Our guide to protecting your pocket from pricing scams

Over the past six weeks we have highlighted six retail areas blighted by hidden charges. This is what we found, and this is what you can do about them:

Holidays

UK travel companies are adding hidden extras to flight and holiday prices, in direct contravention of the rules on advertising. We found a holiday which the company offering it said cost as little as £39 but which actually cost £105. Phil Evans, principal policy adviser at the Consumers' Association, advises avoiding package holidays altogether. "Unbundle it yourself. Do your own research and you can often book it cheaper. IoS readers are internet savvy, and the vast majority of holidays you can organise yourself."

Car rental

Transaction fees, insurance waivers, credit card charges, an array of surprise penalties. Car rental is a byword for hidden charges that can catch out even the most astute customer. One IoS reader reported that he was charged £20 simply for the pleasure of picking the car up. "There's a hell of a lot of small print with car rental," says Mr Evans. "So, try to examine it in advance when you have time. Avoid disputes over the condition of the car when you return it by photographing the vehicle to prove that you have not put any dents in it. Sean O'Grady, motoring editor of The Independent, says that arguing the price at the end of the transaction has always resulted in a reduction.

Banks

Banks have a knack of imposing an array of hidden charges. This often creates further problems: punitive fees for an accidental overdraft can add up to £80 a month. When choosing a financial product check when penalties start kicking in. Shop around for the best rates and lowest charges, using a website such as moneysupermarket.com. If you are taking out a personal loan, opt for one that doesn't charge a penalty if you repay the money early. And with mortgages, ask for your money back if a lender charges a penalty for not buying their buildings insurance.

Mobile phones

Mobile phone companies benefit from the complexity surrounding the myriad deals and tariffs available. Mr Evans's first rule is: do your research before you sign up for a mobile. "Don't be lured by some offer of 2p a minute. And don't walk in to a store and expect impartial advice. Get your information in advance. Look at brochures, and check websites. Also think about how you are going to use your phone. If it's to keep in touch with a small number of people, try and be on the same network. Don't be dazzled by functions you are not going to use." Beware also of the cost of using your mobile abroad.

Theatre booking fees

Booking agencies say they are providing a "service" and need to recoup their costs. But even booking over the internet - ie, doing all the work yourself - provided no escape from this hidden charge. One way of avoiding paying more than the face value of the ticket is to book it in person. But some shows have no in-person booking facility. There's no such thing as shopping around. If there's a show you want to see, then that's the show you'll book for. "We feel this is one for the regulators," says Mr Evans. "The Office of Fair Trading needs to look at this." Complain to the OFT and complain to your MP, Mr Evans adds. "Objections from the public can only help."

Restaurants

We highlighted a scam perpetrated by many restaurants - the practice of including a 10 or 12.5 per cent service charge on your bill and then inviting you to fill in an empty "gratuity" box on your credit card slip. "A complete no-no," says Mr Evans. This still doesn't address the problem of service that is included. Remember: you don't have to pay it. If you think the service wasn't up to scratch, you definitely shouldn't. "Subtract it from the total," says Mr Evans.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss