Travel firms' premium rate numbers "a disgrace"

10 October 2013

Over two thirds (70%) of travel firms are using high-rate telephone numbers for their customer service and complaints lines, according to consumer rights group Which?.

After conducting an investigation into 76 companies, Which? found that the worst offender was airline, which charges 60p a 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.

Which? also found 15 of the biggest train operators use 0844 or 0845 numbers for their customer helplines, while ferry and coach firms have also been using them.

Which? called the charges "a disgrace". Richard Lloyd, 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."

Close the loophole

The Which? investigation also found that 24 of the 38 airlines it looked at give high rate numbers for customers to call for customer service or to complain; while 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 uses an 0844 number for both; while Megabus has an 0871 number for customer service.

In August 2013, the government announced it is to outlaw the use of 084, 087 and other "rip-off" telephone numbers for enquiries and complaints. But Which? wants 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 should close the loophole that allows travel companies to use costly phone numbers without delay," Lloyd added.

The 0871 numbers it analysed typically cost at least 10p a minute to call from a landline, but could be "substantially more" from a mobile phone; while Which? said 0844 and 0871 numbers are not included as standard in inclusive call packages from landlines or mobiles.

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