Travel clinic: Your questions answered

It's been a rough year for travel, and people are understandably worried about issues such as the Icelandic volcano and striking workers. In this video Bob Atkinson answers questions put to us by the public and gives his expert advice on the problems affecting us all...

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Bob Atkinson: You know, in 2010 I don’t think travel has been out of the news probably any week so far! If it wasn’t snow at the beginning of the year grounding flights or stopping trains from going through the tunnel to France, we’ve had volcanic ash clouds grounding flights all over the place and we’ve also got British Airways strikes.

All those things are very negative things, making people seem maybe concerned about their plans for half term and the summer holidays coming up.

So this week I sent the team out to the historic city of Chester to find out what’s on peoples minds as they plan their holidays!

Q1: Well thanks for talking to us Bob! We’re really concerned with what’s happening to the Euro versus the Pound, as we’ve booked our holiday a year ago when the Euro was a lot better against the Pound than it is now?
 
BA: Rates of exchange are always a concern for all of us when we travel away, and over this last year the exchange rate between the Pound and the Euro really has bounced around. It’s been as low as £1 to the Euro, and as high as something like 1.17-1.18 Euros to the Pound.

As we record today (27.05.2010), we’re looking at 1.12-1.13 Euros to the Pound, so that’s actually fairly good, but what I would always advise anybody to do is to keep an eye on the rate and if you see it dropping try and get in and buy if you can afford to do so.

Where you buy your currency can make a massive difference – it can save you up to 10% overall. Generally, buy your currency online and buy your prepaid cards online as well, because that’s where you get the best rates of exchange.

Q2: Hi Bob! We’re not going away this summer. I’ve got two children, one’s 12, one’s 6, and we are going to be at home. So, I just wanted to know what we can do to keep the children amused – especially if the weather is bad - that’s not going to cost us a fortune. Any help you could give me would be gratefully received. Thank you.

BA: Now with school holidays coming up I think it’s a great question to say ‘what are we going to do with the children over the summer', especially if you have decided not to go away on holiday.

There is a whole range of stuff you can do in terms of day trips, and I know our question has come from the North West / the Chester base, so we are probably looking for things to do locally, but it gives you a flavour of the types of offers that are out there.

We have a whole voucher channel at moneysupermarket.com which gives you a range of offers. So, we have got things like Alton Towers [Resort], where two people can go for the price of one, for a themed day out there - those ticket prices can be quite expensive -so getting that affect of 50% off is a really, really good deal and helps you save money.

On top of that don’t just think of the places you are going to go, also think about how you are going to eat when you’re out. A lot of places can now get vouchers that give you discounts off food – especially families – where kids might eat free or two for one on everything from pizzas to burgers to a whole range of restaurants locally.

So, if you are trying to think of things to do, check out the vouchers channel, look for the various offers where ever you are in the country and you can then enjoy days out but at a fraction of the price that you would pay just by pitching up.                                    

Q3: Hi Bob, I’m heading off to mainland Spain in a few weeks and I was just wondering whether this ash cloud is going to affect my travel plans?

BA: Now, the whole ash thing! Will ash come back or is that it for this year, who really knows? From the travel industries perspective, the most important thing is that the different tour companies and airlines have a right to look after you should anything go wrong.

So if you’re already away on your holiday tour operators will put you up in accommodation, they’ll look after you throughout, and the airlines also have a right of responsibility to actually look after your welfare as well, so no need to worry about that if you’re away, they should look after you.

If the ash stops you from going away then obviously what you need to be doing is be keeping in touch with your airline and your tour operator and also the airport to check what flights are operating and what are not, and the best way to do that is online but keeping an eye on the news. Then you can plan accordingly and take it from there depending what happens.
If you find you’re holiday just can’t go ahead, you will be entitled to a full refund from your airline or tour operator, so one thing you can be sure of is you shouldn’t be out of pocket from that perspective.

Q4: Hi Bob, just wondering how I can go on holiday – as a recent graduate with no money, where’s the best place to go?

BA: Now Budget is always something that is on a lot of people’s minds, especially when they’re trying to get the most for their money or maybe people are on limited incomes.

What we’ve seen in recent days is loads and loads of cheap deals to places like Greece. Now, Greece is having a few problems of it’s own from an economic point of view, so because of that demand is massively down. But we’ve seen prices like £79, £89, £99 for a weeks self-catering in destinations like Greece, so even for people who are really travelling on a budget, you can easily go away and enjoy yourself with about a £150 spending money and have a really great holiday on a limited budget.

Q5: Hi Bob, we are worried about getting our money back if our flight is cancelled. What’s going to happen?

BA: Now when your flights are cancelled there could be a range of reasons why that is: it could be that the airline just isn’t going to operate now that day for technical reasons, it could be for things like the ash cloud, where every airline is grounded or it could be down to things like strike action – as we have seen with British Airways.

And in different circumstances, different kinds of rules will apply. As far as the ash cloud is concerned every passenger is covered under EU regulations and you are entitled to a whole range of benefits and alternative arrangements for your airline. So, you should always check those out if it’s that kind of circumstance.

The same would apply if the airline cancels your flight for, say, operational reasons or technical reasons; you are entitled to things like accommodation and refreshments as well as being taken to your final destination by the airline. So, again they should provide details of that at the point of check in or at the airport as appropriate.

When strikes come into it though the EU regulations don’t apply, so you are really down to what the airline is going to offer you, and British Airways has been either giving people alternatives –either with themselves or with other carriers – or they have been offering full refunds and that’s fine because you get your flight price back, but if you have booked other accommodation as well, say some hotels or car hire or a tour, then you are not going to get anything back from your airline there – British Airways in a strike situation – that’s when you need a good travel insurance policy, and all the major travel insurance policies will cover you for strike effects, as long as you took the policy out before the strike was mentioned.

So, you should be fine and you should get your money back, which means that you could then book another trip at a time to suit you when you have got that time available.

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