From Brian Villette.
IS Condor the company that charges you to make savings?
When first introduced years ago the Frequent Traveller Card was a great saving, with 20% off each trip. Over the years the benefits have been reduced, at one stage the booking becoming very complicated, so that it was almost impossible to get any benefit.
It has now been reworded so that you look as if you are gaining something but you are not. For example, if you wish to change your booking you don’t get charged the £20 booking amendment fee. How generous, because the chances are, based on their complicated pricing and booking system, the person who books the sailing you relinquished is likely to pay vastly more anyway. So in this instance Condor will not be losing anything.
Indeed, if you are not a frequent traveller it’s probably a double-whammy, double-bubble profit. A £20 amendment fee and the person who takes your place pays more. Then of course we come to a situation where rather than up their fares they used spin and put on a fuel surcharge which has been regularly increased and it is now not only placed on cars but on passengers too.
In effect it is my belief that Condor have only ever once reduced the fuel surcharge and that was last year, when I’m sure people started questioning it. I’m led to believe fuel prices are currently less than before the implementation of the fuel surcharge, so why has it not been completely removed?
But we come again to the frequent traveller card, which offers a 15% discount, so let’s take a fictional £100 fare as an example. One would expect that after discount it would be £85, but no, they don’t take it off the fuel surcharge, so we end up paying around £86.80. So effectively it’s no longer a 15% discount.
Let us consider one further point. If it costs £20 for a roughly four-hour journey from Weymouth to Jersey would it not be reasonable to assume that a one hour journey from Jersey to Guernsey or St Malo would be cheaper?
Once again we are wrong because on average a day return to Guernsey is approx £36 and St Malo approx £50. Somewhat strange – at the very least one would expect the fuel surcharge to be reduced by 75%.
Another example of Condor’s spin concerned a local motorcycle club who were generously given a reduction for bikes and riders, as indeed had the Poole Bike Riders, commonly known as the Poole Bikers Special. When the arrangement for that year ended I took up the challenge to get it sorted for the next year, indeed succeeding. However, when I decided to take advantage of this special price for club members I found Condor were doing an even cheaper fare on their own website.
But the best bit of spin was the following year when I was told the Poole Biker Special would be on stream towards the end of April. Wanting to go with my bike I could see no reference to it and, on ringing Condor, I was told that a new system was in place and it gave discount for the first five bikes, I believe, on any sailing.
I wonder how many times Condor has had five bikes on a sailing on a regular basis? Very few, I would imagine, so there was no special price. More importantly, from the first time I went with my bike about three years ago when the special fare was approximately £74, the current price is now £150. My maths says it has more than doubled in three years.
What is our Transport Minister going to do about it? Simply, the most accurate answer is nothing.
31 Victoria Court,
Reply from Simon Edsall, managing director, Condor Ferries.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to some of the questions in Mr Villette’s letter. As the relatively newly appointed managing director I realise that we need to do more to communicate our pricing. Maybe this is a step along that path.
Amendment fees are set to cover our administrative costs. We have a policy of offering the same fares to everyone, whether they book online, in person or by phone, so the amendment fees are the same too. And when bookings are changed close to the departure date we may not be able to resell the original seat or space on the car deck at such short notice.
We have reduced the fuel supplement in four stages from a high of £8.75 per foot passenger down to £3.75 for a Channel Islands-to-St Malo journey. Fuel prices are still significantly higher than when the fuel surcharge was introduced. But we understand that fuel surcharges are not always popular and we are currently looking at ways to address that.
Our current promotions inter-island mean that adult fares for a return day trip are £25 per head and £16 for children. Prices for a car and two adults to St Malo start at £67.25 each way, equating to less than £34 per person. Our maximum fare to St Malo is £150 each way for a car and two adults.
Incidentally, these fares are inclusive of the fuel supplement and, unlike many other transport operators, Condor does not make a charge for credit card bookings.
Condor does a lot to promote tourism into the Channel Islands from both France and the UK. In these difficult economic times we are working even more closely with Tourism locally to encourage visitors to the Islands. This activity is mainly in the form of additional advertising but includes special fare promotions to encourage more visitors at otherwise quieter periods.
We are confident that with these actions and the weakness of sterling that we will play our part in supporting the Channel Islands’ economy this summer.
Our goal is to provide a safe, resilient, year-round service. We know we provide a lifeline service to the Channel Islands community and take our responsibilities to do that seriously.