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Danger of booking travel online as web fraud soars

Bogus villas, hijacked websites and car hire scams. It’s the annual rip-off, rollercoaster start to the holiday season with travel scams making headlines yet again.

The Mail on Sunday has highlighted numerous cases of holidaymakers being defrauded after booking properties on Airbnb and the Times reported Turkish police evicting tourists from an Airbnb apartment being rented out illegally in Istanbul just this week.

Some websites have been copying and editing villas from other websites and passing them off as their own.

And even genuine websites can be dangerous as college lecturer William George discovered after paying £8000 for a villa in Portugal. (Mail)

When he contacted the company they had no knowledge of his booking. They explained that the firm's email account had been hacked, so even though Mr George had been sending messages to the correct address, they were being accessed by a criminal.

Car hire companies in Spain have also been accused of dodgy practices for adding thousands of pounds to credit cards after customers returned their vehicles, charging for pre-existing damage. (Sun)

To avoid these pitfalls book with a reputable operator such as ourselves. Or, if you prefer to Do It Yourself these 9 simple steps will hopefully safeguard your money.

Watch out for the con men this summer

Bogus villas, hijacked websites and car hire scams. It’s the annual rip-off, rollercoaster start to the holiday season with travel scams making headlines yet again.

The Mail on Sunday has highlighted numerous cases of holidaymakers being defrauded after booking properties on Airbnb and the Times reported Turkish police evicting tourists from an Airbnb apartment being rented out illegally in Istanbul just this week.

A campaign by the Police National Fraud Intelligence Bureau reveals nearly 6000 victims lost £7.2million to fraudsters last year and this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg as embarrassment may prevent some victims from coming forward.

Some websites have been copying and editing villas from other websites and passing them off as their own. And even genuine websites can be dangerous as college lecturer William George discovered after paying £8000 for a villa in Portugal. (Daily Mail)

When he contacted the company they had no knowledge of his booking. They explained that the firm's email account had been hacked, so even though Mr George had been sending messages to the correct address, they were being accessed by a criminal.

Car hire companies including Goldcar in Spain have been accused of dodgy practices for adding thousands of pounds to credit cards after customers returned their vehicles, charging for pre-existing damage and pressure selling additional unnecessary insurance. (Mail)

To avoid these pitfalls book with a reputable operator such as ourselves. Or, if you prefer to Do It Yourself then read the 9 simple steps which will hopefully safeguard your money.

Previously...

Watch out for the con men this summer

Bogus villas, hijacked websites and car hire scams. It’s the annual rip-off, rollercoaster start to the holiday season with travel scams making headlines yet again.

The Mail on Sunday has highlighted numerous cases of holidaymakers being defrauded after booking properties on Airbnb and the Times reported Turkish police evicting tourists from an Airbnb apartment being rented out illegally in Istanbul just this week.

A campaign by the Police National Fraud Intelligence Bureau reveals nearly 6000 victims lost £7.2million to fraudsters last year and this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg as embarrassment may prevent some victims from coming forward.

Some websites have been copying and editing villas from other websites and passing them off as their own. And even genuine websites can be dangerous as college lecturer William George discovered after paying £8000 for a villa in Portugal. (Daily Mail)

When he contacted the company they had no knowledge of his booking. They explained that the firm's email account had been hacked, so even though Mr George had been sending messages to the correct address, they were being accessed by a criminal.

Car hire companies including Goldcar in Spain have been accused of dodgy practices for adding thousands of pounds to credit cards after customers returned their vehicles, charging for pre-existing damage and pressure selling additional unnecessary insurance. (Mail)

To avoid these pitfalls book with a reputable operator such as ourselves. Or, if you prefer to Do It Yourself then read the 9 simple steps which will hopefully safeguard your money.

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Don't get caught by the super-radar

The French traffic cops are out to get you!

If you are planning to fly to France this summer and hire a car, or are crossing the Channel with your own, be warned . . . the French traffic cops are out to get you!

And to make sure they can fine you for a whole range of driving offences they will be using a new piece of kit straight out of a sci-fi fantasy.

"There's no escape for offenders", boasts the brochure for the Mesta Fusion multi-target Doppler radar - a device capable of watching 32 vehicles simultaneously over eight lanes, backed up with a 36 megapixel camera that won't just spot you if you're speeding, tailgating or jumping red lights.

If you are using a phone, not wearing your seatbelt or even having a row with your partner, you are sure to be caught on this all-seeing candid camera. And if you are speeding and someone in the car isn't wearing a seat belt, the fines are doubled.

