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Buying a Holiday

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Quick links

- Things to check before you book
- My holiday accommodation wasn’t what I expected

- My flight was cancelled

- My flight was delayed

- I want to cancel my holiday

- I’m unhappy with my package holiday

Buying a holiday

Everyone looks forward to a holiday, so if it doesn’t go as planned it can put a damper on the whole year. We’ve put together the answers to the questions we’re often asked about holiday mishaps. If you have had a terrible time you may also be able to claim compensation from the companies that provided your holiday but it can be tricky and expensive to take legal action. Our experienced advisers can talk you through the practical steps you can take to get compensation and discuss the legal options (and whether they are likely to be worth it) with you.

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Things to check before you book

If you have booked your holiday through a travel agent, they will only be responsible for parts of the holiday deal – your contract is likely to be with the tour operator.  Determine each respective party’s responsibilities before you sign.  If you are not clear on the division of responsibility, ask your travel agent for clarification:

  • Read your booking Terms & Conditions and make sure you understand them.
  • Do your own research into the places you will be staying rather than relying on what they say about themselves.
  • Any special requests or requirements you need should be made in writing.  Make sure the written requirements have been passed to your tour operator. Do not rely on the “special requests” section of a booking form, as the company does not have to provide “special requests”.
  • Make sure the insurance you have taken out for your holiday is sufficient.  Take the policy or a copy of the policy on holiday with you.
  • Check that the tour operator is bonded or has other protections in place.  Check that the tour operator belongs to a trade association and, if not, see to what organisations the tour operator does belong.
  • Carefully read through your written confirmation and check the terms.  If there are any mistakes or clarification needed, act quickly
  • If you do experience problems on your holiday, make sure you complain to the local representative at the time.  They may be able to sort things out.
  • If the problem is not or cannot be sorted, gather evidence pertaining to your problem and present this evidence to your tour operator as soon as possible upon your return.
  • Once again – try and be reasonable.  Does your tour operator have any control over your complaint? If you are objecting to a local custom or law, it is unlikely your tour operator can do anything about it.

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My holiday accommodation wasn’t what I expected

If you booked in the UK or with a UK company then the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 gives you some protection. Your holiday company has to use reasonable skill and care in providing your holiday and that may include the accommodation.

What is reasonable will depend on what you agreed with the company, so it is very important to check carefully what you has been agreed and what you were promised as included.  The company may have its own policy about refunds or putting right problems and it is important to inform them of the problem as soon as possible. If you don’t let them know until after the holiday, they may argue that you accepted the holiday accommodation as it was.

If the company has breached their contract with you by not providing what they promised, you may be entitled to compensation for ‘loss of enjoyment’ (though not if the reason for your loss of enjoyment was not the company’s fault) and for ‘loss of value’ if what you expected to get and paid for is not what you actually received.

For example, if you had out of pocket expenses, e.g. buying different food because the food provided was unacceptable, or moved to a different hotel because the one provided was not what was promised, you might be able to claim those costs from the company. You are required to mitigate your losses (keep them reasonable), so go for a similar priced alternative rather than the most expensive.

It is important to keep copies of all the documentation about your holiday and also dated notes of anything that went wrong, plus receipts of anything you had to pay for if you think you may want to claim compensation.

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My flight was cancelled

Any cancellations by airlines may require a payout of between €250 and €600. The amount you may receive will depend on the distance of the booked flight, and the length of your delay. This applies to all flights which are departing from or arriving at EU airport (where flying with an EU carrier). You will not be entitled to compensation if you are informed of the cancellation at least 2 weeks before the scheduled time of departure. If you are informed of cancellation within the 2 week period then whether or not you can get compensation will depend on the departure time of any re-routed flight.

If a flight is cancelled, you should be offered re-imbursement within 7 days of the cancellation, re-routing or a return flight to the first point of departure. If you are re-routed and the new flight is at least a day after the planned departure then you should be offered hotel accommodation with transport to and from that accommodation. If you end up having to wait around in the airport you should be provided with free meals, refreshments, telephone, fax and email facilities. This is called the ‘right to care’.

