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Yes, that’s right – Travels OF a Laptop, not Travels WITH a Laptop. Let me explain.

Apple recently released a new version of one of their best-selling computers, the MacBook Pro 13″, and I was immediately tempted. I’ve been without a laptop for almost a year. I used to have a 2014 MacBook Pro which I mainly used for travel – quite apart from the whole browsing & email thing, it was good to be able to do some initial processing of images while I was still on a trip, and of course I was also able to write blog articles (both here and in the Cruise blog). However, when the time came to replace the old laptop I was seduced by the idea of using an iPad as a laptop replacement, and so I bought an 11″ iPad Pro, a Smart Folio keyboard, and an Apple Pencil. (I also part-exchanged the old laptop.)

In the event the “iPad as laptop replacement” idea didn’t work for me. Well, it worked, insofar as I was able to use it, but I didn’t get on with the key piece of software that I had to use, Lightroom Mobile. So I had been thinking of going back to a laptop anyway, and when Apple announced the 2020 13″ MacBook Pro I was¬†interested.

Apple has improved the base specification of the new laptop over last year’s model in some areas – double the storage and an improved keyboard, for example – and for the same starting price, but I decided to enhance the spec by going for a further optional upgrade, an extra 8Gb of memory making a total of 16Gb. I knew that this was not a standard build and that therefore delivery would be slightly delayed, but I had expected that it would still come from Apple UK – my assumption was that Apple themselves must order small numbers of the various optional configurations for onward supply to customers. Not so in the case of mine!

In addition to the usual deluge of order confirmation, etc, emails that I got from Apple, I was surprised to receive a tracking notification email from UPS showing “the package” (my new laptop) starting in China – “Label created” was the first entry in the list, on 29 May. “The package” spent the rest of that day and a couple of following days in China. The first entry just said ‘China’ but subsequent ones said ‘Shanghai’. Here are steps “the package” went through:

  • 29/5 to 31/5: Order Processed in China, then customs clearance and various scans in Shanghai (presumably, this location refers to a UPS facility in Shanghai);
  • 1 June: a Departure Scan ūüėĀ at Shanghai at 3am, followed by an Arrival scan at Incheon, South Korea at 5am on the same day;
  • 1 June: more progress! At 7:30am there was a Departure scan at Incheon, followed by an Arrival scan at Anchorage, Alaska, at 9:25pm – date 31 May. This was initially confusing – had “the package” travelled back in time? could this be how UPS meets its deadlines? – but then I realised that the journey from South Korea to Alaska would have taken it across the International Date Line, and that’s what caused the date reversal;
  • It didn’t stay long in Alaska – less than two hours later, at 11:17pm, still on 31 May, there was a departure scan from Anchorage;
  • Next was was an arrival scan at Koeln (Cologne) in Germany, at 18:15pm on 1 June (again….). There’s a 9 hour time difference between Alaska and Germany, so actually it arrived in Germany just 8 or 9 hours after leaving Alaska. Interestingly, the Great Circle route between Anchorage and Cologne passes across the Arctic, so “the package” went close by the North Pole, albeit at 35,000 ft or so;
  • It had an overnight stay in Germany before having an Exit scan from Koeln at 4:48am on 2 June, followed by a Departure scan at Stanford-Le-Hope at 8:48pm the same day. Stanford-Le-Hope? Well it turns out there’s a huge UPS facility near to St-L-Hope which I believe handles packages arriving both by sea at the new London Gateway container port, and by air at Stansted airport;
  • After Stanford-Le-Hope came an Arrival scan at Tamworth late on 2 June followed by an Arrival scan at Sheffield early on 3 June….
  • ….and finally “The Package” was delivered to me at home just before 1pm on 3 June.

So my laptop entered 5 different countries – China, South Korea, the USA, Germany and the UK – passed over several more (the Great Circle route from Alaska to Germany would include Canada, Greenland, Norway, and maybe Denmark), crossed an ocean, a pole, and the International Date Line. Not a bad trip! – I wish I’d been with it.

I found this to be an interesting insight into the world of global logistics. I was surprised that my order was being handled as a separate, discrete package, on its own – clearly, it wasn’t in a container with thousands of other Apple laptops. I discovered that the facilities at Incheon, Anchorage and Cologne are mega-hubs for their continent, and that it’s normal for packages to be routed from one such hub to another if their journey requires it; my little laptop would never have been sent from Shanghai direct to the UK. I can only imagine the cost of doing this – while I’m sure that Apple doesn’t pay the rate I would to send a 2.9kg package half-way round the world, there must have been some cost. (Which I didn’t see, btw – my order included free delivery.)

And thereby hangs a bit of a tale, perhaps. A couple of days after I’d ordered my new laptop, and had the order accepted, Apple doubled the price of the memory upgrade that I’d included, from $/¬£100 to $/¬£200. There’s no official reason for this, although it is suggested that the lower price was a mistake. Really? By Apple, the most price- and market-conscious corporation on the planet? Well, perhaps; but is it also possible that one month into the new product’s life they were finding that there were so few orders for that particular upgrade that they were having to be handled as one-offs? Increasing the price would have two effects, perhaps: a) it would increase the revenue from orders for that configuration and thus meet the shipping costs, and b) it would narrow the price difference gap between that bespoke configuration and the next standard configuration up, and thus encourage customers to order the higher-priced standard config which would always be shipped in bulk. But we’ll never know the truth.