Four hundred of these monsters are being installed at French roadsides over the next three years and lots will be in place this summer. You could, of course, equip your vehicle with a radar detector or load an app onto your smartphone that does the same job, but getting caught with either means a £1,250 fine - and they'll confiscate your car.

Last year, 3,469 people died on French roads, compared to 1,810 in the UK, and it now seems that the French government has chosen this summer to do something about it - with a new drive to catch motorists who break the laws.

The first you will know about being caught by the super-radar is when a penalty notice drops on your doormat at home. French police are now able to access data from the DVLA to pursue the estimated 500,000 British drivers who get caught on French cameras every year.

Asked whether you can just ignore the fines, an RAC spokesman said: "At the moment, we honestly don't know, but we will be monitoring the situation closely."

And there's more worrying news for our drivers who think they can outwit the gendarmerie. The French government is outsourcing 450 mobile speed traps to "authorised service providers" (in other words private companies) who are expected to generate 12 million tickets a year putting £1.85 billion into state coffers.

The ministry insists this is not a money-making venture, but it's pretty unlikely that a lenient private driver-snaring company would have its contract renewed.

And if you are driving in Paris, Lyons or Grenoble this summer, make sure you have a Crit'Air sticker on your windscreen which shows your car's emissions rating. The fine for not having one is is between £59 and £117. Buy it online for £4 at certificat-air.gouv.fr/en and allow six weeks for delivery.

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Beware the great currency rip off

Would you like to pay in euros or pounds?

You've just finished that romantic meal for two in a seafront restaurant looking out across the Med and the waiter comes up to your table and asks politely "would you like to pay in euros or pounds."

But what he's really asking is "would you like to be ripped off."

When British travellers abroad pay with credit cards or withdraw cash from an ATM machine, they are often offered the option of having the amount debited in sterling, rather than the local currency. It is sold as a convenience - and it does mean that you can keep control of your holiday spending money more easily.

But it can also mean that you will be hit by seriously unfavourable exchange rates.

The currency experts FairFX claim that one in five of us falls prey to this rip off by choosing the sterling option, and between us we lost a staggering £380m on the deal last year alone.

This technique is called dynamic currency conversion (DCC), and here's how it works. Payment service providers, many of which are owned by the big banks, supply card readers to retailers and process the payments made through them and DCC allows both to make a bit on the side.

You choose to pay in sterling and they set up an exchange rate that suits them, typically one so poor for the consumer that it adds six per cent to your bill. And in some cases they will take as much as 10 per cent. The payment service providers promote this service heavily to retailers, stressing the extra money they can make.

DCC isn't illegal, but the process often lacks transparency. Both Visa and Mastercard's rulebooks say retailers must clearly inform customers of the exchange rate that will be used before they choose to pay in their home currency, but that often doesn't happen.

And ATMs are even worse. If you are using a UK debit card, you will be charged a cash withdrawal fee of between £1 and £5, plus a non-sterling transaction fee of between 2 and 3 per cent. Then there are the confusing wording and colouring yes buttons red that lead to many customers unwittingly choosing to have their accounts debited at the sterling rate.

So, remember, wherever you are, always reject the DCC rip off every time it is offered and always choose to pay in local currency.

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Gluten free? That will be a banana!

The very “special” nine-hour flight meal

A passenger was left stunned after being served a solitary banana for breakfast as the only gluten-free option on a nine-hour flight.

While other people on the All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo to Sydney tucked into a full English, Londoner Martin Pavelka was left with just the small yellow snack.

The 32-year-old's bite-size meal which had a sticker slapped on it saying GF for gluten–free even came with a packet containing a knife and fork, napkin and salt.

Mr Pavelka suffers from the digestive condition celiac.

But the auditor, from Haggerston, couldn't believe his eyes when the banana arrived during the second leg of his £1,200 trip to Australia, "I always order gluten free meal on my flights," he said. "Sometimes they are bland, sometimes they are actually much better than the ordinary meal service, but on this flight I was left literally speechless when one banana arrived".

All other passengers were served a full breakfast meal consisting of eggs, sausage, mushrooms, bread and yogurt.

He explained: "When the stewardess came to me, she said we've got a special meal for you and I got a banana.

"I asked 'Is this a joke?' She said 'I am really sorry, that's the gluten-free meal'. I don't think they really get the concept of allergies and alternative meals," he said.

