car with a full tank and ensuring the same upon returning the car are now being phased out.  Competition has now lead to many firms offering a lower initial price but enforcing an 'out full, back empty' policy with customers facing inflated prices for fuel which is not always used when hiring a car on a small island.

A particular offender of this (speaking from first hand experience!) is Goldcar. A researcher from Which? also backed this claim up as the basic price to hire a vehicle with Goldcar was €30 compared with €78 from Avis. But when fuel was added upon arrival, the Goldcar price rose to €94. The report also calculated that in order to use all of the fuel in the Fiat 500, Which? calculated that the vehicle would need to be driven for 140km every day of the week.

It may now be a case of deciding how many miles you are likely to drive on your holiday and to then calculate the total overall cost between the cheaper introductory prices of operators such as Goldcar and the global firms such as Hertz and Avis.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Delta launches additional London - Atlanta flight

Delta Airlines have announced that they are to operate a second daily route from Heathrow starting tomorrow.

This is good news for clients of Tailormade traveling to Augusta for The Masters as the new flight will depart at 9.45am, arriving into Atlanta at 14.20pm. The return flight will depart Atlanta at 18.00pm and arrive into Heathrow at 7.30am the next day. The new times make the Delta flight a much more attractive option than the BA flight which leaves the UK late and returns from Atlanta at 9.00pm each night.

Given the proposition of Atlanta Airport late at night (body clock time), the Delta flight could be a winner.

The new flight will be operated on Boeing 767-400ER which offer 39 flat-bed seats in BusinessElite and 28 seats in Economy Comfort, Delta's equivalent of World Traveler Plus.

For information on hotel and ticket packages to The Masters please visit www.luxurygolfholiday.co.uk

Thursday, 19 April 2012

New Business Lounge for Liverpool John Lennon Airport

Servisair have today opened a new business lounge at Liverpool John Lennon Airport as part of a plan to expand it's lounges across Europe. The new facility will accommodate up to 100 people and each lounge has been individually designed to reflect the identity of each location.

For travellers using the lounge, they will be able to choose from a freshly prepared complementary menu offering hot food, snack, drinks and wi-fi.

The price to gain access to the lounge is £17.49 per adult or £9.99 for children under 12 when booked in advance through the site www.executivelounges.com/aspire.

Commenting on the move, Shaun Weston said: Servisair travel services director, added: “Our aim with the new Aspire lounge here at Liverpool is simple, to operate an airport lounge that delivers the best possible customer experience through a smooth booking procedure, a comfortable and modern environment, a fantastic range of food and drink with superb facilities and all at a reasonable cost with great customer service.”

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Virgin Atlantic to dig heels in over BMI sale to BA

Virgin Atlantic have announced that they are to appeal the European Commission's decision to allow the sale of BMI to IAG.

The deal between BMI and IAG was due to take effect from 20th April but Virgin have claimed that the European Commission "seemingly ignored all of the strong cases"

Commenting further on the ruling, Sir Richard Branson said: "This deal was agreed with lightning speed and we think the number of slots offered is derisory - representing less than a quarter of BMI's former network. 

We will challenge every aspect of this process which if allowed to stand, will undoubtedly damage the British airline industry for years to come. The European Commission has seemingly ignored all of the strong cases made by politicians, business groups and airlines, to enable one big company to become even more bloated."

I can see this dragging on until 2013.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

BA takeover of BMI to result in 1200 job losses

British Airways is proposing to cut 1200 jobs at BMI as it looks to steamline operations with BA at Heathrow. The proposed move has come at a time when BA has said that BMi is currently losing £3m per week and without their acquisitions its entire workforce of 2,700 would be under threat of redundancy.

BA are suggesting that of the 2,700 currently employed, the company would need to shrink to 1,500 staff with those affected likely to be its staff at BMI's head office in Castle Donnington along with other employees at regional airports.

Commenting of the proposals Keith Williams, British Airways' chief executive said “bmi is heavily loss making and is not a viable business as it stands today. Our proposals would secure around 1,500 jobs that would otherwise have been lost.

"As we look to restructure the business and restore profitability, job losses are deeply regrettable but inevitable. We will work with the unions to explore as many options as possible and are already working with industry partners."

Sad for BMI, but probably true.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Rt Hon William Hague speech on 'Reinforcing Britain's Consular Diplomacy'

As a Partner of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office 'Know Before You Go' campaign, Alihoco was invited to attend a speech today by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, The Rt Hon William Hague MP.
His main message was that he wants to strengthen the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an institution, for the long term and in all areas of work. He wants the Foreign Office to be a centre of excellence in government and he outlined the role of the Department; what it can do and what it cannot do and then outlined his plans to strengthen the Department.
He spoke for almost 25 minutes and then took questions and did an amazing job and captivated the audience while explaining a range of messages and statistics in an interesting and informative way.  He also answered the questions fully and adeptly.
Amazingly, the entire FCO service is provided to British passport holders, every day of the year, week in and week out, at a cost per person of £1.50 a year over the life of a 10-year passport, and without burdening the taxpayer.
It was clear from his speech that the FCO 'Know Before You Go' campaign is vital to supporting the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and we encourage our customers and followers to take note of the FCO information contained in the 'Travel Guides' section of our website.