Summer may have gone but holidays are still a hot topic, with constantly shifting headlines about travel cancellations and delays. It may feel like it’s getting harder to know where you stand if your holiday doesn’t go to plan or doesn’t go ahead at all.
It’s important to remember that the basic legal principles and laws surrounding this topic haven’t changed and, redress for holiday chaos is dealt with under existing legislation.
Package Travel Regulations
Usually, the starting point when considering your holiday rights is whether you booked a package holiday or something else. A package holiday has the protection of the Package Travel Regulations, where rights and routes to compensation are clear.
If you book the elements of your holiday separately, you’re more likely to need to look to your insurance cover for redress. But how do you know if you’ve booked a package?
These are all typical examples:
- You booked 2 or more elements of the holiday (e.g. flights and accommodation) with the same company and paid one payment.
- It was sold to you as a package or all-inclusive deal.
- You bought all the elements of the holiday for a single price.
If anything goes wrong with your package holiday, it’s the responsibility of the company you booked with to put it right. If they can’t, you’re entitled to compensation. But you must let them know about the problem as soon as you can to give them an opportunity to fix the situation.
You won’t get the global protection of the Package Holiday Regulations if you’ve sourced and booked your own flights, accommodation, excursions, car hire, etc in separate transactions. Instead, you’ll have to look to the individual companies you’ve entered into contracts with. Or, more likely, to your insurance.
Remember that the protection you have from booking a package is not a substitute for travel insurance. There may still be times when things go wrong but your package company is not liable. In these circumstances, your travel insurance may be your lifeline.
If your package holiday is cancelled, the regulations entitle you to a refund within 14 days. However, given the volatility in the holiday market and the high volumes of cancellations, you might want to consider giving the company a little leeway over the timing of a refund.
If the result of the status change has a significant effect on you, you may be entitled to a refund depending on how significant the impact of the change is. The company may offer you an alternative date or destination, but the effect on you must be related to the holiday itself, not inconvenience to you when you get home.
There are several elements of compensation available for a claim where a holiday has gone awry:
- Loss of value – the difference between what you paid for and what you got
- Out of pocket expenses – reasonable expenses incurred due to the problem
- Loss of enjoyment – a special category reflecting the essence of why people holiday, which covers disappointment and distress
- Personal injury – compensation for physical or mental harm
It’s not necessary for every element to apply to your circumstances to make a valid claim. You’ll have heard about companies offering vouchers as alternatives to refunds, and for some people that’s an acceptable solution. However, it’s important to remember that a company can’t insist that you take a voucher if you’re legally entitled to be refunded.
Don’t ignore the T&Cs
Holiday companies can’t dodge their obligations under the Package Holiday Regulations via their terms and conditions. But it’s still important to take note of these, as there are many details of the contract between you and the company that you should be clear about before you agree.
Cancellation charges or changes to the price or elements of your holiday could all be examples of this. Remember, if you cancel your holiday because you can’t or don’t want to travel, and this is not anticipated in the terms and conditions, you are not ordinarily entitled to a refund.
The terms and conditions will tell you about when you may still be charged for a holiday you’ve cancelled. Any terms and conditions, including cancellation charges, must be ‘reasonable’. Unfortunately, there’s no easy definition of what is reasonable. However, it may be possible to cancel your holiday without incurring any cancellation charge if, for example, you cancel because of Foreign Office advice about travel to your intended destination. Or, if significant changes have been made to your accommodation, e.g. anything affecting its standard or facilities.
Other forms of protection available to you include paying by credit card, giving you what is known as Section 75 protection, named after the relevant part of the Consumer Credit Act. This effectively makes your credit card provider jointly liable for a breach of contract.
The Chargeback facility available on debit card transactions works in a similar way, with your bank requesting your money back directly from the other party’s bank.
Holidays covered by ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) and ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) provide protection if, for example, your holiday company goes bust or you need to be re-patriated following a change in Foreign Office advice while you’re away.
If you’re not travelling on a package deal and have a flight cancelled, you’re entitled to a refund within 7 days – but again, if it’s your decision not to fly and you cancel your flight, subject to the terms and conditions of the carrier, you won’t be automatically entitled to a refund.
However, the reason for your cancellation might be covered by your travel insurance, e.g. the death of a relative or illness. But insurance companies are now often excluding COVID-related reasons, so it’s important to check your level of cover.
If your flight involves an airport in the UK or the EU and your flight is overbooked, delayed or cancelled, you’re likely to be entitled to a fixed amount in compensation. This is under either the European Community Regulation EC 261/2004 (which in some cases can still cover you even after Brexit), or the UK rules that replaced them: the Air Travel Organisers’ Licencing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations.