Consumer Champion: All set to book your next summer holiday? Here's how to avoid those hidden extras
Amidst our current wintry weather there's nothing nicer than sitting down and planning a holiday.
February normally sees a surge in summer bookings.
This week I'm looking at ways to cut down on annoying extras which add to the bill. Put half as much thought into these as you do dreaming about sun and things will go a lot more smoothly.
Booking flights and accommodation separately online can offer better value but bear in mind your consumer rights are not the same as if you book a package through a tour operator or travel agent.
With the latter you have a contract with built-in safeguards if something goes wrong. Book through a bonded agent and you may prefer the peace of mind.
If you want to go it alone then flight delays and cancellations are covered under specific legislation, but generally, you are not entitled to a refund for unused accommodation if you can't fly.
The best bet is to only pay a deposit for hotels so you can amend or cancel a booking if you can't fly.
Watch out for dodgy self-catering sites who copy and paste details of legitimate places but get you to pay upfront. Stick to known operators and talk to the owner directly.
Some useful websites are: www.aviationreg.ie, www.flightrights.ie, www.consumerhelp.ie
Everyone has a cautionary tale about arriving home after an event-free trip only to find a charge on their credit card for unpaid tolls, fines or fees from a hire company.
Before you start only book through well-known car hire firms. A bottom-feeder may be cheaper but you'll pay in other ways.
Find out the cost of the excess (the first bit of a claim you pay). If you see a cheap price, this is probably the reason; the excess may be up to €1,500. Another company may cost more but have a lower excess.
Ask what the insurance actually covers (collision damage waiver, theft, personal accident, windscreen and roadside assistance, for example). You may end up paying lots of extras for these otherwise.
What is the fuel policy? Do you leave the car back full or empty? Could you be charged a 'fill up' fee.
Useful site: www.skyscanner.net
Buy annual, multi-trip cover. It always works out cheaper, especially for families. See the table for comparisons for a family of two adults/two children travelling within Europe. Some things to remember:
- Check the excess: is it worth the extra premium not to have one?
- Opt to receive documentation by email: it's cheaper.
- Buy online: it's often discounted compared to buying from an agent. - Compare cover levels: cheaper premiums mean less if your holiday is cancelled or bags are lost.
- Always take the company's emergency number with you - call before you engage in any medical treatment and keep all receipts.
Useful website: www.comparetravelinsuranceireland.com
With the Euro plummeting against Sterling and the Dollar, traveling has got more expensive. Avoid commission charges by buying from post offices or the Credit Union.
Energy bills falling at last... but not by much
Well that only took a year! With oil prices plummeting through the bottom of their barrels it seemed a no-brainer that its derivative products, gas and electricity, would start falling in price too.
But utility companies are taking a mealy-mouthed approach.
First out of the box was Electric Ireland, in fairness, last November.
But its 2.5pc decrease on electricity prices didn't amount to a whole hill of beans.
Bord Gais Energy (now Ervia) in its newly deregulated state has followed suit with 2.5pc but not until March 16 - just when we're cutting back as the spring takes hold.
SSE Airtricity announced a 2pc drop in electricity and 4pc in gas prices, but only from April 1. No, it not a joke, but you'll hardly have the gas on full blast by then.
In reality, the average gas bill of €919 pa will drop by just €35, while electricity, usually €1,206 pa will see a saving of €23.
Across the water, calls from the British government saw provider Ovo introduce a 10.4pc drop this week, while British Gas dropped their prices by 5pc.
It's still a long way off the 19pc drop in wholesale prices, mind you.
But perhaps the Commission on Energy Regulation here will now be pro-active and make sure consumers get the full benefit of lower energy prices passed on - instead of a grudging couple of quid.
Insurance may help you with jury duty
Being called for jury duty is a privilege but for someone serving on a long trial it can create a financial burden.
While the law ensures an employee must continue to be paid by their company, the same is not so for self-employed or seasonal workers.
There are no travel or other expenses such as babysitters covered either. Apart from your lunch being provided it's up to you to foot the bill for serving.
However, many people may not realise that their household insurance policy may make a payout for those called to jury service. Aviva, for example, pays €40 a day, up to €650 maximum.
Liberty pays €25 per day up to €700. Allianz, however, doesn't provide for it at all, so it's definitely worth seeing if your policy does.
If a claim is made, it is usually covered as standard without loss of your no claims bonus.