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02nd June 2004

FERRY FARE DEAL FOR LOCAL PASSENGERS

<p>Book early and shop around for lower ferry fares this summer, says the General Consumer Council.</p>

Ten years of improved ferries, more competition and below inflation fare increases mean a better deal on ferry services for local passengers. These are the key findings in Summer Sailing, a new report launched today (2 June) by passenger representative, the General Consumer Council.

Summer Sailing looks at changes in the cost of summer ferry travel over the past decade and highlights that shopping around and booking early meant that a family of four could travel for £288 in 2003, compared with a lowest available peak fare of £290 in 1993.

Alan Walker, Head of Consumer Affairs at the Council said:

“Stable prices over the longer term are good news for passengers.  We welcome this and the continued improvement in ferries and facilities over the past decade.  Transport links with Scotland and the north of England are very important to Northern Ireland passengers.  Increased competition between ferry companies and the growth of low-cost airlines give consumers more options and we hope this will continue.  Our advice to consumers is to shop around, book early and be flexible. Follow this advice and savings can be made. ”

The key findings of the report were:

- Between 1993 and 2003, fares on peak summer sailings increased by less    than inflation.  In some cases, shopping around resulted in prices lower than those available in 1993.

- Apex fares introduced during the decade meant that consumers booking in advance made significant savings.  In 2003 a family of four could save up to £90. However, operators have now moved away from offering APEX fares and instead are transferring these savings to online booking systems for those booking early.

- In the summer of 2003 ferries to Great Britain were cheaper from Northern Ireland than from the Republic of Ireland. 

- Savings available for advance bookings have reduced in recent years (1999-2003).

- Passengers who can travel midweek or book in advance can make significant savings on their travel arrangements.

- A snapshot survey carried out by the Council in April 2004 found that because many passengers are leaving it later to book their holidays, substantial savings can still be made at this time of the year.

In launching the report, the Council has also issued its top tips to help consumers get the best deals in summer 2004 and beyond. 

- Be flexible - travel midweek, during off-peak times, or book in advance.

- Shop around and use the Internet to compare all the options available.

- Republic of Ireland ferry operators can be more expensive than Northern   Ireland ones, but they are still a viable option if you are travelling to Wales or southern England.

- Investigate discount schemes eg frequent travellers

- Consider a shorter stay - journeys can offer lower fares if you do not need to stay for longer periods.

- Do your homework - be aware of conditions like non-refundable deposits

- Consider your whole journey including the cost of fuel to your departure port and destination.

- Consider flying if you don't need to take the car.

ENDS

1.   General Consumer Council media contact: Susie Brown, telephone, 028 9067 4807 or e-mail, [email protected]

2.  To ensure comparability over the period the Council took consistent approach to the travel scenarios for all ferry companies.  The key features of the scenario were:

-   Two adults and two children aged under14 travelling in a saloon car.

-     A two-week time lag between the departure and return dates.

-     Peak sailings were taken as peak weekend sailings in the July/August summer holiday period and midweek sailings were considered off-peak.

-     All fares compared measured in £ sterling and were confirmed with the ferry companies to ensure accuracy in reporting the results. 

-    Internet quotes, which offer different deals, are also available now.  However, these were not included as comparisons over the ten-year period were not possible.

3.  Since the survey was carried out, Seacat has ceased to operate from January to March.

4.  The General Consumer Council is an independent consumer organisation, working to bring about change to benefit Northern Ireland's consumers. The Council campaigns for high standards of service and protection and a fair deal for all. It also carries out research, gives advice and publishes reports and other publications. It deals with individual complaints about electricity, natural gas, coal and passenger transport.

5.  For more information, visit our website at www.gccni.org.uk

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