The Package Holidays and Travel Trade Act 1995 provides protection for consumers who book a package holiday, including package holidays taken at home in Ireland or abroad. It covers holidays that are sold in Ireland, whether or not the companies are operating in Ireland or in another country. Here is what you can expect when you purchase a package holiday and what to do if something goes wrong.
What exactly is meant by a package holiday?
To avail of the rights under the Package Holidays and Travel Trade Act 1995, you must have booked a package holiday. A holiday is a package holiday if it has been pre-arranged and sold at an inclusive price by the travel agent or tour operator, if it covers a period of more than twenty-four hours or includes overnight accommodation, and if it involves at least two of the following elements:
- other tourist services that are not linked to transport or accommodation but that make up a significant part of the cost and package (for example, guided tours)Other travel arrangements will not be considered a package holiday and will not provide the same legal protections – for example, if you book a flight online and then follow a link on the same website to book your accommodation. It is important to establish before completing your booking if what is on offer is a package holiday and if it will come under the package holiday regulations.
Can I rely on the information contained in the holiday brochure?
The information that appears in the holiday brochure is binding on the tour operator and it must be accurate. If you enter into a contract based on information contained in the brochure and it turns out to be false or misleading, you are entitled to claim damages from the tour operator. The brochure should indicate, clearly and accurately, the following information:
- the price of the holiday
- the destination and the means of transport used
- the type, location and description of the accommodation
- the meal plan, where appropriate
- the itinerary, where appropriate
- the timetable for payment
- the deadline for informing the consumer in case of cancellation
- any taxes or compulsory charges due
Is there any other information I should be given?
Before the contract is concluded, the tour operator or travel agent must also supply written information on the following:
- the passport and visa requirements
- information about health formalities required by national administrations for the journey and the stay – for example, any specific vaccinations that may be required
- travel insurance requirements
- in the case of insolvency, the arrangements for the security of any money paid and for the repatriation of the consumer
Can I transfer the holiday to somebody else if I am unable to go?
You are entitled to transfer the holiday booking to someone else provided you give reasonable notice to the tour operator or travel agent. You and the person to whom you have transferred the holiday are jointly liable to pay any outstanding balance for the holiday and for any additional fair and reasonable costs associated with the transfer.
Can the tour operator put up the price of the holiday after the booking is made?
Price alterations are permitted but only in a limited number of circumstances. The tour operator may increase the price due to the following:
- increases in transport costs, such as the cost of fuel
- increased taxes, duties or fees charged at airports or ports
- fluctuations in currency exchange rates that apply to the holiday packageThe tour operator cannot increase the price within 20 days of the departure date.
What are my entitlements if the tour operator cancels the holiday or alters it significantly?
If the tour operator makes a significant change to a key term of the contract, such as the type of accommodation or the price, you must be provided with one of the following options:
- a replacement package of similar or superior quality
- a lower grade package plus a refund of the difference in price between the two packages
- a full refund of any money paid
Tour operators are entitled to cancel the package as a result of factors that are outside of their control due to unusual, unforeseeable and unavoidable circumstances or because they did not get the minimum number of bookings required for the package to take place. In these cases, you are still entitled to a refund or a replacement package as outlined above.
What happens if I cancel the holiday?
If you have to cancel the holiday yourself, you should be aware that you may have to forfeit your deposit, pay a cancellation fee or forfeit the entire cost of the holiday. As a result, you should strongly consider having appropriate travel insurance cover in place.
What protections do I have if the tour operator goes out of business?
Under the regulations, tour operators providing package holidays in Ireland must have arrangements in place that mean that, in the event of the company going out of business, you will be refunded your money and will be transported back to Ireland if necessary. All tour operators and travel agents trading in Ireland must be licensed by the Commission for Aviation Regulation, which also administers a mandatory bonding scheme. Package holiday providers pay into the scheme and, if a company goes out of business, the Commission will process consumers’ claims for refunds or will arrange travel home for those left stranded abroad. If you are considering booking a package holiday with a tour operator based outside of Ireland, make sure to enquire what arrangements have been made in the event of the operator going out of business.
What should I do if the holiday turns out to be not as described in the brochure or if something goes wrong?
If the holiday is not as described in the brochure – for example, the brochure claimed that the accommodation featured a swimming pool but, on arrival, you found that there was no pool on the premises – and you based your purchasing decision on the false or misleading information, you will be entitled to compensation from the tour operator. In this and all other circumstances where you have a complaint, it is vital to report the matter to the local representative or tour operator immediately. They are entitled to try to remedy the situation at no extra cost to you. A complaint form should be completed detailing the problem and signed by all parties, with a copy given to the consumer. If the matter remains unresolved, you should collect as much evidence as you can in support of your complaint – for example by taking photos or video footage. It is also important to check the terms and conditions of your holiday contract and to follow the procedure outlined for making complaints.
Submit a written complaint to the tour operator within 28 days of returning home and send a second letter if you do not get a response within a reasonable amount of time.
If the tour operator still refuses to issue compensation, you have the option of taking your case to the Small Claims Court for claims of up to €2,000. See our comprehensive guide to the Small Claims procedure at http://thecai.ie/your-rights/small-claims-procedure/. If your claim exceeds €2,000, you will need to pursue the matter through arbitration. You can also contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, which may investigate the complaint.
New regulations pending
An updated European Directive on package holidays and assisted travel arrangements is likely to be adopted in 2015. This new directive seeks to recognise the major changes that have taken place in recent years in how consumers make their travel arrangements and to cover consumers who book their holidays online, sometimes dealing with a number of different companies. Once the directive is adopted, Ireland will have two years in which to transpose the new provisions into law.