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My best holiday ever

Sarah-Jane Mee is keen to escape into a world of fiction

Sky TV presenter Sarah-Jane Mee loves trips with family and friends and tells why she never gets bored in New York

How often do you like to travel?
As much as possible. I’m up at 3am Monday to Thursday with a long weekend to recover, so once a month I like to go on a weekend break and every six weeks I go on a longer trip to recharge my batteries.

Your perfect holiday?
Anywhere I can persuade a big group of family and friends to go. It’s great to share these experiences - skiing is the perfect example. St Anton and Meribel are two of my favourite resorts.

Does your job allow you to escape for long?
The longest trip I take a the moment is a week at a time, which is a while in news and I don’t like to miss out on too much. I have promised myself a fortnight holiday at some point… I just haven’t got round to it yet!

Your favourite destination?
New York. I’m a city girl at heart and it’s a place I can return to again and again and never get bored. Every time I visit I discover something new.

How do you unwind on holiday?
I read so much news and current affairs material for work that on holiday I love nothing better than to escape into a world of fiction. On a beach holiday I’ve been known to read four books in a week.

Your most adventurous holiday?
Backpacking around Mexico with friends from university. We went for six weeks armed with a map and a vague plan. We saw Mayan temples, surfed and narrowly escaped bandits on a hike!

Have you ever thought of emigrating and if so, where?
Italy, as there is something magical about the Umbrian countryside. I’d love to move there, learn the language and learn to cook. Plus it’s not too far away from the UK so family and friends can visit.

Your most memorable travel experience?
A three-day boat trip around the Whitsunday islands off the Queensland coast in Australia. We swam with turtles, saw whales and to this day it was the bluest sea and whitest sand I have ever seen.

Your favourite hotel?
Eagles Crag on the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa - you can see lions before breakfast and elephants at lunch - then relax in luxury villas to watch the dramatic thunderstorms at night with a glass of wine.

Your favourite airline?
British Airways - I’m obsessed with collecting points.

A bucket list trip?
Japan during the cherry blossom season - I’m saving that up for my first extended break.

Sarah-Jane can be seen Monday to Thursday, Sky News Sunrise, 6-10am. @skysarahjane

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What people are saying

A selection of customer comments from Trustpilot

Forget the internet. Just call for the answers

We've just returned from a trip to South Carolina, to celebrate a milestone birthday. The service provided by DialAFlight, in particular Jacob, was first class. Not only was it much faster than trawling the internet ourselves but when looking to see how much MORE we paid for the service by using DialAFlight we found we had paid significantly LESS, even though it included a hire car for 14 days! So no more trawling the internet for us and we recommend you do the same and pick up the phone to Jacob. You'll save both time and money.

Ann P gave DialAFlight 5 stars on Trust Pilot.

Great service and wisdom 12 years on

I have been looked after by DialAFlight for 12 years now; previously by Dena and now by Poppy. Sometimes for group travel, sometimes for a solo, business or family trip.

We had been looking as a family for the best time of year to make a major trip and the effort of producing quote after quote for us was never a difficulty. The ticket-type obtained is usually one level better than online booking and this most recent trip was no exception. We also feel peace of mind knowing that we have an extra layer of wisdom in the process of choosing the best tickets to suit our needs.

J Clines gave DialAFlight 5 stars on Trust Pilot

Sparkling footnote: J Clines's name was pulled out of the hat in our monthly Trust Pilot draw and a case of Prosecco is on its way.

Great advice with an app that keeps you up to date

Not only did they save me money, but they made my flights to Adelaide in South Australia more enjoyable because the flights fitted my time schedule. I have booked many flights with other travel shops and been pleased, but DialAFlight went much further and exceeded my expectations.

Give them a try and I believe you will be well pleased. They have a great app that keeps you up to date, and they do not mind helping you with advice at any time.

John Wheeler gave DialAFlight 5 stars on Trust Pilot

Frank resolved my two centre dilemma

I was struggling to work out how to do a two centre holiday with the Dominican Rep and had spent hours on various airline websites before I found DialAFlight. Frank quickly came up with the solution with a good airline at reasonable price. Follow up pre-flight was also excellent. Will use again.

Andrew of Tayside gave DialAFlight 5 stars on Trust Pilot

So much more than a flight booking company

So much more than a place to book flights. More like a personal concierge service for your holiday. Knowledgeable and friendly, Highly recommended.

