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Thomas Cook it? Never again!
Member Name: grahamt
Advantages: Nothing that you couldn't get from just about any other tour operator
Disadvantages: Stingy baggage limit ; no in-flight entertainment ; confusing website ; "lost the plot"
It has been some years since we last holidayed with Thomas Cook. Their recent financial problems have not inspired confidence. However, as my wife and I were in the market for an early season break and Thomas Cook came up with the right holiday in the right location at the right price, we decided to go ahead.
I initially started booking on the Thomas Cook website, as I would with most holidays, but I soon ran into problems not being able to find information and having queries regarding the insurance, that I ended up having to phone them anyway.
The holiday we had in mind was a week all-inclusive at the Sandos Papagayo Arena hotel in the Lanazarote resort of Playa Blanca, on the island's south coast. What I couldn't find out was exactly what "all-inclusive" actually meant. This is exactly the sort of information you would want to know but the website made it very difficult to find out.
The other issue was the holiday insurance, to do with special terms and conditions regarding pre-existing conditions. Trying to clarify this wasn't not made easy.
Anyway, eventually most of my concerns were sorted out on the phone and, despite having to deal direct with a Thomas Cook agent, I still got the online discount. I left the insurance as provisional as I was sure I could get a better deal elsewhere, and I was allowed 7 days to cancel that aspect of the package if I did. I did: the Thomas Cook insurance was twice what I eventually got through Explorer Insurance. The total cost was nearly £1200 for the two of us. This included overheads such as credit card charges, for which Thomas Cook charged us an unjustifiable £30. I fail to be convinced that that's the amount the credit card company charges them but then this is a rip-off most tour companies seem to inflict on their customers!
The holiday was supposed to shown in "complete breakdown" on the website but in fact only consolidated some of the items, such as the individual components of the flight cost, such as pre-booked meal. However, the electronic copy of the invoice emailed to me did have the full details.
The documents arrived a few days later and so we were ready to go. It was then that I realised that Thomas Cook only allow a stingy 15kgs of hold luggage rather then the 20kgs that most other carriers permit! Cabin luggage was only 5kgs; even Ryanair permits 10kgs and Easyjet has NO limit! I wasn't prepared to stump up even more money for a larger limit so we would have to be careful about what we packed. Not good.
We weighed all our luggage before we left and were, according to our scales, just under the limit. When we checked in the luggage the Gatwick scales said we were about 3kgs under! Strangely, on the return from Arrecife the airport scales there said we were nearly 2kgs over, which could not be accounted for by anything we were taking back that we hadn't brought! However, we weren't charged excess baggage.
The flight was from Gatwick's South Terminal; as usual we had booked the car in with Tudor Rose meet-and-greet valet parking, at a cost virtually the same as Gatwick's long-term parking, booked in advance! Checking in was quite straight-forward, with minimal queuing, but then this was a Thursday so perhaps one of the less popular travel days. However, the plane was full. We did get seats together though.
The flight took off on time. When settling into our seats we discovered yet another drawback of flying Thomas Cook. The plane was a Boeing 757-300. The seats were of a type I've neve seen before: no back adjustment and the leg-room enabled by dispensing with the normal seat-back pocket. So, nowhere to put all your travel stuff except on the floor! All this, undoubtedly, so as to pack as many seats as possible into the plane, and to hell with passenger comfort!
We then discovered that Thomas Cook has also dispensed with all in-flight entertainment. This was not going to be an enjoyable flight. Fortunately, as finally with most airlines, Thomas Cook now acknowledges that flight-safe mobile phones DON'T screw up flight controls, contrary to what the airlines always claimed (how could they: they don't make any wireless transmissions!?) so I was able to use the music player function. I also had a book to read, a real one, not an eBook.
The in-flight meals were decent enough and included hot drinks but anything over and above that cost extra. Apart from the inevitable "duty-free" trolley, nothing else disturbed us for the entire flight.
The return flight was pretty much the same except we had to sit one behind the other on the aisle. At least it enabled the two of us to take a comfort break without having to ask anyone to move. The plane was the same as on the way out.
At the hotel the Thomas Cook rep invited us to the standard "Welcome" meeting but the hotel hadn't made the room he obviously usually used available so we ended up wandering all over the hotel trying to find somewhere suitable. In the end he held it in the open-air theatre. He rattled through the presentation as though he just wanted to get it over and done with. In the end we didn't take up any of the advertised excursions. We even hired our car direct with the Plus Car rep at his desk in the hotel lobby - £55 for two days in a Peugeot 207, no mileage limit; no air-con either though!
So, in my opinion, pretty shabby treatment of customers by Thomas Cook. No wonder they're struggling. If they continue to try to make ends meet by treating passengers as cattle, I can't see them returning to being what was once a great company. Unless they change their ways, I won't be travelling with them again any time soon.
Summary: A tour operator that is well past its sell-by date
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