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How to protect yourself from bad holiday experiences
The law sets out the general duties and responsibilities of a seller
providing a service.
You are entitled to expect that your holiday is of a reasonable standard and as described, and that the holiday organiser provides their service with reasonable care and skill.
- Package holidays
- What can I do to protect my money?
- Make sure you read the terms and conditions of the booking
- The contract
- Unfair contract terms
- Accurate pricing and statements
- What if things go wrong before I go on holiday?
- Flight delays or cancellations
- What if things go wrong during my holiday?
- After returning home
- Taking the matter further
The term package holiday is defined as a holiday with a pre-arranged combination of at least two of the following components:
Other tourist services -
accounting for a significant proportion of the package
The definition of package holiday also covers holidays which are sold (or offered for sale) at an inclusive price and which cover a period of more than 24 hours or include overnight accommodation.
Regulations set out the tour operator’s legal responsibilities to you, and what you are entitled to if they fail to honour these obligations.
Any false or misleading representations or descriptions about the holiday, hotel or facilities made by the tour operator (or its representative) are covered.
Before you are asked to pay for the holiday, the company should give you:
- General information about passports and visa requirements, including the length of time it is likely to take for British Citizens to obtain them
- Information on health formalities
- Arrangements for the protection of the money you pay, and arrangements to get you home, if the tour operator goes out of business whilst you are away
The company must also give you, in good time before the holiday:
- Information on travel times and scheduled stops
- The tour operator representative’s contact details (or other contact details if a representative is not provided)
- Any insurance requirements
If a child under 16 is travelling or staying abroad (as part of a package holiday), you should be given information enabling direct contact with the child (or the person responsible) at the place where they are staying.
Every tour operator is required by law to have arrangements in place to protect the money you have paid, and to get you home, if the company goes out of business.
If your holiday costs more than £100, it may be worth using a credit card to pay for it (or even for just a part, such as the deposit).
The credit card company will then be equally liable for any breach of contract or for any misrepresentation. This covers you for incidents ranging from the tour operator becoming insolvent to your holiday failing to match its description. In other words, you can also ask the credit card company for compensation if things go wrong.
Terms and conditions are there for a purpose. When you book the
holiday, the law assumes that you have read and accepted them.
Make sure you keep a copy in case you need to refer to them later.
Remember that the terms and conditions have to be fair and reasonable. If in doubt, don’t sign any paperwork before taking legal advice.
If you book your holiday on-line, you must check the terms and conditions before you commit yourself to the booking and you should keep printed copies of all relevant documentation.
Before entering your payment details, make sure that the website has a secure payment facility.
You should receive a confirmation notice shortly after you have made your initial booking. It is essential to check this carefully, as this is your proof of the contract and what you have booked. It will usually contain details of your travel times and dates, the accommodation you have booked and any special requests you have made. This is the time to
query it and to get any incorrect details sorted out.
Spotting problems at this stage can avoid a lot of hassle and upset later on.
You will have entered into a contract with no automatic right of cancellation. If you do need to cancel, you might incur a penalty charge.
The contract for your holiday will normally be with the tour operator,even if you book through a travel agent.
The tour operator must accept liability for all the elements of the holiday, such as travel, accommodation and pre-booked car hire.
The travel agent is considered to be acting on behalf of the tour operator, but also has a duty to carry out the administration of the booking correctly and efficiently.
In addition, the travel agent may be liable to you for any extras that are nothing to do with the brochure holiday, such as currency exchange and arranging airport car parking.
It is important to be aware of the different relationships you have with the tour operator and the travel agent, and to know who is liable for what. If you are not sure, ask the agent.
If you have any special requests, make sure that they are specifically mentioned in writing on the booking form and ensure that the travel agent passes them on to the tour operator.
You have a legal right to challenge any contractual term that may be unfair, unreasonable, unfairly weighted against you or ambiguous.
Standard contract terms should be written in clear and understandable language.
It is illegal for a contract term to try to restrict your legal rights, and no term should try to avoid responsibility for death or personal injury.
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Most tour operators require you to have adequate insurance cover when you book.
You can choose to take the tour operator’s insurance, arrange your own, or take the travel agent’s. Shop around and compare prices and level of cover first.
It is illegal for a travel agent to insist that you take its in-house insurance in order to qualify for a discount on a holiday.
Make sure that your insurance gives you enough cover, and that special circumstances (such as car hire and medical expenses) are fully provided for.
