Departure Gates 2

Travel industry expert Jeremy Gates brings you the latest on money, destinations and advice to make your holiday experience more enjoyable

Book Volkswagen for a perfect riverside base

If you want to stay in some of the most picturesque locations in Britain, check out the remarkable venture between Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and hotel booking site LateRooms.com to provide a unique, adventurous getaway concept called Hotel VW California.

With six Volkswagen California SE camper vans made available for booking as ‘rooms’, the innovative hotel chain will see the luxury motors situated around some of the UK’s most beautiful and bold locations, bookable exclusively via LateRooms.com.

Situated between the Berkshire and Buckinghamshire river banks, Temple Island in Henley-on-Thames is the first site for Hotel VW California. Guests will get the first ever chance to sleep on the beautiful island made famous by the Henley Royal Regatta and its ornamental folly. The temple’s wall paintings could be the earliest surviving Etruscan works in Britain.

You might imagine that booking a private island in picturesque Henley-on-Thames is beyond your price range. However, with rates on LateRooms.com at just £35 a night this is a luxury location with an affordable price.

Each Volkswagen California can sleep up to four guests. The pop-up roof, kitchen with fridge, twin-burner cooker and sink (with running water), wood-trimmed cupboards and drawers are standard features, while discreet, integrated blinds on windows in the living area provide privacy with LED spotlights integrated into the interior design to provide atmospheric illumination long after sunset. An awning plus table and two chairs enable guests to sit out in comfort and savour stunning riverside views.

Security is covered too: a lockable glove compartment is a capable replacement for the traditional hotel safe, while the Thatcham Category 1 Alarm and immobiliser with tow away protection ensures that guests’ belongings are safe and sound when they’re exploring the local area.

Rooms also include free wifi, iPod docking, ‘Climatronic’ three-zone automatic air-conditioning, heated seats and programmable central heating. As with every quality hotel, entertainment will be provided, while guests can use private boat transfers to explore the mainland.

Says Nicola Burnside from Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said: ‘Private island retreats are the epitome of luxury. Hotel VW California provides a truly unique experience- with all of the luxury and none of the expense.

The California camper van offers the fun, freedom and adventure that was such an appealing quality of the much-loved original. Hotel VW California is the perfect demonstration of a getaway you can enjoy with imagination and creativity. We look forward to welcoming the first guests and hope that they enjoy the perfect break with brakes.’

Says Martin Solly from LateRooms.com: “Be it cosy B&Bs or luxury spas, Thai beach huts or English country houses we’re very proud to offer a supremely diverse range of hotels and it doesn’t get much more unique than Hotel VW California.

‘The location provides the ultimate island getaway. Combined with the stunning views and nearby attractions this is a genuinely brilliant offer with a difference. There can’t be another island in the world that offers such great value.’

::INFORMATION: Bookings open on July 24 for a limited period, with six rooms to choose from, via LateRooms.com. If you miss out on this location, there will be a ‘Cali-tour-nia’ as the rooms drive on to other adventurous locations around the UK.

Rugby fans can book for next season clashes

It may still be summer, bur rugby fans are already planning their travels to catch the big international clashes of the 2014/5 season, with England ready to take the final steps in preparations for next year’s World Cup.

England Rugby Travel offers fans the chance to follow England through two tournaments with ticket inclusive travel packages this winter- the QBE Internationals (November 2014) and RBS 6 Nations Championship (February 2015). Packages for England’s matches include day-return travel options and weekend break packages, enabling fans to experience the drama and excitement of international rugby.

The packages offer unique insight and access to the England team. In Rome this year, fans enjoyed a great night with England’s head coach Stuart Lancaster and his assistants, Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt.

For the 2015 RBS 6 Nations Championship, starting on February 6, 2015 when England travel to the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff to face Wales, packages from £379 includes an overnight B&B stay in Cardiff and match ticket. Two night breaks in Cardiff start at £459.

