The recent news that thousands of UK holiday makers were scammed out of almost £7m last year rocked the travel industry. Offers for airline tickets and hotels that were ‘too good to be true’ left holidaymakers thousands of pounds out of pocket and their travel plans in tatters.
To make sure the country’s holidaymakers are being treated fairly, new regulations have been established by The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that will ban online travel websites from promoting misleading sales tactics, applying hidden charges and other unsavoury practices.
This should go some way to ensure fair and transparent practices within online booking systems, but how can you avoid becoming a victim of a holiday scam? And what if unforeseen circumstances force you to cancel a holiday that has already been paid for in advance? Jenny Niblett, Solicitor at DAS Law, explains your holiday rights…
What are my legal rights when buying a holiday or booking hotel accommodation room online?
The first thing to check is that the website is UK-based and therefore within the jurisdiction of UK law.
When making a booking online, you are entering into a contract. You are therefore entitled to receive a holiday/hotel room that matches the online description and is of a reasonable standard (bearing in mind the price paid). If the reality falls short, your argument is one of breach of contract and you may be entitled to claim compensation.
What can I do if I have paid money for a holiday, but it was a scam?
If you believe you have fallen victim to a potential fraud, the first thing you should do is report it. There are a number of bodies that these types of scams can be reported to such as the National Trading Standards E-Crime team or Action Fraud. Both of these bodies have online reporting functions.
If the company you have purchased the holiday from is a member of a trade body such as the Association of British travel agents (ABTA), then you should report it to them too. Also, if you have paid for the holiday (either wholly or partly) by credit card, then you should report the scam to your card issuer.
How can I protect myself from falling victim to a holiday fraud?
Pay by credit card
If the holiday costs over £100 and less than £30,000 and you pay part of or the entire cost using your credit card then you will have additional rights against your credit card company. This is thanks to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This states that the credit card company will have equal liability for any breach of contract or misrepresentation.
For you, this means that the credit card company is jointly and severally liable and therefore you could take action against the travel company, your credit card company, or both.
Always check the website you are using to see if it looks credible. Looking out for logos is a good way to verify whether or not the website you are using is authentic.
A key logo to keep an eye out for is that of ATOL. ATOL protection applies to nearly every overseas air holiday booked with a UK travel company. Overseas air holidays booked with UK travel companies must be protected by law if they include flights and accommodation, flights and car hire or both. Most reputable companies will also have the ABTA logo. So always check for the logos!
Do some detective work! When booking online, although it may be tempting to jump at the cheapest deal you can find, you should take some time to do your research. This can involve looking up the company and checking the online reviews left by other customers.
It’s often easy to spot a scam company when you take a step back and look at their offers in line with other reputable companies. For example; if the prices are significantly cheaper than the average costs across the internet, it may give you reason to be suspicious.
Also, flight prices are mainly set by the airlines and so any significant difference in flight costs should be investigated further.
Avoid paying into individuals bank accounts, always check the account details to see if it is connected with the company that you have researched. Usually this step can be avoided and risks minimised, by booking directly with airlines and reputable travel companies.
Use your instincts
Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it often is. Always research deals thoroughly and take advice if you have any suspicions.
Can I cancel an online holiday or hotel room booking without charge and how do I compare one site with another?
If you have booked a package holiday, you may be entitled to cancel the holiday without paying a fee if you feel that the holiday company has made significant changes to the holiday, if prices go up after you book (and the terms and conditions don’t provide for this), or if you are unable to get to your destination because of exceptional circumstances (such as a natural disaster).
If you want to cancel for any other reason, you may incur a termination fee. It would be sensible to check the terms and conditions of the contract for more information. Generally, the longer time period there is before the holiday, the higher the chance of a refund.
If you have booked a hotel independently, you will need to check the terms and conditions of the booking.
In terms of comparing prices, rather than approaching hotels directly and building up a picture of price comparisons, you can obviously make use of online booking sites. Nevertheless, a consumer should be cautious and explore thoroughly whether the price quoted includes or excludes additional fees / taxes etc.
If I find a cheaper holiday deal on another site, can I cancel my booking and get my money back?
Ultimately, you would need to check the terms and conditions of the booking to see whether there is any cancellation fee or conditions relating to a cancellation.
How do I complain about a holiday booking? Can I request a refund if my holiday plans are changed by the tour operator?
If the holiday was a package holiday and you have a complaint about the travel agent, you can write to them directly. If the agent was acting on behalf of another party such as a tour operator, you should follow the relevant complaints procedure. This should be in the booking terms and condition which you can request from the travel agent.
If the tour operator is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), you can complain to them using their online portal.
If you booked your hotel independently, you can take your complaint directly to the hotel as your contract is with them.
Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.