Book trip through travel agent or online?
Your questions answered
Q I want to go to a concert in Madrid this summer with some friends. A few of my friends are booking their concert tickets, hotel and flights through a travel agent. I have priced these elements individually and it works out much cheaper for me to book it myself online rather than through the travel agent. Are there any pitfalls I should be aware of? Rebecca, Trim, Co Meath
Sometimes it can work out cheaper and be more flexible to book each stage of your trip yourself. However, if you decide to do it yourself, it's important to know that you won't have the same consumer protection you would have if you booked a package holiday through a travel agent.
When you book a package holiday, you are entering into a contract with the travel agent. The agent is responsible for ensuring that your holiday arrangements run smoothly. It must provide you with a written copy of the contract before you travel containing information such as the cost, destination, duration of the trip, itineraries of any excursions or events, and details of the complaints procedure in case anything goes wrong. For example, if the concert was cancelled, it would be up to the travel agent to look after your friends, which may mean having the cost of the trip refunded. However, if you book the various elements individually, you would only be entitled to a refund of the concert ticket, and you might not be able to get a refund for your flight and hotel.
Think about getting travel insurance regardless of whether you are booking directly or through a travel agent. This can cover you against losses such as damaged or delayed luggage, cancelled flights, delayed or missed departure, loss or theft of money or passport, and illness or injury. Before you take out any policy, get a few quotes and compare the features and benefits of different policies, as well as the price. Policies can differ considerably in terms of what they cover.
Finally while you might save a few quid by doing everything yourself, bear in mind that if you go it alone, you may not be able to get the same flight and hotel as your friends, or indeed seats near your friends at the concert.
Lost gift voucher
Q I got a voucher for Christmas from my mother for a hotel - but I have lost the voucher. My mother paid cash for the voucher. Do you think the hotel will still honour it?
Emma, Clonmel, Co Tipperary
A Unfortunately if you lose a gift voucher, and the giver of the voucher has no proof of purchase, it's just like losing cash. In this situation, there is no proof that you ever had a voucher from the hotel. You could try contacting the hotel and explaining what has happened to see if there is something that it can do for you, but it is under no legal obligation to honour the voucher.
However if the voucher was made out to you personally, and is not transferable to another person, the hotel may have a record of it. Sometimes businesses keep a record of the voucher number and the recipient's name so it is definitely worth asking the hotel where you stand. If your mum stayed in the hotel and the hotel knows her, it might help your case if she contacts them and explains what has happened.
Save after quitting smoking
Q I have just given up smoking. To stay motivated, I want to save the extra cash I now have and put it towards a holiday or maybe a deposit for a new car. What type of savings account should I open or are they all the same?
Paul, Naas, Co Kildare
A The first step is to work out how much you want to save and how frequently. For example if you smoked 20 cigarettes a week, this would work out as savings of about €50 a month. This figure could be considerably higher, depending on how much you were spending.
Setting yourself a clear savings goal, such as by saving for a car, is a great way to get started and keep up your savings habit. There are a number of different regular savings accounts available offering different interest rates, depending on how much you are saving each month. Some have certain rules when it comes to withdrawing your money. You may for example have to give a certain number of days' notice. For this reason, it's worth thinking about the access you might want to your savings. The savings comparison on www.ccpc.ie allows you to compare the interest rates and features of all the different regular savings accounts that are available. The information is independent and up-to-date.
Another option is to open a savings account with the credit union. To join a credit union, you must fall within a 'common bond'. This usually means you must be living or working in a particular area, be employed by a company which has a staff credit union, or be a member of a professional body that runs its own credit union. A benefit of having a savings record with the credit union is that it can help if you need to take out a personal loan in the future.
Q I've just got engaged and am starting to plan our wedding. I've heard a few horror stories including one about a couple who had booked a venue which closed down a week before their wedding. I've also heard stories of distraught brides whose wedding dresses did not live up to their expectations. How can I make sure things run smoothly?
Saoirse, Tralee, Co Kerry
Preparing for a wedding can be a very exciting and busy time, but like planning for any major (and expensive) event, you need to be aware of potential problems to help you deal with them if they arise. Weddings can be pricey and it can also be very stressful if suppliers don't work out. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
Many suppliers may ask you to pay for services upfront or pay a substantial deposit. Paying by credit or debit card instead of cash offers you some protection if a supplier does not deliver the goods or services as agreed. You can request a chargeback if something goes wrong - for example if something you ordered is not delivered. However, there are time limits on requesting a chargeback so contact your card provider to find out more.
Before you pay for any goods or services, research the companies or suppliers you are thinking of using. Speak to people who have used their services before to make sure they are as good as they say they are. If you can, pay as small a deposit as possible. This will avoid the risk of you losing a large amount of money if something does go wrong.
Don't sign a contract with a venue until you know what is and isn't included in the price being quoted. For example, check if the quote includes VAT so that you don't end up paying more than you anticipated.
You may also want to consider wedding insurance to cover you for any financial loss as a result of unexpected events or cancellations. Many insurance providers offer wedding insurance so compare the features and benefits of different policies, as well as the cost, as they can differ widely in terms of what they cover.
If getting married abroad or going on honeymoon, it is important you take out travel insurance. This will cover you for illness or injury, damaged or delayed luggage, cancelled flights, delayed or missed departure and lost or stolen money or passports.
Always check the policy details before you buy, so you don't duplicate cover you may already have with any other policies, such as your health insurance.
Sunday Indo Business