Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way
Con the move: beware of Europe's travel scams
Saturday 26 March 2005
Goodness, Easter already. And this holiday weekend coincides with the start of summer, at least according to the airline industry. When the peak-season schedules begin tomorrow, you will have many more opportunities to travel. Croatia, for example, gets a couple of new scheduled services on British Airways. But just because you
can fly from Gatwick to Split or Manchester to Dubrovnik doesn't mean you
will. London and Paris will remain the leading city-break destinations for the British.
Goodness, Easter already. And this holiday weekend coincides with the start of summer, at least according to the airline industry. When the peak-season schedules begin tomorrow, you will have many more opportunities to travel. Croatia, for example, gets a couple of new scheduled services on British Airways. But just because you can fly from Gatwick to Split or Manchester to Dubrovnik doesn't mean you will. London and Paris will remain the leading city-break destinations for the British.
The art and architecture, cuisine and diversity in both cities is a powerful draw for tourists - and consequently, London and Paris attract all kinds of entrepreneurs and rascals trying to make cash by fair means or foul.
Rail travellers alighting at Paris Gare du Nord, where Eurostar trains arrive, are targeted by some of the most imaginative criminals in Europe. The American travel writer, Rick Steves, collects alerts at his website www.ricksteves.com. Darren from Boston reports a scam aimed at travellers baffled by the ticketing system on the underground: "I was looking at the Metro map to figure out how to get to my hotel when a friendly French guy came over and asked me where I was going. After showing me the best route he offered to help me buy a ticket at the machine."
If anyone ever tries this trick with you, beware: "As he was selecting the options from the menu he asked me how many days I would be in Paris for. I said seven, and he selected a seven-day metro pass for me (or that's what he told me it was, but how would I know if I can't read French?)"
Darren saw the sum of €77 (£55) appear on the screen, and inserted his credit card, but it was rejected. His new pal stepped in to help: he touched a few buttons and fed in his own credit card, which was accepted. A ticket emerged, which he handed to Darren in exchange for €77. You can guess the rest: the ticket turned out to be not a week's unlimited travel pass, nor even a one-day pass. It was a single-trip ticket, as the victim discovered to his embarrassment when he tried to use it on his second ride on the Metro.
VISITORS TO Britain are not immune to misrepresentation: another Darren, from Atlanta, describes a scam in London apparently perpetrated by a taxi driver. Early one morning he flagged down a cab to drive him to Victoria station to catch the Gatwick Express for his flight home. "He told me the train line was down for repairs. He drove me to a back entrance that appeared closed." This, presumably, was the British Airways city-centre terminal that was abandoned in the wake of 11 September 2001. The helpful cabbie then "offered to drive me to Gatwick for £80. Fortunately, it sounded suspicious, so I didn't fall for it".
ONE TRICK of the travel trade that can benefit both buyer and seller is the business of wholesale tickets. The last resort for impecunious visitors to Paris has long been the carnet. You buy 10 Metro tickets for €10.50 (£7.50), a saving of 25 per cent on the single-ticket price, then base yourself at the entrance to a busy Metro station and sell each ticket for a modest profit, saving your customers cash and hassle.
The idea has been imported. If you happen to be in London this weekend, watch for a parallel market that is emerging for the most humdrum of commodities: the bus ticket.
The price of ride on a double-decker in the capital increased yet again this year to £1.20, even for travelling just one stop. And, in central London, you have to buy your ticket in advance - they are not sold on board. Crafty Londoners with an eye for a bargain spent the last few weeks of 2004 buying up thousands of Bus Saver books, London's answer to the carnet, before a 43 per cent price rise. So heavy was demand that some Tube stations limited the number each customer could buy. Until New Year's Day, they were priced at 70p per ride. Overnight the cost jumped to £1.
These tickets are now coming on to the market, with enterprising locals selling them at central London bus stops this summer for £1 each - a handy saving in time and effort for the traveller, and a useful profit for the vendor.
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