Anger over package holiday 'extras'

Tour operators have introduced a new pricing tariff that raises the advertised cost of a package holiday by charging extra for basic items such as in-flight meals, airport transfers and using a swimming pool.

Tour operators have introduced a new pricing tariff that raises the advertised cost of a package holiday by charging extra for basic items such as in-flight meals, airport transfers and using a swimming pool.

The Trading Standards Institute has reported a sharp rise in the number of complaints from the public about supplementary charges hidden in the small print of the new range of holiday brochures for 2003.

While arcane price structures have dogged the industry for several years, trading standards officers are alarmed at the latest ploy, which they compare to the "no-frills" airlines' policy of charging for a range of extras. Companies cannot be named as the complaints are still under investigation but some of the biggest names on the high street are among the alleged culprits.

One holiday company is being investigated by trading standards officers after it advertised an apartment with a swimming pool. When the customer came to book, the travel agent added on £20 per person to swim.

It is also alleged that a married couple were asked to pay an "under-occupancy" surcharge for a double room because the holiday company had sold it for three people sharing.

Bruce Treloar, the institute's lead officer on package holidays, said: "We have evidence to show that tour operators are blatantly fragmenting the traditional package holiday into smaller, chargeable parts in next year's brochures. Consumers are being lured in by a low headline price only to find out there are a range of extras."

The institute, which represents 201 trading standards authorities nationwide, has called for a tightening of the 1992 package travel regulations to prevent alleged abuses.

The number of complaints passed to the Office of Fair Trading by the trading standards institute rose from 12,551 in 2000 to 28,502 last year. There was a threefold increase in the number of complaints about insurance for holidays booked over the internet.

Under the package travel regulations a package holidaymaker who has booked with a tour operator will be compensated if either the airline or the accommodation provider goes out of business. But many flights, rooms or car rentals booked online do not constitute a package holiday, even if they are linked by the same website, and there is no statutory cover for these "split contract bookings".

Mr Treloar said: "Consumers may suffer as the formation of their holiday contract becomes a mixture of single components with no legal guarantee or proper financial protection."

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