Britain's biggest holiday company yesterday trumpeted "another year of record profit growth" but research by The Independent reveals that the same tour operator is surcharging some customers who have already paid for adventure trips and ski holidays – including a demand for £13 per child for school trips.
Tui, which owns Thomson, First Choice and many other travel brands, published an upbeat annual report yesterday. The Chief Executive, Peter Long, reported "A good trading performance in the UK". In contrast with its troubled rival, Thomas Cook, Tui has a strong balance sheet and made an underlying profit of almost £400m last year. Yet in response to rising fuel costs and a fluctuating pound, a number of its subsidiaries are applying surcharges to travellers who believed they had already paid in full for their holidays.
One parent, who did not wish to be named, told The Independent that SkiBound – a Tui subsidiary – was asking every member of a school ski trip for an additional £13.
"I thought we had seen the end of surcharges some years ago. It means that the quoted price of the trip can be very competitive – because they can always stick a supplement on at the end once they have secured the business. They're a big company – I would expect them to be able to avoid supplements like this."
A spokeswoman for SkiBound said "We are very conscious of the disruption that implementing a small surcharge causes to schools groups and regret having to pass even a small charge on to our groups.
"Our prices for this winter season are calculated in August 2010. Since that time we have seen significant cost increases arising from aviation, transportation fuel and other costs."
The law allows a holiday firm to surcharge customers who have already committed to a trip if it can demonstrate that costs have risen for reasons beyond its control. The operator is required to absorb the first 2 per cent of any increase. If the surcharge exceeds 10 per cent of the holiday cost then the customer is entitled to cancel with a full refund. No surcharges are permitted within 30 days of departure.
Abta, the travel association, lists member companies on its website whose surcharges have been approved; most are for the increased cost of transportation, but sinking sterling prompted the adventure operator, Exodus, retrospectively to increase the price of next Saturday's departure to New Zealand.
Travellers already booked on the £5,500 trip – offering trekking, kayaking and wildlife-watching – were asked for an extra £200.
A spokeswoman said "We will incur extra costs of over £400 for trips operating in 2012 due to dramatic exchange rate changes, but half of this has been absorbed by Exodus and the other half will have to be paid by the clients as a currency surcharge. This works both ways though, and when we find cost savings these are also passed on to our clients."