Two-thirds of consumers who received vouchers for experiences – such as short trips, afternoon teas and theatre shows – had issues redeeming their gift, new Which? research has found.
Experience vouchers are popular gifts but new Which? research has found that redeeming these vouchers is leaving some consumers with an experience they would rather forget.
A Which? survey of 2,000 UK adults found that two-thirds of people (66%) who used an experience voucher in the past two years had issues redeeming it. One in seven (15%) said there were no times available when they went to book, and one in eight (12%) found that their voucher was not accepted or valid.
Of those that have not yet used their voucher, one in six (16%) said they had been unable to book the experience on a suitable date.
Jane Cantor received a voucher for a steam train experience, purchased from Virgin Experience Days, as a wedding gift. She tried to redeem the voucher, but was told that there were no seats available for 18 months.
The operator said she needed to take it up with Virgin, but she struggled to resolve the issue, describing Virgin’s chatbot as “useless”. Jane ended up paying £20 to extend the expiry date of the voucher.
She then decided to pay a further £20 to exchange her voucher for another train ride with a different company only to find there was no availability for this experience either. Not wanting to waste the voucher, Jane paid another £20 to swap to another treat for an overnight stay away. By this point, Jane was left £60 out-of-pocket for her gift.
Virgin Experience Days told Which? that the steam train operator Jane initially booked through was removed from its site in January 2023 due to restricted availability. It apologised and refunded Jane in full, including extension costs.
Jane is not alone in having to pay extra to use her voucher. One in five (18%) who used a voucher in the past two years said this only partly covered their experience. On average, these participants had to pay an extra £21.40 to enjoy their gift.
Which?’s survey also uncovered other frustrations with the booking process. One in six (17%) said they had to rebook their experience after their booking was cancelled by the supplier, while one in seven (14%) did not get confirmation emails after they redeemed their voucher. Having finally booked onto their experience, one in eight (13%) said that they were disappointed to find the experience did not match its description.
Sam Harrison bought his wife a HelloFresh voucher from Buy a Gift for Christmas, but the code would not work. He said: “I kept chasing Buy a Gift for a new code with no success.”
Sam eventually received a refund, but almost three months later. Buy a Gift apologised and said it fixes voucher issues as a priority. HelloFresh said that there was no technical issue with the code and reissued a new one as a gesture of goodwill.
Resolving issues with a voucher experience is not always straightforward. Once consumers have booked their experience, they are normally bound by the terms and conditions of both the voucher company and the experience provider, so they will need to read both sets of terms and conditions if they run into any issues.
If people are considering buying an experience voucher, then it is well worth checking that the experience provider definitely still accepts the vouchers and is not fully booked for months on end before purchase. If it is a gift, then it is also worth clarifying with the experience provider that the recipient will not be expected to pay any additional costs or take time off work to fit around inconvenient time restrictions.
Most voucher companies allow refunds on unused vouchers within 30 days of purchase, so it is worth passing this information on to gift recipients. Vouchers can also usually be extended for a small fee if they get forgotten about in an inbox or left in a drawer.
Lisa Webb, Which? Consumer Law Expert, said:
“Many of us will have bought experience vouchers as gifts for hard-to-buy for friends and family – so it’s really worrying to hear that so many are having issues redeeming them.
“If you’re considering buying an experience voucher, it’s well worth checking that the experience provider is not fully booked for months on end before you buy. It’s also worth clarifying with the experience provider that the recipient will not be expected to pay any additional costs or take time off work to fit around inconvenient time restrictions.
“Companies need to do everything they can to ensure all their customers are able to book the experience they want at a time that works for them – without incurring any unnecessary additional costs.”
Notes to editors
The survey was conducted by Opinium on behalf of Which?. The survey was conducted April 2023 with a panel of 2,000 UK adults.
Right of replies
Virgin Experience Days said: “We do not recognise Which?’s survey as reflective of the Virgin Experience Days’ customer experience. Millions of customers have enjoyed experiences booked with Virgin Experience Days and in the rare occurrence customers have cause to contact us, our customer service satisfaction score, measured on each interaction, is above 85%.
“Booking through Virgin Experience Days offers customers unrivalled choice of 3,500 experiences, many of which are exclusive to us. Experiences are the perfect gift to create unforgettable memories with loved ones. Not only that, but they can be flexible with long lasting validity periods across a range of experiences and offer the recipient the chance to exchange at no cost, benefits not typically available when booking direct.
“Customers can get in touch with our customer services team either by email, WhatsApp, social media or live chat, where we will assist with any questions. Should an experience become unavailable for any reason, we will offer to extend the validity period of a customer’s voucher free of charge, or exchange it for another experience of the customer’s choice.
“We do our upmost to offer flexibility across all our vouchers, which can be exchanged at any point during the validity period and extensions are available for vouchers falling three months either side of the expiry date.”
A Buy a Gift spokesperson said: “We are very sorry to learn that some of our customers have experienced issues using their vouchers and any inconvenience this has caused them, the cases highlighted to us have now all been resolved with our customer services team.
“As a business, it’s of the utmost importance to ensure our customers have the best possible experience with us, and whilst we do everything we can to ensure our customers and recipients of the vouchers have a smooth transaction, we do understand there may be issues from time to time where there is an error or the voucher has been redeemed incorrectly, where this happens we endeavour to help the customer to get this fixed as a priority. Of the small fraction of customers that have faced an issue using a voucher, we have had over 1 million successful redemptions of our vouchers in the past year and an Experience Star Rating of 4.2 out of 5 for all customers who attended an experience.
“We are pleased to offer our customers complete flexibility in taking the experience at a time that is suitable for them, this may mean that our prices differ to the operator’s prices, which may change due to seasonality or availability. Since COVID-19 there has been supply disruption, with some businesses ceasing trading and some significant increases in prices, where there are any issues of the experience being unavailable we endeavour to offer a suitable alternative to the customer. We do advise customers to read the terms and conditions stated clearly on our website for any restrictions using the voucher.”
A Hello Fresh spokesperson said: “We’re really sorry to learn about the problem Sam has had with the HelloFresh code he purchased and the lack of a quicker resolution from HelloFresh and our partners at Buy A Gift. We carried out a full investigation looking into Sam’s concerns. There was no technical reason why the code they purchased from Buy A Gift did not work, it was a legitimate code, provided by HelloFresh and was fully valid for the month of January. We have had no other complaints of a similar nature but will follow up internally to investigate further.
“Upon exhausting all solutions available to our customer agent at the time they suggested contacting Buy A Gift and to eventually follow up with HelloFresh. We are pleased that Buy A Gift was able to offer a refund. As a gesture of goodwill we have reissued Sam with a new code and have organised for one of our agents to ensure the voucher is applied to their account.
“We have started a review of our internal processes and customer agent training to make sure customers like Mr. Harrison will receive urgent support in case an incident like this one happens again.”
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