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Problems with package holidays

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How you resolve your holiday problem will depend on whether your holiday is a holiday package or one booked directly with the providers of your transport and accommodation. If you've booked a package holiday, you'll have extra rights.

Package holidays are regulated by the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992.

What is a package holiday?

A package holiday consists of 2 or more elements that are sold together at an inclusive price, such as transport and accommodation.

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

  • has been prearranged and was sold for an inclusive price;
  • covers a period of over 24 hours or overnight accommodation; and
  • includes at least 2 of the following: transport, accommodation or other tourist services, such as day trips or car hire.
A holiday booked on the internet may still be a package holiday, particularly if you booked and paid for everything at the same time on one website.

Your holiday is unlikely to be a package holiday if you booked all the elements of it with separate providers, e.g. you booked the flight directly with the airline and the accommodation directly with the hotel.

The contract with the travel company can be made up of several documents, such as a document confirming the booking and information given in a brochure or by the travel agent.

What should you get?

Usually, a tour operator will provide a package holiday of the type and quality described in the brochure. However, if they don't, and you make a claim based solely on the brochure or promotional materials, you could be unsuccessful. If it ends up in court, the judge will consider the claim based on what a reasonable person's expectation would be.

Specific problems

Cancellation

Once your booking has been confirmed, there is a binding contract between you and the tour operator and it can't then be cancelled without breaking the contract. If the booking hasn't been confirmed, there is no contract and either you or the tour operator can cancel the arrangements.

If the tour operator cancels

If the tour operator cancels your package holiday, you can:

  • 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; or
  • cancel the holiday and get your money back.
You may also be able to claim compensation, but this will depend on the terms of the contract. You can't claim compensation if your package holiday was cancelled because of unusual or unforeseeable circumstances that were beyond the control of the tour operator, and that couldn't have been avoided.

If you cancel

If you cancel your holiday, for example, because of ill health, you'll usually lose your deposit or pay a cancellation charge as you have broken the terms of the contract.

The contract will usually say whether a cancellation fee has to be paid, and will give the amount or a way of working it out. If the contract doesn't allow cancellation, you'll be liable to pay any losses the tour operator might have. Check to see whether your travel insurance covers the cost of cancellation.

Be aware that stopping any payments could result in the tour operator seeking compensation and possibly taking court action.

Price increases

The contract with the tour operator must contain details of the price of the holiday and the circumstances under which the price can be increased.

After you have bought a package holiday, the price can only be changed if all of the following apply:

  • It's at least 30 days before your departure;
  • The increase is more than 2% of the original price;
  • The term says how the price change will be calculated;
  • Your contract includes a term that allows the price change; and
  • The increase or decrease is due to a change in the cost of the transportation, fees, taxes or the exchange rate.
If these conditions aren't met, the price of a package holiday can't be changed.

If the conditions are met and the increase in price is 10% or more, it's likely that you'll be able to either choose an alternative holiday or cancel it, as this would be regarded as a major change to your holiday.

It's a criminal offence to give misleading or false information about prices. This would include not making it clear that the price may be increased, and the circumstances in which this might happen. If you think a price you've been given is misleading, you should complain to the Citizens Advice Bureau, who can report criminal behaviour to your local authority trading standards service.

Changes

A package holiday can only be changed from its description in the brochure when:

  • The brochure includes a statement that a change can be made; and
  • You're 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 weren't 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 don't agree to the change, you can cancel the contract, as it would be broken. You may be able to claim compensation for any financial loss you've suffered as a result of cancelling the holiday, and possibly for loss of enjoyment.

If the tour operator has to significantly change your package holiday before you go away, e.g. a change to the departure date, you must be told as soon as possible. You'll then have the following options:

  • Accept an alternative package holiday of a similar or better standard;
  • Accept an alternative package holiday of a lower standard and claim back the difference in the cost; or
  • Cancel the package holiday and get your money back.
You must tell the tour operator as soon as possible which option you're going to choose.

You may still be able to claim compensation if you accept the change either 'under protest' (accepting the change reluctantly or after having objected to it) or because you have little choice. If you don't accept the change, you can cancel the holiday, but will only be entitled to compensation over and above your refund if the change means you'd be financially worse off.

The tour operator goes out of business

The Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) scheme is a financial protection scheme managed by the Civil Aviation Authority. All companies selling holiday air packages and air flights in the UK must hold an ATOL licence.

The ATOL scheme ensures that consumers who book with an ATOL licence holder for an air holiday package or a flight don't lose their money or aren't stranded abroad if the operator goes out of business – either before you travel or while you're on holiday.

You should always ask for an ATOL confirmation certificate so that you'll be protected, regardless of whether the ticket has been issued or not. It'll also establish whether the tour operator or air travel firm has a licence under the ATOL scheme.

If you booked a package holiday that doesn't include flights, and the tour operator goes out of business, the tour operator must:

  • Refund the full cost of your holiday, if you haven't yet travelled; and
  • Cover the cost of returning you home, if you become stranded on holiday.
If the tour operator can't do either, you should consider contacting the Citizens Advice Bureau.

If you have difficulty getting your money back after a tour operator goes out of business, and you paid for your holiday by credit card, you can make a claim against your credit card company. Alternatively, check whether you're covered under your travel insurance policy.

Personal injury or illness

If you're injured or become ill during your holiday, you may be able to claim compensation to cover your losses.

If you booked your holiday through a company that is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), you may be able to claim using one of the schemes it runs.

Safety concerns

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can advise you about the safety of foreign travel.

Lost, stolen or damaged property

There are no special rules on luggage problems in the context of package tours.

For information about problems with luggage, see Luggage.

What can you do?

If something goes wrong once you've arrived at the destination, you should do as follows:

  • Read the brochure and your insurance policy to find out what was promised and whether you're covered for the incident that has occurred.
  • Complain to the tour operator representative as soon as possible.
  • If the tour operator representative can't put matters right, you should ask for an official complaint form. Fill it in immediately.
  • Collect as much evidence as possible, such as by taking photos or videos.
  • Keep receipts for any additional costs that you've incurred as a result of the matter complained about.
  • Keep a record of 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're prepared to act as witnesses, and whether they can 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 including 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, write to the credit card company as well, letting them know that you may have a claim against them.
  • If you're unhappy with how the tour operator deals with the complaint, 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.
  • If in spite of all your efforts you're still unhappy with the way your complaint has been dealt with, your last resort is to take the matter to court. See Making a claim for more information.
Complaints about tour operators or travel agents

If you've complained to the agent or tour operator and aren't happy with their response, find out if the company is a member of a travel association. These have arbitration procedures for customer complaints.

See Consumer bodies for holiday complaints for more information on travel industry consumer bodies.