Package holidays – what happens when things go wrong

After the collapse of Monarch Airlines earlier this month, I have been thinking about package holidays. What would I do had I been affected?

What are ‘package’ holidays?

A ‘package holiday’ is arranged by the same service provider (eg travel agent, or online package service), goes for at least 24 hours (or involve overnight accommodation), and includes at least two of the following:

  • Transport (eg flights, trains, buses, or ferries)
  • Accommodation (eg hotel or berth on a cruise ship)
  • Other tourist services that form a significant proportion of the trip (eg car hire)
  • Sold for an inclusive price

This definition is being extended in 2018. From 2018, any flights booked online which provide a link to a separate company to book another part of the holiday within 24 hours (eg accommodation or car hire) will be considered a package holiday.

Your rights when purchasing a package holiday

I am attracted to package holidays because I love the thought of someone else doing all the hard work.

A package holiday is essentially a contract between you and the holiday provider. The contract terms are included in the booking itinerary, information within the brochure, and anything else provided when booking.

You can expect that:

  • the provider has used reasonable care and skill in preparing the package
  • the holiday will match the advertised description (eg if it says the hotel is within walking distance to the beach, then the distance to the beach must be reasonable)
  • the standard of the facilities will be consistent with the price and the location (eg a budget priced holiday would not have to meet the same standard as a luxury priced holiday, but you can still expect basic levels of hygiene)

By virtue of being a UK consumer, you can also expect to be covered by consumer and statutory rights.

Consumer rights

You will be covered by consumer rights if you purchase the package in the UK.

Even online purchases are covered, as long as it is from a UK based and operated website. A website is most likely based in the UK if it has been approved by, and carries the logo of, a relevant regulatory body like the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) or the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO).

Statutory rights

If the package includes a flight, you will also be protected by the Air Travel Organiser’s License (ATOL) scheme.

This is a scheme set up to protect consumers against travel companies going bust.

By law, all companies selling flight inclusive package holidays must pay into a pot. This pot is used to refund people who lose their holidays or, as we saw with Monarch, bring them home when a company folds.

What happens when something goes wrong?

Some times can go wrong before you have even left home. All is not lost. If your provider cancels your trip, you are entitled to a full refund with no cancellation fee. You can even cancel a trip without paying a cancellation fee if the price increases by more than 10%.

If something happens during your trip you should contact your provider as soon as possible. Situations which are not your fault and should be reported can include:

  • a significant change in departure dates
  • the hotel does not have all the facilities as you expected
  • the included food makes you sick
  • you are stranded because your airport transfer did not arrive

Make sure you collect as much evidence (eg photos, receipts, and witnesses) as you can and include them in a written complaint to the provider.

If the problem is caused by a third party (eg hotel staff), the provider may still be responsible if they were aware of the potential problem and did nothing to rectify it.

Unfortunately, you will not be able to get your money back if the circumstances were outside of the operator’s control (eg it rained continuously).

Getting your money back

You should always give the provider an opportunity to fix any issues with your journey.

If you are still not happy, you can consider making a claim for a refund or compensation by:

  • a section 75 claim against your bank (if the total cost was over £100)
  • an ATOL claim
  • A claim against your travel insurance policy

Holidays the time for you to unwind, relax, and enjoy yourself. Now that I know more about my rights and the levels of protection that apply to any bookings that I make in the future, I will be planning all my future adventures with confidence.