School ski trip boss in fraud probe



Travel firm boss Chris Reynard is facing a £500,000 fraud inquiry after hundreds of schoolchildren had their ski holidays to Switzerland and Austria cancelled.

Police are investigating claims that Mr Reynard's firm, Skiing Europe, let down more than 20 schools over the spring half term and Easter holidays by failing to book accommodation, transport and ski hire.

Schools discovered the money they paid in advance had not been passed on to coach firms, hotels or lift-pass operators, with many parents and teachers losing their payments along with their holidays, while other went ahead with the trip but paid twice. In some cases, schools refunded parents' cash or the local education authority stepped in.

Most schools pulled out of the trips when they realised what had happened, but they were still billed for the holidays. Some teachers who did travel had to pay for accommodation and ski hire using their own credit cards.

Although Skiing Europe was a member of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, its insurance bond only comes into play if the company becomes insolvent, which it has not.

In 2000, Mr Reynard was disqualified from being a director for five-and-a-half years after his previous company, Howglen Holidays, an activity holidays provider, went bust in 1996.

He was also a shareholder in a firm fined £60,000 for corporate manslaughter over the Lyme Bay canoe tragedy in which four teenagers died in 1993.

Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed that officers are investigating allegations of fraud against the company.

Mr Reynard issued a statement saying: 'We have not been contacted and have done nothing to warrant this. There is a consequence to so many schools being in arrears with their payments. We are initiating action against those responsible.'

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School ski trip boss in fraud probe

Do you ever check which currency you are being charged when you pay for things abroad? I know I don't. But apparently, some foreign retailers - especially in Ireland, France, Spain and the US - charge in sterling and then convert to their local currency using their own rate of exchange, which is almost always higher than your card provider would demand.

Travel writer's tip: Ask which currency you are being charged in when you make a transaction. You can insist on your right to choose to pay in the local currency.

A recent survey discovered that hotels charge an average of £12 a head for the most important meal of the day. That's enough to have you spluttering your morning coffee. But it's a snip, if you ask me – I've been stung for as much £30 for bacon, egg and sausage in a Paris hotel.

Travel writer's tip: When booking a room for the night, always check what's included. If the price is B&B, ask what it costs without breakfast and assess which tarriff represents better value.

Ouch! This one really hurts! No one wants to travel around with wads of money in their pocket - but if you change money while you're abroad you can expect to see some hefty charges on your next bank statement – up to three per cent - just for getting hold of your own cash. On top of that, you could get stung for a fixed 'overseas transaction fee' on your purchases. Why? Well, the banks say they are just covering their costs for moving money around... hmm.

Travel writer's tip: Try to deal in cash (shop around for the best exchange rates before you leave) and keep withdrawals from ATMs to a minimum. If you travel abroad frequently, choose a card with a low fee for spending in foreign destinations or sign up for one of the prepaid travel cards that are now available (remember to check for hidden fees though!).

It's not just those little bottles of spirits in the hotel bedroom fridge that can cost a pretty penny. Now we have to watch out for the outrageous prices charged for bottles of water. In one American hotel I visited recently, a choice of different bottles of mineral water had been set out on a tray in my room – and not one was under £5. One was so posh it cost a staggering £15. It must have had magical properties for that price. Watch out too for the new 'laid back' style of mini-bar, a tray laid with tempting treats, from bottles of wine to biscuits. This isn't the hotel being generous, you'll be sure to find an eye-watering price list nearby.

Travel writer's tip: Stock up on provisions in an ordinary shop outside the hotel. And if you have a favourite evening tipple, pick up a bottle on the plane or at the airport on your way in.

How long will we have to wait until the scandal of charging for WiFi access is a thing of the past? I had a startling £30 a day slapped onto my bill by one hotel in the States for the convenience of checking my emails in my room. And on a short train journey in the UK, I had to pay a minimum fee of £4.50 to hook up. It's a nonsense and a very short-sighted one at that.

Travel writer's tip: Choose a hotel that doesn't charge Wi-Fi and give yourself a break from the computer when you're in transit unless the service is offered for free. Simple.

There are so many things to think about when you're getting ready to jet off to the sun, so it's easy to forget to book your airport parking. But if you don't pre-book you could be stung for up to £45 a day to leave your car at some of our major airports.

Travel writer's tip: Shop around – try the comparison sites to find the best savings. Plus there are companies that will bundle up additional services, such as car parking and airport hotels, to make your holiday run a lot smoother.

Who uses the hotel telephone these days? not me. The advent of the mobile phone and Skype has made it a no-brainer to dodge this universally expensive facility where you can pay as much as 50p per minute to make a local call.

Travel writer's tip: Text your hotel number home and get your nearest and dearest to call you back – if your landline provider allows free favourite numbers that you can change at will, find out the hotel number you'll be staying at and temporarily make it one of your favourites. If you're travelling with your computer, sign up for Skype: you can connect to another Skype account back home for free or to your home landline for a fraction of the cost of the hotel phone.

Check into any hotel and you should be forgiven for assuming its facilities are at your disposal. Wrong. There are plenty of hotels out there prepared to charge you to use the gym and the swimming pool. At a resort I stayed at on Britain's south coast, you couldn't use the gym unless you had an induction with one of the fitness trainers – fair enough, except the introduction cost £2.50 a head. Why?

Travel writer's tip: Avoid this rip off with a simple in-room workout routine or go for a swim in the sea or a run in the great outdoors – who needs simulated hills?

So, you're jet-lagged and don't fancy dressing up for dinner tonight. Easy, call room service! But how much is it going to cost you to have the waiter bring the tray to your room rather than your table? At one London hotel, I was charged a whopping £10 for the privilege, and I've heard it can be much more.

Travel writer's tip: Check whether room service incurs a charge before you order – believe it or not, not all hotels grab this opportunity to make a quick buck. For more money-savvy tips, check out our brilliant feature Ten ways to save money on your next holiday

The world is pair-shaped. If you want to travel to its four corners you'll find it a whole lot cheaper to do it with someone else in tow. Most holiday packages, and hotel rooms, are charged on the basis of two sharing. It's a price single travellers have been paying for years.

Travel writer's tip: Check if your tour operator is one of the few enlightened ones operating a fair pricing policy for singles, such as Archer's Direct and Mercury Direct. And look at what's being offered by the growing army of holiday companies catering to single travellers, including Solo's and Just You.

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