 The full list of compensation available in these circumstances is available from the Air Transport Users Council.

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My flight was delayed

If you are flying within Europe your rights for compensation where your flight is delayed is governed by European law. Where you are delayed on your flight due to the fault of the airline you should be eligible for compensation or assistance.  Where a flight is subject to late take-off time, airlines will be required to provide the ‘right to care’ (see above) if you have to wait for a long time.

To qualify for this assistance, passengers must experience delays of 2 hours for flights up to 1,500km, 3 hours for journeys between 1,500 and 3,000 km, and at least 4 hour delays for flights over 3,000km.

Any postponements of longer than 5 hours will make passengers eligible for reimbursement of the ticket, and if it continues into the night, hotel rooms should also be provided.

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I want to claim compensation for a flight cancellation or delay

In the event of either a cancellation or flight delay, the first thing you must do is contact the airline directly, and make it known that you'll be claiming the compensation. If the flight operator doesn't resolve the matter, you should then contact the Air Transport Users Council.

The claim must be pursued through the authorities within the country of departure, which means you will have to deal with foreign agencies.

Airlines are however, exempt from paying out compensation if cancellations are due to ‘extraordinary circumstances'. This includes occurrences such as extreme weather conditions, security risks and worker strikes, but not technical problems with the aircraft.

If you are flying outside of Europe, your rights are governed by the Montreal Convention, which sets out when passengers can bring claims for compensation as a result of a cancelled flight. The Convention limits the liability of the carrier in the event of a cancellation.

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I want to cancel my holiday

Whether you can cancel your holiday will be governed by the terms and conditions you agreed to when you booked.  By cancelling you might be breaking the contract or there might be payments you have to make to cancel, even if you cannot go on the holiday.  Check the contract you agreed to when you made the booking very carefully to see if there are any cancellation charges.

If you have travel insurance in place and you are unable to travel due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, then you may be able to cancel without consequence depending on the terms and conditions of the insurance.

If the contract is on the company’s standard terms and is unfair, you might be able challenge it under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations, which says that you must understand what you were signing up to and that you should not be treated unfairly because the holiday company has more negotiating power than you do as an individual.

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I’m unhappy with my package holiday

Package holidays are covered by the Package Holidays and Package Tour Regulations 1992 (PTR).  To be considered a package holiday your holiday must:

  • cover a period of at least 24 hours or involve overnight accommodation
  • consist of a combination of at least two of the following:
    • transport (for example, flights, trains, coaches and ferries
    • free transfers from the airport to a hotel would not be included)
    • accommodation (this should be significant - it would include a berth on a cruise ship but not on a cross-channel ferry)
    • other tourist services that form a significant proportion of the package (for example, car hire)
  •  be sold at an inclusive price

These conditions mean that holidays you might not think of as ‘package holidays’ might still be covered by the PTRs, for example, a holiday in Britain or a cruise might be covered, not just a trips abroad.

The PTR apply special rules to package holidays about how the holidays are described and information that must be made clear to you if you buy a package holiday.  You will be entitled to compensation if your package holiday is different to what you reasonably expected based on the information the company provided.

It is up to the company that organised your package holiday to put things right, unless the problems are caused by things they did not know about like an earthquake or civil unrest. However, if they knew these things were likely to happen and let you go anyway they may still have a duty to compensate you. You may escalate your complaint/claim to the relevant trade association such as ABTA or AITO if your travel company is a member of a trade association. If your dispute cannot be resolved you may want to go to independent arbitration or think about taking the company to court.

If you paid for some or all of the holiday with a credit card, you may be able to charge it back under s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

It is important to keep copies of all the documentation about your holiday and also dated notes of anything that went wrong, plus receipts of anything you had to pay for if you think you may want to claim compensation.


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