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Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Package holidays

In the UK, most people who sell package holidays must comply with the Package Travel Regulations. These set out travel organisers' responsibilities to their customers and what you can do if you are unhappy with your holiday.

What is a package holiday?

A package holiday includes at least two of the following:

  • transport
  • accommodation
  • tourist services, such a tour representative or day trips

This type of holiday is booked in advance and is sold at an inclusive price, meaning you pay for everything all together. It must also cover a period of more than 24 hours or include overnight accommodation.

As a consumer, you are protected by the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992. Be aware that many holiday arrangements are not covered by the package travel regulations. For example, if you make up your own package on the internet using different suppliers for transport and accommodation.

If you are making arrangements through a single website, check with the website to see if they are supplying you with a package holiday protected by the regulations. If not, you might consider buying travel insurance in case the suppliers go bankrupt.

Choosing your holiday

Choose travel agents and tour operators who belong to a recognised trade association that has a code of practice. Look for ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) or AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) on brochures or invoices.

What to do if your airline or travel company goes bust

The Directgov article, ‘Your rights if an airline or travel company goes bust’, tells you how to get your money back and sort out any practical issues.

Advice for stranded passengers

The ash cloud from the volcano in Iceland has led to cancellations and delays to flights in and around the UK. Follow the link for advice on your rights as an airline passenger in Europe or if you have purchased a package holiday. Read more on what to do if you are abroad and your flight is cancelled.

Travel insurance

Taking out travel insurance can help you get financial and practical help if something goes wrong on your trip.

When you buy a package holiday you may be offered travel insurance. Travel companies must not charge you a higher price if you don’t buy their insurance.

Holidays during school breaks

It can be difficult to find a good deal on a family holiday during school holiday periods. To show what offers are available, the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), has a school holiday webpage to advertise holidays from their members. These include holidays with free child places or early booking discounts.

The Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages

These trips are most likely to be packages and protected by the package travel regulations. It is important to choose a reputable company to organise this for you as there are many bogus operators.

Your Hajj or Umrah package is likely to include flights. Any tour operator arranging packages with flights must hold a current Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL).  You can check online if a tour operator has a licence.

Booking your trip

If you have any special requests make sure they are mentioned on the booking form. Before the contract is complete you must be given information in about:

  • passport and visa
  • health requirements
  • repatriation (how to get home) arrangements if the operator goes bust

Before you travel

Before you leave you must get a written copy of the contract, along with all your booking details. These should include:

  • the itinerary (what is planned and when for the trip)
  • transport connections
  • the name and address of a company representative for you to use while you are on your trip
  • what will happen if the tour organiser goes bankrupt before or while you are holiday

What to do if you are unhappy with your holiday

Ideally, you should let the resort representative know your concerns straight away. You may have to ask for a complaint form or put your complaint in writing in a separate letter.

If things are not put right straight away, collect evidence about the problem such as photographs and statements from other holidaymakers. When you get home, check your holiday brochure. It is against the law for tour operators to mislead you about the holiday.

Then contact the tour operator and send them copies of your evidence - always keep the originals. Explain what went wrong and tell them how much compensation you want.

If your complaint doesn’t get sorted out, contact ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) or AITO (Association of Independent Tour operators) if the tour operator is a member. Both offer an independent dispute settlement service.

If you need to take legal action

If the tour operator is not a member of ABTA or AITO, you could take your case to the small claims court (sheriff court in Scotland). You can contact Consumer Direct or your local Citizens Advice Bureau for advice.

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