Another hotly anticipated match is England’s visit to Dublin on March 1, to face the Irish, where breaks from £489 include accommodation at Jury’s Inn Customhouse Dublin- and from £719 with return flights from Birmingham including return airport transfers.

Packages are also available for the visit of France to Twickenham (March 21), a game which could decide the Championship- with accommodation at the Cumberland Hotel in central London.

The QBE Internationals in November includes games at Twickenham against New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia. A package for the game against New Zealand’s All Blacks on Nov 8 starts at £289.

England Rugby Travel has been appointed the Official Travel Agent for Rugby World Cup 2015, exclusively in Great Britain. Ticket-inclusive travel packages are now available for all Rugby World Cup 2015 matches, including packages combining match tickets with Rugby-themed experiences and a variety of weekend break.

::INFORMATION: England Rugby Travel is at 0844 788 5000 and www.englandrugbytravel.com.

Fix your Euro Health Card before you head abroad

One in three Britons travelling in Europe could be turned away from hospital in an emergency because they are failing to take the vital European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with them, says a new report.

A survey by Allianz Global Assistance has found that many UK holidaymakers don’t carry a valid and up-to-date EHIC entitling them to reduced or free medical care within the European Economic Area (EEC). Travelling without an EHIC could see UK holidaymakers hit by hefty medical costs, if they fall ill or have an accident.

John and Sylvia Flanner from Solihull, West Midlands found this out the hard way when they took a holiday on the Greek island of Zante.

John, aged 66, who has been blind since the age of 19, recently received an MBE in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honour awards for his motivational speeches on living with a disability. However, when his wife Sylvia, aged 64, developed a virus on holiday which culminated in a stroke, the local hospital was reluctant to provide treatment because the Flanners didn’t have an EHIC.

The EHIC is available to all UK residents and allows travellers to receive treatment from public hospitals within the EEA . The EHIC allows travellers to get treatment on the same basis (for example, free or at a reduced cost) as people who live in that country. Holidaymakers need both their EHIC and travel insurance, as EHIC does not cover all medical costs, dental treatment or the cost of repatriation.

John’s blindness, coupled with the language barrier, made it difficult to communicate with the medical team, and the couple’s son Ian flew to Greece after contacting his father’s insurance company, Allianz Global Assistance UK, which sorted out the EHIC and remained on hand to assist the family.

Later, when it became clear that the best solution for Sylvia was to repatriate her to the UK when she was medically fit to fly, Allianz Global Assistance arranged Air Taxi repatriation, flying Sylvia and John to Birmingham and on to her local hospital.

Says Ian Flather: “I’ve done lots of travelling, but I’ve never heard of the EHIC. Allianz Global Assistance provided a first class service from start to finish; and I dread to think what could have happened, if the company hadn’t been on hand to help through this situation. We will make sure we all carry our EHIC with us for trips to Europe, as well as buying insurance – just in case.”

Says Lee Taylor, chief sales officer for Allianz Global Assistance UK: “This story shows how important it is to travel with an EHIC and adequate travel insurance cover, yet our survey found that 1 in 3 UK travellers don’t take an EHIC with them to Europe. An EHIC card is essential for anyone to receive treatment from public hospitals in all European Economic Area countries

We also urge holidaymakers to ensure they book the right level of travel insurance, declaring all medical conditions, as falling ill or needing emergency support abroad can be very costly. Travellers need to be aware of the risks they face- from delayed or cancelled flights, lost luggage or something more serious such as accident or illness. Adequate travel insurance cover provides financial support and expert advice when you need it most, as the Flanner family discovered.

::INFORMATION: Over four million EHICs expire each year. To get yours, contact the financial website www.moneysavingexpert.com.

Why August peak period could see thousands of bargain sun holidays

The six weeks of late-July until early September are invariably the peak weeks of the year for the big tour operators- when they usually charge top rate for holidays and families have to cough up grudgingly as hotel prices soar.