In some cases, you may need to take out extra insurance cover at your destination - for example, car hire in the USA. Ensure that you get full details from your travel agent.
Consider taking out cancellation insurance if you are worried that you may have to cancel a holiday.
A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) when travelling in a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland will entitle you to medical treatment at a reduced cost (sometimes free). You do not have to pay to get the card, and you can apply online at www.ehic.org.uk, by telephoning the EHIC application line on 0845 606 2303, or by using a form available at your local post office.
If you're applying online, make sure you use the official government website www.ehic.org.uk - there is no benefit to using any other website which asks you to pay for an 'enhanced service'.
Old and revised versions of the E111 are no longer valid.
The price shown in a brochure, in a travel agent’s window or on a website must be accurate and not misleading.
Please report any incidences of inaccurate or misleading prices to the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.
If you’re in Shetland, you can also contact Trading Standards on 01595 744887.
Regulations require statements made about the provision of services, accommodation or facilities to be truthful and accurate. For example, if a hotel is advertised with a “sea view”, that is what it should have - it should not be 20 miles from the coast.
Sometimes the tour operator might change important parts of the holiday after you have booked. If the change is a significant one - such as moving you to a different hotel which you are not happy with, altering the itinerary, or a major change in the flight times - it will probably be in breach of contract.
You should be given the option to cancel and receive a full refund. If you wish, you can try to negotiate a change in the booking to another holiday offered by the operator for a similar price.
If you still want to go on the holiday, or it is too late to arrange an alternative, write to the tour operator to advise that you are not happy with the situation but will assess the effect the changes have on your holiday when you are travelling, or at the resort.
If your flight is delayed or cancelled, your airline has a duty to assist you at the airport. Depending on how long you are delayed, you may be entitled to free meals, phone calls and other assistance, whether or not you are in transit.
This only applies to flights from an EU airport, or from an airport outside the EU to an EU airport on an EU carrier.
Full details are available from the Civil Aviation Authority on their website www.caa.co.uk.
Your airline also has a duty to provide you with details of its responsibilities in the event of a delay or cancellation, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Airlines must provide information about their financial liability (the maximum amount you could claim for) in the case of:
- Death or injury
- Lost or destroyed baggage
- Delays to passengers or their baggage
You can pay extra to increase the maximum you could claim if your baggage is lost or destroyed. Airlines must publish their charges for providing you with this higher baggage carrier liability.
Ensure that you take with you a copy of your insurance policy and copies of the relevant parts of the brochure or website printouts, so that you can quickly and easily check anything.
If some part of your holiday is not right, it is important that you complain to the tour operator’s representative as soon as possible. The problem may get sorted out there and then. If not, you should:
- Ask for an official company complaint form to fill in at the resort
- Take photos or camcorder footage of any problems, such as poor accommodation or disruptive building work. This type of footage may be very useful, but bear in mind that you may be required to produce all of it in any court case.
- If, because of a breach of contract, you incur extra expenses during your holiday (such as unexpected travel costs, eating out, replacement clothing or medical fees) it is essential to get receipts or bills as proof for you to claim back the money
- Try to keep a brief record of the problems (with dates, action taken, and so on) so that you have an accurate account of events on your return – but don’t get too obsessive about this
- Ask fellow travellers if they would be prepared to act as witnesses and to back up your complaint, preferably in writing
When you return home, write to the tour operator’s head office as soon as possible.
Remember to give your booking reference, and be specific about the problem and the compensation you want.
Enclose copies of any documentary evidence, such as photos, receipts and bills - keep the originals in case you need them for future action.
Complain to your credit card company if you have paid by credit card.
Be persistent and be prepared to write again. Don’t be deterred if you are not satisfied with their initial response.
But, be realistic in your requests / expectations - don’t expect to get all your money back.
If all else fails, you may have to consider legal action. This could be through a small claim in the Sheriff Court if your claim is for £3000 or less.
For claims over £3000 you will need a solicitor for either the Summary Cause or Ordinary Cause procedures in the Sheriff Court.
If your tour operator is a member of ABTA, you could consider their ‘documents only’ arbitration scheme. Take advice before you go ahead with this.
If you feel that any facilities or other aspects of your holiday were wrongly described, contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.
If you’re in Shetland, you can also contact Trading Standards on 01595 744887.
Bear in mind that any investigation into a possible criminal offence will not resolve your own contractual dispute with the company and you might have to carry on with your own civil court action for breach of contract.