Which? is calling on the government to retain package holiday protections enjoyed by millions of Britons – amid concerns that a rush to review EU laws could leave holidaymakers with diminished protections when trips are ruined by last-minute changes from package operators or their suppliers
The consumer champion sees hundreds of complaints from people each year who are hit by hotel downgrades – often only finding out after they arrive at their resort.
Recent cases include honeymooners whose dream trip was ruined when they were switched from the luxurious resort of their choosing to a lower standard alternative – and offered no price reduction – and a couple who were moved to disappointing accommodation after arriving in Turkey to find their hotel was fully booked.
In both cases, and many others seen by Which?, the travellers had some protection – and were able to recover some of the money spent on their holiday – thanks to the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs).
However, these protections are at risk due to the government’s Retained EU Law Bill, which would see a swathe of EU-derived laws scrapped or hurriedly altered by the end of the year. Former Business Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who introduced the Retained EU Law Bill, said last year that he hoped to get rid of the Package Travel Regulations for holidays in the UK, and Which? understands the government is planning to consult on changes to the regulations soon.
Which? believes the government must preserve these vital protections for UK and international holidays – and take the opportunity to enhance them so that holidaymakers do not face an uphill battle to enforce their rights while abroad, or to get the refunds and compensation they are entitled to when they do not get the holiday they have paid for.
While there are often legitimate reasons for a change of holiday, from hotels being overbooked, contractual changes or hotel closures, the PTRs exist to ensure that no traveller ends up out of pocket as a result. Shane and Galina Bolster are among those to have benefited from the protections offered, though their experience was not without difficulties.
When Loveholidays made changes to the Bolsters’ honeymoon two weeks before they were due to depart, the couple were dismayed to find their luxurious five-star star hotel in Bodrum, Turkey was switched to a questionable four-star alternative (they even found a dirty sock in their bed), with no downward price adjustment offered to reflect the downgrade between the two hotels.
The standard of the hotel fell far below their expectations. Their experience was so poor that they decided to move hotels after two days, at a cost of £800, and racked up a £130 phone bill in overseas calls to Loveholidays.
It took the intervention of Which? Travel for the couple to see a satisfactory resolution, with Loveholidays finally agreeing to reimburse the Bolsters for their disappointing holiday, which should have been the trip of a lifetime. Loveholidays fully refunded the couple for the hotel they abandoned and offered an additional £100 as a goodwill gesture.
Which? has also heard from travellers who received no advance warning of the changes to their holiday. Sharon and Geoffrey Hewlett booked a trip to Turkey for August last year with easyJet Holidays, but when they landed they were informed that there was no record of their booking and the hotel was full. The package firm had used a partner agency, Hotel Beds, to manage accommodation bookings on its behalf and somewhere along the lines, their booking had gone awry without notice to the Hewletts or easyJet Holidays.
As per the Package Travel Regulations, easyJet Holidays acted swiftly to find them alternative accommodation, making arrangements for the couple the next day. However, the replacement hotel lacked many of the amenities that had drawn them to their original choice, including a spa, evening entertainment and a choice of a la carte restaurants. Initially easyJet Holidays only offered a £200 holiday voucher in recompense, with the couple having to push for a cash refund. After weeks of correspondence, easyJet holidays finally agreed to reimburse the couple a third of their total holiday costs.
Travellers have the right to expect the package holiday they paid for, and if it is not of the same standard, the company they booked with is responsible for putting things right. In the event of changes, if the new holiday is of a lesser value than the one they booked, they should receive a price reduction , or they may be able to claim compensation for the loss of enjoyment suffered as a result. Vitally, when consumers run into difficulties, the PTRs give them the legal standing to keep fighting their corner. It is therefore essential that the government commits to ensuring effective enforcement of the rules and to protect and improve existing regulations through the ongoing EU law review process.
As a priority, ministers should also finalise plans to strengthen the regulatory powers available to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which alongside other regulators, is responsible for enforcing the PTRs for flight inclusive packages. By granting the CAA the ability to fine companies when they flout the law, the government would ensure there is a much stronger deterrent to those firms that might otherwise be lax in their upholding of consumer rights.
