Booking your own holiday might be cheaper - but what if it goes wrong?


Arranging that long-awaited, richly-deserved annual fortnight in the sun?

Airplane Package Holiday

It might be tempting to try and save money by booking separate components of a holiday such as flights and accommodation yourself – as opposed to the package holiday offered by your friendly-neighbourhood travel agent or the established larger tour operators.

But beware of false economies, says Simpson Millar's Nick Harris. By going it alone, you could be coming back with more legal headaches than you've packed enough painkillers for.

It's all about the Package Travel Regulations (PTR) – in other words, your legal rights when it comes to booking and, hopefully, enjoying your holiday.

DIY? Watch out

Only this month, the Daily Mail went to some pains to illustrate how much you could save by avoiding the package deal. While some of the points were valid, consumers need to be aware of what could happen if something were to go wrong and you were forced to seek legal redress - if you have not booked a package holiday.

Because the sad fact is, the 'DIY' holiday, where you buy all the component parts yourself from different suppliers and hope for the best, can be fraught with difficulty – problems which you can sidestep if your holiday is a package as defined by the PTR.

Since by law you're entitled to the package holiday for which you booked and paid, the holiday description has to be accurate. If not, the PTR allows you to claim refunds and compensation. But these rights are likely to be denied if you bypassed the package and made all your own holiday arrangements.

For example if you book a hotel in Turkey through an on-line travel agent, even though the travel agent may be based in the UK, it is likely your contract would be with the Turkish hotel operators. That means you would probably have to make a claim in Turkey if the services were substandard.

In fact, operators of package holidays in the UK are liable for all the services, from flights and car hire to accommodation, provided they formed part of the package that the tour operator arranged for you.

So if your package holiday turns out to be a disappointment, check its description in the tour operator's brochure or website. And if there's a mismatch between the promise and the reality, you might be able to claim compensation.

Similarly if the standards of the accommodation are not what they should be - such as provision of a dirty swimming pool or substandard restaurant facilities - , if you have booked the hotel as part of a package, a claim can be made against your tour operator in the UK.

What a package deal covers you for:

According to PTR Regulation 2(1), a 'package' is defined as a pre-arranged combination of at least 2 of the following:
  • Transport
  • Accommodation
  • Other tourist services not directly related to 1 or 2 above, yet which cover a major part of the package

As well as the usual all-inclusive package holiday, the PTR definition covers many types of travel arrangements, including some tailor-made holidays where you've chosen separate elements such as excursions and private transfers.

When is a package not a package?

PTR also covers non-holiday packages, such as arrangements for business trips, conferences, school excursions and so on. Package holidays can also cover vacations in which a separate body co-ordinates flights and hotels provided by 2 different suppliers.

“Non-package holidays” are becoming more common. These often look like package deals – accommodation and flights are included – but the agent is obliged to make it very clear when you book that such deals are actually comprised of 2 separate contracts: 1 with the hotel provider, the other with the airline.

When you confirm your holiday arrangements you must make sure you read through the terms and conditions. If it is stated that the company “acts as agent only” it is possible that you may not have booked a package and you may not have the rights that you would usually have under the PTRs.

Watch out for terms like 'dynamic packaging', 'tailor-made holiday' or 'flight plus hotel deal' and check them with your agent or operator. They might not be packages as defined by the PTR – and therefore beyond your reach if you need to make a claim.

Did your holiday match its description?

According to the law, a travel organiser can't supply you with misleading information, either in its brochure or website or in any of its descriptive material.

For example, were you hard pressed to find the fantastic swimming pool promised by the brochure? Were those golden sands closer to 5 miles than 5 minutes from the hotel? If descriptions were misleading, the agent or organiser could be liable.

Were there any unexpected changes?

The regulations also cover pre-departure cancellations or alterations. You have to be told as soon as possible if there are alterations to your package holiday, or to departure times or location. If the changes are significant you may be able to demand alternative arrangements or cancel the deal without penalty if you want.

What if you want to cancel the whole thing?

If the organiser cancels the holiday for any reason beyond your control, you have the following rights:
  • To take a substitute package (if available) of equivalent or superior quality - if available
  • To take a substitute package of lower quality (if available) and to recover from the organiser the difference in price between the price of the package purchased and that of the substitute package
  • To have the purchase price repaid as soon as possible

Making a claim for holiday compensation

If you want to claim compensation for a package holiday, damages fall into 4 categories:
  • Loss of value - the difference between what you paid for and what you finally received
  • Out-of-pocket expenses - Any reasonable expenses you incurred because the contract was breached
  • Loss of enjoyment - compensation for the disappointment and distress caused
  • Personal injury - if you suffer a personal injury whilst on holiday through no fault of your own

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