Belfast Telegraph

AA vouchers give trouble as does a hellish trip to France

By Paul Gosling

Question: In April last year I purchased £150 of driving lesson vouchers from the AA website as a present for my partner. It was not until last month that my partner could proceed with lessons.

When he phoned to book he was told the vouchers expired on 31 March 2011. The expiry date was printed at the foot of the voucher, but I did not examine the vouchers, nor did my partner. I accept there is an expiry date, but I was not told this when I bought the vouchers and it is not referred to in the terms and conditions at the point of sale, or in the letter that came with them. Had I been aware of the expiry date I would not have purchased the vouchers as I knew my partner might not be able to use them immediately. I emailed the AA, but it will not honour the vouchers, or issue a refund - my preferred outcome.


Answer: The AA has agreed to fully refund the cost of the vouchers. A spokeswoman explains: "Like many vouchers, all AA Driving School lesson vouchers are printed with an expiry date beyond which they cannot be redeemed. However, we are sorry the expiry date was not explained to [the reader] during the sales process and that her partner has missed out on their AA driving lessons."

Question: My family booked a seven-day activity holiday in the French Alps for July through the agents Alpine Elements. The bedroom we were given was of poor standard and much too small. We booked in February - before other visitors who were given superior rooms. All the bedrooms have access to a bath or shower, yet we were charged extra for "full en suite". The agents did not give us accurate information about the accommodation.

When I complained, I did not get an answer from Alpine Elements for over a month, despite an initial email promising a full investigation and response within 28 days. The eventual letter did not address all my points and offered £21 to compensate us for having paid extra for a balcony that turned out to be big enough for only two of us to sit on it. Building work was taking place opposite our hotel: we had been warned of this, but were told that the main work was completed and that only some carpentry was continuing.

But power tools were up and running from 7.30 in the morning. The noise of the building work made the balcony useless. We also paid for breakfast and evening meal, but when we got there we were told that Wednesdays were the chef's night off and that we would have to obtain our own meal - an expense which is not cheap in that area. The compensation does not provide any remuneration for the accommodation being over-priced or for the additional costs we had to meet while on this trip.


Answer: You provided us with a very detailed criticism of Alpine Elements and your holiday. Alpine Elements also provided a detailed response. It argues that its reply to you was comprehensive and that other holidaymakers going to that hotel - the Hotel Christiania - seemed happy with it. A spokeswoman says: "Very few complaints have been received this summer regarding this hotel. In fact most comments have been complimentary. The rating for this hotel on Trip Advisor is fourth out of 22 hotels in the region, with an overall score of four out of five.

"With regard to the building works nearby, the site had been in this state for a number of years. However, this year the owners began work on the building. As the main activity for this region is skiing, it is not entirely unreasonable to expect that any work being undertaken has to be carried out during the summer months."

Alpine Elements insists that although the building work "may not have been aesthetically pleasing, there was only light carpentry work being undertaken at the time." As soon as Alpine Elements' local staff became aware of the building work, they arranged with the mayor to have the work discontinued. The company has now offered to pay you £120 as additional compensation, which you have accepted - although you continue to dispute the suggestion that only light carpentry work was taking place while you were there.

Question: My husband and I joined a health club several years ago, which has since been taken over by David Lloyd Leisure. Recently we wanted to leave the club and were told that three months' notice was required, which we submitted on 6 September. We were then told that the notice had to be submitted on the first of the month and therefore we would not be able to leave until 1 January 2012. We did not originally take out a contract with David Lloyd. The monthly combined membership fee has been increased to over £140. Can the club change the rules like this? JB

Answer: David Lloyd Leisure is not for persuading. A spokeswoman for the company says that all members were notified in September 2008 of a rule change that included introducing a three-month cancellation period, as from January 2009. The company points out that this change was in place before David Lloyd Leisure took over the company. She adds: "Our terms and conditions clearly state that notice periods begin from the first of the month after we have received a member's notice in writing. In this instance, [the reader] gave notice of cancellation on 6 September 2011, meaning that her three-month notice period would be effective from 1 October 2011 - ending 1 January 2012 . We also reserve the right to increase membership rates, and in such instances we give three months' notice. It is important that we abide by our terms and conditions to be fair to all our members."