How four fans were abandoned in Odessa by their travel operator en route to the Champions League final
I'm a seasoned traveller, whether with work (as a sports journalist) or purely for pleasure (following my football team around Europe) and for the first time ever I've encountered unacceptable service from a travel operator.
I'm a Liverpool FC fan and I travelled to Ukraine with two younger fans for the recent UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid. You can imagine our excitement as we made our long way over, particularly for the two lads who were on their first-ever European 'expedition', and for whom I was acting pretty much as guardian on their parents' behalf.
We were basing ourselves in Odessa on the Black Sea coast, and we met a few fellow Reds on the plane over. We'd been reading Liverpool fan and author Nicky Allt's tweets (he was in Odessa too) and we couldn’t wait to arrive. The plan was to check-in at the hotel in the late afternoon then head down to the city's seafront to sample the local atmosphere.
You can imagine, then, how we felt when we got to the hotel only to be told that there was no record of our booking– no rooms, nowhere to stay, and night falling after a long, tiring journey with a connecting flight to a country with a dubious reputation. When I showed the hotel owner our www.lastminute.com reservation confirmation he told us they didn’t have any arrangement in place with www.lastminute.com or www.expedia.com – only www.booking.com.
We'd heard lots of unsettling rumours and stories about fans being ripped off in Ukraine ahead of the Champions League final, so we were adamant we weren’t going to move. In the meantime I was on the phone to www.lastminute.com, desperately trying to resolve a situation which was becoming increasingly tense in real-time in the hotel. The stand-off between ourselves and the owner and his staff was by now fractious and we felt vulnerable in what was becoming a more intimidating atmosphere by the minute. We weren't sure what lay in store for us that night.
Ultimately, though – and, it would transpire, under no obligation on his part – the owner offered us a room for the night to share between the three of us. A friend and fellow Liverpool fan was meant to be joining us at the same hotel the next day, having booked like us through www.lastminute.com. The owner charged us the going rate without ripping us off, and we discovered later that his hotel really does use only www.booking.com and that www.lastminute.com and www.expedia.com had tried to place us in a hotel with which they have no arrangements in place.They'd taken our money and effectively abandoned us.
Subsequently www.lastminute.com found us 'alternative' accommodation for the remainder of our stay, but it was far from comparable with the first hotel and nowhere near commensurate with our original financial outlay; we'd booked, so we'd been led to believe, three rooms in a clean and attractive hotel two minutes from the beach, and now we were on the 13th floor of a decrepit tower-block with dangerous balconies and boilers wedged into the bathroom showers, a long, long way from the beach (see photos). Upon our return to the UK, two of us ended up in A&E with insect bites at risk of serious infection, one person having to be kept in overnight for observation.
Photos from the hotel that lastminute.com put us in, water boilers stuck in the way of the shower, unsafe balconies and a dangerous lift that left a gap big enough to get your foot in and see the lift shaft
Having invested a considerable sum of money and placed our trust in the professional reputation of www.lastminute.com, we'd travelled to eastern Europe to a hotel booking that simply did not exist. Upon arrival we were caused unwarranted distress and a long period of uncertainty. We could easily have spent a night on the streets, if not for the 'last-minute' charitableness of the original hotel-owner.
It's transpired that www.lastminute.com have now offered us the princely sum of £63 as compensation – that's not even per person, that's in total. 'Compensation' for leaving us stranded, through absolutely no fault of our own, on the first night in a foreign country, not knowing if we were going to be physically removed from a hotel in which we'd been led to believe that we'd booked four rooms for the best part of a week in good faith; 'compensation' after ending up in an unsafe flea-pit of a hotel ludicrously removed from what we'd originally booked, and at arguably half the equivalent cost.
It looks like we'll have no alternative but to head to the small-claims court with this. That sum of £63 is a joke, an insult, a measure of just how much www.lastminute.com must think of their customers. Just because we're football fans doesn’t mean we can be treated with contempt. Last-minute,.com, you're not on.
Photos of the hotel we booked, as you can see there is a stark contrast in what we paid for and what we ended up in and for that lastminute.com want to pay us a total of £63 compensation