As the mercury rises this summer season, the UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) is urging holidaymakers to check if their booking is a package, to gather evidence if things go wrong and to make a complaint to the travel organiser.
The advice comes as the new EU Package Travel Directive reaches its one-year anniversary. The Directive was introduced to give stronger protection to consumers who book pre-arranged package holidays. It was designed to bring consumer protection for holidays up to date with developments in the travel market.
The new Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations have applied across the EU since July 1 (2018). It means 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) get the same protection as packages bought in travel agencies.
The widening of the package travel rules also means that travellers have more options to cancel a contract and get clear advance information on who is ultimately responsible if something goes wrong.
But complaints about package holidays over the past year from UK consumers to the UK European Consumer Centre show that there is still a lot of uncertainty about what to do when things go wrong or even what type of booking consumers have.
Andy Allen, UK ECC Director, said: “The way consumers book their holidays has changed drastically in recent years. We’ve gone from nearly always booking through our local travel agent to going online, looking for deals and preferring the flexibility of booking the various elements ourselves.
“We would advise holidaymakers to check the terms and conditions of their holiday thoroughly and to see if their booking is a package holiday. If there is something wrong, for example if the accommodation is sub-standard, then gather evidence by taking photos. You should also contact the travel organizer as soon as possible giving them the opportunity to rectify the problem. When you return home, follow this up by submitting a formal complaint to the travel organiser within 28 days.”
The new EU Directive was an important step in giving more protection to holidaymakers who put together their own ‘holiday packages’ from travel services sold on the internet. Ultimately it should protect travellers against sharp price increases or flight time changes and specify their rights better.
The new rules 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 new Package Travel rules mean that there are now:
- More predictable prices: holidaymakers 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: free cancellation before departure in case of natural disasters, war or other serious situations at the destination. Package travellers can also cancel their holiday for any reason by paying a reasonable cancellation fee.
- Clear identification of the liable party: who has to deal with the problem if something goes wrong. This is the organiser of the package in all EU Member States.
- Clear liability for booking mistakes: traders have been made explicitly liable for booking errors.
- Clarification on essential consumer rights: the organiser is obliged to help travellers in difficulty, for example with information on health services and consular assistance, and help make alternative travel plans. For example, travellers are 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 only occurs if the package organiser goes bankrupt. Also, sellers of linked-travel arrangements (if they are an airline) are obliged to take out insolvency protection, guaranteeing refunds and repatriation in such cases.
More information is available here on the UK ECC website and here on the European Commission website. Also, check out a video produced by ECC Italy to explain some elements of the new package travel rules.
The UK ECC’s aim is to help as many UK consumers as possible who encounter problems with a trader based in Europe, to achieve a resolution: a replacement, repair, refund or cancellation of their contract.