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Problems with package holidays

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The high expectation of consumers for their breaks, coupled with the temptation for the tour operating companies to describe their inclusive tour product in as favourable terms as possible, can lead to disappointments. In addition, because British travel agencies and tour operators have to rely on providers situated abroad, they are not always able to control all that happens on the holiday. Complaints made at the time to the hotel, might not be treated seriously. It is therefore important that once something has gone wrong on holiday, consumers are able to obtain redress on their return.

The options available to resolve your holiday problem will depend on whether the holiday you booked is a holiday package or one booked directly with the providers of your transport and accommodation. If you have booked a package holiday, you will have extra rights. A package holiday is one that consists of two or more elements, such as transport and accommodation, that are sold to you as a package at an inclusive price.

Your holiday is likely to be a package holiday if it:

  • has been prearranged; and
  • has been sold for an inclusive price; and
  • covers a periods of over 24 hours or overnight accommodation; and
  • includes at least two of the following: transport, accommodation or other tourist services. Other tourist services may include excursions, fishing rights, or car hire.
An example of a package holiday is one which you choose from a tour operator's brochure, and which includes a flight and a seven night stay in a hotel.

Your holiday is not likely to be a package holiday if you booked all the elements of your holiday separately, for example you booked the flight directly from the airline, and you booked your accommodation during a telephone conversation with the hotel.

A holiday booked on the internet may still be a package holiday, particularly if you booked and paid for everything at the same time.

What should you get?

The tour operator should provide a holiday which is of the type and quality described in its brochure. Unfortunately, every year a number of people come back dissatisfied, with stories of their vacation's poor service and poor accommodation. Unfortunately, any claim solely based on the brochure or promotional materials might be unsuccessful. This is because people have different standards; it is important that any complaints are not exaggerated. This could prevent an early resolution of any claim, and in any event, if the matter does end up in front of a judge, he or she will consider the matter on what was a reasonable expectation. It is advisable for holidaymakers to take a copy of their insurance policy on their holiday.

Specific problems

Cancellation

If the tour operator cancels your package holiday, you will have several options. You can choose to:

  • accept an alternative holiday of a similar or better standard
  • accept an alternative holiday of a lower standard and claim back the difference in cost
  • cancel the holiday and get your money back
You may also be able to claim compensation if your holiday is cancelled, but this will depend on the terms of the contract, sometimes known as the 'booking conditions', between you and the tour operator or travel agent. You will be unable to claim compensation if your package holiday has to be cancelled due to unusual or unforeseeable circumstances which were beyond the control of the tour operator, and which could not have been avoided.

If you cancel your holiday, for example, because of ill health or because you can no longer afford to go, you will usually lose your deposit or pay a cancellation charge. The contract will usually say whether a cancellation fee has to be paid, and give the amount or a way of working it out. If the contract does not allow cancellation, you will be liable for any losses which the holiday trader might have. Check to see whether your holiday insurance covers the cost of cancellation.

Be careful if you are considering stopping your cheque, as the holiday trader may take you to court for compensation.

Price increases

When you book a package holiday, you are entering into a contract with the holiday trader which must contain details of the price of the holiday and the circumstances under which the price can be increased. There are special rules about when the price of a package holiday can be changed. After you have bought a package holiday, the price can only be changed if:

  • your contract includes a term which allows the price change; and
  • the term says how the price change will be calculated; and
  • the increase or decrease is only going to happen because of a change in the cost of the transportation, fees, taxes or changes to the exchange rate; and
  • there are at least 30 days before your departure; and
  • the increase is greater than 2%.
If ALL of these conditions are not met, the price of a package holiday cannot be changed. If the conditions are met and the increase in price is 10% or more, it is likely that you will be able either to choose an alternative holiday or to cancel the holiday. This is because this would be seen as a significant change to your holiday.

Changes to package holidays

There are special rules about when changes to package holidays can be made. A package holiday can only be changed from its description in the brochure when:

  • a statement is included in the brochure which states that a change can be made; and
  • you are told about the change before you buy the package holiday.
If the package holiday is changed, but there was no statement in the brochure and you were not told about the change before you bought the holiday, the change can only be made if both you and the tour operator agree to it. If you do not agree to the change, your contract may have been broken, and you may be able to make a claim for compensation.

If the tour operator has to significantly change your package holiday before you go away, for example, change the departure date, you must be told as soon as possible. You will then have several options. You can choose to:

  • accept an alternative package holiday of a similar or superior standard
  • accept an alternative package holiday of a lower standard and claim back the difference in the cost
  • cancel the package holiday and get your money back.
You must tell the tour operator which option you are going to choose, as soon as possible.

The holiday trader goes out of business

Any holiday which includes air travel will be regulated by a special set of rules. We discuss these in detail in our '[[76076:35250|Financial protection]' section.

