AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Holiday problems

Contents

Holiday problems

It is extremely aggravating when holidays do not go according to plan. Often, this is the fault of a travel company. In circumstances where a holiday has not lived up to the standards advertised, it may be possible to be reimbursed, not only for the cost of the holiday, but to be compensated an additional amount for the loss of enjoyment.

The options available to resolve your holiday problem will depend on whether the holiday you booked is a holiday package or one booked directly with the providers of your transport and accommodation. If you have booked a package holiday, you will have extra rights. A package holiday is one that consists of two or more elements, such as transport and accommodation, that are sold to you as a package at an inclusive price.

Your holiday is likely to be a package holiday if it:

  • has been prearranged; and
  • has been sold for an inclusive price; and
  • covers a period of over 24 hours or overnight accommodation; and
  • includes at least two of the following: transport, accommodation or other tourist services. Other tourist services may include excursions, fishing rights or car hire.
An example of a package holiday is one which you choose from a tour operator's brochure, and which includes a flight and a seven night stay in a hotel.

Your holiday is not likely to be a package holiday if you booked all the elements of your holiday separately, for example you booked the flight directly from the airline, and you booked your accommodation during a telephone conversation with the hotel.

A holiday booked on the internet may still be a package holiday, particularly if you booked and paid for everything at the same time.

Specific problems

Your holiday was not as you expected

Your holiday may not be as you expected because of:

  • poor accommodation
  • the facilities at the accommodation or resort were not what you were led to expect
  • the hotel was incomplete
  • the resort was not as expected
  • the surroundings were noisy or dirty, for example, the hotel backed on to an airport or building site
  • the holiday was not as described in the brochure
If the holiday is not as you were led to believe, you will be able to claim compensation.

However, if the holiday was not as you expected because it was different from publicity material or an advertisement you had seen, you may be unable to claim compensation. This is because publicity material and advertisements do not form part of the contract you made with the holiday company when you booked your holiday.

Descriptions of holidays must be full and accurate. If the description of your holiday was not an accurate one, an offence may have been committed under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and you should complain to Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06.

Cancellations

You cancel

If you cancel your holiday, for example, because of ill health or because you can no longer afford to go, you will usually lose your deposit or pay a cancellation charge. This may be almost the full cost of the holiday. This is because you will have broken the terms of the contract you made with the holiday trader when you booked your holiday.

The contract will usually say whether a cancellation fee has to be paid. If so, the amount given will usually be binding. If the contract does not allow cancellation, you will be liable for any losses which the holiday trader might have. Check to see whether your holiday insurance covers the cost of cancellation.

Be careful if you are considering stopping your cheque, as the holiday trader may take you to court for compensation.

The holiday trader cancels

Once your booking has been confirmed, there is a binding contract between you and the holiday trader. The holiday trader cannot then cancel the arrangements without breaking the contract. If the contract is broken, you will be entitled to claim compensation, for example to cover any financial loss you have suffered, or disappointment and inconvenience.

If the booking has not been confirmed, there is no contract, and the holiday firm can cancel the arrangements if it wishes.

Price increases

Whether or not you have to pay an increased price or a surcharge on your holiday, depends on whether the holiday has actually been booked and confirmed.

If the booking has not been accepted or confirmed, no contract has been made and the price can be increased.

If the booking has been accepted and confirmed, you will only have to pay the increase or a surcharge, if the booking conditions allow for this. Sometimes the agreement allows an increase or a surcharge, but limits when one can be made. In this case, you will have to pay the increase or a surcharge only if it is allowed by the contract.

It is a criminal offence to give misleading or false information about prices. This would include not making it clear that the price may be increased and the circumstances in which this might happen. If you think a price you have been given is misleading, you should complain to Consumer Direct on: 08454 04 05 06.

Changes to your holiday

If your booking has been confirmed, there will be a binding contract between you and the holiday trader that you booked with. If the arrangements are then changed and the changes are significant, you can either accept the change or cancel the holiday and ask for a refund. You may also be entitled to claim compensation for any loss you may have suffered as a result of cancelling the holiday, for example disappointment or inconvenience. If you accept the change either 'under protest' or because you have little choice, you may still be able to claim compensation. If you do not accept the change, you can cancel the holiday, but will only be entitled to compensation if the change means you would be worse off. If the change to your holiday arrangements is not significant, you will not be able to cancel the holiday, but you may be able to claim compensation, because the holiday trader has broken one of the terms of your contract.

Some contract terms can be unfair to the customer. Examples of this include contract terms written in such a way that you cannot understand them, or terms which take away your legal rights. If you believe that a term in the contract with your holiday trader is unfair, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

If the holiday arrangements are changed at the time when you make the booking, there will be no contract unless both you and the holiday trader have agreed on the details of the arrangement. For example, if you write to book a double room with a bath and the hotel accepts the booking, but states that there are no rooms with baths available, a contract has not been made. You can refuse to accept the hotel's offer of a room without a bath, and you will be entitled to a refund of any money paid.

If you do not query the changed arrangements, this will be taken as acceptance of the change.

Overbooking

If your holiday plans are changed as a result of an overbooking, it is likely that the agreement between you and the provider of the travel or accommodation has been breached (broken). When a contract is breached in this way, you are entitled to claim compensation or a refund from the provider.

In law, the contract is made up of things like the booking conditions printed on the back of a ticket, a letter confirming a booking and information given in the brochure or by a travel agent.

