The UK’s largest holiday cottage companies – Holidaycottages.co.uk, Hoseasons and Sykes – are among the worst providers in the UK, according to new Which? Travel research.
Hoseasons and Sykes were investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) earlier this year following complaints about their refund policies, and customers have since told us their holidays aren’t up to scratch, either.
We surveyed more than 6,500 holiday cottage customers about their recent experience with 19 of the best-known companies, as demand for self-catered accommodation during the pandemic has soared.
Amid ongoing uncertainty surrounding travel corridors, this popularity looks likely to continue into 2021. But even a UK break can carry risks, especially now that there are travel restrictions in parts of the UK affected by local lockdowns.
Smaller providers outshone the big names in our survey, and only two cottage companies provide both exceptional holidays and the booking flexibility that will guarantee you your money back if government restrictions prevent you from travelling.
Find out which providers you can trust with your money with our holiday cottage company reviews
Video: the UK’s best holiday cottage companies
Watch our video below to find out which four cottage companies topped our 2020 rankings.
Large cottage companies such as Booking.com, Homeaway and Sykes disappoint
The UK’s best cottage company, Landmark Trust, has just 200 cottages to its name. Yet big names in the bottom half of our rankings account for more than 200,000 of the UK’s holiday homes between them.
Sykes is jointly the worst cottage provider in the UK (along with the West Country’s Toad Hall Cottages) with a disappointing customer score of 69%. While some survey respondents spoke of ‘acceptable’ experiences with Sykes, others told us of inaccurate website descriptions, disappointing properties and issues with cleanliness.
The likes of Booking.com, Holidaycottages.co.uk, Homeaway and Hoseasons fare only slightly better with a score of 70%, while Coast & Country Cottages and Cottages.com both get 71%.
These scores, based on how satisfied customers are with their cottage company and how likely they are to recommend it, are far lower than that of smaller high-scoring companies such as the National Trust (85%).
Without exception, the big names just can’t match the best small-scale providers when it comes to quality of accommodation, customer service and how well the cottage descriptions match reality.
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Refund refusals for cancelled cottage stays
As well as complaints about the standard of some of Sykes’ properties, there were recurring comments about problems with getting in touch and securing refunds for cancelled bookings.
One customer said: ‘I am appalled by the way the company has treated those who booked pre-lockdown and then had to cancel. The delay with refunds is not acceptable and I will not use the company again.’
In the early stages of the pandemic, both Hoseasons and Sykes were happy to leave thousands of customers out of pocket for bookings they were unable to fulfil due to lockdown restrictions.
We reported both companies, along with Cottages.com and English Country Cottages, to the CMA for potentially breaching consumer law.
In July, the CMA successfully received undertakings from both Sykes and Vacation Rentals (the parent company of Hoseasons), Cottages.com and English Country Cottages, to offer refunds for all cancelled bookings because of restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
While some Sykes customers have told us they are still waiting for their refund, all these companies have now committed to refunding customers who can’t travel due to government lockdown restrictions.
Unfortunately, some companies still refuse to refund customers affected by local lockdowns, so you still need to be careful when choosing a cottage company for your next UK break.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘With international travel restrictions still in place across the country and bookings for UK holidays extending into the next year, it’s clear that self-catered accommodation providers will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
‘While it’s clear that holidaymakers still value interesting and well-presented properties at a good price, the importance of fair and flexible terms when it comes to cancellations and refunds can’t be understated. Always do your research before booking to make sure you’re not stung if coronavirus restrictions prevent your staycation from going ahead.’
Correction An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that holidaycottages.co.uk was investigated by the CMA over its refund policy. Holidaycottages.co.uk has not been investigated by the CMA.