Trading Standards Institute Advice

Holidays

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 2002 (referred to as the 'Package Travel Regulations') set out the tour operator / travel agent's legal responsibilities to you and what you are entitled to if they fail to honour those responsibilities. You are legally entitled to certain information before the contract is concluded, including information about passports, health formalities and financial protection.

You also have rights and remedies under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and rights of redress under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

What is a package holiday?

A 'package' holiday is defined by the Package Travel Regulations as a pre-arranged combination of at least two of the following components.

  • accommodation
  • transport
  • tourist services, not ancillary to transport or accommodation, that are a significant proportion of the package - for example, spa facilities or golf lessons

The package also has to be sold or offered for sale at an inclusive price and cover a period of more than 24 hours or include overnight accommodation:

If you request that components of a holiday are combined to your specific instructions, or if the accounts for each component are submitted separately, the holiday may still be defined as a package holiday. However, in the event of a dispute this could be for a court to decide based on the facts of the case.

Misleading information - a tour operator's obligations

There is a general duty on tour operators and travel agents not to give misleading information relating to a package, its price or any other conditions that apply to the contract. A tour operator is not legally required to provide a brochure but if they do it must contain all relevant information about the holiday, including the price, and it must be legible, comprehensive and accurate.

In most circumstances the brochure information is binding, although a tour operator can include a statement in the brochure that changes can be made to the holiday contract but that you will be made aware of those changes before the contract is finalised.

Your right to information

You are legally entitled to be given specific information before the package holiday contract is concluded:

  • general information about passport and visa requirements for British citizens buying the package, including the length of time it may take to obtain them
  • information about health formalities
  • arrangements for the financial protection of the money you pay (such as bonding) and arrangements to repatriate you if the tour operator becomes insolvent

You are legally entitled to have specific information given to you in good time before the start of your journey:

  • times and places of travel stops and connections, as well as seating, cabin or compartment arrangements
  • contact details for the tour operator's representative or alternative contact details if a representative is not provided
  • in the case of a journey or stay abroad by a child under 16, information enabling direct contact to be made with the child or the person responsible at the place where they are staying
  • insurance requirements

The contract

The Regulations set out the information that should be included in the contract, depending on the type of package holiday. A written copy of the terms of the contract must be supplied to you. Subject to certain conditions, you are also legally entitled to transfer the booking to someone else if you are unable to go on holiday.

The tour operator can vary the price of the package but only to take account of changes in transportation costs, including fuel, dues, taxes or fees and exchange rate. They cannot increase prices within 30 days of the departure date. If the price increase amounts to less than 2% of the original cost of the package, it must in all circumstances be absorbed by the tour operator.

When you book your holiday with a tour operator either direct or via a travel agent, your contract for the holiday itself is with the tour operator. The tour operator is liable for all the elements of the holiday - for example, travel, accommodation and any other aspect of the holiday that was sold as part of the package, such as pre-booked car hire. The travel agent acts on behalf of the tour operator but still has an obligation to conduct its business with 'reasonable care and skill'. The travel agent may be contractually liable for any extras they organise separately from the holiday booking - for example, currency exchange or arranging airport car parking.

If you have any special requests, make sure they are written on the booking form and ensure that the travel agent passes your requests on to the tour operator.

Read the terms and conditions that apply to the contract before you make the booking. This also applies to online bookings. Keep a copy in case you need to refer to them later. Remember that the terms and conditions have to be fair and reasonable - the 'Unfair terms in consumer contracts & notices' guide gives more information.

If you book online, make sure that you use a website with a secure payment facility.

After booking, you should receive a confirmation notice. Check this carefully to make sure it is accurate. It will usually contain details of the flight or travel times and dates, the accommodation you have booked and any special requests you have made. Report any inaccuracies to the tour operator / travel agent as soon as possible.

Airlines - extra charges

The Civil Aviation Authority produces an updated comparison table of optional fees and charges (opens in a new window), such as charges for checking in luggage, reserved seating, meals and refreshments and debit/credit card charges applied by major airlines operating in the UK. This will allow you to check the extra costs applicable on top of your ticket price.