But not this year. Tens of thousands of package holidays are still for sale in the peak period, and many couples- and families- could grab last minute bargain breaks at knockdown prices during the next few weeks, warns a leading travel industry executive.

Says Noel Josephides, boss of specialist Greece & Portugal tour operator Sunvil, and chairman of ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) since summer 2013: “Last year, demand and supply in the travel industry was pretty much in balance- partly, I think, because so many households collected handsome compensation payments from banks for alleged mis-selling of insurance. A great deal of that money- running into billions- went into holidays and new cars.

“”Everybody felt we were finally coming out of recession, and for Summer 2014, operators and no-frills carriers laid on much greater capacity to Greece, in particular: British Airways began regular services into Mykonos, Norwegian began flying into Santorini, Easyjet stepped up frequency of flights to various Greek destinations.

This surge in supply has coincided with growing problems in Egypt; lots of airline capacity has now been switched from Egypt to Greece and Turkey, and as the considerable over-supply becomes evident: though Greece is not the only destination affected in this way. It is pretty clear that prices are not going to be as high this year as in summer 2013”.

Noel Josephides thinks many travellers to Greece during the rest of this summer will enjoy giveaway air fares from £75 return. With airlines admitting the squeeze, several operators have flagged price cuts and admitted trading is tough in recent weeks.

At Jet2 Holidays, part of the Dart group specializing in leisure travel departures from the North of England, seven nights’ self-catering on Crete and Zante, ex-East Midlands in late July have been selling from £389. Jet2, or rather its parent company Dart Group, saw a plunge in its share price when it announced a few weeks ago that the strong pound was making trading conditions in the short haul travel market noticeably tougher.

Sunvil Holidays offers a choice of seven night self-catering stays on the Greek islands of Corfu, Crete, Lefkas and Samos from £309, on dates through until late October, including daytime flights ex-Gatwick and Manchester. Ionian Islands Holidays is another Greek specialist posting large price cuts.

Corsican Places is slashing more than £400 off a self-catering package in an air conditioned villa with private pool in early August, now starting at £649, including return flights from Stansted.

There’s a good selection of deals in Spain and the Balearic Islands from EasyJet Holidays; seven nights’ B&B in Tenerife in late August from £367, including return flights ex-Gatwick; seven nights’ all-inclusive on Fuerteventura for £393, and seven nights’ all-inclusive at a three star hotel in Majorca in early September for £392, with return flights ex-Glasgow.

All inclusive getaways from Cheapflights.co.uk include seven nights’ all-inclusive in a four star hotel in Marmaris, Turkey, from £499- with two complimentary boat excursions to Kumlubuk Beach and Aquarium Bay included, and flights from Gatwick and Manchester on August 14. Other airport departures are available at a supplement.

Leading ferry operators have peak season deals too: DFDS Seaways offers one-way crossings from £59 for a car and two passengers on crossings between Portsmouth-Le Havre and Newhaven- Dieppe, on bookings by September 30.

::INFORMATION: Jet2 Holidays (0800 408 5594) Or visit www.jet2holidays.com, freephone 0800 408 5594, or visit a travel agent; Sunvil Holidays (020 8758 4758 and www.sunvil.co.uk); Ionian island Holidays (0208 459 0777 and www.ioanianislandholidays.com); Corsican Places (0845 330 2113 and www.corsica.co.uk); EasyJet Holidays (0843 104 1000 and www.easyjet.com/holidays); www.dfds.co.uk/relax.

Why it’s easy for dogs to have a Euro break too

Dog lovers are increasingly reluctant to leave their four-legged friend in kennels when they go on holiday, says leading ferry and holiday operator, Brittany Ferries which now carries over 55,000 pets a year on services to France and Spain, a whopping 25% increase over just two years.

Brittany Ferries has responded to this demand with more pet-friendly cabins to both France and Spain, which include a hygienic laminate floor with plenty of room for a dog basket. More kennels have been added- there are now 114 of these across the fleet – along with open deck walking areas.

