Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Holiday problems

Holiday problems

Contents

If a holiday hasn't lived up to the standards advertised, you may be entitled to compensation for the cost of the holiday and be paid an additional amount for the loss of enjoyment (such as disappointment or inconvenience).

Your rights

The options available to you will depend on whether or not you booked the holiday as a package. If it's a package holiday, you'll have extra rights.

The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 set out:

  • what a package holiday is,
  • who is responsible for the holiday,
  • what information must be provided to the passenger, and
  • what protection the organiser of the holiday must give to the passenger in case they become insolvent.

A holiday is a package holiday if the following are true:

1. It includes 2 types of the following travel services:

  • travel - e.g. flights or trains
  • accommodation - however, it doesn't count if it's intrinsically part of the travel or if it's for residential purposes, e.g. a long-term language course
  • motor vehicle hire
  • any other travel service - however, this only counts if it's not an intrinsic part of one of the above services, e.g. admission to a sports centre may be included, but playing tennis on the hotel's courts wouldn't be. It also must be a significant proportion of the value of the holiday. Travel insurance doesn't count.

2. If there are 2 of the above services, it will be a package holiday if the following applies:

  • the travel services are combined by one trader into a single contract
  • they're sold in a single booking process, e.g. one visit to the internet - it doesn't require that payment is made immediately
  • the different services are sold at an inclusive price
  • it's called a "package"
  • the arrangement allows the vacationer to choose further elements at a later date - e.g. gift boxes
  • the arrangement is concluded within 24 hours and the traveller's name, payment details and email address are transmitted from the first trader to the other service providers.

3. It's either for at least 24 hours, or overnight accommodation is included - so a trip to Paris that departs by train from St Pancras International at 6am and includes entry to several museums before returning for 11pm wouldn't qualify; but if it leaves at 9pm and includes overnight accommodation before returning for 5pm the next day, it would.

4. The package is offered by someone acting in the business of making travel arrangements.

The Package Travel Regulations distinguish between organisers and retailers of package holidays, though often the two will be the same. The organiser combines the elements or allows the customer to do so. The retailer sells the package that's been arranged.

The Package Travel Regulations' obligations fall on the organiser, though the retailer is obligated to forward any complaint to the organiser.

Accordingly, normally a tour operator or travel agent will be both the organiser and the retailer.

In particular, a holiday booked on the internet is likely to be a package holiday 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 - for example, booking 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 the booking conditions printed on the back of the ticket, a document confirming a booking, and information given in a brochure or by the travel agent. It's important to know whether your booking has been confirmed or not, as this will affect a lot of your rights.

Duty to provide information

Before the holiday is booked, information must be provided about the main characteristics of the holiday, its total price, the organiser's name and details and the cancellation policy. The Regulations give further detail about what information must be given.

The organiser and retailer can decide which of them will provide the information.

Failure to provide the required information is a criminal offence. Also, the information provided will form part of the contract, and if the holiday doesn't conform to the contract you may be able to claim against the tour operator for compensation for breach of contract.

Holiday didn't turn out as expected

Your holiday might not have turned out as you expected for many different reasons. For example, the facilities at the accommodation or resort might not have been what you were led to expect, or the holiday wasn't as it was described in the brochure.

If your holiday isn't what you were led to believe, in most cases you'll be able to claim compensation. Descriptions of holidays in brochures must be full and accurate. If it's a package holiday, under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 you'll normally be able to claim against the organiser of the holiday. This will normally be the website operator or travel agent, but if they were just selling a product organised by someone else, they'll be obligated to forward any complaint to the organiser.

However, if the holiday wasn't as you expected simply because it was different from publicity material or an advertisement you saw, you may not be able to claim compensation. This is because publicity material and advertisements don't usually form part of the contract you make with the holiday company when you book your holiday.

Note also that if the description of your holiday wasn't accurate, it may be a criminal offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. And as said above, it's a criminal offence under the Package Travel Regulations to not give the information. In this case, you may wish to report it to Citizens Advice, who can refer criminal behaviour to your local authority's trading standards service.

Cancellations

Once your booking has been confirmed, there is a binding contract between you and the travel company. It can't be cancelled without breaking the contract.

If the booking hasn't been confirmed, there is no contract and either you or the travel company can cancel the arrangements. In theory, they could offer you a holiday on the basis that y your acceptance will form a contract, but in practice that's unusual and it's unlikely there'll be a contract until it's confirmed.

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've broken the terms of the contract.

The contract will usually say whether a cancellation fee has to be paid. If so, the amount will usually be binding.

If the contract doesn't allow cancellation, you'll be liable to pay any losses incurred by the travel company. Check to see whether your travel insurance covers the cost of cancellation.

Be aware that stopping any payments may result in the travel company seeking compensation and possibly taking court action.

If the travel company cancels

If the travel company cancels, you may be entitled to claim compensation, e.g. to cover any financial loss you've suffered and for loss of enjoyment. Any claim will depend on whether the cancellation was due to something outside of the travel company's control and whether, in the terms of the contract, it has limited its liability to pay.

Price increases

Whether or not you have to pay an increased price or a surcharge on your holiday firstly depends on whether the holiday has been booked and confirmed.

If the booking is confirmed, you'll only have to pay the increase or a surcharge if the contract allows this.

If you've booked a package holiday, the increase is only allowed for certain specific reasons (e.g. increase in fuel prices) and the travel company must let you know of any increase no less than 20 days before your departure date. If a price increase is allowed under these circumstances, the contract must also allow for a deduction in corresponding circumstances. If the price is increased by over 8%, that's considered a significant change and triggers the traveller's right to cancel the contract without a fee.

