Simon Calder: The gift of travel – with strings attached

The man who pays his way

The message of Christ is one of redemption. Jesus had in mind absolution from sin. But the business of redeeming a Ryanair gift voucher can seem equally tricky.

Advent brings a chill to the legion of the less well-organised as they trawl the online high street searching for last-minute presents. Some will settle on vouchers, tokens or gift cards. Personally, I have no problem giving (or, even better, receiving) cash. Yet a view persists that a voucher is somehow less vulgar than cash, along with a now-forlorn hope that it might be redeemed for something worthy.

In the olden days, book tokens were often exchanged for an uplifting example of the printed word, possibly some inspirational travel writing to guide you north, south, east or west. But since the cultural currency mutated into an Amazon gift certificate, it could be cashed in for One Direction.

You may not be astonished to learn that, here on Planet Travel, the voucher has properties that are not necessarily to the advantage of the lucky recipient. A donor might fondly imagine that the gift of travel in the form of a Ryanair voucher will unlock new horizons this Christmas. But a recipient reading the small print may interpret it as a gesture of contempt.

Even from the donor's perspective, the voucher is poor value: the Irish airline charges a £6 "administration fee" for issuing a document that is significantly less useful than cash. The voucher cannot be used for any Ryanair booking that includes car rental. You must spend it within a year. And if you use it for a flight costing less than face value, don't expect any change.

Contrast this with the benevolent terms of the Icelandic airline, Wow. Gift certificates attract no fees, and if you don't spend it all at once, the remainder is saved – though you could end up seeing quite a lot of the North Atlantic as you shuttle between Gatwick and Reykjavik.

Rates of exchange

With vouchers so hamstrung by conditions, why would any traveller ever accept one that hasn't come from a misguided friend or relation? Well, because sometimes it can be worth your while – especially when a travel firm is providing compensation for a service foul-up. Monarch, for example, typically offers 20 per cent more in vouchers for future flights with the airline than the cash value. If you plan a trip with Monarch in the near future, that might well be worth your while.

There are three good reasons why airlines, cruise lines, and holiday companies all prefer to make amends for foul-ups with vouchers rather than real money.

First, instead of having to hand out hard cash now, the financial hit can be deferred.

Next, a travel firm will hope that vouchers may persuade you to embark upon a trip you wouldn't otherwise make, filling empty seats or beds at negligible cost.

Third, the company knows that there is some possibility that the voucher will expire before you get a chance to redeem it. When British Airways bumped me from an overbooked Heathrow-Amsterdam flight, the airline's remedy was either £250 in cash or £400 in vouchers. I was glad to be given the choice, and opted for the "uplift" of 60 per cent, because I knew there was a very good chance I would soon spend that amount with the airline.

Judging from the inbox here, though, many people who emerge after a particularly grim travel experience vow never again to holiday with the firm that has upset them.

Several readers say they claimed compensation for disrupted flights with Thomas Cook Airlines under European passenger-rights legislation (EC261) – and the settlement arrived in Thomas Cook vouchers, even though at no point had the mode of payment been discussed.

One such letter, sent in January, read: "In line with our obligations under Regulation 261, I would ask you to accept the enclosed voucher to the value of £1,765."

Fortunately, the rules are clear. Disrupted travellers are entitled to compensation "in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank cheques", unless they give their signed agreement to accept vouchers. So, insist on cash.

Train gain

British train operators are allowed to "pay" disrupted passengers in rail travel vouchers. That might look equally traveller-unfriendly, but the little green documents are so negotiable that they practically constitute cash.

For big payouts, the value is split between several coupons to make redemption easier – typically £60 in compensation will be offered as three £20 vouchers.

They are not tied to a particular company; if First Great Western let you down between Plymouth and Penzance, you can spend the compensation to travel from Inverness to Thurso on ScotRail (though note it is part of the same conglomeration as FGW). And you have a year to use your rail vouchers or give them away to a fellow traveller.

In fact, the only people who don't seem to be able to do anything with this form of compensation are the Government's travel providers. A conscientious civil servant friend, who qualified for a £25 voucher after a work journey went horribly wrong, tried to hand it to the travel office to save taxpayer cash on a future trip. "It's rightfully yours," he said, only to be told "We can't handle them."

Perhaps the refusal might, at least, solve one element of his Christmas-shopping plans.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • 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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power