When holiday operators go bust…

The failure of travel operator Goldtrail Travel Ltd has brought forth the usual platitudes from the travel trade that consumers need not worry about money paid over to the company as they will be fully reimbursed by either of the ABTA or ATOL operators insurance bonds.

Which is nice.

Hopefully.

Nice is not the experience I had when dealing with the ATOL bond scheme some years ago after an airline had collapsed and I had four tickets to travel with them. It must have been very close to the departure date when the company failed as I had actually been sent the flight-only tickets, our holiday to Spain was cancelled, the hotel fortunately wasn’t a problem as my dad knew the owner and was able to simply move the booking to a future date – and so we submitted our claim to the insurance company who were dealing with the refunds.

Many weeks later we received a letter from a loss adjuster acting on our claim to inform us that our claim had not been admitted as they had no proof that we had ever booked the flight, they finished the letter by reminding us that we had ninety days in which to re-submit or lose the opportunity to be included in the refund scheme.

Not a problem thought I, for fortunately we had the actual flight tickets, which as everyone knows are never issued until just before the departure date and certainly never issued until you have paid for them, I wrote a slightly sarcastic letter back to them enclosing a photocopy of all of the tickets so that they could trace the serial numbers and come to realise that yes, we had paid for them after all.

Some time later another letter arrived, photocopies were no good they said, we must return the originals they said, and by the way they said, your claim is still not admitted and you now have only seventy days to provide the evidence needed.

A slightly more sarcastic letter was sent with the original tickets and I sat back and waited for our £1000 refund so that we could rebook some more flights.

Some time later another letter arrived, they had received our tickets but could find no proof that we had ever paid for them, and by the way, you now have only fifty days in which to submit your claim.

My dad had paid for them at a local travel agent by cheque but he now lived in Spain, fortunately I had a key to his house in Leeds and found the relevant bank statement – I posted it to the insurance loss adjuster with a letter that was admittedly even more sarcastic, something along the lines of  “When was the last time you ever heard of an airline issuing tickets before they had been paid for…”

Some time later a reply arrived, they still did not accept the bank statements as proof that the airline had been paid for as the cheque payment was to the travel agent, I would have to go to the travel agent and ask for copies of their bank statements showing our payment going in and their payment going out to the airline. Fortunately again my father knew the travel agent well, he booked lots of flights per year and always used the same independent owner-operated agency, I spoke to the owner and he kindly agreed to provide the documents to the insurer although he admitted that it was the first time ever in his experience that anyone had been asked for such evidence – obviously the loss adjuster thought I was a bad’un.

Another reply arrived from the insurer, something on the lines that they were considering our claim but it had not yet been admitted, and by the way we now only had twenty days left in which to have it accepted.

I sat down and got my head together in preparation for one of my famous “fook off” letters – I don’t get to write them very often but when I worked in the building industry I got to be our company expert at drafting letters with a subtext of  “You are wrong, we are right, now stop fooking us about and give us the fooking money”.

It worked, we finally had our claim admitted with just days before their own self-imposed deadline and eventually the money was refunded back to my father, we rebooked the flights and the holiday was finally taken nearly a year after it was supposed to have happened.

There is talk in the press of the Goldtrail claims taking “up to a year” to settle and frankly that would not surprise me, which isn’t quite the same thing that most people expect when they book holidays and flights safe in the knowledge that its ABTA or ATOL guaranteed, yes your money is bonded, but you’ll struggle to get it back in time for you to use it to quickly re-book another holiday.

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