I generally book my spring/summer holiday during the Christmas/New Year break from work, not in the hope of catching bargains but because I have more time to think about what I'm going to do and look around at the various options.
This year I had decided that I was going to visit Berlin in June 2014 and the only decision I had to make was whether to go by train or plane. The train option - London to Paris on Eurostar and then Paris to Berlin on the overnight sleeper seemed impossibly romantic, the idea of leaving England one morning and waking up in Berlin the following morning appealing no end. The downside though was the fact that my holiday would have to begin with a two hour journey to London and then across town by taxi before the holiday journey could actually begin - an alternative was required. Having been plagued by e-mails from a well known online site I decided to check out the various options available and entered London in the departures box and Berlin in the arrivals box together with my preferred dates. There were no shortage of options, the only problem was that the first dozen or so flights were all from Luton which is only a two hour drive away but a real bugger if you get stuck anywhere on the M3/M25/M1. I then scrolled down and found several flights with the German budget airline Germanwings - the name alone made it difficult to resist.
So I choose a hotel in the Charlottenburg area of Berlin, close to the Zoo, Tiergarten and Kurfustendamm - all areas I was keen to visit. I entered all the requisite details and pressed the book now button, almost immediately a red exclamation mark appeared on the page telling me that my credit card had been declined and that I should either try another card or contact my credit card company. Before I even had the chance to do that the telephone rang, it was Barclaycard and an automated fraud check message, I was asked to confirm my last three transactions - these were the holiday booking (the hotel and flights were separate items for the purpose of the purchase) and an I-tunes transaction - the fraud tests duly passed I was told that my card would be reactivated in five minutes.
Five minutes passed and I pressed the 'book now' button only to be met with a message that stated that a booking had already been made with the previously entered details and that unless I wanted to make a further booking with the same arrangements I should leave the page. I left the page and thought no more about it for about six hours.
After watching West Ham capitulate to Arsenal, yet again, and Liverpool fall foul of some bizarre refereeing decisions against Manchester City I decided to go online to check my Barclaycard balance in advance of making the monthly payment. Something didn't look right when I checked the balance, it had increased by the best part of nine hundred pounds in an afternoon. Even more confusing was the fact that I had not received a confirmation e-mail from the holiday company but had received an e-mail from Germanwings stating that because my card had been 'declined' the flight part of the booking was temporarily cancelled.
I contacted Barclaycard. They confirmed that two payments had been made out of my account to the travel company that afternoon, I explained about the message, the fraud phone call (which they confirmed against their log) and was told that because the amount payable had been confirmed by Barclaycard I had to contact the merchant and ask them to cancel the two transactions and then they would have to confirm to Barclaycard that the transactions shouldn't have been made.
I duly contacted the agent and spoke to a lovely lady, in India, who helped me get to the bottom of what had happened. The payment had been taken twice for the hotel but not at all for the airline. I didn't have an itinerary number or even an itinerary! Although the credit card details could be seen on the screen and the details of the holiday confirmed, I had actually been charged twice for a holiday I wasn't booked on! That explains why I hadn't received a confirmation e-mail and why when trying to sign on the agents booking system it kept telling me that my e-mail address couldn't be recognised.
This morning I received a copy of an e-mail from the agent to Barclaycard explaining that I would not be charged for two transactions on my credit card. I also received an e-mail quoting an itinerary and an itinerary number for an eight night stay in Berlin plus flights telling me I should book soon to take advantage of the special rate on offer.
Last year I booked early for Paris and didn't go because of an operation, this year I have booked early been charged twice and don't, yet, have a holiday to show for it!