Booking a package holiday ensures that you’ll enjoy far more than just the promise of a relaxing getaway. Not only do you get a great choice of deals and locations, you also get complete peace of mind because of the added benefits that the Package Travel Regulations give consumers.
As an experienced travel litigation solicitor who has successfully handled countless holiday claims, I am a big advocate of package holidays due to the fact they come with what I believe is one of the most powerful pieces of consumer legislation.
What are the Package Travel Regulations?
When you book a package holiday in the UK, the tour operator is liable for all the services you receive – flights, transfer, car hire and accommodation, etc – if they were part of a package the operator arranged on your behalf. If the holiday fails to comply with the terms laid out in your contract, the Package Travel Regulations can help you pursue a compensation claim against the tour operator.
It is your legal right to expect to receive the holiday that you have paid for, including any special requirements. The Package Holidays Regulations set out exactly what each party to the contract should expect and outlines all the information that should be provided to a customer at the beginning of the contract.
If you are treated unfairly by a tour operator, the Regulations will protect your rights as a consumer. This includes any instance where a change has been made to what was agreed, such as additional charges or elements of the package not being as described. Having this assurance means that all brochure information and any verbal descriptions must be accurate and not misleading. If they are, your rights are protected by the Regulations.
Is your holiday protected?
It’s important to look carefully at how your holiday has been sold to you as this will establish whether it benefits from the protection of the Package Travel Regulations 1992. Not all holidays do.
Always check the ‘booking terms and conditions’ for the full details of your holiday contract with the tour operator.
Under the Package Holidays Regulations 1992, your holiday is defined as a ‘package’ if you’ve paid for a combination of at least two of the following pre-arranged services:
- Transport (coach, train, ship, aeroplane etc)
- Accommodation (apartment, villa, hotel)
- Other tourist services not ancillary to transport or accommodation and accounting for a significant proportion of the package (excursions or tours included in the overall package)
To benefit from the protection provided by the Regulations your ‘package’ must also have been:
- Offered for sale or sold the UK
- Sold at one ‘inclusive price’ for everything
- Covered a period of at least 24 hours or included overnight accommodation
The above definition obviously includes a wide range of travel arrangements. Even if you are not going on ‘holiday’, the Regulations can still apply to travel ‘packages’, for example business or school trips. And you don’t even have to be travelling abroad; if the above criteria are met in relation to a holiday in the UK, the Regulations are still likely to apply.
Cruises can also be considered as a ‘package’ because both transport and accommodation is paid for in one price. In most cases, anyone who has suffered an injury or illness on a cruise will be covered by The Athens Convention – find out more by reading our Cruise Ship Claims page.
Which holidays are not covered?
Booking a holiday can now be done in a variety of ways – through a travel agency, on the internet or directly via the separate service providers, such as the airline and hotel. But be careful how you pay for the different elements of your holiday because they do not always come with the protection provided by the Package Travel Regulations.
When phrases like ‘flight plus holiday’ or ‘tailor-made holiday’ are used to sell a holiday, it may not be a ‘package’ from a legal point of view – even if it includes transport and accommodation. Your rights as a consumer are not protected if it is made clear that you have two individual contracts from two different suppliers (one with the hotel and one with the airline) even if they are organised or ‘packaged’ together by the same party.
What can you claim for under the Package Travel Regulations?
Holiday claims made under the Package Travel Regulations usually fall into the following four categories:
Personal injury: Compensation for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity of any injury or illness sustained abroad.
Diminution in value: The difference between the amount you paid for the package holiday and what you actually received; sometimes known as “loss of bargain”.
Loss of enjoyment: Compensation for the distress and disappointment caused by things going wrong.
Out-of-pocket expenses: Any reasonable expenses you were forced to incur as a result of your injury or illness.Not every claim falls into every category. My advice if you’ve been affected by any of the circumstances outlined above is to seek specialist legal advice. Always do so as quickly as possible because, if the Regulations do not apply, the time limits for pursuing a claim do differ from country to country. In some circumstances, these can vary from one year from the date of the incident in Spain to three years in England and Wales.
If your complaint concerns a breach of contract with no personal injury element, the law in England and Wales can sometimes provide you with six years to start court proceedings. Different rules do apply for people who lack the mental capacity to look after their own affairs and for children under the age of 18.
However, there are no set guidelines as to how much should be awarded in damages and each case is judged on its own merits. Often, liability is admitted and a settlement is agreed before the case goes to court.
What are the main benefits of the Package Travel Regulations?
If you do need to use the rights afforded to you through the Package Travel Regulations, there are a wide variety of benefits.
The main advantage is that any case which can be brought under the Regulations can be heard in a court in this country, using the laws and established legal processes of England and Wales. This is much more convenient, cost effective, quicker and makes it easier to resolve disputes.
Settlements are also issued in line with the laws of England and Wales, rather than the country where the incident took place. In the majority of cases, this is more beneficial to the injured person and ensures that they are fully compensated for their injuries and losses, and they have access to and funding for meaningful rehabilitation.
This does not affect the rights of holiday service providers, who only need to comply with the relevant laws and regulations which apply in the country where the accident occurs.
Why it pays to book a package holiday
As I’ve tried to explain, not all holidays are sold equally – and they do NOT all come with the same levels of protection. Unfortunately, not enough people know this.
From 1st July 2018, this will change as new EU rules (the Package Travel Directive) will come into force giving holidaymakers a greater level of consumer protection. Under the new Directive, the business which put the holiday together may well be responsible for the entire ‘package’ even when other firms are responsible for some of the components.
This will mean the estimated 10 million UK customers who book their holidays on the internet every year may soon be able to enjoy the same rights as those who book with a traditional travel agent. For too long, travel companies have tried to avoid the consequences of the Package Travel Regulations by “dynamically packaging” holidays. However, once the new Directive is in force, this will restore the balance in favour of the individual consumer.
Until then, it certainly pays to shop around – and be a savvy holiday shopper! But, next time you’re weighing up the cost of your holiday, read all the small print and find out exactly what type of holiday you are buying. If it’s a ‘flight plus holiday’ that does not come with the added protection offered by the Package Travel Regulations, think long and hard about the overall cost when compared to a similar ‘packaged’ deal.
After all, is it really worth saving a few pounds to give up these valuable rights?