Travel firms should send costly calls packing

Which? is calling on travel companies to hang up on costly calls after we found 70% of travel firms using high rate telephone numbers for customer services or complaints.

The worst offender was airline which charges 60p per minute on an 09 premium rate number for its general enquiries helpline. Airlines including Ryanair, Monarch Airlines, FlyBe, KLM, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa also use 0871 numbers for reservations, complaints or other customer enquiries. We also found 15 of the biggest train operators using 0844 or 0845 numbers for their customer helplines.

Following our investigation of 76 firms, Which? is renewing its calls for travel companies to be subject to the EU Consumer Rights Directive (CRD), which states that customer helplines must be charged at no more than the basic rate. The Government is currently consulting on whether to include travel, timeshare and package travel in the ban.

We believe consumers should not have to pay a premium to make a complaint, or be faced with a high phone bill if they want to speak to a company. The Which? Costly Calls campaign wants all companies to provide a basic rate number for all customer service and complaints telephone lines.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said:

“Going on holiday is meant to be a pleasure but there is nothing fun about being whacked with a costly call. It’s a disgrace that people face bumper bills just to ask a question or make a complaint about their travel booking. The Government should close the loophole that allows travel companies to use costly phone numbers without delay.”

Other findings from our travel investigation include:

·         24 of the 38 airlines we looked at give high rate numbers for customers to call for customer service or to complain.

·       11 ferry companies give 0871, 0872, 0845 or 0843 numbers for customers to call for customer service.

·         Coach firms National Express and Eurolines use 0871 numbers for both customer service or complaints. Green Line also uses an 0844 number for both, while Megabus has an 0871 number for customer service.

·         Typically the 0871 numbers we found in the travel sector cost at least 10p per minute to call from a landline, but could be substantially more from a mobile phone. 0844 and 0871 numbers are not included as standard in inclusive call packages from landlines or mobiles.

The Which? Costly Calls campaign is calling for:

·       The Government to extend the CRD ban to the travel industry as soon as possible.

·         The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to clarify existing rules to stop financial services companies from using costly numbers on complaints lines, and change the rules so this also covers customer helplines.

·         Public bodies to lead by example and ban costly numbers across the board in a consistent way, overseen by the Government.

Nearly 48,000 people have already pledged their support to our Costly Calls campaign – consumers can support the campaign here.

Notes to Editors:

1.    High rate numbers are all telephone numbers starting with 09, 0845, 0844, and 0871. ‘Premium rate’ numbers only strictly apply to numbers that start 09 and 0871, 0872 or 0873 which falls within the remit of PhonePayPlus, the premium rate regulator. Basic rate numbers are all geographic rate numbers starting with 01/02/03.

2.    Due to be implemented into UK law, the EU Consumer Rights Directive (CRD) covers most sectors where consumers are paying for a good or service. The EU allows for some limited exclusions and the UK is therefore exempting: financial services, gambling, social services, property transactions and most aspects of passenger transport. Which? is due to be responding to the forthcoming Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultation on the CRD and will be sharing the findings of its travel investigation.

3.    Which? checked the websites of 76 popular travel companies to identify the numbers that customers would typically find to use for customer service and complaints if they looked on company websites. Where companies did not publish specific numbers for customer service and/or complaints, we selected the phone numbers we felt consumers would be most likely to call by default. uses an 0871 number for bookings and amendments to bookings, but an 0901 number for general enquiries.

4.    Previous Which? research found that:

·       Two thirds of people (67%) think companies use high-rate numbers to discourage people calling them and four in five people (80%) think that companies who make them use high rate phone numbers don’t value them as a customer.

·         Three quarters (75%) would be put off phoning customer services if they had to use a high-rate number, and three in five (63%) would be put off making a complaint.

·         Two thirds (66%) have taken other actions, like emailing, to avoid calling a high-rate number when they wanted to complain.

·         Half of people (49%) have regretted calling a high-rate number in the past year because of the cost and three in five people (58%) can’t afford to call a high-rate number from their mobile.

Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed a random sample of 2070 GB adults aged 18+ online between 30th August and 1st September 2013.  Data has been weighted to the profile of all GB adults. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.


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