CONSUMER: Portugal cruise holiday turned into a nightmare for Portsmouth pensioner

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Portsmouth pensioner Trudy Bishop was left angry and ignored after she complained about a Saga combined stay and river cruise holiday that didn’t come up to scratch.

She was looking forward to sharing a relaxing 10-day break in Portugal with her best friend Mary.

They each paid Saga £1,434, and couldn’t wait for the holiday experience.

They were to stay in lively Lisbon for three days then cruise through the beautiful Douro Valley, one of the world’s oldest wine-producing regions.

They set off in mid-March, but the prospect of an idyllic, enjoyable trip soon faded when they found the cruise element of their break had been unexpectedly cancelled.

Trudy, 73, said: ‘I’d been on Saga holidays before and this was going to be my fourth river cruise.

‘I’d booked to go on this cruise in 2015 with my husband, but sadly he died and we had to cancel it.

‘My friend Mary knew I really wanted to do it so she suggested last year we go ahead and we booked it, last June.

‘Everything seemed to be fine and I said to her “they’re brilliant” because we’d previously always been so well looked after, but this time they let us down.

‘The Wednesday night before we were due to go on the cruise we had a note slipped under our hotel door inviting us to meet the holiday rep in the bar.

‘He gave us a piece of paper presumably from Saga which said it was likely we weren’t going to sail, but by the end of the week it should be okay.

‘We’d be compensated £30 for any day we didn’t sail, but there was nothing about a cancellation.

‘It wasn’t until we got to the ship and met those who didn’t go to Lisbon that we learned there wasn’t going to be a river cruise and we weren’t going to sail.’

Once the pair settled in on board they discovered that people who’d just opted for the cruise had been contacted the day before with an offer to cancel and a full refund.

They voiced their concerns to the Saga courier explaining they’d like the same opportunity to call the remainder of the trip off and go home, but the request fell on deaf ears.

They were shown to a tiny cabin where the blinds were perpetually drawn because they were between two boats.

Their only view was the other boats which also had drawn blinds so they ended up finding their way around a dark cabin with no daylight for most of the time they were on board.

A revised itinerary was quickly put into place. Nightly hotel stopovers and daily coach excursions to local places of interest were organised.

To their surprise, the boat finally slipped its moorings at 6am on the final day to take them for a short ride up the river and back.

On their return home the hacked off pair got together and posted a series of six recorded delivery letters to Saga to complain they hadn’t got what they’d paid for.

‘I didn’t sign up for a coach tour,’ Trudy said. ‘I signed up to sail down the river Douro. I sent six letters in total to Saga but, although they were signed for, they were all ignored.

‘I then made a complaint to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and was told to expect a reply within 21 days.

Almost six weeks later, a frustrated Trudy realised she was getting nowhere fast until she finally emailed Streetwise and asked for advice.

The former hygiene consultancy director emailed us with meticulously kept details of the original advertised itinerary and carefully kept notes about their holiday experience with dates, photographs, and locations.

It was a textbook example of how to assemble relevant evidence to support a holiday complaint.

We looked the paperwork over and quickly came to the conclusion there was a significant diversity from what Saga originally offered them and what they’d received.

We also took into account that holiday contracts were considered a little bit special in law.

Essentially what was being offered was a travel experience which, if compromised, could amount to a substantial breach of contract.

We put the issues to Saga who readily agreed to investigate.

Within a few days the firm were commendably candid when they accepted Trudy’s complaint hadn’t been handled at all well.

A spokesperson said: ‘Thank you for sending through details of Mrs Bishop’s complaint.

‘Having had the opportunity to look into the circumstances, we agree that Mrs Bishop’s enquiries should have been handled differently.

‘We have apologised to Mrs Bishop and she has accepted the refund offered.’

Trudy said she was pleased to have had her complaint acknowledged and thanked Streetwise for helping get the matter sorted.