Dear travel agents, I have nothing against you, but I won’t stay schtum to protect your profits

Dear travel agents, I have nothing against you, but I won't stay schtum to protect your profits

Dear travel agents, I have nothing against you, but I won't stay schtum to protect your profits

Sadly, travel agents are up in arms at me again for suggesting people haggle down the price of package holidays. I have no axe to grind against travel agents, but I can’t and won’t apologise for the fact that my job is to show consumers how to get the cheapest deals.  

This flared up again after the last episode of the latest series of The Martin Lewis Money Show, where my challenge to my co-presenter Saira Khan was to see if she could haggle the price of a holiday down following my tips. (Watch the show.)  

The results proved it works, with savings of £200+. This was backed up by a raft of tweets from people who’d tried the technique too, one with savings in the £1,000s. Read the full Haggle Down A Package Holiday technique – where you’ll also see the "travel agents don’t like this" section, deliberately in there so people can make their own moral choice.

In the immediate social network aftermath of the programme, several agents started accusing me of being "inaccurate" or "untrue". Yet when I challenged them to tell me exactly which facts were incorrect, funnily enough, they went quiet.

The majority though were courteous, but annoyed, and wanted me to stop telling people to haggle because it was damaging to their (sometimes small) businesses – and I believe similar’s been reflected in the trade magazine Travel Weekly.

However, let me be plain. Asking me to shut up about haggling doesn’t wash. The only way to shut me up about it is to stop it working.

I am not an unbiased journalist. I am very proudly biased, on the consumers’ side – I’m an opinion journalist with a focus to save people money. While I have no intent to hurt businesses, I won’t pull punches because it impacts corporate profits. 

So whether it’s travel agents, banks, supermarkets, electronic retailers, mortgage companies, childcare providers or more, if you want someone to represent your industry and act in a protectionist way for it, I suggest you speak to your trade association, or the hugely resourced big bodies set up to promote business like the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) or the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

To those travel agents who say "I get so little commission if I discount it isn’t worth it", then I say, quite simply, don’t discount – the choice is yours. But the likelihood is another firm which says "yes" will get the business – it’s called a competitive marketplace. 

Of course, I don’t do this in a moral vacuum. Below is the (tidied up) quick response I made to a travel agent who politely tweeted me about this. I think it covers it well.

————————————————————————————————————————————

“I have no axe to grind against travel agents, but my job is to show consumers how to get the CHEAPEST deal. Haggling works, so I include it. Please, can I ask you go and watch the show again and listen closely to what I actually say.

1) These days more and more people do DIY online bookings. I am one of the few voices saying not to ignore travel agents, as they can, and do sometimes provide cheaper deals (and a few agents have thanked me for doing just that). It is frustrating that agents choose to focus on the haggle element, and not that.

2) I specifically point out that we’re talking haggling down BIG TOUR OPERATOR packages – not bespoke packages from independents. And as you and I well know, these are commodities and therefore haggle-able.

3) It wasn’t my choice for Saira to start in a travel agent’s branch, so you’ll hear me in the voiceover say: "I wouldn’t have started with a travel agent, I’d do it with a late booking specialist on the phone. If you’re not going to buy from an agent, don’t waste their time."

4) As Saira started at a travel agent, I asked the producers to ensure she went back to the same agent to give it a chance to match the best price.  You’ll hear me say this in the voiceover too.

5) Of the messages from people who’d successfully haggled (eg, the woman who got 40% off saving over £1,000), I deliberately ‘managed expectations’ by saying they were the exception and 5% off was more likely.

6) I make it plain no-one should be rude or aggressive, that this is about trying to charm a discount.

While your invite to come and spend a day in a travel agent is kind, it’s also irrelevant as it won’t teach me anything about haggling. I’m sure you do a great service, and if you do, people will stick with you rather than go elsewhere."

————————————————————————————————————————————

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My five rules for a happy relationship

My five rules for a happy relationship

My five rules for a happy relationship

They say you should never mix love and money, but for most, they’re both building blocks in our lives. The two can clash; financial problems are one of the major causes of relationship break-up. So taking a little time to think about how you manage them can pay off.

As it’s Valentine’s week, I was asked to come up with my "love and money" rules for This Morning. As I’d done the thinking, I thought ‘em worth bashing out here too.

1. Opposites may attract, but they shouldn’t have a joint bank account.

Many members of the older generation have completely joint finances, and I certainly am not going to preach to people who’ve successfully managed this for 40 years.

