Taken for a Ride by Travel Giants; HOLIDAY Discounts Are Often Tied to Over-Priced Insurance Policies Which Wipe out Most of the "Saving" on the Deal. THE Major Travel Agents Charge Small Holiday Firms Nearly Twice as Much to Sell Their Package Tours

Article excerpt

Walk into a high street travel agent and you seem spoilt for choice.

A hundred or so glossy brochures line the shelves, all with different names.

But the dazzling range of destinations is deceptive. Seven out of ten brochures will be pushing the products of the big three holiday firms - Thomson, Airtours and First Choice.

And you might think the friendly face behind the counter is trying to sell you your dream holiday - but you'd be wrong.

The chances are they're trying to tempt you with a Thomson tour or Airtours package even if it's not your First Choice.

What's more, they'll probably pocket a pounds 5 bonus if you succumb. It could be more if the tour operator has empty aircraft seats on a particular route.

But, the Mirror can reveal, the Government is burying its head in the sand, ignoring pleas to break their stranglehold.

Calls for a full investigation by the Monopolies Commission will be rejected later this week.

But our investigations show the three, who sold nearly nine million holidays last year, are abusing their power.

Most problems stem from hidden links within Britain's pounds 5 billion-a-year holiday business.

To stack the odds in favour of their masters, travel agents such as Lunn Poly, Going Places and Thomas Cook simply don't let you see the full range of holidays.

Visit an independent travel agent and you could have six times as many trips to choose from in up to 800 brochures.

Most of us don't of course. We flock to the high street shops which give the big boys such pulling power.

They catch our eye by plastering the windows with gaudy signs promising discount deals.

Sue Ockwell, chief executive of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, says these special offers are often a sham. "A typical 15 per cent discount might look like a pounds 150 saving on a family fortnight costing pounds 1,000," she says. …