Jake Gold gave DialAFlight 5 stars on Trust Pilot

Read more reviews

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This month's new hotels

The Patina Capitol

The Patina Capitol - Singapore

Housed in two masterfully restored historic buildings in Singapore’s Civic and Cultural District, the Patina combines modern style with stunning architecture to create a holistic atmosphere. Guests will have the choice between the neoclassical beauty of Capitol Wing, the Victoria elegance of Stamford Wing and the ultimate exclusivity at the Pinnacle Suites. With thoughtful touches abound and stunning surrounds, escapism comes easily here.

Public Hotel

Public Hotel - New York

Designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning architects, Herzog and de Meuron (responsible for the Olympic Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing), this brand new hotel by Ian Schrager consists of 28 stories, 370 rooms and an impressive stretch of floor-to-ceiling windows for unobstructed views of New York City. Set to feature multiple entertainment and dining venues, this multi-use tower will also boast outdoor garden spaces, a banquet hall and even a food market.

Hotel Lungarno

Hotel Lungarno - Florence

Set to re-open following a complete renovation, the Hotel Lungarno will reopen its doors in a privileged position in the heart of beautiful Florence. With reflections of this elegant hotel emanating from the river Arno, it’s hard not to fall in love with this stunning spot. With lavishly appointed rooms and views of the river from most of them, not only will guests have a unique hotel experience, but a luxury one too.

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What's on offer?

Our top 6 money savers you can't afford to miss

Save 30% on a luxury Oman escape at 5* The Chedi

Relax, unwind and leave all your cares behind with a 5* escape to The Chedi, Muscat. The private beach is reserved for adults and provides the perfect scene to relax and unwind. There are also two swimming pools with poolside cabanas, tennis courts, a boutique and an art gallery, so there's no shortage of things to do. And when it's time for some serious pampering, guests can visit the spa, with its exclusive suites and extensive menu of treatments. Stay 3 nights in a Serai Room with our offer which includes a 30% saving, breakfast and flights from Gatwick all from £765pp. Valid October 2017.

Explore Queensland’s Reef and Rainforests with 2 FREE nights

This two-stop trip is perfect for those short on time and looking to take in the natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforest. Start with 7 nights at 4 star Shantara Port Douglas and explore the area’s abundant treasures with 11 days car hire and a reef cruise included in the price. Next and final stop is Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa where you’ll be at one with nature, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the rainforest in Daintree National Park. 10 nights from £1485pp. Valid for September travel.

Viva Las Vegas with 35% off hotel stays

Enjoy a stay in sin city and pay less with our offer which saves you 35% at a huge choice of Las Vegas hotels including the Bellagio, ARIA, Vdara, MGM Grand, The Signature, Mandalay Bay, Delano Las Vegas and The Mirage. Combine with flights and enjoy a 3 night 5* holiday from £579pp. Valid on selected dates between 1 Aug and 28 Dec. Hurry, book now!

Banyan Tree bliss in Bali with 2 FREE nights

For a serene stay and ultimate pampering, the all-villa Banyan Tree Ungasan sits peacefully 70 metres above pure white beaches and blue sea on the cliffs of Bali’s southernmost peninsula. Located close to the famous Uluwatu Temple, the resort offers high levels of comfort, privacy and service, not forgetting an array of amenities including a private pool for every villa, a spa and a kids’ club. Stay 7 nights for the price of 5 on a BB basis with our offer which includes transfers and flights from Heathrow from £1685pp. Valid for travel 11 Oct - 9 Dec

Spa treatments and the sparkling Adriatic at Villa Dubrovnik

Set within gardens of pine, orange and lemon trees, boutique hotel Villa Dubrovnik sits prettily on the cliffs above Dubrovnik's prestigious St Jacob precinct, just a short stroll from the Old City. Relax on a sunbed on Villa Dubrovnik's private beach, take a dip in the swimming pool or enjoy a workout in the fitness centre. When you want to head out and explore the city, the hotel's concierge services will be invaluable in helping you make the most of your time here. Enjoy a complimentary 30-minute 'Diamond Bed' treatment in the Villa Spa for two with our offer which includes 4 nights in a Superior Room and flights from a choice of airports from £799pp. Valid 1-27 Oct.

Cape Town & Big Five Kruger safari with 1 FREE night

Combine the vibrant and cosmopolitan city of Cape Town with an incredible ‘Big Five’ Safari with this two-stop holiday. Starting in Cape Town, you’ll stay 4 nights for the price of 3 in ultimate style at One&Only before your safari adventure at Jock Safari Lodge. Here you’ll stay 3 nights on a full board basis in a suite with plunge pool with daily game drives included. Also included are transfers, domestic and international flights with KLM. 7 nights from £2399. Valid for May & Jun departures.

