The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations, which came into force across the EU in July, mean that package holidays consisting of a flight, hotel, car-hire or other tourist services (either bought online for an all-in price or through linked webpages) will get the same protection as packages bought in travel agencies.
The widening of the package travel rules also means that travellers will have more options to cancel a contract and get clear advance information on who is ultimately responsible if something goes wrong.
Andy Allen, UK Director at the European Consumer Centre (ECC), said: “This is an important step in giving more protection to holidaymakers who put together their own ‘holiday packages’ from travel services sold on the internet. Ultimately this should protect travellers against sharp price increases or flight time changes and specify their rights better.
“The current EU rules on package holidays date back to 1990. Since then, the growth in cheap flights and internet sales has significantly changed the way travellers plan and buy holidays. This new buying behaviour has made the current directive outdated, often leaving consumers in a legal grey area where it is no longer clear whether their holiday arrangements constitute a legal ‘package’.
“This has been complicated by the fact that different insolvency protection in European countries has sometimes made it difficult for travellers to know their rights.”
According to the European Parliament, although 23% of EU travellers still buy package holidays in the traditional way, people are increasingly make their own holiday arrangements on the internet through commercially linked traders.
The new rules will cover two types of contracts: package deals (pre-arranged by tour organisers or customised by the traveller) and ‘linked travel arrangements’. Under the new rules, package holidays consist of two or more travel services – such as flights, accommodation, car hire or other tourist services such as guided tours – bought from one single trader or offered by travel agents with different traders at a total price.
‘Linked travel arrangements’ (the concept of which is introduced by the new rules) is where the consumer, having booked one travel service on one website, is invited to book another service through a link. The new rules offer insolvency protection in some circumstances and provided that the second online booking is made within 24 hours.
The Package Travel rules mean there will be:
- More predictable prices Holidaymakers will have the right to cancel a package-deal contract and get their money back if the price of the package rises by more than 8% or if “unavoidable” events such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks strike the destination.
- Stronger cancellation rights Holidaymakers will have the right to free cancellation before departure in case of natural disasters, war or other serious situations at the destination. Package travellers will also be able to cancel their holiday for any reason by paying a reasonable cancellation fee.
- Clear identification of the liable party The organiser of the package in all EU Member States will have to deal with the problem if something goes wrong.
- Clear liability for booking mistakes Traders will be made explicitly liable for booking errors.
- Clarification on essential consumer rights The organiser will have to help travellers in difficulty, for example with information on health services and consular assistance, and help make alternative travel plans. For example, travellers will be entitled to extra accommodation for three nights if the return journey can’t be carried out on time if there is a natural disaster.
- Guarantees of money-back and repatriation This only occurs if the package organiser goes bankrupt. Also, sellers of linked-travel arrangements (if they are an airline) will be obliged to take out insolvency protection, guaranteeing refunds and repatriation in such cases.
Allen concluded: “There should no longer be any doubt in a consumer’s mind as to whether their holiday constitutes a package deal or not, as there will also now be an obligation for traders to clearly inform customers before they buy if they are purchasing a package or a linked-travel arrangement.”
A PDF guide to the new regulations by Bruce Treloar, Trading Standards Lead Officer for Holiday and Travel Law, can be downloaded here.