Consumer: Calls to stop holiday car-hire rogues

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UK holidaymakers to spain can become victims of rip-off car hire charges and unfair policies. but help may soon be at hand.

British and Spanish consumer watchdogs have called on car hire companies to end unexpected charges and unfair fuel policies, after a poll found almost three quarters of tourists believed they had been “ripped off”.

Consumer campaign group Which? said many tourists to Spain were getting a raw deal, and the Spanish group Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU) said unlawful practices by car hire companies were damaging the image of the country as a holiday destination.

Which? said confusing policies meant holidaymakers were often hit with additional, non-refundable charges for fuel that were not always clear at the time of booking or buried in the small print.

It cited the full-empty policy, where hirers can find themselves forced to pay for a full tank of petrol on arrival, They can also but are not offered refunds for returning the car with unused fuel. They can also be forced to pay a fuel price that is higher than at local garages.

Some six in 10 members who booked a car with a full-empty policy said it was the only option available to them.

The watchdog said tourists could find there was little chance of using a full tank, especially on the small Spanish islands, and estimated that someone hiring a Fiat 500 would have to drive the 80 mile round trip from Palma airport to Port de Pollenca on the other side of Mallorca nearly seven times to get their money’s worth.

Spain is the most popular foreign destination for British holidaymakers, and a fifth of Which? members who hired a car on holiday did so there, making it the second most popular car hire destination behind the UK.

Which? found a number of companies did offer a “fair” fuel policy, such as Alamo, Enterprise and Autoreisen.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “There can be few things guaranteed to ruin your holiday quicker than finding surprise charges and fuel costs unfairly added to your car hire bill.

“We want an end to this holiday rip-off, with car hire companies totally up-front about all charges, so people know exactly what they will pay when they book.”

OCU spokeswoman Ileana Izverniceanu said: “We hope that Spanish authorities investigate and punish all rental car companies which engage in unlawful practices.

“This behaviour damages consumers’ rights and the image of Spain as a holiday destination.”

Which? said it and OCU would be asking Spanish consumer authorities to take action to protect all consumers from unfair fuel policies and had already shared its concerns with the Competition and Markets Authority in the UK.

If the stresses of possible foreign holiday pitfalls are driving you round the bend, you could put away the passport, and join Leeds’s growing army of ‘staycationers’.

Research from the 2014 Travelodge holiday index has found that Leeds is home to a huge number of people who are opting to take their summer break in the UK this year.

Of those questioned in the city, 82 percent are holidaying at home. The national average is 74 percent.

City breaks were the favourite type of break for Leeds holidaymakers, with the Lake District the top ‘staycation’ destination.

The average staycation costs Britons £430.33 - an increase of £31.05 from last year. The total investment will boost the UK economy by £15bn - up £3.2bn from 2013.

The top destinations for people in Leeds were: York, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, London and Edinburgh

Peter Gowers, Travelodge chief executive, said: “2014 looks like being the year of the staycation. More of us than ever before are being inspired to get up and go and explore what Britain has to offer. We’re seeing particularly strong demand from families and couples having multiple short breaks rather than the traditional fortnight. More than ever, we’re all looking for great value and finding it here in the UK.”

Travelodge has published a Get Up & Go Guide, available at: www.travelodge.co.uk/getupandgoguide

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