A WOMAN was slapped with a £900 bill to cancel her Lastminute.com holiday – despite paying extra to avoid cancellation fees.
Cherise Robertson, 22, took out the family holiday giant’s “service package” when she planned her trip to Ibiza earlier this year.
Darren Fletcher – The Sun Cherise paid for a service package but was still asked to pay extra for cancelling
But she was left seething when she tried to cancel the break and was ordered to pay nearly the full cost of her trip.
Furious Cherise – who starts a paediatric nursing course at university in September – said: “It’s absolutely outrageous.
“I only booked the holiday because I saw that Lastminute.com offered the chance to cancel it if you took out its service package.
“At the time I didn’t know if I had a place at uni or not so I needed the flexibility. It seemed ideal.
Alamy Lastminute told Cherise she would have to pay £882.54 to cancel her holiday
“However, when I got my uni place, I realised I wouldn’t be able to go away because I needed to save the money.
“That was when they said it would still cost me nearly £900 if I didn’t go on the holiday.”
Cherise booked the week-long £1,200 trip in February for herself and her boyfriend Josh Galea, 26, leaving on August 28.
She paid £13.78 for the “service package” which touted itself as a “special offer” to cover both herself and Josh.
An email confirmed this would enable the couple to cancel the reservation “for any reason”.
It promised: “You will receive any refund you are entitled to in three working days instead of having to wait for the airline to process and confirm the refund.”
Cherise contacted Lastminute.com on May 15 to make the cancellation – more than three months before she was due to fly.
At that point she was told to pay a fee of £882.54 and was sent an aggressive email which appeared to suggest that this figure would rise if she did not respond immediately.
Alamy Cherise only booked the holiday because she thought she could cancel early
It stated: “This cancellation quote is valid for the next 24 hours”.
Cherise said: “I couldn’t believe it. I paid for a cancellation service and I interpreted this to mean free cancellation.
“Why would anyone take out that package in the first place if it meant they would still be charged fees anyway?
“It’s incredibly sneaky. They’re basically taking an additional £6 from every booking, from customers who are led to believe they’re protecting themselves.
“I wonder how many people this has happened to and how much money they have made from it.”
It is unclear how many of the millions of Brits booking holidays through the Lastminute group would have taken out a similar “service package” in the belief that it would protect them from hefty charges.
The firm’s latest financial report states that it took a staggering 4.5million reservations last year for 8.5million travellers.
If even just 10 per cent of these bookings included a service package, the firm could have raked in more than £2.5million from that initiative alone.
Alamy Lastminute said just because customers buy the service package this doesn’t mean they are not liable for fees
Earlier this year, a consumer watchdog warned that travel firms will have to refund customers fairly if they have to cancel their holiday due to an illness or death in the family.
Holiday companies are currently allowed to charge customers a cancellation fee to cover their losses but the amount must be proportionate.
This means that if a holiday is cancelled last minute, a firm may be able to hold back the costs that it takes to resell the booking.
But some companies withhold large upfront deposits or refuse to hand back any cash – even if they are able to recuperate costs by selling the holiday on.
The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) says that cancellation costs are often not clear enough for consumers who may not realise how much cash they must forfeit when they cancel.
Lastminute.com refused to back down on the cancellation fees it charged Cherise.
It said: “We have investigated the query raised. The Premium service package we offer to our customers is a product that helps customers save money on Lastminute.com service fees, that are applied in case of voluntary booking changes or cancellations.
“The package also includes other services as highlighted on our website.
“We advise customers that this does not mean that customers are not liable to pay any cancellation/change fees applied by the individual service providers including in their booking.
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“Transport providers and/or hotels may still charge additional fees for these services according to the conditions of the fare booked.
“When a customer makes a booking with us, and even if they pay a deposit initially, they are entering into contract with us for the services purchased and as a result are liable to pay the full amount of the package cost on the due date.
“If they choose to voluntarily cancel the booking, they are still liable for the cancellation costs applicable on the full package cost and not just on the part they have paid. “We hope this helps clarify the situation.”
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This week Thomas Cook’s share price took another plunge amid fears the travel company must sell its airline arm to keep afloat.
But the travel firm has reassured holidaymakers it ‘is not going bust’ and ‘holidays are safe’.
Expedia and Booking.com are also under fire for conning customers into booking hotels with fake discounts and pressure tactics.
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