Getting compensation if your package turns into a holiday from hell
When you book a package holiday you have certain consumer rights under the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs) and it can certainly be useful to know how you go about enforcing them.
One of the biggest source of complaints we hear of are from people who book a holiday only to feel completely let down and not well-treated when they complain.
In a nutshell, a holiday package must be as described, if it isn’t, you can claim compensation under the PTRs.
News laws announced in August 2017 will force travel websites to pay compensation and refunds when holidays booked through them go wrong.
Of course, how successful your claim is will depend on both the degree of variance between the description and how much worse it was than described.
A package holiday means that the seller – the tour company you buy from – is going to be responsible for handling the whole caboodle; that means transport, including flights and any other specified, plus accommodation and meals, anything, in fact, that’s part of your paid-for package.
Number one is to find whether your holiday is protected under the PTRs and for that to happen it must be defined as a ‘package holiday”.
Most of the time a package is defined as simply a combination of flights and hotel.
And a package doesn’t have to be an ‘off-the-shelf’ holiday, but can also include one that has been tailored to your specifications.
As long as all the elements of accommodation and transport are arranged through the same company, it’s a package. It doesn’t matter, for example, who is actually supplying the accommodation or flights – it’s who you have the contract with.
If it’s with the same company, then this will make it a package.
This might all sound a bit legal, but definitions are important, especially nowadays when it’s increasingly common for those who sell flights and hotels to try and wash their hands of everything when there are problems.
Some bookings may seem to be packages but aren’t under the rules. If the company you purchase through makes it clear you have separate contracts with end providers, this won’t count as a package.
If in any doubt, ask them to make things clear.
Of course, often the best protection against a holiday nightmare is taking out the right travel insurance.
Were things on your packaged holiday as described?
What you are sold must turn out to be as described and this applies to what is on the website, in the brochure and what you are told verbally or in correspondence, like an email, say.
Clearly, it will be a lot harder to claim you were told something that showing things were not as described in a brochure, for example.
For a claim to succeed, the difference will have to be fairly substantial.
If the website says your hotel is a two minute walk to the beach and it’s actually a mile away, that’s a substantial difference in most people’s view.
Or if, like 70-year-old Ernest Cook, you turn up at your dream Portuguese hotel...only to find it's a rubble-strewn building site.
Changes to a packaged holiday
The rules say that if the ‘essential terms’ of your package are altered then you must be told so that you can decide to pull out of the contract without penalty.
These changes include key features, most often, price.
But they also cover such things as the type and rating of the accommodation, type of transport, where you’re going to and where you’re leaving from.
How to make a claim
You should initially raise a complaint as soon as possible with the tour company, verbally and also in writing.
Specify clearly what you’re complaining about and define it in relation to what you expected and why you expected it.
In other words, instead of just saying the swimming pool at the hotel was out of use, point out that this contrasts with the description on the website and in the brochure of a pool that is available 24/7.
If relevant, take photos.
If relevant, get people’s names and details. Certainly log, in writing who you have spoken to and what the gist of the conversation was. Note the date and time and circumstances, ie, at the hotel, on the phone, in an email and so on.
Ask for the company’s complaints process and follow along with it in the first instance.
If you then want to make a formal complaint, do it when you’re home after assembling all your evidence.
Under the PTR rules you can claim for: The difference in value between what you paid for and what you received; any expenses you incurred and for inconvenience or loss of enjoyment.
Be very clear about how you have arrived at the figures you’re claiming for.
Then you can:
1) Take matters up with the holiday company
Most will have a procedure.
2) Take up your complaint with the organisation they are registered with
Usually this will be ABTA, or it could be the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO).
ABTA requires you to take up a complaint with the company directly first before taking up your case. If you can’t reach a solution, ABTA offers an arbitration service and its decisions have the force of law.
AITO also runs a similar arbitration service. An arbitrator will make a ruling and can order a travel operator to pay up to £2,500 per person and up to £10,000 per holiday.
3) Make a claim through the Country Court
The next step, realistically for most people, is to make a claim through the County Court sometimes still referred to as the Small Claims Court.
Depending on whether you are claiming for a specific amount or an unspecified one, there are slightly different procedures.
But either way, the idea is that the process is simple, doesn’t require a lawyer and is relatively cheap.
The actual fee you’ll need to pay rises according to the amount you are claiming. If you’re not specifying, you’ll need to estimate in what band your claim is in. Details can be found on the government's site.