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 to the holiday

If your booking has been confirmed, there will be a binding contract between you and the travel company. If the arrangements are then changed significantly, you can either accept the change, or cancel the holiday and ask for a refund.

You may also be entitled to claim compensation for any financial loss you may have suffered as a result of cancelling the holiday and possibly for loss of enjoyment.

You may still be able to claim compensation if you accept the change 'under protest', i.e. accepting the change reluctantly or after having objected to it. The same can be said if you accept the change because you have little choice.

If you don't accept the change, you can cancel the holiday, but you'll only be entitled to compensation if the change means you'd be financially worse off.

If the change to your holiday arrangements is minor, you won't be able to cancel the holiday. But you may be able to claim compensation if the travel company has broken one or more of the terms of your contract.

Some contract terms can be unfair. Examples of this include terms written in such a way that you can't understand them or terms that take away your legal rights. If you have incurred a loss due to an unfair term, you should contact your travel company first. If you fail to settle the issue, ask if they have a trade association. The association may be able to deal with the dispute using alternatives to court, like mediation or arbitration.

As a last resort, you may need to start a court claim. If so, you have to report to the travel company to the Competition and Markets Authority.

If you don't query the changes, this can be taken as you accepting them.

Overbooking

If your holiday plans are changed as a result of an overbooking, it's likely that the agreement between you and the provider of the travel or accommodation has been breached. When a contract is breached in this way, you're entitled to claim compensation or a refund from the provider.

Package holidays

If you have a package holiday and your accommodation or transport is overbooked, you should normally take action against the tour operator, not the transport or accommodation provider.

The tour operator should make alternative arrangements for you, which you shouldn't have to pay extra for. If you're not happy with the alternative arrangement but accept it either under protest or because you have little choice, you may still be able to claim compensation. This is the case particularly if the alternative isn't as good as the package you paid for.

Transport – separate bookings

If your booking with a transport company is overbooked, and your seats were reserved or the ticket specified a particular journey or service, it's likely you'll only be able to claim compensation. This might happen, for example, when booking with a train operator or an airline.

If this is the case, you can claim for breach of contract for any unavoidable expenses you incurred as a result of any delay, like the cost of meals or overnight accommodation and possibly compensation for loss of enjoyment (compensation based on an emotional rather than a financial loss, such as disappointment at the experience you actually received as opposed to what you expected to gain from enjoying the holiday).

If the tour operator refuses compensation you might need to go to court to claim. But you should first check your travel insurance to see if it covers you for delays caused by overbooking, as it'll probably be easier than making a court claim.

Airlines that overbook are treated differently to other forms of transport. For information about overbooked airlines, see Denied boarding: rights under EU regulations.

Accommodation – separate bookings

If you booked your accommodation directly, but then find that when you get there it isn't available because of overbooking, you should be offered either a reasonable alternative or a full refund.

You may also be able to claim compensation. You can only do so to cover any extra costs you incurred as a result and for loss of enjoyment.

If you accept alternative accommodation, but aren't happy with it when you arrive, you may still be able to get compensation if you made it clear that the alternative was accepted under protest.

If the alternative offer is of a similar standard to the accommodation you had booked, you're unlikely to get compensation unless you made clear at the time of booking the reason why it was important for you to stay in that particular location.

Delays and diversions

Special rules cover delays and diversions to flights either to/from an EU airport or on an EU airline (a few European countries outside of the EU are also included).

If these rules don't apply, you may still be able to get compensation for delays and diversions. You'll need to check with your airline whether any compensation is available for your particular circumstances.

For more information about delays and diversions to all flights, see the Civil Aviation Authority website.

Check your holiday insurance as this may include cover for delays or missed travel connections.

Personal injury or illness

If you're injured or you 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.

Bankrupt travel companies

If you bought an airline ticket that wasn't part of a package holiday and the airline goes out of business, you may be able to use the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) scheme to get your money back or continue your holiday. However, this will depend on whom you bought the ticket from and when the ticket was issued.

For more information about what happens when an airline fails, see the section on Financial Protection.

Package holiday organisers must provide security, for example by having insurance, to cover traveller's costs (as long they're foreseeable) in the event that the organiser is insolvent.

Some travel companies are members of trade associations, which run schemes to help if they go out of business. To find out if your holiday trader is a member of a trade association, e.g. ABTA or Transport Focus, you should look for a logo or any information about the association in the written documents that came with your booking. For more information, see Consumer bodies for holiday complaints.

If you paid for your holiday by credit card, you may be able to make a claim against the credit card company.

Also, check whether your travel insurance policy covers you if the travel company goes out of business.

Safety concerns about travelling overseas

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can advise you about safety and foreign travel.

Lost, stolen or damaged property

If your property has been lost, damaged or stolen while staying in a hotel in the UK, you may be able to claim a limited amount of compensation, depending on the hotel's terms of use. If your losses are substantial, you should see if you can make a claim on your travel insurance.

There are some circumstances where you may be able to claim more than this limited amount. For more information, you should see an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

If your property has been lost, damaged or stolen while on holiday abroad, your rights will depend on the law of the country where you're staying. Claiming compensation abroad is difficult and expensive, and you should consider claiming on your travel insurance instead.

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

Special rules apply to problems with luggage during air travel. For more information, see Luggage.

Special needs or requirements

There are several organisations that can give you advice about finding a holiday if you have special needs or requirements. For more information, see Consumer bodies for holiday complaints.

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