The company has a huge range of ferry-inclusive holidays and has expanded its selection of accommodation that welcomes pets so that it now offers over 700 such properties, taking in hotels, cottages, apartments, campsites and villas. A pet-friendly property search option on its website includes hints and tips from pet owners giving hints and tips, and details of the pet passport scheme.

§ Before 2012, Britain’s pet-passport rules were much stricter than the rest of Europe’s. Animals had to be vaccinated against rabies six months before travelling and have a blood test to prove the vaccine has been effective.

§ Under the new rules, animals need to be vaccinated only 21 days before travelling, and the blood test, for which vets charge up to £100 has been scrapped altogether.

§ All pets still need to be microchipped under the pet passport scheme.

::INFORMATION: www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/holidays/pet-friendly.

Strong pound boost holidaymakers’ spending power abroad

Although it is making life tough for Britain’s exporters, the strength of the pound against foreign currencies is a big boon for holidaymakers, says leading currency specialist Travelex.

With the pound achieving its best rate against the Euro since September 2012, Travelex says Britons in Europe will enjoy seeing their money go much further. This boost is perfect timing just as schools start to break up for summer, with many families set to travel abroad in the coming weeks.

Says David Swann of Travelex: “The increase in the strength of the Pound provides a welcome boost for holidaymakers who are increasingly savvy in stretching their budgets a bit further. Compared to this time last year, the Pound is up by 9% against the Euro, which means an extra €52 (£42) for every £500 exchanged.”

Holidaymakers can make the most of their budgets by locking in the exchange rate on their travel money while the Pound is performing well. For those keen to keep their holiday money safe, Travelex offers the Multi-currency Cash Passport – with its chip and PIN protection, and no connection to a bank account – as a safe alternative to carrying cash.

How to hire a car abroad without a rip-off

Travellers hiring cars in Europe face escalating excess charges of up to £1500, if the vehicle is stolen or they have an accident, and they believe that rental companies try to scare them into buying excess (waiver) insurance, says a new survey.

Almost a third of those who have rented a car (31%) think rental companies use the threat of holding the excess amount on their credit card, that they are liable for, to scare them into buying excess insurance, says research commissioned by iCarhireinsurance.com, a leading provider of stand-alone car hire excess insurance.

The survey also found that almost one in four (24%) car hirers have felt pressured to buy it direct from the rental desk, which can double their final bill.

For example hiring a compact car in Tenerife for a week this summer with Hertz costs £108.77- then customers either pay for Hertz’ excess policy, another £131.86 – so doubling their final bill – or risk excess charges up to £1,050.

Rental companies seem to be aware of the pressure that high deposits can put on customers to buy other services and appear to be increasing the amount that they hold as a deposit on customers’ credit cards. Excess deposits in Europe have gone up 22% since 2013, pressuring customers into buying costly excess waivers at the desk which have shot up by an average of 26%.

Rental companies now charge up to £27 a day for excess insurance which protects customers from the ‘excess’ amount in the event of a claim – this is over nine times more expensive, however, than a week’s policy from iCarhireinsurance.com (from £2.99 a day).

The survey, carried out by YouGov, found that 45% of car renters think the excess insurance bought from the car rental desks is a rip off; but nearly two thirds (62%) were unaware that if they want to buy excess insurance, they don’t have to buy it from a car rental company.

Holiday makers shouldn’t be intimidated into paying for expensive excess waivers at rental desks, particularly when these costs aren’t made transparent to them when they’re booking,” said Ernesto Suarez, CEO and founder of iCarhireinsurance.com.

It’s a scandal that sky high deposits are being used as a stick to beat people with when people are just trying to budget for a well-earned break. Don’t be ripped off. Cheaper alternatives are available so always buy your excess insurance in advance before you travel.

An iCarhireinsurance.com policy is claimed to be more comprehensive than rental companies’ policies- by including damage to all parts of the hire car including the tyres, undercarriage, roof and windscreen.

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