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Ask Gill: Is luggage claim a lost cause?

Written By vibykhmer on Friday, August 28, 2009 | 6:57 AM

Angkor Wat in Cambodia can be easy to visit under your own steam

Gill Charlton offers advice on a missing suitcase, a flight cancellation and visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

By Gill Charlton
Published: 11:40AM BST 28 Aug 2009

Sally Newman from London writes

We are visiting Thailand for a beach holiday and would like to spend a few days at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. What's the best way of going about it?

We don't like coach tours, but do we need a guide to the temples?

Gill Charlton replies
It's easy to visit Angkor Wat under your own steam. Buy a flight to Siem Reap and choose a hotel near the ruins. I would organise a guide and driver for the first day. Use this time to drive through the core site and on to some of the outlying temple complexes. Then, if you are a fairly confident rider, rent bicycles to explore the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom complexes. There are quiet lanes for cyclists and the whole experience is far more atmospheric. Try to visit the Angkor Wat at lunchtime, when most visitors return to their hotels for lunch. The best guide is Dawn Rooney's Angkor, published by Odyssey Books but laser-printed in Cambodia, where it should cost only a few dollars from a small boy.

For a sundowner drink, visit the former Foreign Correspondents' Club, a beautiful art deco house that also has bedrooms (www.fcccambodia.com).

Try to time your visit to include a Saturday night. A Swiss doctor puts on a fund-raising cello concert and talks about his work in Cambodia. It is a thought-provoking experience.

Lost luggage
Alison Lennox, London, writes

My family and I recently travelled to Tunisia with Thomas Cook Airlines, but my suitcase did not arrive. Thomas Cook paid £75 towards essentials I needed on holiday, but said I must claim for the case and its contents through my travel insurance.

I submitted a claim for £1,700 to Standard Life. I sent a list of everything in the Samsonsite suitcase, from my Karen Millen dresses to my daughter's nappies, but I did not have any receipts.

Some of the clothes were made up abroad on previous holidays, others were part of a weekly Tesco shop. The problem is that I paid cash for most of the more expensive items, such as dresses, shoes, hair straighteners and cosmetics because I don't have a credit card and I rarely use my debit card.

Standard Life has said it will only pay for items valued up to £10 unless I provide receipts for purchases or purchase new items to a similar value and then hope it will accept these as reasonable replacements.

I cannot afford to do this. What should I do next?

Gill Charlton replies
Standard Life says it needs proof of purchase of higher-cost items "where possible" as it would be "irresponsible simply to pay this claim without any attempt to gain proof of possession". I asked the Financial Ombudsman's office for its opinion. It says it expects customers to make every effort to provide whatever evidence they can. As well as obtaining signed chits from shops such as Karen Millen for a similar dress or shoes, you should try to provide photographs of yourself wearing these clothes on previous holidays (which I understand you do have).

Unfortunately, the incidence of fraud involved in baggage claims is high and insurers are no longer prepared to take the customer's word for it.

If customers don't have receipts, insurers will want to see credit or debit card statements. In your case, Standard Life has confirmed that it will accept evidence of cost from other sources such as the internet.

It is important to make a real effort to price losses accurately. For example, the retail price of all your Mac make-up, Birkenstock sandals and GHD hair straighteners can be found online. Send the insurer printouts of the current retail cost of these items. You also need to describe items more precisely. "Samsonite suitcase – £200" isn't good enough. You need to list the model and find the exact replacement cost.

If you make a real effort to obtain this level of detail, most of the claim should be paid.

Low-cost winter flights
Olwyn-Anne Cook in Maché, France writes

I live in France and need to travel back to Britain fairly regularly. Do you know when low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet publish their winter schedules?

Gill Charlton replies
There is usually a rolling programme of announcements for winter flights to Europe. The best way to keep in the loop is to sign up with the airline for email alerts to new routes, changes to routes and flight offers. For Ryanair, click on the "Register for Offers" tab on the left-hand side of the home page; for easyJet, see the "e-Offers" logo on the top right of the home page.

US hotel rates
Barrie Redding from Evesham in Glos writes

In January I booked three nights at the Fisherman's Wharf Holiday Inn in San Francisco through eBookers to arrive on September 12. The rate was £441.81 plus a booking fee. The eBookers website displayed a "Best Price" guarantee. I paid in full at the time and knew that the reservation was non-refundable. I have now discovered that eBookers is selling a similar three-night break at the hotel for almost £100 less than I paid. When I asked eBookers for an explanation it just sent me an email saying that "the prices are controlled directly by the hotel or the hotel supplier".

Surely there should be some advantage in booking a room so far ahead on a non-refundable basis?

Gill Charlton replies
Holiday Inn's head office says that its full or "rack" rate for a booking made in January was $219 and that you paid a discounted advance purchase rate of $187 through eBookers. "Along with the rest of the travel industry, our hotel rates fluctuate throughout the year depending on a number of factors," a spokeswoman for Holiday Inn said. If advance bookings are low, cheaper rooms will be advertised around two months ahead of the arrival date. A week ago Holiday Inn told me that its current advance purchase rate was $144 and that, as a gesture of goodwill, it would upgrade your room to club level for your three-night stay. I have checked its rates again and business has obviously improved. At the time of going to press, eBookers is charging £395 for these three nights while Holiday Inn's rate has leapt up to $190 a night (£354 for three nights).

Costly cancellation
David Wood from Knutsford in Cheshire writes

Earlier this year Wizzair added a Saturday flight from Luton to Cluj in Romania, making its service a daily one. In good faith I booked a flight for September 26. Now the service has been cancelled for commercial reasons.

This means I have to fly the day before and my reservation at the Luton Travelodge is non-refundable, so I have had to pay for another room there the previous night. I have also had to pay for an extra night in Cluj. Wizzair says it has no obligation to compensate me. Is it right?

Gill Charlton replies
Wizzair is right. If an airline cancels a flight for commercial reasons outside the 14-day limit for compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004, it does not have to pay for any "consequential" losses such as prepaid accommodation.

As airlines struggle to keep flying through the recession schedules are being hacked back – and at short notice. The only way to guard against losses like yours is to buy flexibility, though it comes
at a cost.

The Luton Travelodge charges £45 a night for a double room that you can cancel up to your arrival day without penalty. This compares with £32 for a non-refundable "saver" room.

Some hotel groups and hotel booking websites offer cancellation insurance for a few pounds more, which is definitely worth taking up.


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