If you have a problem with overbooking in connection with a package holiday, you will normally take action against the tour operator, not the provider of the transport or accommodation.

If you used your credit card to pay for the accommodation or travel and the cost was over £100, the credit card company may be equally liable for any breach of contract.

See our 'Paying for your holiday: cash or credit?' section for more information.

Overbooked transport

If you have booked your transport directly with a travel company, for example a train, coach or ferry company, you will probably only be able to claim compensation for overbooking, if particular seats had been reserved or the ticket specified a particular journey or service. If this is the case, you may be able to claim for 'breach of contract' and any unavoidable expenses you incurred as a result of the delay, such as the cost of meals or overnight accommodation. However, you will probably need to go to court to do this. You should check your travel insurance to see if it covers you for delays caused by overbooking, as it will probably be easier to make a claim on your insurance than to go through the courts.

You would not be entitled to compensation if you were travelling by coach or train, unless you had tickets for a specified service, for example, the 10:51 London to Edinburgh express.

Air transport overbooking is treated differently to other forms of overbooking. For more information about overbooked air transport, see our 'Denied boarding' section.

Overbooked accommodation

If your accommodation is not available because of overbooking, you must be offered either a reasonable alternative or a full refund. You will also be able to claim compensation to cover extra costs you have had to pay, and to cover loss of enjoyment and inconvenience.

If you accept alternative accommodation, but are not happy with it, you may still be able to get compensation if you made it clear that the alternative was accepted 'under protest'.

If the alternative offered was of a similar standard to the accommodation you had booked, you are unlikely to get compensation, unless you made it clear at the time of booking that it was important for you to stay in that particular hotel. For example, the alternative offered was in a location that would make it difficult for a wheelchair user to take advantage of local amenities or facilities.

Delays and diversions

There are special rules covering delays and diversions to flights from airports in the European Union. These rules also apply to flights from airports outside the European Union, but flying into a European Union airport, on a European Union airline.

If the rules applying to EU flights do not apply, you may still be able to get compensation for delays and diversions. You will need to check with your airline whether any compensation is available for your particular circumstances.

For more information about delays and diversions to all flights during air travel, see the Air Travel Advice section on the Air Transport Users Council website.

Always check your holiday insurance, as this may include cover for delays or missed travel connections.

For more information, see our 'Travel insurance' section.

Personal injury or illness

If you are injured or become ill during your holiday, you may be able to claim compensation to cover your losses.

If you booked your holiday through a company which is an ABTA member, you may be able to claim compensation through one of the schemes run by ABTA.

If you have a claim for a minor illness or injury, you can make a claim through ABTA's independent arbitration scheme. You can be awarded up to £1,000 per person through this scheme.

If you want to make a claim for a serious personal injury, there is a separate ABTA mediation scheme called RAPID which you can use. There is a fee for using this scheme, but this will be refunded if your claim is successful. The deadline for applying to use the service is nine months from the end of the holiday.

Trader for a holiday which is not a package holiday goes out of business

If you bought an airline ticket which is not part of a package holiday and the airline goes out of business, you may be able to use the ATOL scheme to get your money back or continue your holiday. However, this will depend on from whom you bought the ticket and when the ticket was issued. For more information about what happens when an airline fails, see our 'Financial protection' section.

If you paid for your holiday by credit card, and it cost more than £100, you may be able to make a claim against the credit card company.

See the 'Paying for your holiday: cash or credit' section for more information.

You should also check whether your travel insurance policy covers you if your holiday trader goes out of business.

For more information, see our 'Travel insurance' section.

Some holiday traders are members of trade associations, which operate schemes to help the holiday-maker if the holiday trader goes out of business. To find out if your holiday trader is a member of a trade association, for example the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) or the Rail Passengers Council, you should look for a logo or any information about the association, in any written documentation that came with your holiday booking.

For more information, see our 'Consumer bodies for holiday complaints' section.

Claiming compensation when a holiday firm has gone out of business can be difficult, and you will need to see an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau.

Safety concerns about travelling overseas

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can advise you about the safety of foreign travel. You can get advice from the FCO travel advice unit on 020 7008 0232, or by looking at the FCO website.

Lost, stolen or damaged property

If your property has been lost, damaged or stolen while staying in a hotel in the United Kingdom, you may be able to claim a limited amount of compensation, depending on the hotel's terms of use. If your losses are substantial, you should see if you can make a claim on your travel insurance.

There are some circumstances where you may be able to claim more than this limited amount. For more information, you should see an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizen Advice Bureau.

If your property has been lost, damaged or stolen while on holiday abroad, your rights will depend on the law of the country where you are staying. Claiming compensation abroad is difficult and expensive, and you should consider claiming on your travel insurance instead.

If your luggage has been have lost, damaged or stolen during your journey, you should consider making a claim against the travel company, for example the coach or train company. It is important that you report the problem to the travel company as soon as possible. Alternatively, you could consider claiming on your travel insurance.

Special rules apply to problems with luggage during air travel.

For more information about how to make a complaint about problems with luggage during air travel, see our 'Baggage problems' section.

For more information about claiming on your insurance policy in England and Wales, see our 'Travel insurance' section.

Special needs or requirements

There are several organisations which can give you advice about finding a holiday if you have special needs or requirements. For more information, see our 'Consumer bodies for holiday complaints' section.

Discrimination on holiday

If you have been discriminated against on the grounds of your sex, sexuality, religion, race or disability, when you have been provided with services on your holiday, you should seek the help of an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.