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Questions Of Cash: Visa delay has ruined our honeymoon to India


Q. My partner and I booked flights to India with STA Travel last September for our honeymoon in December. My husband's father is a British citizen born in Pakistan. British citizens who have a parent or grandparent born in India or Pakistan have to apply for visas in a different way to other people and my husband was not able to get a visa from India in time. The visa providers all state that visas are supplied within five to seven days and we allowed five weeks, but it turns out – and we were not warned of this – that for those who have a parent or grandparent born in India or Pakistan it can take up to a year.

I contacted STA and was told it would be happy to change the flights, but our airline, Etihad, would charge a cancellation fee of £275 per person. I asked them to request Etihad to waive this as we couldn't afford the fee and I was promised this would happen. Etihad repeatedly told me it would be willing to work towards a solution as it was our honeymoon. But STA said it was unable to contact the people at Etihad I had spoken to and that the airline refused to waive the fee or re-arrange the flights. At one point Etihad suggested having a conference call to resolve the issue, but STA said this was not possible.

Eventually we gave in and booked more expensive flights, two weeks before Christmas. This cost us £1,800, plus the £550 cancellation fees. However, through a friend I found out that the cancellation fees were not imposed by Etihad at all – which Etihad has since confirmed. This was despite STA telling me the cancellation fees were from Etihad and there was nothing STA could do about it.

I have complained to STA and ABTA, but both say there is nothing they can do as we have no proof of what was said to us on the phone. I understand STA charging a cancellation fee, but not when people have no choice other than to cancel and book much more expensive flights. This has ruined our honeymoon and cost us the additional £900 we had set aside for our accommodation. I had spent a year and a half planning the honeymoon. AO, by email.

A. Kate Howard, operations director of STA Travel, says: "Passport and visa regulations are extremely complex and subject to change at short notice. Requirements can vary vastly depending on a customer's personal circumstances. As a member of ABTA, STA Travel are governed by a strict code of conduct regarding advice given to customers at the point of sale." Ms Howard says that STA complied with the code of conduct by advising you to check the specific visa requirements for yourself and your husband and that this point is also included in the booking conditions emailed to you.

STA says that the cancellation fees represented a charge of £125 per ticket imposed by the airline, plus an agent administration fee of £150 per ticket. As a goodwill gesture, STA is providing you with a full refund of £550, representing the fees imposed both by itself and the airline. "It is necessary for us to state that this gesture is made in the interests of customer relations with [the reader] as a valued customer and that no admission of liability should be construed, or is implied from this gesture," said Ms Howard.

Q. I had a road traffic accident in January, in which I was not to blame. I obtained insurance from MCE when I bought the bike in November last year. Yet I was nearly arrested after the accident because when the police performed a PNC check, it seemed that I did not have any insurance. My policy had to be confirmed by a phone call by the police to MCE. When I bought the bike I had difficulty in collecting it because my name and postcode had been entered wrongly on the database and road tax could not be purchased.

Since the accident, I have had repeated problems because the company repairing my bike were demanding that I pay a £700 excess, even though my policy includes a £200 excess. It took two months for MCE to confirm this. I was promised a cheque from the third party's insurers at the beginning of March, but this has still not arrived. I am very upset by the tone and comments of the solicitor acting on behalf of MCE, who has insinuated that I am to blame for the accident. If the accident were my fault, why would I have gone to enormous lengths trying to obtain CCTV footage of the accident? My bike was hit from behind by a car, I believe because the driver was trying to swerve around me to the right. I expect my insurer to put my interests first. DC, Essex.

A. MCE Insurance accepts there was a problem with the document records, on which your surname was wrongly spelt. A replacement certificate of insurance has now been issued and is in the post to you. The problem with your claim is that while you believed the third party had accepted that you were innocent, the report the driver made to his or her insurer was not consistent with this.

MCE says that the solicitor who contacted you was trying to establish the truth and was merely asking questions as part of this process. The third party's statement of events has now been rejected by both the insurers and your version of events has been accepted. MCE Insurance's Colin Pedwell says: "Following investigation we would advise there appears to have been some confusion regarding the issues raised by the client, however... all issues raised have been resolved to the client's satisfaction and letters confirming this have been issued by both parties."

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@independent.co.uk