Hundreds of thousands of travellers plan holiday trips with the help of travel agents and search sites each year, hoping to ease the stress and confusion of getting what they want.
From accommodations to the perfectly timed flight from here to there, online travel agents and travel search engines make it far easier to get a trip planned, paid for, and booked in a matter of minutes.
However, for some, that simplicity comes a big headache once the holiday finally takes place. Sometimes hotels aren’t what they were boasted to be online, or the activities and tours booked for a certain destination completely miss the mark.
When these issues take place, many turn to the terms and conditions of the online travel agent or metasearch site used to book the holiday. Frantically searching for refund information, cancellation details, or help with recouping losses, travelers who are less than satisfied with their experience may be quickly out of luck.
Fortunately, the Competition & Markets Authority in the UK has recently launched a campaign to encourage fair terms for customers among businesses like online travel agents and search sites.
New Rules for Holiday Packages
Online travel agents and websites offer several different deals to potential travelers, but not every purchase has the same protections or guarantees. When you purchase a holiday online, there are certain boxes that must be checked for your trip to be considered a package under the law.
A travel specialist from Money Pug, a website used to compare cheap holidays, explains that it is important to pay close attention to how your holiday is purchase. A holiday purchase has to have one of the following traits to be a package deal:
- The trip was advertised as a package or an all-inclusive deal
- You purchased the holiday for an inclusive price
- Your flight, accommodation, or transport was purchased from one company with a single payment
- You were prompted to purchase another part of your holiday after booking the initial portion, and payment details were transferred on your behalf
There are some instances where a holiday package is instead a linked travel arrangement, which offers fewer protections and in certain situations, unclear terms and conditions.
For example, purchasing a flight through a website and then being prompted to purchase a rental car immediately after may not be a package. If you entered your payment information again for the transport purchase, you have a linked travel arrangement, so your terms and conditions are different.
Fair Terms vs. Unfair Terms
The campaign launched through the CMA is meant to bring more clarity and transparency to travelers who use online travel agents and search sites to make their arrangements.
The goal is to encourage these businesses to define the terms of a package holiday in a way that helps protect the customer and the business, not just the latter.
Through the CMA’s guidance, fair terms are those that spell out what you’re receiving, before you book, and offer details on who is responsible if something goes wrong during the holiday. Information about your package must include these details:
- The destination, itinerary, nights for accommodations, and dates
- Specifics on transport, activities, and meals included
- Exclusions such as certain activities or excursions
- Contact information for the organiser
- Passport and visa requirements
- Cancellation fees
- Insurance cover for termination of the contract
Once your holiday is booked, you also need to know who to get in touch with if something doesn’t go as planned. This happens every now and again, sometimes due to the travel agent or website where the trip was booked, and sometimes because of unforeseen circumstances.
In any case, your holiday package purchased through an online travel agent or website should provide clear details as to how refunds or cancellations are handled, and who the traveler contacts in these unfortunate cases.
Resources for Help
The reality is that things go awry on travel, even for the most prepared. Booking a holiday package online may seem like the most efficient and cost-saving way to go about your next trip, but it is necessary to know what you’re getting into, what happens when things go wrong, and how to get a refund if it is possible.
If you’ve had an issue with a holiday package purchased through a website, you have some help through the CMA, as well as through Citizens Advice. You can file a complaint about your experience, but it is helpful to start with the online travel agent used to book your holiday.