Since Martha Lane Fox raised so much venture capital for her Lastminute.com venture – at a time when the Travelmag had already launched, with no such investment promised or received – I’ve resented her success. And a new Lastminute experience has just proved me right.
In the early days of the pandemic I booked a few flights through Skyscanner that fed me through to Lastminute. I was hoping to get through a contracting world of travel restrictions, but when I was tentatively booking a possible trip I was careful to retain a cancellation option. But I booked through Lastminute.com. It came clear later what a bad idea this had been.
The refund was not full. At a time of crisis I could accept that a 90% return was OK. But the refund was only valid with lastminute bookings – and using the credit seemed far from straightforward. Amongst other misleading customer-service advice I was told to enter the refund code into the credit card field: that didn’t work, and I ended up buying a few flights from Lastminute without being able to use my credit note.
This was a shame. Lastminute never added any element of convenience to my flight bookings and, if anything, seemed to change date alterations and flight adjustments from difficult to impossible.
Last week it came to the crunch. I had £356 to use. A call to the helpline, apart from giving me totally incorrect instructions on redeeming my credit, did at least warn me that it had to be used before, not on, the expiry date. I had to spend – and fast.
At which point I realised how lame the Lastminute product is.
I’m not a fan of hotel breaks, so I looked first for self-catering options, but found only a complete hovel in Aldeburgh. Might be a nice East Anglian town but this rental was a tremendously modest flat, infested with bunkbeds, with an ashtray-sized courtyard. Charging £300 for two nights this would never compete with AirBNB; I’d be better off getting drunk and disorderly and spending the night in a local prison cell. The rest of the options were corporate hotels or remarkably uninspiring rural pubs.
So I had an idealistic moment. It would be nice to visit Northern Ireland. I’ve never been. Lastminute’s website showed local hotels and flights. That could work.
It didn’t. Though the hotels were indeed local to that part of Ireland, all the flights suggested by Lastminute arrived in Glasgow, with no options given for onward travel to Northern Ireland. It is possible these massively-resourced travel planners don’t know or care there’s a sea between the UK and Ireland.
European flight+hotel options all required paying more to Lastminute. This can’t be explained by the cost of the flights – or indeed the cost of the hotels. Lastminute just seem to have selected a lot of very poor deals. I didn’t buy into any of their options; priced – as by many legacy travel businesses – in prices per person for something sold to, and bought, by couples. Grow up.
So I looked at least on UK destinations, directly found on Google maps. At least if I wasn’t travelling abroad – to Northern Ireland for instance – I wouldn’t be relying on Lastminute to identify an intervening sea.
At the end of my long few hours struggling to constructively spend what I’d thought was a significant travel credit I had very few options. Searching for any sort of imaginative break on Lastminute’s website had proved a dispiriting experience.
In the end, approaching midnight and the expiry of my credit, I managed to blow the lot on a two-night stay in what appears to be an ambitiously overpriced B&B in the Cotswolds. And – despite quite incorrect helpdesk instructions – I managed to get my £350 credit code validated and spent. Better than nothing I suppose, though I had dreamed of more.
I’ve learned a couple of things though. Lastminute refunds are not quite what they appear, and the Lastminute product is wholly lamentable. For flights, there’s Skyscanner – and you need their site to identify any deals that might be available on Lastminute. For hotels and stays Voyageprive and Travelzoo are miles ahead. Despite Lastminute’s huge and early injection of initial investment it’s hard to envisage any website that could – with a straight face – offer a worse set of travel options.
Credit spent. You live and learn. Well, I’ve learned something, anyway. Never again.