Overnight on a ferry I spent £35 as my phone downloaded while I slept
Beware waking up to a huge bill … check your contract before you travel.
Beware waking up to a huge bill … check your contract before you travel. Photograph: leonovo/Alamy
Beware waking up to a huge bill … check your contract before you travel. Photograph: leonovo/Alamy
Consumer championsConsumer affairsBT gave me a wake-up call over data roaming charges

Overnight on a ferry I spent £35 as my phone downloaded while I slept

Zoe Wood
Zoe Wood@zoewoodguardian
Tue 25 Jul 2023 02.00 EDT

Your recent letter about BT prompted me to write about my own bad experience – in this case, the roaming charges I clocked up while asleep on an overnight ferry.

We had boarded a Brittany Ferries service from Portsmouth to Bilbao late in the evening, and turned in fairly quickly after driving all day. But, unbeknownst to me, my phone was downloading data while I slept – I think because I had left Google Maps running.

At 11.59pm, BT sent a text warning that I was now using maritime data at £12.01 a megabyte. At 1.44am, it sent another text saying I had now spent £35 and my data roaming cap had been reached and I could no longer use any data.

I was lucky that I must have previously agreed to this cap. Had the phone gone on downloading through the night, it would have been very expensive.

I think the ferry companies should have some responsibility to warn customers of these very high charges. They clearly make some profit from the unwary.

BT said it was nothing to do with it, and that it was passing on charges imposed by Brittany Ferries. However, with some pressing, BT agreed to refund half the charge.

That seemed an illogical position as, in effect, it accepted the charges were unreasonable, and that the warnings had come too late, yet it still imposed half the charge. This is a lesson learned, but it may be worth warning others.

MM, by email

It was lucky your data use was capped or you would have woken up to a huge bill to ruin the start of your holiday.

This is an important issue as the school holidays get under way in England and Wales. And for people going on a cruise.

Surfing the net while at sea is an extremely expensive business because your phone connects to the satellite-based maritime network. The easiest way to avoid being stung is to turn off your data, or switch your mobile on to flight mode.

If you really need to use data during the journey, the best option may be to buy a data package for the ferry’s wifi.

We recently reported on the reintroduction of roaming charges for British travellers in mainland Europe. If your mobile is never out of your hand, read the small print of your contract so you know where you stand before you go.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Consumer Champions, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number. Submission and publication of all letters is subject to our terms and conditions

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