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It’s summer and the weather is… awful. Many of us will be thinking of trying to get away to somewhere hot.
The Internet is awash with package deals and special offers and often it can be hard to know where to look.
So when you’re contacted on the phone by a polite, friendly and enthusiastic representative from a travel company and offered incredible cut priced holidays you’re likely to hear them out. Especially if they offer you all the necessary assurances and appear to be above board.
I got an email last week from Insider’s Edge reader Robert who has had what sounds like an absolutely horrific experience with a certain holiday company called ‘The Holiday Specialist’. I have to say, this is really, really upsetting stuff.
Here’s what he had to say:
“Have you heard of a company called ”The Holiday Specialist”? They are in Alicante, in Spain. I am a 74yro disabled pensioner, I have paid them over £1000 over 10 months, for cheaper holidays however up till now I have not taken out any options.
4 weeks ago they tried to sell me more holidays, but I said I don’t have any money at the moment. I told them at least 20 times… but they had my Visa card number, and they took out of my acc. £599.61. This happened 5 weeks ago. I had to go 10 days with no cash at all, and I lost 12lb in weight. I have been in touch with every one. Fraud squad, etc. not a penny back. I want someone like you to warn your readers.”
I don’t know about you but this makes me so angry. Furious.
But before we go any further Insider’s Edge isn’t a forum for baseless witch-hunting and there are two sides to every story so I did a bit of research into this company.
They’ll wish I hadn’t…
Surprise surprise this isn’t the first time they seem to have upset their customers…
(I should mention that there isn’t actually room to put all the disgruntled comments I found on websites and forums so I’ll just put some snippets here).
“We paid £499.00 for what we thought was a cruise… after 10 months they told us we had not purchased the cruise it was a gift and that we purchased a loyalty card…”
“They are still at it, taking people for a ride. I bought the travel card, booked my holiday through them, just for them to inform me 2 days before my departure that they never booked my tickets.”
“Like many others, I have been scammed by The Holiday Specialist or Lifetime Marketing Solutions or which ever name they use.”
“VERY DODGY – It’s a Spanish based scam operation”
“I have just returned from USA to visit my very sick, elderly father. I noticed on his debit card several hundreds of pounds on automatic debit for this company. When I look at the material I do not find a phone number nor email address to contact these people…”
“we booked last November to go to Thailand with them using our LMS Loyalty card. We found ourselves never of the phone to them. Kept giving us different flight numbers every time we called. Then came the time for our holiday in July and still no tickets.”
“we made the mistake of booking with them even though we had our suspicions, its all a scam. 2 days prior to flight departure they called to say there were no flights for us and we had booked with them 9months prior. We still have not had any money back. My advice is to stay well clear.”
Here’s a particularly interesting one…
“When I bought the tickets and the card, they ensured me that they are ATOL and ABTA registered, Now that I have actually asked for the numbers of their registration, they informed me that they are not actually registered…”
Now to be fair I’m not giving the full side of the story. I’ve found at least 7 or 8 comments made in support of this outfit (as opposed to the 60 or so complaints).
The funny thing is, all of these positive comments seem to have been made by brand new forum members (i.e. people with no history on the site who’ve suddenly signed up to post a positive review about this company in reponse to a negative one). Very suspicious.
Here’s an example:
“I have had mine [membership] for two months. I have booked, and returned from 7 flights to europe already and had a family holiday in America. I too believed it was too good to be true but i have NO complaints…”
Incredible, 7 flights in 2 months AND a family holiday eh? That’s a man that enjoys his plane food.
Almost all of the other comments from supporters have something suspicious about them – like broken English… or peculiar turns of phrase.
But you know what? These are just reports.
So let’s look at the cold hard facts.
Let me start with what I found on their impressive looking website.
I found lots of enticing, well-written information promising big discounts and customer satisfaction.
Here’s what I didn’t find…
1. Any contact information whatsoever – other than an 0870 number (hmm…) and an email address.
2. Any mention of ATOL or ABTA registration on their site. These are regulatory bodies for travel organisations and offer us, the consumers, protection should something go wrong. It is essential to look out for these logos when booking a holiday.
Some other observations of note…
3. On their website they claim: “Our team has a true passion for travel and with over 25 years experience we enjoy tailor-making holidays for each and every one of our clients….” Yet funnily enough (as some clever fellow from the mindtimeshare.me website has pointed out) they only registered their website in 2011 – a year ago.
4. They keep changing their name. One minute they’re ‘Lifetime Marketing Solutions’ then their ‘The Holiday Specialist’. It turns out the two companies are partnered and both are based in Alicante, Spain.
5. They’re hiring new telemarketers. Their website has a ‘Join Our Team’ page. What jobs are on offer? Just one it seems… They require “additional telemarketers”. This job involves moving to Spain and calling UK numbers. They boast a “very good commission structure”. Who’s going to organise and arrange my bespoke holiday? Surely not a telemarketer!
6. And finally here’s an interesting anecdote (which may or may not be fact, but sounds convincing enough to me) from someone who claims to be an ex-employee:
“As staff, I had no computer with information or flights, excursions, hotels etc in front of me to look at to provide customers with. Customers are lead to believe they’re paying a ‘one off fee’ of £499 for this ‘loyalty travel trade card’ which in fact DOES NOTHING.
To get my sales figures up I asked my manager if I could sell these ‘holidays, flights etc’ to my friends and family to boost my commission but was told I was not allowed (BECAUSE IT’S A SCAM)
I flew home after a week of working for this company and am pleased. It’s dodgy, It was first called LMS TRAVEL, then THE HOLIDAY SPECIALIST and apparently it’s now called Travel Trade Card??!
Do not let them lead you to believe this is legit… it’s far from it.”
Now apologies if I’ve overdone it here and laboured the point. I just don’t want this kind of thing to happen to anyone else.
‘The Holiday Specialist’ are just one outfit – there are plenty more out there vying for money and they’ll often do or say anything to get it.
This will come too late for Robert and I’m sorry for that, but there are a few precautions you can take to stop yourself from getting scammed by travel agents or holiday brokers.