A leading holiday company has been selling packages with flights to the Greek island of Kefalonia, but with accommodation located 400 miles away on an island on the far side of the country.
Pauline Linger from Harlow, who works in retail, booked a trip with her partner, Andy Parker to Kefalonia. The holiday with Lastminute.com cost £945, including flights from Stansted on Ryanair.
On the ATOL certificate, Lastminute.com told them they had booked a “Flight and Hotel Package to Kefalonia for 7 nights”. But as she studied the details of the hotel she had booked, she was alarmed to read: “With a stay at Skala Hotel, you’ll be centrally located in Patmos.”
Patmos is close to the Turkish coast on the far east of the country, while Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian islands at the extreme west of Greece.
The journey between them is more than 400 miles, and involves two ferry voyages and a long drive. Sailing schedules make the trip long and arduous, taking three days or more.
When Ms Linger realised the nature of the package holiday they had booked, she immediately phoned the company. She says that call-centre staff told her: “You knew the deal, you clicked on it. Ma’am, you’re going to that hotel.”
Ms Linger told the story on ITV’s This Morning. She said that in another conversation, Lastminute.com’s call centre told her that no one would contact her until 48 hours before departure. She was left in tears because of the lack of care.
When The Independent intervened, the online travel company promised a full refund to the couple. But a day after The Independent alerted the company to the problem, it continued to sell packages involving flights to Kefalonia with beds at a dozen different properties on Patmos – including the three-star Skala Hotel where Ms Linger was booked.
The company invites customers to choose their destination, then to select from a list of accommodation options. Lastminute.com was selling packages comprising flights to Kefalonia and accommodation in at least a dozen hotels on Patmos.
Lastminute.com, which is part of a Swiss travel firm, blamed a “technical issue” and said the firm “would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused” and also for “the poor handling of the two initial calls”.
A spokesperson for the online travel agent told The Independent: “As customers are at the heart of our business and their satisfaction is the number one priority to us, our Senior Customer Care Team have since been in touch with the customer to explain why this happened and offered a full refund.”
The firm said it could take two weeks to return the money.
A spokesperson for Abta, the travel association, said: “It’s perfectly reasonable to expect your hotel to be close to the airport and not to have to trek halfway across the Med.”
Kefalonia is the setting for Louis de Bernières' novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Patmos has an even stronger literary claim, being the location where the Bible’s Book of Revelation was written.
Pauline Kimber and Andy Parker bought transfers for the journey from the airport to their hotel for just £20 per person each way – remarkable value considering the journey involved from Kefalonia to Patmos.
From the airport, they would need to travel to the port of Poros, and wait overnight for the first ferry to Kyllini on the mainland. There follows a long trek across the Peloponnese to Athens and the port of Piraeus, where another overnight stay is needed before the first available sailing on Blue Star, on Wednesday evening.
Following an eight-hour overnight ferry trip, the couple would have arrived in Patmos in the early hours of Thursday morning, three-and-a-half days after leaving Stansted. They would have less than a day on Patmos before beginning the long journey back to Kefalonia the same evening.
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