herald

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Will holidays with Aer Lingus end in tears or take off?

Like all parents, they consulted the genealogy before naming the child, in case it conjured up the memory of a dodgy ancestor.

"Holidays with Aer Lingus," which launches tomorrow, is carefully designed not to sound like Aer Lingus Holidays, a controversial venture that ended in scandal, huge losses and a court case 25 years ago.

The launch shows how recession has changed everything in the holiday business.

The package holiday, whose funeral note was being sounded, has made a re-entry as the best added-value option for families fed up with paying unexpected extras, and the slanty shamrock has decided that maybe chasing Ryanair is not the only direction the runway is facing.

Holidays with Aer Lingus has already appeared on the website as a button along the bottom row for those looking up their winter holidays.

In fact it is a tie-up with an ambitious new holiday company, Clickandgo. The company was set up to sell many of the properties associated with Budget Travel, supported by Budget Travel founder Gillian Bowler who left earlier this year.

The new company was their response to losing the bidding war for the Budget Holiday brand, which was won by Liam Lonergan of Club Travel.

The link opens up a separate "holiday search" throwing up the sort of low prices that Clickandgo offer on their own website (a week in the BaySide Salgados - Albufeira comes up on November 10 for €192 per person sharing, including flights, accommodation, taxes and charges).

The flight-only price is €16 each way, with taxes and charges bringing the total to €92.10. It means that your holiday is costing €14 a night, not counting the transfer to Albufeira which costs €50 each way by taxi.

Unlike charter operations, the airline's deal with Clickandgo enables holidaymakers to use midweek flights, which are on average 30pc cheaper than the weekend alternative. It can also drop unsold seats into the mix as circumstances change.

Never has booking a holiday been easier.

Aer Lingus Holidays? Understandably no one will want to be reminded about that.

It ended in tears, but it is sometimes forgotten it started in tears as well.

The company traded unfairly, driving rival tour operators out of business and using its relationship with the national flag carrier to freeze out the opposition.

As if that was not bad enough, it was falsifying the accounts. Aer Lingus Holidays was insolvent. It ended up with undisclosed trading losses of £7.2m, property losses of £2m and unaccounted-for borrowings of over £700,000.

In the manner of that era, and precious little has changed, no one was held accountable.

The final chapter in the saga ended eight years later in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, when the trial of two men accused of conspiring to defraud the company collapsed and the men were acquitted. A third, went missing, and died in Spain many years later.

The taxpayer picked up the final bill for the losses, the wind up, of the company, the garda investigation, and the trial.

Hence Aer Lingus took 20 years to even mention the word holiday on their home page.

The move back into the holiday business is not without new dangers. The holiday companies which compete with Clickandgo are also dealing with the national airline and taking seat allocations from them, selling similar product. Their reaction remains to be seen to seeing a rival getting preferential treatment on aerlingus.com. Topflight is even chartering Aer Lingus aircraft on its ski routes this winter.

Aer Lingus will argue this deal is similar to the deal all the major airline websites do with hotel bed banks, travel insurance companies, and car hire operators, as Aer Lingus's existing alliance with Hertz and Ryanair's with booking.com.

The brave new world of aviation means airlines can charge these people for a mention on their home page.

We will all end up paying that charge, ultimately, but at €192 it is worth taking the chance.

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