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I did a couple of posts on my cruise blog about the collapse of All Leisure Group, which took with it two cruise lines, Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery. As part of the general discussion around what happened I read a post from an Australian passenger who had not only lost their planned holiday but also their money – they reported that their travel insurance didn’t cover the bankruptcy or or failure of their travel provider.

My first response on reading this was to wonder “who takes out travel insurance that doesn’t cover this risk?”, but then I realised that I wasn’t actually sure whether mine did or not. So I checked, and discovered that it didn’t. Furthermore I now understand that this is usual – that liquidation or bankruptcy of a holiday provider, e.g. an airline, travel company, hotel, etc, would not normally be covered by travel insurance. So how do customers protect themselves, I asked, and the answer was “through ABTA or ATOL, or your credit card”. I’ve done some research into the protection provided by these measures, and here are my layman’s findings. (Note this is not intended as ‘Advice’; it’s just a record of what I think the position is. Readers interested in this topic should satisfy themselves.)

The main routes by which UK customers can protect their payments seem to be four-fold: ABTA; Atol; “Section 75”; and specific insolvency insurance (yes, in fact it does exist). I’ll take these one at a time.

1. ABTA: ABTA of course stands for “(The) Association of British Travel Agents”, and what I’m talking about here is the ABTA scheme of financial protection. Here’s a quote from their website:

If you buy a land or sea-based package holiday (such as coach, rail or cruise) from an ABTA Member your monies will be protected by the ABTA scheme of financial protection. This means that if your travel company fails and your holiday can no longer go ahead you will be entitled to a refund if you are yet to travel and hotel costs and transport home if you are abroad.

There are a few things to note in that paragraph:¬†First, the protection scheme only applies to land or sea-based holidays; i.e. a land holiday in the UK, or a cruise that starts and concludes at a UK port. Anything involving air travel is excluded, although it may be covered by the Atol scheme (see below). Secondly, the scheme applies to ‘packages’ only. Please see this page on the gov.uk website for the definition of “a package”, but simply put a package will consist of more than one component booked at the same time through the same provider. ¬†Thirdly, it only applies to holidays booked through an ABTA travel agent, so anything you book directly with a provider¬†is not protected. In fact even a ‘single component’ holiday – a hotel stay, for example – may not automatically be covered by the ABTA scheme even if you book it through an ABTA travel agent because it wouldn’t be a package. Just to complicate matters, the travel agent may have additional protection that would cover that case, so it’s a good idea to check what your TA provides.

2. Atol: this stands for “Air Travel Organiser’s Licence”, and it’s a Government-run scheme operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It requires any air travel operator to protect a customer’s payments for their package holiday that includes flights and accommodation. The customer will receive an Atol Certificate at the time of booking, and they should keep this – they’ll need it if they need to make a claim under this scheme. (If you don’t receive an Atol certificate when you book then that’s a good indication that your booking is not Atol-protected – see below.)

There are plenty of situations where the Atol scheme will not apply, even for a holiday that includes air travel. The biggest of these is any scheduled flight booked direct with the airline (or, I think, through an air flight booking agent e.g. Opodo). Next is any separate hotel booking made direct (or through an intermediary that’s only selling the accommodation, e.g. booking.com) – again, not covered. Thirdly, even if your holiday is Atol-protected, it only provides financial protection in the event of a travel provider bankruptcy – it does not offer assistance in the event of other problems on your holiday e.g. illness or injury. Finally, although some airlines sell complete holidays that include flights and accommodation, it may not be covered by the Atol scheme. The customer should check with the airline before booking.

3. “Section 75” protection. This refers to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, and here’s the current (Jan 2017) text of Section 75 sub-section1:

If the debtor under a debtor-creditor-supplier agreement falling within section 12(b) or (c) has, in relation to a transaction financed by the agreement, any claim against the supplier in respect of a misrepresentation or breach of contract, he shall have a like claim against the creditor, who, with the supplier, shall accordingly be jointly and severally liable to the debtor.

¬†What this means is that if the customer (the ‘debtor’ above) pays for a good or a service with a credit card, and the supplier of that good or service fails to provide it (i.e. there is a breach of contract between the supplier and customer), then the credit card company (the ‘creditor’ above) is as liable to the debtor as is the supplier. Basically, you can recover your costs from the credit card company.

There are some caveats. First, the amount of money involved has be at least ¬£100 and no more than ¬£30,000. Secondly, this protection only applies to credit card payments; payments by cash, cheque, or debit card are not covered. (However payments by debit cards, charge cards, and payment cards may be covered by ‘chargeback’ schemes. Ultimately these schemes seem to be backed by the major card suppliers, i.e. Visa, MasterCard and American Express, but are operated by the card issuer – typically, a bank –¬†and you should approach them for advice.)

4. Insurance specifically aimed at protecting customers from travel providers’ insolvency. There is at least¬†¬†one company¬†offering this – protectmyholiday.com . I can’t find any reviews of them, although I have found links to them from various advisory sites so it looks as if their reputation is good. But readers must determine their own opinion.

Looking at their website, they state that their policy covers:

….the insolvency before or after departure of any travel arrangements booked in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland, not forming part of an inclusive holiday and not bonded or insured elsewhere

Note the “..not forming part of an inclusive holiday and not insured elsewhere” section at the end. From that I take it that any holiday that would be covered under ABTA or Atol would be excluded from the coverage of this policy, even if you took it out!

 

So that’s the position as far as I can understand it. Please note once again that nothing in this post should be taken as “advice”; it’s for information only, and comes with a big health warning which is that it’s simply an expression of my understanding of the situation. You should always do your own research.

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