Plus: top tips for a Lake Como break; booking fee shock; flight-change refund battle
Q My husband and I would like to spend about a week in Ecuador, doing some of the travelling by train, and then have a few days visiting the Galapagos islands. I suffer from motion sickness so would like a land-based trip, although I can cope with a boat during the day. We also like travelling in a group. What can you suggest and when is the best time of year to visit?
Wendy Ferguson, via email
A Land-based options in the Galapagos have become increasingly popular in the past few years, with more high-end properties offering wildlife experiences and activities, and if you go between January and May, when the seas are warmer and calmer, boat excursions should be more comfortable.
Journey Latin America (020 8747 8315, journeylatinamerica.co.uk)has a group tour (Ecuador’s Highlands and Galapagos) that includes the famous Devil’s Nose train ride and visits to indigenous markets on the mainland before travelling to the islands. It normally includes a cruise, but this can be substituted by a four-day itinerary (leaving behind the group) on Santa Cruz island. A 12-day holiday would start at £2,441pp, including domestic flights to and from the Galapagos, good-quality accommodation, transfers, excursions and breakfast daily. International flights are extra.
Alternatively, Explore (01252 883223, explore.co.uk) has a land-based 15-day Volcanoes and Galapagos group tour in May, with a week exploring the Ecuadorean mainland, followed by stays in the Galapagos in hotels on Santa Cruz and Isabela islands. Prices start at £4,199pp, including all flights.
Q We have been invited to a wedding at the beginning of July near Lake Como with our two children, aged 8 and 15. Should we stay longer in Lake Como after the wedding, or would you advise going somewhere else in Italy to make up the rest of the holiday? Our budget would be up to £10,000.
Lisa Ferrara, via email
A The lakes region is one of most beautiful places in Italy and a brilliant spot for a family holiday, with plenty of outdoor activities, lakefront beaches, promenades and villages to explore. Head to Bellano and Dervio for beaches and lidos, there’s a windsurfing centre in Domaso, and attractions within easy driving distance (hire a small car to cope with the narrow roads) include Jungle Raider Park, a highly rated theme park and adventure playground with a huge obstacle course in a forest setting.
You could also spend a leisurely day criss-crossing the lake by ferry or paddle steamer. Menaggio, halfway up the lake, would make a good base — water skiing, mountain biking and horse riding are offered — and if you stay in the Grand Hotel Menaggio (grandhotelmenaggio.com), you can swim in its heated lakefront pool. B&B in lakefront double rooms with a balcony (don’t book anything less) start at £233 a night in July.
Q I booked a cottage online through Owners Direct. A three-night stay cost £222 and I had to pay a fee to Owners Direct of £21.68 to secure the booking. I was then redirected to a new site, Sykes Cottages, which thanked me for the booking and asked me to pay it £222 for the cottage, which included its own booking fee of £39. Is this right? Nowhere was I informed that two fees were payable.
Jeffrey McCann, via email
A There was no mistake. Owners Direct started to charge booking fees of between 4 and 8 per cent of the rental cost (plus VAT) in June, to the annoyance of property owners, who feel it is “double-dipping” because it is still charging them the same annual fee (£249, plus VAT) to advertise. Unfortunately, the cottage you chose is managed by another holiday letting agency, Sykes Cottages, rather than its owner, and Sykes charges a booking fee that’s included in the property price.
You should have booked directly with Sykes and saved the £21.68, and in future might consider using the Owners Direct site as a search tool and then book elsewhere.
Don’t put up with this: Email with flight change never reached us
In January I booked a holiday with Expedia to Sorrento in Italy that included flights with Thomas Cook Airlines. It cost £2,584. We arrived at Manchester airport for our flight at 2.50pm, only to be told that plane had gone at 7am. We were then told that the airline had sent us an email in February advising us of the amended flight time. We didn’t receive this. We salvaged something of the holiday by getting a flight the next morning with Monarch, which cost £370, but were not able to use the airport lounge we had booked for £38 and we lost a day’s stay at the hotel (£250). Thomas Cook and Expedia have rejected my claim for a refund, although Expedia has credited my account with £100.
Andrew Edmonson, via email
An Expedia spokesman told me that the email notification about the flight change would normally have been sent by the airline, “which is why we originally referred Mr Edmonson to Thomas Cook Airlines”. After my intervention it asked Thomas Cook to look at your case again — and you now have a £658 refund because the airline agreed that the email didn’t reach you. Its spokesman said: “We’re extremely sorry and take responsibility for the miscommunication. We have contacted the customer and resolved this situation to his satisfaction.”
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