Travel: Big deals, small print

In the first of a series of monthly articles, Simon Calder, the senior travel editor of `The Independent', gives consumers the hard facts

September is the season of the direct-mail marketing campaign. Letters from airlines and agents are dropping through the nation's letter- boxes faster than autumn leaves. Mike Gooley, the chairman of Britain's biggest discount-flight specialist, has been busily sending out thousands of missives this month, which begin: "As a valued Trailfinders' client, we are delighted to send you details of an exclusive offer with Virgin Atlantic."

If two people travel together, writes Mr Gooley, "you will receive pounds 40 discount on hotels, car hire, tours and much more - in fact, pounds 40 off anything featured in Trailfinders Tailormade North America and Worldwide brochures".

The long-haul specialists like making these offers of discounts on "ground arrangements" for three reasons. First, because the cost to them is nothing like pounds 40, once the profit margin is shaved off brochure prices. Next, because customers are often encouraged to spend way more than pounds 40 on excursions or accommodation. The third reason is that more and more airlines are insisting on "minimum selling prices" for cheap flights, to ensure their fares do not plunge to ridiculous levels - offering a voucher for extras is a way for agents to secure a competitive advantage and offer customers a better deal.

Don Bell of Bath, like me, received the mailshot. "I was disappointed to receive this from Trailfinders - usually very efficient and competitive. Their Virgin fares to Johannesburg are pounds 562, while they can also offer flights there on Turkish Airlines for pounds 365, and South African Airways for pounds 451." Even allowing for the pounds 40 offer, travellers can save pounds 71 by opting for the non-stop on SAA, or a massive pounds 157 by changing at Istanbul. "Similarly, Shanghai by Virgin costs pounds 482," writes Mr Bell, "while Trailfinders sells a Lufthansa ticket at pounds 357".

n THE LAST time I was due to travel on KLM UK, I actually flew with British Midland - the inbound KLM/Northwest flight from Philadelphia was seven hours late, meaning that I missed not one but several connecting KLM UK flights back to Britain and ended up in Heathrow rather than London City airport. So, I was pleased to get a mailshot from Tony Comacho, the airline's marketing director, stepping up flights between Amsterdam and the Docklands airport - an extra flight each weekday.

But there is a catch: "In order to increase our services to Amsterdam, we will unfortunately have to cease operation of our London City-Manchester service." This is a curious twist of logic. There are, at present, four flights a day between London City and Manchester, using small, propeller planes. These are to be swapped for a single jet flight to Amsterdam - exactly the same distance away.

Today, KLM UK abandons its Stansted-Aberdeen service; other routes to be cut when the summer schedules end in October are Aberdeen-Stavanger, Jersey-Stansted, and Stansted-Rome. The background to these cuts is the savage competition that KLM UK has faced from the no-frills operators Go and Ryanair, both based at Stansted, and easyJet of Luton. KLM UK seems intent on scaling back its traditional domestic routes and becoming a "feeder" for its parent company in Amsterdam.

n "FREE PRE-ALLOCATED seats", promises Britain's newest holiday company, JMC. The company - in reality a rebranding of Thomas Cook's tour operations - is promising that "you can pre-book your seats, at no extra cost, on flights departing from 1 April 2000".

This is a service that many scheduled airlines have offered for years. Since carriers know months ahead which type of aircraft is to operate each route, there is no great obstacle to telling passengers when they book which seats they will be occupying. Anyone booking with one of the big US airlines can expect to be told where they will sit on board up to 11 months in advance.

If you surmise from JMC's campaign that you can expect such comforting certainty, you will be disappointed. It turns out that the business of "pre-allocating" seats is carried out by someone just two days before departure, juggling aircraft plans to try to ensure that families sit together. JMC says that its definition of "together" can mean people sitting across an aisle or in the row behind.

And the rest of the small print: "On each flight, normally, 75 per cent of seats are available to be pre-allocated ... the offer applies to selected airlines and is subject to availability."

n EXCLUSION CLAUSE of the month: the small print on page seven of Martin Randall Travel's brochure reveals that the recent controversy on upper- age limits for holidaymakers has spread to the field of upmarket cultural travel.

"We regret that applications from people in their eighties will not be accepted," it reads. "We know this is a harsh and somewhat arbitrary rule, and it pains us to have to implement it. We know there are many octogenarians who are perfectly fit enough to cope with our tours, but our experience has forced us to the conclusion that the rule is necessary."

Anyone in their eighties who feels aggrieved by this rule could wait until their 90th birthday; the clause does not appear to exclude those older than 89.

Simon Calder welcomes a response from the companies mentioned here, and readers' comments about other tangled terms and conditions. Write to `Big deals, small print', Travel, The Independent on Sunday, One Canada Square, London E14 5DL; or e-mail travel@ independent.co.uk; or fax 0171- 293 2182.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz