Face Value

Posted by @ 1:45 am on Friday 4th January, 2013.
Categories: A bit of a rant, YHA

Recent trials and tribulations regarding the booking of a weekend for me and Ella at a YHA hostel have led me to question the whole ethos of using Tesco Tokens as payment for hostel stays.


On the face of it it seems quite simple, here are some of the ground-rules governing the use of Tesco Tokens:

  • They can be used as payment for membership
  • They can be used as payment for accommodation
  • They cannot be used as payment for food and drink (*1)
  • Most hostels require a three-night minimum stay (*2)
  • The accept/decline decision is made by the hostel, not by "Head Office" (*3)


As you'd expect, it's not really as simple as that:

  • You can use the YHA's online booking service to book your stay and pay by card but you can't pay with Tokens because there's no facility to do so (*4)
  • You can call the YHA's Contact Centre to book your stay and pay by card but you can't pay with Tokens for stays of less than three nights because the Contact Centre staff can't make the accept/decline decision
  • You can contact the Hostel directly to book your stay and pay by card and possibly with Tokens depending on what you're trying to book


To add to the general confusion, some of our previous hostel stays have been on terms that don't adhere strictly to the ground-rules:

  • We've had a few stays where Tokens have been accepted as payment for both accommodation and food
  • We've had a few stays where Tokens have been accepted as payment for two-night stays
  • We've had a stay which was within the rules but for which Tokens were flatly refused


In short, you don't know where you stand when you start the booking process. The past isn't the key to the present or the future.

This week has been interesting. I've been trying to book a two-person private room for two nights, either a standard booking or the current Winter Warmer offer. Three hostels were in the mix:


Hostel A

This hostel has accepted Tokens from us before, for a two-night stay. This time I tried to get a price using the online booking service but each time it calculated a final price it came up with a different value, I got figures that ranged from £52.50 to £81.50.

Bamboozled, I emailed Hostel A and was told that I could book directly with them and pay the full cost by card but if I wanted to pay with Tokens I would have to do so either online or via the Contact Centre.

Online was a no-no, see *4 above, so I tried the Contact Centre and came away with *1, *2 and*3 above ringing in my ears. I've emailed Hostel A again explaining all that and so far they've not replied again.


Hostel B

This hostel has accepted Tokens from us before, for three-night stays including some meals. This time the online booking service was still playing up so I phoned Hostel B directly. Our request to pay using Tokens was politely but firmly declined on the basis that the stay didn't meet the three-night criterion.

I decided to abandon the idea of the two-night Winter Warmer offer and went back to the online booking site to see it it would behave if I tried to book a three-night stay without meals or deals. Well, it did, in a cock-eyed way. Hostel B is only open at weekends at this time of year, so I put into the "basket" one weekend and the following Friday. Three nights in total, and three consecutive nights if you consider only the nights that they are actually open.

I rang the Contact Centre again and asked the if they considered the contents of the "basket" to be valid for payment with Tokens via Hostel B and was told that they wouldn't qualify because the three nights weren't consecutive. I pointed out that the hostel has seasonal opening and that it was impossible to book three consecutive nights at this time of year but they were having none of it.

I've emailed Hostel B regarding the three-night booking-in-a-basket but so far they've not replied.


Hostel C

I've not been to Hostel C for some time, so I had no experience of their attitude to Tokens. I fired off an email detailing our desire to book a Winter Warmer weekend and requesting authorisation to pay using Tokens. The reply was swift, candid and illuminating:

"Thank you for your mail. I'm sorry to say that we would not accept Tesco vouchers in payment for a Winter Warmer booking. There are two main reasons for this;

Firstly, YHA redeems Tesco vouchers for only half of their value - so for every £50 in Tesco vouchers we accept, the hostel will only be credited with £25 by Tesco. So, accepting them as payment for a Winter warmer booking would effectively mean that we would be giving a further 50% discount on an already generous reduction.

Secondly, we are required to meet certain targets for our catering margins. The winter warmer offer includes a meal at a discounted rate. Taking payment in Tesco vouchers would affect our margin as, again, the already discounted offering would get an even lower return.

I hope I have explained this adequately, and you understand our reasons for not being able to accept the vouchers for this special offer. You are certainly welcome to book either with Tesco vouchers on regular terms and conditions, or the winter warmer offer paying with regular means."


After reading that, it all made sense. When I've discussed Tokens with Hostel staff during previous stays they have said that they don't get the full face value of the Tokens when they redeem them from Tesco, but nobody had ever said that they only got a paltry 50% of the face-value. Further emails ensued between me and Hostel C, and one of them included the following line:

"I should also say that YHA seems happy with the arrangement with Tesco (well, happy enough to impose the minimum stay of 3 days) as the organisation considers that it’s tapping into a demographic that it would not otherwise see…"


Happy with 50%? That's as mad as a bucket of frogs. Tesco is a huge company that made over a billion quid of profit in Britain alone in only the first half of 2012, partly because of the Points->Voucher->Token loyalty-scheme. The YHA is a charity-status organisation running on a shoestring and closing hostels to reduce costs. It seems to me that there's something morally wrong about how Tesco is driving down the cash-balance of a charity-status organisation. I've emailed the Tesco Clubcard Rewards folk to get their views on the matter but as yet there has been no response other than a standard automated "thanks, we'll get back to you within three days" reply.

