£10 coach fee 'is latest example of hidden extras in holiday brochures'

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The Independent Travel

The country's biggest tour operators were accused of misleading their customers yesterday after quietly introducing a surcharge on bargain deals.

Thomson, Airtours and First Choice - which together control about 70 per cent of the package market - have added a £10 coach transfer fee to the price of their cheapest late deal holidays. Travel experts described it as yet another example of the hidden costs that hit the traveller unexpectedly.

Travellers can be left baffled by the multiples of extra costs tucked away in the small print of brochures, said Kim Winter, the managing editor of the Consumers' Association magazine Holiday Which? She said: "We would like to see tour operators being a lot more up- front about their prices and not expect consumers to have a PhD in maths to work out exactly what the holiday is going to cost them."

Experts criticised the travel firms for advertising holidays at supposedly bargain rates only to tell customers later they would have to pay £10 extra to get to their hotel. Jeremy Skidmore of Travel Weekly said: "It is not illegal but it is misleading. I think it is wrong. Legally a package only has to include two elements - the flight and the hotel - but people expect it to include transfer."

Thomson Holidays, whose parent company looks set for a £1.8bn takeover by the German conglomerate Preussag, was the first to introduce the new fee last summer. And this season Thomson has been joined by two other big players in the travel market.

Mr Skidmore said: "Airtours and First Choice saw that Thomson got away with it and have done the same."

A spokeswoman for Thomson Holidays said: "This is all about choice. These are deals for price-conscious holidaymakers who are willing to be flexible about certain aspects of their holiday. Independent travellers may wish to use local transport."

Airtours echoed that sentiment while First Choice said that the cost of transfer had been taken out of the old holiday price so paying extra for it would only bring the package back to the original cost.

JMC, one major holiday operator that has refused to add the airport to hotel transfer surcharge, insisted that holidaymakers were likely to see the new cost "as yet another example of rip-off Britain".