If you booked a package holiday which does not include flights, the organiser must be able to:

  • refund the full cost of your holiday, if you have not yet travelled; and
  • cover the cost of returning you home, if you become stranded on holiday should the holiday company go out of business.
If the tour organiser is not able to do either of these things, you should complain to Consumer Direct on: 08454 04 05 06.

If you have difficulty getting your money back after a holiday trader goes out of business, and you paid for your holiday by credit card, you can also make a claim against your credit card company. You should check whether you are covered under your travel insurance policy. For more information, see our 'Travel insurance' section.

Safety concerns

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can advise you about the safety of foreign travel. You can get advice from the FCO travel advice unit on 020 7008 0232, or by looking at the FCO website.

Lost, stolen or damaged property

There is no legislation or laws dealing specifically with luggage problems in the context of package tours.

However, there are special rules that apply to problems with luggage during air travel which will very often impact on package tours.

For more information about problems with luggage, see our 'Baggage problems' section.

What can you do?

If something is wrong once you have arrived at the destination, you should proceed as follows:

  • Consult the brochure and your insurance policy in order to establish what was promised and whether you are covered for the incident that has occurred. See our 'Travel insurance' section for more information.
  • Complain to the tour representative as soon as possible.
  • If the tour representative cannot put matters right, you should ask for an official complaint form. Fill it in immediately.
  • Collect as much evidence as possible by taking photos or videos of any poor accommodation or disturbances such as building work.
  • Keep receipts for any additional cost such as extra transport costs, which have been incurred as a result of the matter complained about.
  • Keep a record in a form of a diary of the events that occurred and the people involved, and any action that has been taken as a result of your complaint.
  • Ask other holidaymakers whether they are prepared to act as witnesses, and put something in writing in support of your complaint.
  • When you get home, contact the tour operator's head office, both in writing and on the phone, as soon as possible.
  • Write a detailed letter, keep to the point, and do not include any derogatory comments. Include your booking reference number and state what you would like the company to do about your complaint.
  • Enclose copies of any relevant documents, photos and receipts.
  • If the holiday was paid for by credit card, you should also write to the credit card company letting them know that you may have a claim against them. You should indicate that you are presently seeking redress from the tour operator. See the 'Paying for your holiday' section for more information.
  • If your negotiations with the tour operator do not produce a satisfactory result, you should refer the matter to one of the consumer bodies for the travel industry. Your choice of organisation will depend on the particular problem and whether the tour operator is a member of a particular organisation. For more information, see our 'Consumer bodies for holiday complaints' section.
  • You should remember that if you use the arbitration scheme provided by ABTA, there will be no physical hearing; all the evidence is considered in paper form. You will also be limited to claiming in the High Court (which is expensive) if you are not satisfied with the result.
  • If in spite of all your efforts you are still dissatisfied with the way in which your complaint has been dealt with, your last resort is to take the matter to court.
  • You should inform the tour operator and the credit card company that you will be issuing a court claim unless the matter is resolved within a set time. For more information on court claims, see our 'Making a claim (England and Wales)' section.
Most claims involving holidays are likely to be dealt with in the small claims court, because the amount claimed is usually less than £5,000.

Help with finding a holiday if you have special needs or requirements

There are several organisations which can give you advice about finding a holiday if you have special needs or requirements.

For more information on these and others, see 'Consumer bodies for holiday complaints'.

Independent travellers

It is becoming increasingly popular for holidaymakers to put together their own arrangements, à la Lonely Planet. Often they combine flights and accommodation that they have found on websites, e.g. Lastminute.com or Expedia.com. This can be a good way to organise a holiday exactly suited to your needs, but independent travellers should be aware that you do not benefit from the same protection as those who book package holidays. If the airline or hotel goes out of business, alternative arrangements will not be made for you, and you are unlikely to receive compensation. Any problems with part of the holiday have to be sorted out directly with the supplier of the service. Independent travellers should check their own insurance cover.

For more information, see our 'Travel insurance' section.

Luggage problems

If your property was lost, stolen or damaged while on holiday, your rights will depend on the law of the country where you are staying. Claiming compensation can be difficult and expensive, and you should consider claiming on your travel insurance instead.

If you have lost, damaged or had luggage stolen during your journey, you should consider making a claim against the travel company, for example the coach or train company. It is important that you report the problem to the travel company as soon as possible. Alternatively, you could consider claiming on your travel insurance.

For more information about claiming on your holiday insurance policy, see our 'Travel insurance' section.

Air travel

Special rules apply to luggage claims connected with air travel. For more information, see our 'Baggage problems' section.

Complaints about tour operators or travel agents

If you have complained to the agent or operator in question and are not satisfied with their response, find out if the company is a member of a travel industry consumer body, as these have arbitration procedures for customer complaints.

The Air Transport Users Council (AUC) cannot help with a complaint against a tour operator or travel agent.

For more information on travel industry consumer bodies, see our 'Consumer bodies for holiday complaints' section.