Yet these days, many new couples have spent a substantial period of time financially independent before they get together. Therefore, fusing finances together can cause rows. 

This is especially pertinent if you’ve developed different money personalities. If one partner’s saving up for something, and the other spends that cash willy-nilly, you’re not in a good place. Far better to continue to independently manage your affairs but co-operate on the areas where the financial Venn diagram does overlap.

The classic example of that is to have a joint bills account – where each contributes to the pot of necessary expenses. The amounts contributed don’t have to be equal if your income and expenses aren’t (this fits well into my general piggybanking budgeting technique).

NB. People often ask me ‘what’s the best joint account?’ The answer’s simple, almost all accounts allow you to hold them jointly, so it’s the same as for a single person. See Top Savings and Top Bank Accounts.

2. Bad debt is more like an STI than a marriage.

You can be as lovestruck as Romeo and Juliet (and we all know how that ended), but what lenders care about is the financial products that link the two of you.

There are only two types of product which can be linked to your credit file; a joint bank account or a mortgage (joint credit cards don’t exist, just second cardholders). If you have one of these, it connects your credit files. So if you apply for credit, your partner’s finances are likely to be looked at too. Therefore, if one of you has bad credit, it can impact the other.

The reason I liken it to an STI is that if your relationship breaks down, separating or getting a divorce doesn’t make the linkage go away – problems can linger long after. The solution is to apply for a ‘notice of disassociation’, but only if your finances are truly separate. If you still have a house or joint finances, this won’t be granted. (Full help in my Boost Your Credit Rating guide).

In a nutshell, be very careful before getting any products with someone who has a bad credit history – no matter how much you love them! If you do want a joint account (for bills, for example) then make it a savings account where there’s no credit linkage (though you get less functionality).

Bad debt is more like an STI than a marriage

Bad debt is more like an STI than a marriage

3. Never let your partner look after the finances.

"My partner deals with all the finances – I haven’t got a clue." If this sounds like you, then alarm bells should be ringing (and if you’re the one who does the looking after, read this in reverse).

Let me be blunt. Imagine for a second the worst were to happen and your partner died or left you – this would leave you with untold financial disorganisation and grief on top of the misery.

While it’s common for one half of a couple to be better with money than the other, you both need to be involved. I suggest the ‘senior’ financial half creates a simple factsheet detailing all your products – savings, debts, energy providers, insurance, bank accounts and more (avoid noting down sensitive passwords though). This should then be kept up-to-date and somewhere safe, in case, heaven forbid, something happens.

It’s also worth arranging a budget and finance meeting across the kitchen table to discuss it at least every three months (or every week if your finances are in dire straits). This will diminish the risk of problems.

Budget meetings are also great for those who struggle, so discuss before you spend any money, as two have better discipline than one.

4. You CAN use a 2for1 voucher on the first date (and every date, in fact).

Worried about whipping out that crinkled up 2for1 restaurant voucher on a first date? Don’t be. Our Valentine’s poll of over 7,000 users shows being savvy is officially attractive!

The scenario was a man asks a woman out and says he’ll pay – but uses a 2for1 voucher.  

30% said using a voucher was a good thing, it shows he’s a keeper.
56% say it’s not an issue.
14% say it’s tight and avoid.

So, if first-timers can do it, those in established relationships should relish it. If you want to go out and a voucher’s available, it’s far better to use that than to overpay, think what you could do with the cash saved.

See the latest restaurant vouchers, including for Valentine’s Day.

You CAN use a 2for1 voucher on the first date

You CAN use a 2for1 voucher on the first date

5. Trust pays in a relationship (and in your finances).

If you’re in a trusting relationship, you can use that to gain financially.

  • Savings: If you’re married or in a civil partnership, move any savings you have into the name of the lower rate taxpayer to maximise the interest payments. You can do this if you’re not married, but then there’s a minor risk of inheritance tax issues if one of you died and you have substantial assets. See Top Savings.

  • Double cashback gain. My top pick cashback card is the Amex Platinum Everyday, which pays new cardholders 5% cashback for the first three months on up to £2,000 spending.

    If you’re in a couple, one of you can sign up to the account and get joint cards so you can both spend on it. Once the three months are up, get your partner to get a new card to keep the 5% for another three months. Remember to always REPAY IN FULL each month or it’s 19.9% representative APR.

  • Bank account boost. As the top bank accounts require a set amount of income, if you’ve each got that, you can marry together accounts to get the maximum perks.