Holiday insurance

Most tour operators require you to have adequate insurance cover when you book. You can choose to take the tour operator's insurance, arrange your own or take the travel agent's. Shop around and compare prices and level of cover before you go ahead. It is illegal for a tour operator / travel agent to insist that you take its own insurance. It is vital that you obtain adequate cover for the type of holiday you are planning. (Will you be undertaking risky activities on holiday such as skiing, parasailing or scuba diving?) Make sure your insurance covers you for the sort of activities you may want to do. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, always inform the prospective insurer and make sure you are covered. If you are worried that you may have to cancel a holiday, you might want to consider taking out cancellation insurance.

A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will allow you to obtain state medical care in the European Union. Visit the EHIC (opens in a new window) website for more information. You can obtain the EHIC free of charge. There are some websites that will charge for obtaining the EHIC for you; this is not necessary and you do not have to use them. The EHIC is not a substitute for adequate travel insurance.

What can you do to protect your money?

If you pay for the holiday by credit card and if it costs more than £100 but less than £30,000 you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the card provider as responsible as the trader for a breach of contract or a misrepresentation. You are entitled to take action against the trader, the card provider or both. This does not apply to charge cards or debit cards.

If you use a debit card to purchase the holiday or if you use a credit card and the price of the holiday is less than £100 (your rights under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply), you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract - the tour operator ceases trading for example - you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim.

Check whether the travel agent or tour operator is a member of a trade association, such as ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) (opens in a new window) or AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) (opens in a new window) . These trade associations have codes of conduct which the members must abide by.

Virtually all travel companies in the UK that sell air holidays and flights are legally required to hold an ATOL licence (Air Travel Organiser's Licence). This is a scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority for flights and air holidays that offers you protection against being stranded or losing your money if the operator ceases trading. Please note that not all air travel arrangements come with ATOL protection so you must always check with the travel agent or tour operator what protection arrangements they have on the holiday you intend to book.

Your rights if you are charged an excessive fee for paying by card

Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, traders are banned from charging excessive fees to consumers for using payment methods such as credit and debit cards. The fees charged must reflect the actual cost to the trader of using that particular payment process. The Regulations apply to most sales and service contracts. A contract term relating to the requirement to pay a fee is unenforceable against you to the extent of the excess charged. If you have paid an excessive fee, the excess must be repaid to you. If you believe a travel agent or tour operator's fees are excessive report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service.

If things go wrong before you go on holiday

There may be occasions where the tour operator will make significant changes to essential terms relating to the package holiday you have booked - for example, no longer being able to provide the resort or accommodation you booked, significant alterations to the itinerary or a major change in the flight times. If this happens the Package Travel Regulations state that you must be:

  • notified of the change as quickly as possible
  • given the opportunity to make appropriate decisions, which may be to cancel the booking at no cost to you and to obtain a full refund
  • given the option to come to an agreement with the tour operator on the alterations to the booking and any revisions in the price

Whatever you decide to do you must inform the tour operator of your decision as soon as possible.

If you decide to cancel the package because of a significant change by the tour operator or if the tour operator cancels the package before the date of departure, you are entitled to:

  • a substitute package of equivalent or superior quality if the tour operator can offer this
  • a substitute package of a lower quality (if the tour operator can offer this) plus reimbursement of the difference in price between the original package and the substitute
  • a full refund as soon as possible

You may be entitled to claim compensation from the tour operator for failure to supply the package. The exceptions to this are:

  • if the number of bookings is less than the minimum number required and you have been informed of the cancellation in writing within a time set by the tour operator
  • if the package is cancelled because of unusual, unavoidable or unforeseeable circumstances beyond the control of the operator. This does not include overbooking

If things go wrong when on holiday

The Package Travel Regulations state that the tour operator must make suitable alternative arrangements for you to continue with your holiday and, where appropriate, compensate you for any difference in price. If alternative arrangements cannot be made, the tour operator must transport you back to the departure point or another place agreed with you and compensate you where appropriate.