Am I the only person who thinks that Tesco could afford to raise the YHA's redemption rate? 75% wouldn't dent its profits much. Hell, neither would 100%. Tesco is truly living up to its claim that "every little helps", but with the emphasis on "little" rather than "help".

And am I the only person who thinks that the YHA are mad to appear happy with their current arrangement with Tesco?

If the YHA really do want folk to use Tesco Tokens they should have a clear and universal policy on them, and should allow them to be used online and via the Contact Centre, rather than have a vague policy which isn't user-friendly.

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9 Responses to “Face Value”

  1. alan.sloman says:

    Nothing that Tesco dreams up ever surprises me, Stef. They screw their suppliers into the floor whilst always maintaining their own margins. I'm constantly amazed that their suppliers are willing to be abused, but I suppose their market saturation makes them this all-controlling force.

    I suppose that we should really be looking at the YHA as the culprits here. They have signed up for this deal with Tesco and they are the ones who should either make it work or abandon it. If all it does is piss off their customers (you) then it is a really bad idea.

    But then... the YHA has a history of making dreadful policy decisions.

  2. BG! says:

    Originally Posted By alan.sloman
    If all it does is piss off their customers (you) then it is a really bad idea.

    I'm fairly sure that we're not all of their customers, but I might be wrong.

    But seriously, there has to be a better and fairer way of working such a scheme.

    As a punter I suppose I should be grateful because it's saving me money, and initially I was happy to use the Tokens because I thought that the YHA's losses at redemption would be minimal, but I'm feeling uneasy about the whole thing now that I can see the bigger picture.

    But... if both Tesco and the YHA are happy with their deal, and we're sitting pretty on a pile of Tesco Vouchers waiting to be converted to Tokens at a 3:1 rate, what are we to do? Use them or bin them? We'd been contemplating using some to buy Life Memberships for the kids. If the same redemption terms are applicable then the YHA stand to lose a fair wedge.

  3. BG! says:

    A couple of titbits:

    YHA (E&W) terms say "Please check prior to booking with each Hostel for dates that are excluded and minimum stays as these may vary from hostel to hostel."

    SYHA terms say "Minimum stays apply and certain dates may be excluded. (Min stay 3 nights at any one location in high season April – September. No minimum October – March)."

    See how much clearer the SYHA terms are? Simples!

  4. BG! says:

    More news:

    Both Hostels A and B have now replied and they're both willing to accept Tokens for two-night stays but not for the Winter Warmer offer, which is fine and as expected.

    Instead of dealing with just the preferred hostel I've now had dealings with four (yes, I contacted Hostel D after the post was published), and we have ended up being booked in at our second-choice hostel even though all four of them eventually said that they would do the same deal.

    All that "at the Hostel Manager's discretion" stuff about Token acceptability and the three-day-minimum-stay rule waiver has proved to be a real time-waster. The whole thing could have been sorted in one day if there was a clear policy based on dates (rather than on individuals) as per the SYHA terms.

  5. AlanR says:

    Like Alan says, nothing Tesco does is surprising, more sickening. Hostel “C” was the only one who seems to have had the balls to spell it out . They get my applause. Maybe the others initially were scared or out of touch with the scheme. Who knows.
    Anyway, just like anything where one business promotes another, it’s not for nothing, but 50% of the value is a scandal. I wonder what Tesco takes away from the “Schools” vouchers.
    We give Tesco a very wide berth now and generally shop at Aldi. i agree with you though, if the yha’s want to use the Tesco scheme the website should incorporate this in T&C’s and a separate pull down menu. It’s not hard to do is it.

  6. BG! says:

    Originally Posted By AlanR
    I wonder what Tesco takes away from the "Schools" vouchers.

    I must admit that I hadn't considered any of Tesco's other schemes, Alan, but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary it must be reasonable to suppose that a similarly-disadvantageous arrangement is in place.

  7. BG! says:

    This just in from the Tesco Clubcard Rewards folk:

    "... the payment details of our rewards should not be discussed with customers, especially when given as an excuse not to accept tokens. We will always pay for the tokens that are received from suppliers at the agreed rate they are contracted for."

    This looks like Tesco trying to gag the YHA. No matter, we already know the details. The cat's out of the bag!

  8. alan.sloman says:

    I suppose that makes sense - it's a commercial arrangement between two suppliers of a service. But knowing that they are screwing an outfit like the YHA at such an alarming rate does make you wonder why on earth the YHA agreed to it. It can only be to top up beds in quiet times, but even so - they cannot possibly be making money out of it.

    The YHA needs to look at their entire business model. It obviously is not working.

    Such a shame.

  9. BG! says:

    Yes, Alan, a YHA source has indeed said that "50% of something is better than 100% of nothing", and that acceptance of Tokens could be interpreted as a loss-leader.

    But there's something awry. One source said that "YHA has made it very clear to Hostel staff that the 3 day minimum stay is mandatory", but we've seen that YHA knowingly allows that "rule" to be broken by allowing Hostel staff to exercise discretion when accepting bookings. And like I've said there are hostels that are weekend-only at this time of year - for those, the three-day-minimum rule is a ridiculous shackle.

    Perhaps it's like the rules governing bike-lights, cycling on the pavement, using car-horns as greetings-devices, letting off fireworks at three in the morning etc. - people devise rules and laws, everybody's aware that it's wrong to break them but they do so anyway because enforcement is low-priority (if possible at all) and not cost-effective, and/or the (actual rather than theoretical) penalty is minimal.

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