Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ask Gill: flight refunds, Madeira by boat, Broadway, India visas, Premier Inn prices

raham Hough from London writes
We should have flown from Geneva to Stansted with easyJet on Monday, February 2 but the flight was cancelled (as were most flights into Britain that day) owing to heavy snow in southern England.

Easyjet said the earliest it could fly us back to London was on Wednesday, February 4. This was not an option as we all had important business commitments on the Tuesday afternoon.

We spent the night in a hotel in Geneva (which we paid for) and found our own way home by train. Easyjet has made us a modest offer of £259 each but that still leaves each of us £241 out of pocket.

My travel insurer says we have no valid claim and must pursue the airline.

But what's the legal position when bad weather is to blame?

Gill Charlton replies
When airlines in the European Union have to cancel flights for reasons beyond their control, such as bad weather, they are legally required to provide hotel accommodation and meals for customers and to rearrange a flight at the earliest opportunity. (Switzerland is a signatory to the relevant EU regulation.)

The law also says that passengers can choose between applying for a ticket refund or accepting the re-routing. Unfortunately "re-routing" is not defined in the EU regulation nor in IATA's approved conditions of carriage.

Airlines tend to interpret the wording as the offer of a seat on another of its own services.

Given this, it could be said that you took yourself outside the scope of the EU regulation – and the airline's own conditions of carriage – by arranging your own hotel room and journey back to Britain.

"If passengers make their own travel arrangements instead of taking up the airline's re-routing offer it can be an uphill struggle to get the money back", said a spokesman for the Air Transport Users Council.

"Ideally we would like airlines to reimburse passengers in full as this would be in keeping with the spirit of the EU regulation, but in Mr Hough's case we feel that meeting his extra expenses halfway seems a reasonable compromise."

To madeira – without flying

David Buckman, London, writes
My partner will not fly but we would dearly like to spend a week or so on Madeira. Is it possible to travel there by sea?

Gill Charlton replies
Cruise ships heading south from Britain spend only a day in Madeira (above), but there are two other options.

A German container ship with a Spanish crew departs from Felixstowe every fortnight for Madeira (a five-day voyage). The return trip is via Las Palmas in the Canaries, Cartagena and Cadiz (10 days with a day in each port). OPDR ships have two double cabins. The return fare is £2,235 per person including all meals. Book through Strand Voyages

Broadway tickets

Hazel and Don Illingworth, Norwich write
As part of our golden wedding anniversary we will be spending a few days in New York in December and we should like to see a Broadway show. Can you give us the name of a reliable ticket agency?

Gill Charlton replies
It's usually possible to book tickets direct with New York theatres using the online booking facility on their website. This will give you the greatest choice of seats and enable you to avoid booking fees. You collect the tickets from the box office on the day.

Can we see India without a visa?

Stephen Mayhew, St Neots, Cambs writes
We are due to go on an Ocean Village cruise in October that will be calling at Cochin for the day. The cruise line is insisting that we purchase tourist visas, though we would be quite happy to save £120 and "view Cochin through a porthole", to quote John Birch from Benmar's visa service. Who is correct?

Gill Charlton replies
Theoretically you should be able to stay on board without a visa, but immigration officers at Cochin do occasionally insist that all passengers have visas because the ship is docking in Indian waters.

The Indian High Commission's visa agent, VFS Global, says that you should be fine with a transit visa, which costs £15 a person. However, Ocean Village tells me that it has had difficulties with the immigration authorities over transit visas as these are primarily designed for ship-to-airport transfers. It says that it also insists on tourist visas in case passengers need to disembark for medical treatment or want to return home early to deal with an emergency.

Premier Inn breaking its price promise

Jeremy Reeve, Wallingford, writes
I read your piece with regard to Premier Inn's guaranteed pricing policy (Ask Gill, March 14) with interest. My experience has been very different.

Last July I booked three rooms at the Arundel Premier Inn for July 2-5 2009, after guessing that the Goodwood Festival of Speed would, as usual, be held over this weekend. The cost was £66 per room per night.

In December I was contacted by the hotel to say that it was invoking its "key events" policy and that the room rate would now be £102.50 per night for the Thursday night and £124 per night for Friday and Saturday including breakfast (usually an extra). I was told I would either have to pay up or cancel.

How can Premier Inn tell you that the booked rate is never increased and yet continue to pursue this "key event" policy on rates?

Gill Charlton replies
Quite a few readers emailed to say that they had suffered price rises at Premier Inns after hotels discovered that "key events" were taking place nearby. I went back to the company for clarification.

"Our brand policy is that we honour all rates given at the time of booking. If a hotel breaks this policy we will address this and act accordingly", Premier Inn's spokesman said. "We are contacting all of our hotels this week to remind them of our policy and ensure it is adhered to in future."

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