The website www.consumerhelp.ie is the digital end of the National Consumer Agency, now called the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission since they merged with the Competition Authority in October 2014, a government body that keeps tabs on consumer rights and ensures fairness all round. The following article comes from their February newsletter and is a timely reminder for all those contemplating a summer break this year.
Under consumer law, a package holiday is defined as a pre-arranged holiday that is sold at an inclusive price, which must last more than 24 hours or include an overnight stay. It must also include at least two of the following:
- A tourist service or activity (for instance golf, hill-walking) not directly linked to transport or accommodation, but which makes up a significant part of the package.
So if you book a flight from an airline’s website and then book your accommodation from a link on that website, this is not defined as a package holiday under the legislation and therefore, you do not have the same legal protections.
Under consumer law it is the organiser (tour operator or travel agent) who is responsible for ensuring that the holiday arrangements run smoothly. So if you are unhappy with any element of the package you should contact the organiser and insist that your concerns are addressed.
Booking a package
When you book a package holiday, you are entering into a contract with the seller. So the information in the holiday brochure provided to you must not be false or misleading.
You must receive a written copy of the contract before you travel, containing information such as:
- Cost of the holiday
- The destination and duration of the holiday
- The type of transport involved and departure times and places
- The location, type and category of the accommodation and its compliance with the law of the EU Member State in question
- The meal plan, if any
- Cancellation arrangements for the organiser (for example where a minimum take up is required for the package holiday to take place) and the consumer;
- Itineraries of any excursions included
- Any taxes or compulsory charges and
- The complaints procedure if the organiser fails to carry out their part of the contract
Before you buy, the organiser must give you additional information, such as:
- Passport and visa requirements, if applicable
- Travel insurance requirements
- If you need any special vaccinations
If you buy a package holiday from an operator that is based outside Ireland, ask them or your travel agent what arrangements are in place in the event of the operator going out of business.
You should always clarify with the organiser if what they are offering is a package holiday, and if it comes under the terms of package holiday consumer law.
|Remember: You do not have to take out travel insurance with the organiser. You can make your own arrangements for this and the tour operator should refer you to this information in their brochure.|
If the information provided in the brochure is false or misleading, you may seek compensation from the tour operator or travel agent for any loss suffered or damage caused as a result. If you are not satisfied with the organiser’s response, you can contact www.consumerhelp.ie in writing with copies of all relevant documentation such as booking forms, brochures and letters of complaint or call Lo-call 1890 432 432.
What will I do if the tour operator goes out of business?
By law, all package holiday providers in Ireland must have arrangements in place so that if they go out of business your money and bookings are protected.
Operators or agents who arrange travel out of Ireland must be licensed by the Commission for Aviation Regulation and enter into a bond. A bond is a sum of money from which you may be refunded or reimbursed if the company you are dealing goes out of business.
In the event of business failure, the Commission administers the bond and assesses your claim for a refund, or arranges to get you home if stranded abroad.
Cancellations and alterations
If your tour operator cancels your holiday or significantly alters an essential term of the contract, such as the price or type of accommodation, they must give you the following options:
- a replacement holiday of equivalent or superior quality, if the tour operator can provide this or
- a lower grade holiday, with a refund of the difference in price, if the operator can provide this or
- a full refund.
No price changes are allowed within 20 days of the departure date. However, before this time, your tour operator may increase prices if there is an increase in:
- transport costs – including the cost of fuel,
- the level of taxes, fees and charges payable at airports and ports,
- exchange rates which apply to your package.
Tour operators cannot increase prices because of increased costs in any other area, for example, the cost of hotel accommodation.
Organisers have the right to cancel the package due to factors out of their control, such as:
- an “act of God” or
- where they’ve failed to get the minimum number of people required for the package to take place.
But you are still due a refund or replacement holiday as set out above.
Transferring a holiday
If you have booked a package holiday and are unable to go on it, you can transfer it someone else, provided you give reasonable notice to the organiser.
You and that other person are jointly liable for payment of the balance of the holiday or any other costs involved in the transfer.
Making a complaint
Your holiday contract should outline the operator’s complaints procedures. If you have a complaint during your holiday, report the problem immediately to your local holiday rep or organiser in the vicinity.
Ask for a complaint form, and keep a copy of the form that you are submitting.
The operator must compensate you if the service provided was different from what was promised. (eg. no pool at the hotel, despite being advertised in brochure). But they should also be given the opportunity to fix the problem, at no extra cost to you.
- If you are not happy with their response, get as much evidence as you can to support your case (for example, take photographs or video footage).
- If you are still not satisfied when you return home, make a complaint in writing to the operator within 28 days.
- If you are still not satisfied and your claim does not exceed €2,000, you can take your complaint to the Small Claims procedure. Most package holiday contracts state that claims above this limit may be pursued through arbitration. Check your contract for more information.
- You can also contact www.consumerhelp.ie and, where appropriate, they will examine your complaint.
Remember: Your organiser (tour operator or travel agent) is responsible to you for fulfilling the contract, including where services are provided by other suppliers as part of the contract.