It is important that you:

  • take all holiday documentation with you, including insurance documents
  • report your complaint to the tour operator via the representative as soon as possible. Fill in a complaint form whilst at the resort and ensure you get a copy
  • gather evidence to support your complaint - for example, photographs, video footage and written witness statements from other holidaymakers. You may need to produce this evidence later for mediation, arbitration or for a court case
  • keep a statement of events with details of actions taken and relevant dates
  • most importantly allow the tour operator the opportunity to resolve the complaint. Failure to do so could affect any claim for compensation you submit when you return from holiday

After returning home

Steps you should take to progress your complaint when you return from holiday:

  • check the tour operator's terms and conditions (online or in the brochure) and find out what the complaints procedure is. See if there is a deadline for submitting your complaint
  • write to / email the tour operator at the correct address for complaints or fill in the online complaint form, give details of your booking, including the booking reference, and be specific about the problems and the compensation you are seeking
  • include evidence in support of your complaint
  • if you paid all or part of your package holiday on your credit card and the total cost of the holiday is more than £100 but less than £30,000, forward a copy of your complaint to your credit card provider
  • be persistent; write again and do not be deterred if you are not happy with the initial response

Taking the matter further

If you reach deadlock with the tour operator over your dispute, you can take further action. Find out if the tour operator is a member of a trade association that offers alternative dispute resolution services such as ABTA (opens in a new window) or AITO (opens in a new window). As a last resort you could take action against the tour operator in the County Court - see 'Thinking of suing in the County Court?'.

If you believe the tour operator misled you over any aspect of the package holiday, report your complaint to the Citizens Advice consumer service. Your complaint can be referred to trading standards.

If your flight was delayed, cancelled, re-routed or denied boarding or your luggage was lost or damaged, the 'Problems with a flight - what are your rights?' guide gives more information.

The 'Timeshares & holiday clubs' and 'Holidays & travellers with disabilities' guides also give useful information.

Other legislation

CONSUMER RIGHTS ACT 2015

This law gives you rights against a trader, such as a tour operator or a travel agent, that provides you with a service. The service you receive must be carried out with reasonable care and skill, within a reasonable time (if the time is not fixed by the contract) and you are only required to pay a reasonable price for the service unless the price (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract.

Anything said or written down by a trader (or someone acting on their behalf) about their business or the service forms part of the contract if you take that information into consideration before you agree the contract; it also applies if you make a decision about the service, based on that information, after the contract is made.

The 'Supply of services - your consumer rights' guide gives more information on your rights and which remedy you are entitled to.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 also covers unfair terms in all consumer contracts (contacts between a trader and a consumer), including contracts for the provision of holiday services, whether they are in writing or not. It also covers notices if they are 'consumer notices', which means they set out rights or obligations between you and a trader or try to deny or restrict a trader's responsibility to you.

Traders must draft and present their holiday contracts and notices to you in a way that is fair and open and that respects your legitimate interests. Terms and notices should be transparent; the wording used should be plain (no legal jargon), capable of being understood and legible. They should not be designed to trick or trap you and any terms that are important (because they may put you at a disadvantage) must be prominent.

You are not legally bound by an unfair contract term or a consumer notice and you have the right to challenge it, in court if necessary.

The 'Unfair terms in consumer contracts & notices' guide gives more information.

CONSUMER PROTECTION FROM UNFAIR TRADING REGULATIONS 2008

These Regulations prohibit commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If a trader misleads a consumer or engages in an aggressive commercial practice, and the consumer makes a decision to purchase goods or services that they would not otherwise have done, the trader may be in breach of the Regulations. For example, the price shown in a brochure, travel agent's window or website should not be misleading and distances from the beach must be accurate.

If you think you have been misled complain to the Citizens Advice consumer service; your complaint can be referred to trading standards.

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because the trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008  give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. See 'Misleading & aggressive practices - your right to redress' for more information.

Useful contacts

Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) (opens in a new window)
30 Park Street, London, SE1 9EQ
Tel: 020 3117 0599

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) (opens in a new window)
Consumer Protection Group, CAA House, 45-59 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6TE
Tel: 020 7453 6888 (passenger complaints)

Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) (opens in a new window)
18 Bridle Lane, Twickenham, Middlesex, TW1 3EG
Tel: 020 8744 9280

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: October 2016

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website (opens in a new window) or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.

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