Banks accused of rip-off charges for holidaymakers

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The Independent Online

Some of Britain's biggest banks stand accused of levying excessive charges on holidaymakers amid mounting concern that hidden extras are driving up the cost of the annual summer break.

Barclays, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Alliance & Leicester have been found to charge up to £20 on a £300 cash withdrawal from an overseas bank.

Complaints about the hidden costs of holidays have continued to soar this year. The Co-op said in a recent report that complaints had tripled in 2005 over the issue. Another study found that some last-minute deals can cost 25 per cent more when hidden costs such as under-occupancy rate, booking fees and other extras were added.

The Co-op report found that 40 per cent of people booking late package deals felt misled about the true cost of their holiday. Its research revealed increases of between £32 and £51 per person on standard European late deals for summer 2005.

The latest findings on cash withdrawals, in a report from an independent credit-card website, showed that customers may be on the receiving end of a triple whammy of charges each time they go to the hole in the wall. The worst offenders stung customers with a 2.75 per cent transaction charge plus a 2 per cent cash advance handling fee and a cash advance interest charge of 1.8 per cent.

Jim Adams, from bestcardforyou.com, said: "These companies hide the charges deep in the terms and conditions. We found that getting £300 out on holiday can cost up to £20 with some cards and people had no idea until they got their credit card bills."

In addition, customers who withdraw their money from a cashpoint must begin paying the interest immediately.

Sean Tipton, from the Association of British Travel Agents, said the single biggest number of complaints received by the industry were over taxes and compulsory charges levied on airline passengers who book on the internet. "When all the costs are added together this can mount to more than the actual ticket. Flights which start off at £9 can end up costing more like £50," he said.

On top of the cost of the flight itself, customers can pay up to £20 each way in air passenger duty on a flight to a destination outside the European Union. There is also a passenger service charge negotiated between the airline and the airport which can load another £7 each way to the bill.

Another area of concern is travel insurance. It is estimated that holidaymakers overpay £175m a year on cover from tour operators that would be far cheaper if bought separately. While some operators charge as much as £27 a day for a European tour, a similar insurance policy can be bought for as little as £11 elsewhere.

Which? magazine found that anyone taking more than two trips abroad each year would be better off with an annual policy.

The Office of Fair Trading recently upheld a complaint that holidaymakers who book online must pay an additional £4 booking charge. Other hidden costs include the notorious "wheelchair tax" levied by Ryanair.

In a recent report Don't be a Mug, Which? - formerly known as the Consumers' Association - recommended ways to avoid paying over the top for holidays. It suggested organising holiday excursions independently from the holiday rep, using public transport or hiring a car. Experts estimate that holidaymakers can save up to 50 per cent on the cost of a car if it is hired from Britain rather than leaving it until you go abroad. Customers are also advised to study the vehicle collision waiver fee carefully and not to be caught out by being charged a premium rate for a full tank of petrol if the car is brought back with an empty tank.

Holidaymakers can also save considerable amounts by working out the cheapest way to take their spending money, experts said.

Sandra Quinn of the APCS, which represents the credit-card industry, said foreign transaction charges had been unchanged for several years and were still cheaper than travellers' cheques and offered more protection than cash.

"What has changed is that these charges have become much more transparent to the consumer. That is good news. It is up to the customer to make the decision on what they want from a card and then search out a company which offers the best rate for the way you are going to use it," she said.

The website survey found that three companies were offering free cash international withdrawals on their credit cards. The so-called "top beach buddies" were the Nationwide credit card and debit card, the Saga card - available to over-50s only - and the Liverpool Victoria. Nationwide said it could save customers 2 per cent every time they used the card while on holiday compared with its rivals.

Holidaymakers were also reminded that they are also charged a 1.5 per cent fee when withdrawing money on traditional debit cards. The advice is to take out as much money as possible in a single transaction to reduce charges.

The hidden costs of travel

* TICKETS ON DEPARTURE: Although many airlines now use electronic tickets, for those that do not, holidaymakers who book within 21 days of departure have to pay between £10 and £12 to pick up their tickets at the airport. A family of four can pay £48.

* LAST-MINUTE DEALS: Some can cost up to 25 per cent more than the advertised price. Hidden extras include underoccupancy charge of up £19.50 each, a £15 fuel charge, £10 for tickets on departure and a £9 booking fee.

* FLIGHT COSTS: Not included in the advertised price is air passenger duty. This is £5 for an economy flight in Europe, £10 for a premium flight. This doubles when the flight is outside the EU. A compulsory passenger service charge of£5-£7 per passenger each way must be paid.

* INSURANCE: The financial group Defaqto estimates that holidaymakers are overpaying £175m a year for travel insurance from tour operators which is far more expensive than that offered by banks, insurance retailers, and travel agents.

* CAR HIRE: Vehicle collision waiver can cost 50 per cent more when purchased abroad. Some companies also charge 25 per cent more than local pump prices for filling up the vehicle if it is bought back with an empty tank.

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