Whether it's a retailer or restaurateur, airline or air-conditioner seller, computer shop or car rental company, there are always two main risks. Either it's a dodgy company, or it's a legit company that has financial problems and goes bust.
The aim of these tips is to help you minimise the risks.
Quite simply, its customers are immediately transformed into creditors. This hits hardest if you've ordered goods or tickets from them, and not had delivery, as then you become one of a line of people trying to get your money back out of the company's assets, and you usually get back much less than you paid in.
Even if you've had delivery, if the company you bought from goes under and there's a problem with the goods, it can mean you've no comeback.
While MoneySavingExpert.com endeavours to check deals are valid, we don't check companies ' finances. Even huge names like MFI and Woolies have folded, so it's very important you use the right strategies to stay protected where possible.
Pay by credit card for something over £100, and Section 75 laws supercharge your consumer rights.
Unlike debit cards, cheques or cash, pay in full or part (even just £1) on a credit card and by law the lender's jointly liable with the retailer.
This means you have exactly the same rights with the card company as you do with the retailer. So if it goes bust, you can simply take your complaints there instead and get money back if there's no delivery.
Yet it's important you ALWAYS REPAY IN FULL each month, so there's no interest cost. See the full Section 75 guide.
Section 75 doesn't apply to purchases under £100, but there's still an option which can help. It isn't a legal protection, just Visa, Mastercard and Amex's rules, but it's a good back-up.
Spend on a Visa, Mastercard or Amex credit card or any debit or charge card. If the goods don't appear, you can try to ask your bank/card provider to reclaim the cash from the seller's bank, so long as you complain within 120 days of realising there’s a problem. See the Chargeback guide for full details.
Bogus websites are often set up to cash in on popular products like Ugg boots and Tiffany necklaces, so be wary if it's an unfamiliar site. And don't think that because it appears on a reputable search engine, that makes it a reputable site - always check.
Most folk know to look for a security padlock on the bottom right of a website, but that doesn't mean the site's legit, just that payment's secure.
To find out who registered the site and when, search the Whois database. Reputable firms should also appear on the Companies House site, the UK Government's official companies register. Be very wary of businesses with just a PO Box or email address.
Study the site's worldwide web ranking on Alexa. Anything in the top 100,000 means it's reasonably big and a good, though not foolproof indication of legitimacy. Do a quick Google search for other shoppers' experiences.
Crucially, ensure your security's up-to-date - free software can be downloaded to your computer in about five minutes. Full details in the Free Antivirus Software guide.
Many people are surprised to learn you've MORE rights buying online (or by telephone/catalogue) due to the Distance Selling Regulations.
These give you a legal right to send most goods back within seven days for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault. You'll usually need to pay for the return delivery. Read Consumer Rights for a full guide.
However, of course, this is balanced by the fact ordering online automatically means there's a time gap between ordering and delivering - when the company has your money. So if it goes bust during that time, the distance selling rights don't help.
Ultimately, there is always a risk that a company can go bust. If the above routes don't apply, then you have to make a decision about whether you're willing to take the risk of parting with your cash.
Don't be scared of this. Every day we all make transactions based on trust, and this is part of that, but do balance up the amount you're spending against the risk. Don't give large amounts of money to a company you're not sure about.
Even though advance online bookings are 10% cheaper, downloading the voucher and paying the walk-up gate price for an adult or child works out cheaper as dad goes 'free'.
If you know of a deal we've missed, then please post it in the discussion and we'll add it to the list above.
As well as food vouchers, there’s a raft of permanent ways to save money on meals out. These methods are especially handy if you wine and dine on Friday or Saturday nights, which some vouchers exclude.
Dedicated dining websites allow you to browse restaurant offers and book online. Here you simply search for a table, book and then print the email or voucher. There are three top ones:
Toptable.co.uk Online booking service Toptable features everything from local pizza joints to Michelin Star restaurants. For the best deals, click the 50% off button on the left-hand side. Some other offers are less hot, ie, a free glass of wine when you spend £30.
Lastminute.com. Lastminute.com has offers throughout the UK and commonly offers 50% off food or 2for1 main courses. Again, some offers are better than others.
5pm.co.uk. The discounts are smaller, but 5pm.co.uk is worth a look. Deals are mostly set menus and 20% off.
Use your Tesco Clubcard points on meals out at restaurants, and you effectively get them for a third or quarter of the normal price. This is because 100 Clubcard points are only worth £1 if you use them in-store. Yet spend the points via Tesco Clubcard Boost* and you get up to four times the vouchers' face value. So £5 worth of Clubcard vouchers is worth £20 in Cafe Rouge.
A Tastecard entitles you to 50% off at thousands of restaurants nationwide, including PizzaExpress, Ask, Zizzi and GBK. At £80, 12 months membership ain’t cheap, but can be worth it over the year, especially if you often take out large groups.
Restaurants can get mardy if you suddenly produce the card at the end of the meal, so always book ahead, mentioning the offer, then show the card before ordering. Tastecard often offers free month-long cards; these are always included in the free weekly email.
If you like a bottle of plonk with your dinner, BYOB (bring your own bottle) places are a great way to save. Restaurants rake in profits by charging inflated prices for booze, eg, a bottle of Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay is typically £16 on a wine list. Yet pick up the same bottle at Tesco before you hit the restaurant and it costs just £7.
For a list of BYOB restaurants across the UK, see Wine-pages.com. Some charge corkage of £1-ish, though many don’t.
If there’s a fancy Michelin joint you’ve always wanted to try, your foie gras and lobster ravioli will be vastly cheaper at lunch than at dinner. As an example, a three-course set dinner at Gordon Ramsey at Claridges in London costs £70, but the same thing costs £30 at lunch – a massive £40 saving. Check restaurants’ own websites for offers.
Eating out can munch away at your money, so do it yourself at home with recipes from the forum’s Old Style (thrift) board. There are hundreds of lip-smackingly gorgeous ideas; take a look at a full list of MoneySaving menu plans.
If you’re a curry fan, here’s how to make a three-course Indian takeaway for £5. Many Old Stylers report they now find restaurant grub disappointing.
Finally, there’s absolutely no shame in asking for tap water. Check out your rights in our Free Tap Water Q&A.
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