How a dream holiday turned into a nightmare for one couple from Aylesbury

A couple from Aylesbury who thought they had booked a dream holiday to New York to celebrate their two-year anniversary, ended up with a nightmare when the travel agent Thomas Cook went into administration.
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Emma Coffill, 34, and her partner Gareth Smith, 32, had booked the lavish four-day trip, which included staying at the five-star Crowne Plaza hotel overlooking Times Square, in November 2018, paying £2,100 for the flights and hotel package.

Then, with only eight weeks to go until they were due to leave on 26 September 2019, their holiday of a lifetime began to unravel.

Firstly they learned that Superbreak, the company who's holiday Thomas Cook had sold them, had gone into administration on 1 August.

At that point the couple had no idea a third party was even involved, believing they had booked a holiday with Thomas Cook as that's the shop they went into almost a year earlier.

While they acknowledge the information was on the forms they were given, they believe it should be made much clearer and explained by the travel agent at the point of sale.

As Emma told the Bucks Herald: “I didn't realise it was a Superbreak holiday until Superbreak went into administration. My money went to Thomas Cook and that's what was on my bank statement, but the people you're actually booking with is at the bottom of your ATOL certificate.”

Nonetheless, after a few days of panic, the couple were reassured by Thomas Cook that their holiday was safe.

Gareth and Emma during their holiday in New YorkGareth and Emma during their holiday in New York
Gareth and Emma during their holiday in New York

But then, just three days before departure, Thomas Cook also went into administration on 23 September.

Though Virgin Airlines were still honouring the flights, Emma and Gareth were told by the Crowne Plaza in New York that they would now have to pay an additional £1,500 if they wished to stay there for the four nights as originally booked and paid for.

Unable to afford the extra expense but still determined to travel thinking they would get their money back in the future, the couple scrambled to secure alternative accommodation, albeit having to downgrade somewhat, eventually paying £544 for the replacement hotel.

Emma explained: "I had to borrow money from my dad and we could only afford a three star or two and a half star hotel 15 minutes outside of our original location."

Believing there couldn't possibly be anything else that could go wrong, the couple again rallied themselves to enjoy their much needed break, until the airport dealt them one last blow.

Upon checking in they were informed that Thomas Cook had not paid for their luggage and so it would cost them another £200 if they wished to take their suitcases with them.

Emma said: "That was my breaking point. We'd been through so much up 'til then but I thought we're still going and then there was yet another barrier.

"We went on the trip but we couldn't afford the things we wanted to do because of all these extra costs."

At the moment of entering their hotel room in New York, Emma and Gareth had paid £2,844 for a three-star hotel and flights when they were sold a five-star hotel and flights for £2,100.

Intent on getting a refund, Emma began doggedly chasing the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Government-run financial protection scheme, as soon as they touched back down in the UK.

In the end she was told they were only entitled to a reimbursement of £544 for the replacement hotel, which they were duly paid.

However, this still meant the couple had paid £200 more than the original asking price of £2,100 and stayed in lesser quality accommodation.

Understandably, this is far from acceptable to Emma and Gareth. Emma said: "I don't take 'no' for an answer. Because CAA are such a big company they think they can get away with things but I'm quite determined and I won't stop - the truth is going to come out eventually. I'm going to fight until I get what I'm owed."

Ultimately Emma told us that she contacted The Bucks Herald because she wanted to raise awareness about these issues for other people and because she feels things should be done differently.

"The rules need to be changed going forward because it's put a strain on my mental health. It's not fair how we've all been treated," she said, adding, "I was lucky to travel. I know a lot of people weren't able to, but it wasn't the dream trip we wanted it to be because of everything that happened."

The Bucks Herald has contacted CAA for a response but had not received one at the time of going to press.

Emma made a video where she explains her and her partner's ordeal, which you can also view on our website.

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