    For example, one of you can get a Santander 123 current account – which while it has a £2 a month fee, pays cashback on bills, eg, 3% on phones, 1% council tax, and 3% savings interest (if you’ve £3,000 to £20,000). Then whomever gets that should pay all the bills from it.

    The other can then go and get an account such as First Direct‘s, which gives a £100 switching bonus, top rated service and a 0% £250 overdraft.

I’d love to read your money and relationship tips in the comment section below.

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Are you due money back from Lloyds, TSB, Halifax and Bank of Scotland for debit card outage?

Are you due money back from debit card outage?

Are you due money back from debit card outage?

Are you entitled to recompense from Lloyds, TSB, Halifax and Bank of Scotland outages today? I thought I’d bash out a quick note to explain.

This afternoon, substantial numbers of customers of Lloyds, Halifax, Bank of Scotland and TSB (which, works on the same system) have found their debit cards not working when they try and pay in stores and elsewhere, and in some instances ATMs are not giving them cash.

We haven’t yet heard from the Lloyds Group, I suspect it needs to get its team together on Monday morning to decide what it’s policy will be, yet the precedent for this is how NatWest and RBS dealt with their similar issues last year.

More so, I would argue the RBS/NatWest issue has set the ‘standard industry practice’, which is enforceable by the Financial Ombudsman. So if Lloyds fails to do the same, as a bare minimum, you could take it to the Ombudsman.

At the time NatWest effectively said if you can prove you are out of pocket because of its outage (eg, late payment fines with other banks, extra hotel charges etc.), it would give you your money – it didn’t however, have a policy to pay compensation for distress.

I would suggest Lloyds will and must do the same. It is worth noting though that actually, when some who had been put in genuinely distressful circumstances spoke to NatWest, it did pay out compensation in some cases, so it’s worth calling Lloyds if that’s happened to you.

Lloyds says the problems are now fixed and I will update any news on this tonight on my Twitter feed (@martinslewis). Also, please use that to let me know if Lloyds’ statement doesn’t match up to your experience.

Ps. Apologies for the poor formatting of this blog post and the slightly scrappy prose. Normally it is laid out and subbed by my team, but as it’s a Sunday evening I wanted to get something out quickly as many are asking about it.

Pps. Thanks to Mrs MSE for stepping in as an impromptu proof reader.

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Is the Post Office playing fair about its mailing list?

Is the Post Office playing fair about its mailing list?

Is the Post Office playing fair about its mailing list?


Junk mail, calls and emails are all annoying. Yet not all of it comes from spam companies on the fringes of the law. Many are from big, legitimate operations. They often do this by using opt-in boxes, or by designing forms in such a way that we say ‘yes’ when we mean ‘no’.

That’s not behaviour you would expect from the Post Office – it’s a national institution and many people wrongly see it as a part of the State rather than a commercially-run organisation. In fact, its savings arm is actually run by the Bank of Ireland.

However, while doing research, I came across this as one of the many questions on the Post Office’s online savings application form.

______________________________________

Contacting you

Post Office®, Royal Mail and our trusted partners would like to contact you about other products, services and offers that might be of interest to you.

By clicking on the continue button and submitting this form you will be indicating your consent to receiving marketing communications by post, phone and email unless you have indicated an objection to receiving such communications by ticking the relevant box(es) below.

Contacting you

  • Post
  • Telephone
  • Email

_______________________________________________________

After scan-reading it, I couldn’t easily work out whether to tick or not to tick. So I had to stop and read it slowly to work out what to do.

GIVE IT A GO YOURSELF. DO YOU FIND IT EASY TO UNDERSTAND?

So what I want to know from you, is – do you feel the same? You can answer in the comments section below.

  • How easy did you find this to work out what to do?
  • Do you feel this is confusing? If so, in your view, is this just poor drafting or a deliberate attempt to confuse?

SPOILER ALERT:

From here on, I will assume you’ve already worked out what to do – if you haven’t, read it first or you can’t take a proper judgement.

In effect, what the Post Office has created is an ‘opt-out’ system, which to my eyes looks like an ‘opt-in’ system. Unless you tick the boxes, you will get the marketing.

Therefore, you’re effectively automatically signed up unless you choose not to.

Of course, an ‘opt-in’ system is favourable (we always use that here on MSE and try and make it as obvious as possible).

But if a firm is going to use an opt-out, the very least a responsible one should do is be very plain about it.

Yet here again, in my view, the Post Office fails. I suspect that were it to put ‘tick these boxes if you don’t want our marketing’ in bold above the boxes, it’d have far fewer sign-ups.

