A number of leading travel agents have been attacked for automatically including expensive extras such as travel insurance or larger baggage allowances on customers’ bookings.
The BBC’s consumer-rights programme Watchdog said its research had found online travel websites including Expedia, lastminute.com and Opodo adding on insurance policies, at a cost of between £99 and £127.50 for a family of four travelling to Florida for a week. Each company left it up to the customer to deselect the cover if they wished – but Watchdog pointed out that it was “so easy” to overlook this.
The programme also found that some package-holiday firms were automatically adding the cost of baggage allowances on to bookings rather than letting their customers opt in.
Under EU laws, companies are not allowed to pre-select extras in this way and include them in quotes to customers. But the problem in Britain at the moment is that the Government has yet to put the relevant legislation on to UK statute books.
It is expected to do so by the end of 2011, but until then, firms can carry on with these practices without any threat of penalties.
The travel companies’ views
The firms involved in Watchdog’s investigation suggested they were doing travellers a service by including cover. An Opodo spokesman said: “According to the latest ABTA Travel Trends Report 37 per cent of all trips are uninsured, so it is important for us to offer travel insurance prominently on our website.”
Expedia added: “We strongly believe that travel insurance is an important message to convey.”
The message from lastminute.com was even clearer: “We automatically opt in customers for travel insurance as we are concerned uninsured travellers may be unable to afford medical treatment or transport home should an issue arise.”
A better deal on cover
These views may be laudable, but the fact is that you are much more likely to get a more suitable travel policy at a better price if you shop around and purchase cover yourself.
If you taking out a policy through a travel firm, there is the risk that the cover contains exclusions or other caveats that may make it hard for you to claim: you would have to check the policy documents carefully to make sure this is not the case, and many customers are unlikely to do so when they are in the middle of booking a trip.
If you buy a policy independently, you can make sure that you are getting the protection you need – for example against an airline going bust, or against your baggage being lost. Equally, you can add on extras such as insurance against accidents incurred while taking part in extreme sports.
Even if the one-size-fits all cover offered by a travel company is sufficient for your needs, there is no guarantee it is the cheapest available. And it is likely to cover you for only the holiday you are in the process of booking, whereas multi-trip insurance may be more appropriate if you travel frequently.