Wendy Morgan felt abandoned when she was unable to obtain a full refund for a Greek holiday that was unexpectedly cancelled just hours before her party was due to board the plane.
The 49-year-old Southsea shop assistant was looking forward to flying to Corfu from Luton on October 9 for a week’s relaxing break in the sun to celebrate her family friend Jayne Hatton’s 50th birthday.
Together with another friend, Sarah Gilbert 44, and their 10-year-old girls Molly and Mia, it was to be their first foreign holiday together in 10 years.
They’d booked the package deal to Greece with Holiday Republic, an online agency specialising in matching up bargain basement holidays with package tour operators.
Wendy booked the trip for the group and paid the firm £1,131.12 up front with her Barclaycard to ensure they’d have no hassle getting a refund if anything went wrong.
But with bags fully packed and just 24 hours before setting off for Luton airport, disaster struck. A devastated Wendy received a text from EasyJet to say their outbound flight had been cancelled due to a four-day air traffic control strike at Corfu airport.
Wendy said: ‘Most people get stranded abroad, but with us it was the other way round. My heart sank when I got the text and I thought ‘‘oh my God, what do we do?’
‘When I got on to EasyJet, they said because we hadn’t booked with them we’d have to go back to our travel provider, Travel Republic.
‘They said they’d have to check it out and contact the hotel. They promised to ring back, which they never did.
‘So I got back on to EasyJet, who told me they’d already refunded Travel Republic but the next available flight to Corfu wouldn’t be until the following Wednesday, which meant we’d miss most of our holiday.
‘I wanted help and guidance from Travel Republic about rebooking the holiday, but they just weren’t interested.
‘At no time did they tell me that, if the accommodation and return flight was cancelled, we couldn’t get our money back.’
Wendy first turned to the firm’s travel insurance, but discovered the excess penalties of £160 plus a further £160 per person was so onerous a claim was out of the question.
She said that, after a bit of chivvying, the firm agreed to refund the outward flight and taxi transfer charges to their hotel.
They also sent her an e-mail, pointing out the ‘small print’ warning at the very bottom of the company website that, because the firm didn’t provide holidays direct to the public, they weren’t responsible if any part of the holiday came unstuck or failed come up to scratch.
Wendy hadn’t noticed that, by booking with the firm, they’d effectively given up all their holiday protection rights under the Package Travel Regulations.
The EU-wide measure ensures holidaymakers aren’t given short shrift if any element of their holiday package comes unstuck.
Wendy added: ‘To tell you the truth, when we actually booked it we didn’t realise they weren’t a normal travel agent. We were probably naïve, but we saw they were members of ABTA and had an ATOL licence so were reassured.’
As a last resort, Wendy applied to her bank for a refund. Barclays turned down her request claiming there was a lack of evidence, but didn’t specify precisely what was required.
Not knowing which way to turn, Wendy believed she’d just have to accept writing off more than £800 to the experience.
Then her friend Jayne, who works at Lakeside where The News is based, was told about Streetwise and got in touch to see if we could help.
We couldn’t immediately see any way Wendy could be extricated from the hole she was in. She clearly didn’t recognise the significance of what she’d signed up to with Travel Republic.
But we were unhappy with the reply she’d received from the bank and asked Barclays for an explanation.
The bank was clearly sympathetic.
As a gesture of goodwill they immediately agreed to refund the outstanding cost of the hotel and return flight.
A Barclaycard spokesperson said: ‘Unfortunately, the terms and conditions of Mrs Morgan’s booking stipulated that neither the travel agent nor service providers would cover the cost of late cancellation of any part of her trip, even should her outbound flight be delayed.
‘This means that she is not eligible for a refund of the hotel she had booked, nor the return flight.
‘However, due to the circumstances of her situation, on this occasion we are providing a goodwill gesture equal to the outstanding amount of £836.35.
‘We strongly advise customers to check the booking conditions on any holiday travel they make, so as to ensure they fully understand their rights to cancel or change their plans, should the need arise.’
Wendy confessed she’d given up hope they’d ever see their money again.
She said: ‘If it wasn’t for Streetwise, we’d be really struggling to save up for another holiday.
‘It was looking really bad for us, so it’s more than we expected.
We all can’t thank you enough for helping us with this matter.’