However, I’d like to see if you’re in sync with me, or you think it’s done it clearly.

Update by Martin: 20 January 2014:

I received this tweet from the Nina Arnott, the head of PR at the Post Office, a few hours after this blog was published: "@MartinSLewis thanks for highlighting this. Essential that forms like this are v clear. We’ll look into first thing tmrw @PostOfficeNews"

Related info:

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Join my run challenge: How far can you go in 2014?

How far can you run in 2014?

How far can you run in 2014?

It’s the perfect MoneySaving sport – a pair of trainers, shorts, T-shirt and you’re off! And right now I’m cheering – hurrah! Even though I’ve got shin splints and had plantar fasciitis, I broke my record and ran 695 km in 2013. In 2014, I’m determined to break 700km. Want to join me? There’s no better motivation.

Before this year, all my previous running – which I’ve been doing for just under four years – was all about trying to beat my personal bests for each distance and route run. However, as progress isn’t linear, I realised this actually started to be demotivating. In other words I’d aim to do a 10k, realise I wasn’t close to my record, so I’d cut it short.   

At the end of last year, I added a new column to my graph (of course I’ve got a running graph, don’t you?) to focus on annual distance – and totted up what I’d done in the past.

It’s been a huge boon, because even when I’m less fit or sparky, when running I often fall on the obsessive mantra of "need to feed the graph, need to feed the graph".

It’s helped spur me on, even though work has been so difficult finding a second was tough.

At one point I was on to break 800km for the year, but then the injuries hit. This last month though, recovering from shin splints, I managed to just beat my previous record, though I admit it was with some pain.

Want to join my run challenge?

It occurred to me that a great boost of motivation for 2014 would be to make this public and get others to join in. The aim isn’t for you to beat me or vice versa. It’s to all beat our own goals. A mutual run club support challenge.

Here’s what to do to join...

In the comments section at the end of this post (or via the forum link) first of all, write your pledge:

My name is ????????. And my running challenge target distance for 2014 is ??????? km."

Then if possible tell us a bit about yourself, for example:

  • Age (if you’re willing).
  • Fitness level.
  • How fast you typically go.
  • Whether you have any official races planned.
  • Distance run in past years, if you know it.
  • And whether you have a running spreadsheet.

Whether it’s to do 50k or 5,000 miles, it doesn’t matter. The key is an achievable, hard, but not overly ambitious target. After all, you don’t want it to be such a stretch that you quickly realise it’s unachievable and get demotivated. Think about how many runs you can do a week, and the maths (I’d calculate it on 46 weeks, not 52, you’ll always miss some due to injury, or other commitments).

Each month I will blog my progress and you can update yours, hopefully supporting each other. As well as in the forum, I’ll post the blog on my Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as in the weekly email so you can ensure you stay in touch.

How to measure your distance

If you’re running on a treadmill, it’s easy. For those running outside, there are a few ways…  

  • Smartphone apps. Most smartphones have apps that can track your run and distance (do suggest your favourite below). So strap one to your arm and use it to play your music too (the beat can help regulate your pace). I don’t use one, so if you know a good one please suggest it in the comments below.
  • Use Google Maps’ tool. Choose a path, follow the route and you can then measure the distance afterwards on Google Maps (there’s a special tool to do this on the non-mobile version). If you’re using this method, I suggest you stick to a few routes and repeat to make the process easier.
  • GPS watch. Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to have a GPS watch (as I am – it was a birthday present from Mrs MSE) then that can be a real boon – but only buy one if you can afford it, it’s not necessary.

My charts

So to get you going, here are my charts over the last three years.

As you’ll see, I’m mainly an outdoor runner (last year 616k outdoors, 79k on treadmills) and I tend to get more mileage in during the summer months. You can see from the the table below where injuries suddenly slowed my distance in 2013.

Month-by-month cumulative kilometres
  2011 2012 2013

Jan

33

48

40

Feb

64

82

65

March

120

128

114

April

150

175

181

May

235

228

267

June

311

286

357

July

401

353

428

Aug

473

408

536

Sept

555

465

596

Oct

630

518

627

Nov

668

564

648

YEAR END TOTAL

672

622

695

Now to start the club…

My name is Martin Lewis and my running challenge target distance for 2014 is 700km."

Your turn.

PS. Since writing this blog, only three days later on Sunday I woke up with agnoising pain in my ankle and ended up in A&E in a cast. That’s now off but I’ve got gout and I’m on crutches. So while running club is still on, my January isn’t going to look too pucker!

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