Jo Rhodes, Deputy Editor of Which? Travel, said:
‘It’s bad enough that holidaymakers can face the disappointment of having their accommodation downgraded at the last minute, they certainly shouldn’t be left out of pocket as a result.
“Alarmingly, there is a very real danger that the protections relied upon by millions of travellers every year are at risk of being watered down. It’s vital that these protections for holidays at home and abroad are retained – and strengthened – to give consumers full confidence when planning their getaways.”
Notes to editors:
Rights of reply:
Love Holidays: “We are sorry Mr Bolster’s experience did not live up to our usual high standards. We are investigating the relocation error with our accommodation supplier to ensure it does not happen again, and have been in touch with Mr Bolster to apologise and reimburse his accommodation costs.”
A Hotelbeds spokesperson said: “Relocating customers at the last-minute is incredibly rare. In these cases, we strive to offer our clients alternative accommodation with the same rating and level of facilities. We apologise to Mr and Mrs Hewlett for the inconvenience and any upset caused as a result of their original hotel no longer being available.”
An easyJet holidays spokesperson said: “We’re really sorry for the inconvenience caused to Ms Hewlett and her husband on their recent holiday. As soon as we were made aware that there was an issue with their original hotel booking, which our supplier hadn’t informed us about, we worked hard to find an alternative hotel of the same star rating and board basis. As the facilities at the new hotel slightly differed, we offered Ms Hewlett a 30% holiday refund to recognise any disappointment caused. We’d like to reassure our customers that last minute changes to holidays are a rare occurrence and where this does happen, we will always endeavour to find a directly comparable, or better, alternative .”
What to do if your package holiday is not as sold:
– Check the paperwork:
Read through the tour operators Ts & Cs to see if it’s honouring its promises. Some state that they will pay compensation if elements of your holiday are changed at short notice. Even if it’s not a package – and your hotel is not as promised – you may have rights under the Consumer Rights Act. If you booked directly with a foreign hotel, you may be subject to that country’s laws.
– Talk to your holiday company:
Contact your provider the moment you encounter an issue, to give them the chance to put things right. If you’re still unhappy with the outcome, make sure to take video or photo evidence and keep hold of any receipts for out of pocket expenses. That way you can file a formal complaint when you get home.
– Complain to a travel association:
Abta and Aito both run arbitration services. If your holiday is a member of either, and it fails to compensate you fairly, you can escalate your complaint.
– Consider the small claims court:
If you’ve followed the steps above and have still failed to reach an acceptable resolution, you can take your claim to the small claims court, though this can be a costly and lengthy process.
Linked Travel Arrangements:
Those booking a Linked Travel Arrangements (LTA), are often more likely to suffer confusion around their rights. A Linked Travel Arrangement is when a traveller buys one service from a tour operator and is then prompted to buy another (within 24 hours) – but their information and payment details aren’t transferred so they have to make separate payments. Which? believes ministers should take the opportunity offered by the ongoing review of retained EU laws to simplify unnecessarily complicated regulations pertaining to LTAs, and bring the protections in line with those offered for package trips.
Which?’s Transform Travel Campaign
Which? is currently campaigning to Transform Travel, and at the time of writing, over 43,000 people have signed the consumer champion’s petition to the Secretary of State for Transport demanding urgent action and over 1,100 campaign supporters have submitted evidence to the ongoing review of the CAA. Please find a link to view the petition here.
- You can find Which?’s submission to the Department for Transport’s call for evidence on the effectiveness and efficiency of the CAA HERE.
- Which?’s policy report, ‘Final boarding call: Which? vision for consumer reforms in the aviation and package holiday sectors’ contains more information on package travel reform. Please see page 41.
- The consumer champion is calling for:
Enforcement – The CAA should be doing more by holding airlines to account proactively. It also needs direct powers to monitor and fine airlines when they flout the rules
Resolution – We need a dispute resolution system that is mandatory for all airlines flying to and from the UK so travellers don’t have to go to the small claims court to enforce their rights
Compensation – We need to protect passengers’ rights to redress when airlines are at fault for delays and cancellations. Proposals to slash pay-outs for domestic flights must be dropped.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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