Cash-strapped Brits eager to escape the depressing economic headlines are being hit by the menace of surcharges right where it hurts most – on their well-earned getaway.
Surcharges – extra costs added on to the price of a flight or package holiday – could mean the difference between a week on the Riviera or a wet weekend in Rotherham.
And one couple say they were forced to cancel their dream cruise after being hit by an £892 fuel surcharge for the trip.
Ron and Gwenda Bennett lost their £900 deposit on the £9,000 Mediterranean holiday they booked a year ago, due to start in September.
Travel firm Voyages Of Discovery blamed the surcharge on rising fuel costs and said it had followed industry rules set by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).
It said the couple were not entitled to a refund of their deposit on the 28-day Grand Mediterranean Odyssey because the surcharge was £8 less than 10% of the total cost.
But 69-year-old Mrs Bennett, from Verwood, Dorset, said: ‘It was quite expensive to start with, but with everything going up so much over the last 12 months we found it more and more difficult to rake the money together. The extra £892 was a bitter blow.’
Mr Bennett, 79, said: ‘The company blamed the cost of oil and the weakening of the pound against the dollar. We cancelled out of principle because the surcharges have been calculated so closely under the 10%.
‘We’d rather lose our deposit than pay the extra money.’
He added: ‘We are regular cruise passengers and we’ve never had this problem before. This is the first time we booked through them and it will be the last.’
While legally there is no limit to what a company can add as a surcharge, ABTA members must ‘absorb’ an amount of the increase equal to 2% of the holiday cost.
And under the association’s regulations, if the surcharge is more than 10%of the value of the holiday, the operator must give customers the opportunity to cancel, without losing their deposit.
Mr and Mrs Bennett were offered a shorter trip or a smaller cabin on the 28-day sailing, which takes in Lisbon, Rome, Venice and Croatia. Mr Bennett added: ‘They made a suggestion that we downgrade our cabin to offset the cost of the surcharge – I can’t believe they would be so cheeky – I didn’t even entertain the idea.’
Cruise line managing director David Yellow denied the firm was profiteering and said he could not help ‘a worldwide problem’.
He said: ‘It was purely random. The fact that the fuel surcharge came to 9.92% in the case of the Bennetts’ was pure coincidence. It was not calculated. The actual surcharge is looked at for each cruise at the time our final invoice is sent out 12 weeks before departure, when the current cost of fuel is compared to the cost of fuel at the time the prices were set.
‘Once this amount is set, the surcharge is applied to each booking less an amount equivalent to 2% of the total holiday price. This means that the subsidy is different for each grade of cabin booked.’