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10 things we didn't know last month

1. Italy’s State airline goes bust yet again!

Alitalia has filed for bankruptcy for the second time in a decade after workers rejected a £1.7bn rescue. An old travel industry joke was that Alitalia meant ‘Always Late In Turning up, Always Late in Arriving.

2. EU phone roaming ban WON'T stop these extra charges

UK mobile users travelling in Europe could still face hefty additional fees of about £7.80/GB to use their data allowance – despite a much-touted EU 'ban' on roaming charges coming into effect this summer. Read more

3. Now Palma clobbers Airbnb

Palma clamps down on private holiday lets

Authorities in Palma, the Majorcan capital, are preparing to restrict Airbnb and holiday lets in the city as the island struggles to cope with its tourism boom. Antoni Noguera, who will become mayor in June, says that he wants to apply a model used in Amsterdam that limits the number of days owners can let their apartments to 60 a year. The other option being considered is zoning the city and restricting holiday lets in certain areas, such as the city centre. Campaign group Terraferida says the "growth or death" approach to tourism is damaging the Balearic Islands.

4. Top rating for Emirates but who is Azul?

The public review website TripAdvisor has announced the results of its inaugural Travellers' Choice Awards for Airlines. Emirates was voted the best carrier based on user reviews, ahead of Singapore Airlines. But many people will be unfamiliar with third place Azul, based in Brazil. The budget carrier has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2008 and now serves 105 destinations using 134 planes. Europe's best carrier, according to TripAdvisor, is Aeroflot, once the butt of jokes. It pipped Turkish Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa and Swiss. British Airways was not in the top 10.

5. Now even the beds are bugged

As if tourism to Paris had not suffered enough in recent years, the city is now having to cope with an invasion of bed bugs. Infested mattresses are being dumped in the streets of the French capital and one housing agency has reported that 20 per cent of the 1,000 buildings it works with in the city are affected. "We think they are coming from America," a manager said.

6. Gobbling up Turkey's currency

Turkey's embattled tourism industry could be on the turn after the Post Office announced sales of the country's currency, the lira, were up in the first three months of the year compared to the same period in 2016. Turkey has seen tourist numbers fall over the past two years after a series of terrorist attacks and an attempted coup last year which prompted many British tour operators to pull out. This has meant that there have been lots of bargains to be had at seaside resorts unaffected by the trouble, like Bodrum. The Post Office says that sales of the lira are up 46 per cent and with hotel rates across the country at an all time low, tour operator Thomas Cook said tourists were beginning to return.

7. Sky's not the limit in Miami

SkyRise Miami will become Miami’s ‘Eiffel Tower’

Miami is getting a new observation tower, but taking in the views of Biscayne Bay and south towards the Caribbean is only half the story. The 1,000ft-tall SkyRise Miami, set to open in 2019, will also offer a 500ft base jumping-style bungee, a 95mph free-fall ride called Sky Drop, a hang gliding simulator, a nightclub and 20 glass pods that will rotate around the exterior of the glass and steel structure. Go to skyrisemiami.com for a closer look

8. Keeping clean... it's in the bag

Travel bags can often become a bit smelly by the end of a trip, so to combat this a new carry-on bag with its own built-in cleaning system has been produced. The Paqsule uses UV light and something called "activated oxygen" to deodorise and sanitise the contents at the touch of a button - either on its side or the smartphone app you can show off to everyone. It is rechargeable, has a USB port, padded laptop and mobile pockets and is water resistant. It costs £187 and will be ready for delivery in June from paqsule.com.

9. Get your Philly of war history

A new museum just opened in Philadelphia charts America through "the darkest hours of the Revolutionary War". The Museum of the American Revolution houses an impressive collection of several thousand Revolutionary-era artefacts including George Washington's headquarters tent, books from his library and weapons from the conflict. The museum's location is fitting as Philadelphia was the US capital at the time of the war and at one point was occupied by British forces.

10. A new 'planet' for the apes

Rwanda has been revealed as the surprise choice for a new resort by beachside retreat operator One&Only. The luxury brand's new Nature Resort division has announced that Nyungwe House will open in July on the grounds of a working tea plantation in Giaskura on the edge of the Nyungwe National Park in the south of the country, which is home to 20 per cent of all apes on the continent. Visitors can join trips to view rare breeds of chimpanzees and explore trails flanked by exotic fauna. A second resort is planned for 2018 near the northern village of Kinigi for those wishing to see the country's famous mountain gorillas.

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