#HolidayHelp | Our travel industry and holiday booking T&Cs jargon buster
Utterly baffled by the terms and conditions when you book a holiday? Get to grips with your consumer rights in our #HolidayHelp series at Girl About Travel
If the pandemic has taught us anything about the travel industry, it’s that booking a holiday isn’t as straightforward as we once thought. So to help you navigate the small print and get to the fun stuff, we grilled Vicky Hart-Edwards, a friend of Girl About Travel with nearly 20 years experience on the operational side of the travel industry. She trained as a lawyer before working with some of the biggest tour operators in the country, and is a dab hand with contracts, T&Cs and championing the consumer.
Girl About Travel: I find the booking confirmation T&Cs totally overwhelming! What are the most important things to look out for?
Vicky Hart-Edwards: Check to see how the company you’re booking your holiday with is trading – either as ‘agent’ or ‘organiser’. If they’re an agent you’ll be relying on the performance of a third party (this is how most independent travel agents, such as Hays, Global Travel, Advantage and World Choice typically trade) and the travel agent will act as the intermediary.
If they’re the organiser, they have the ability to resolve and make decisions without waiting on a third party but often they are larger organisations such as Jet2 and Tui. Their service may not be as personalised as a travel agent, but they will have the autonomy to fix any problems or issues themselves.
Other important things to understand are the payment, cancellation and amendment clauses (what you are responsible for), and pop any important dates into your calendar so you don’t miss them.
Sometimes you may make a booking prior to the booking conditions being sent over, if this is the case read them as soon as you get them and flag anything you’re unhappy with.
GAT: What should I be looking for in a company’s cancellation policy?
VHE: Flexibility. Ideally, the closer to travel you can cancel with little or no penalty the better. However, travel agents often have very similar clauses. The important thing to note is if you cancel and are charged as part of the cancellation policy, but the hotel waivers the cost and you have purchased via a travel agent (acting as agent) then you’re entitled to have that waiver passed to you, minus any administrative fees in the booking conditions. The travel agents may not even know that the waiver has been approved, so the best thing you can do is contact the hotel directly for confirmation in writing and send a copy to the travel agent to get your money back.
Are a company's T&Cs legally binding?
VHE: Of course. However, if they conflict with legislation such as Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations (PTR) or consumer law, the legislation will prevail.
What if I didn't want to accept the T&Cs? What options do I have?
VHE: Different terms to what are in the booking T&Cs can be agreed when an agent sells a holiday (provided it’s not an online transaction). This is normally done in good faith, and the best thing to do is ask the travel agent to agree the amend(s) in writing to you.
It may be difficult for them to overwrite the terms and conditions, so a simple email saying what is agreed would be suitable (ensure it states ‘this agreement overrides the standard booking conditions that will be sent’), because it gives you something to reference back to if you need to make a complaint at a later stage.
GAT: What do all the different acronyms stand for, and what do they mean for me?
VHE: The straightforward ones are: AI = All Inclusive; HB = Half Board; SC = Self Catering; BB = Bed and Breakfast.
The more detailed ones are:
ATOL = Air Travel Organiser’s License. This is designed to cover people who are travelling by air. Where the flight is sold to a UK-based consumer, it will protect a customer if the business ceases trading while on holiday or before the customer travels, providing the flight has been bought as part of a package (including accommodation and/or car hire).
ABTA = formerly known as the Association of British Travel Agents, it was founded over 50 years ago and is the largest travel association. If a travel company is registered with ABTA, it has agreed to adhere to a series of guidelines and a level of service, including having either financial bonding or financial failure insurance in place that protects customers’ money should the company go out of business. This gives customers extra peace of mind; however, during the pandemic some holiday companies left ABTA part way through their membership and didn’t follow the guidance.
PTRs = Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations. Introduced in 2018, PTRs changed the package travel holiday legislation to give clear consumer rights to customers booking holidays. You may think your travel agent is responsible for adhering to the legislation, but in fact it’s the organiser of the holiday. For instance, if a customer books from Jones Travel (who act as an agent) and purchases a package from Jet2 Holidays, it’s Jet2 Holidays that is responsible for adhering to the PTRs. The Travel agent is simply responsible for facilitating the booking and supporting the customer if a dispute arrises.
GAT: How do I know if I'm booking a legitimate holiday and my money is safe?
VHE: There are multiple ways a travel company can protect your money, typically via bonding or insurance, but it’s not always immediately apparent. Check for the ABTA or ATOL logo on their website and correspondence, or search for the company on the ABTA and ATOL websites. Accommodation and ground-only companies may may not be ABTA or ATOL registered, so I would check their reviews on Trustpilot and ask for recommendations. If you’re not confident they’ll provide what you’re paying for, don’t pay them and move on.
I'd like to book a property through Airbnb but how do I know if my money is safe with them, and how do I know the accommodation will be as advertised in the pictures, let alone actually exist?
VHE: Airbnb allows payments via credit or debit card, which means if the service isn’t as expected not only can you raise a complaint with your card provider but you can also do a charge back or make a claim under section 75 of the consumer law act for reimbursement. Airbnb has a duty of care to ensure that it is listing accurate information, and when something is reported Airbnb must investigate and review and/or remove.
However, the best way to ensure you are getting what you have booked is to choose accommodation with ratings of 4.8 or higher and check for a reasonable amount of reviews (approximately 15-20) for that listing before you book.
GAT: What are my rights, and what should I do, if my holiday company changes the accommodation or flights, or cancels on me?
VHE: Your rights will depend on the type of change your holiday company is making and what you have booked. Ultimately if you have booked a package holiday and the company changes any element qualifying under the PTRs (such as a change of hotel, date or a price increase of more than 8%) you would be entitled to a full refund if the change is deemed as significant. There's no legal definition of what 'significant' means, but it typically includes such changes as moving your holiday to a different resort, or the company no longer being able to meet special requests you had agreed in writing before travelling.
However, most holiday companies are able to offer alternative arrangements and sometimes compensation to rectify this problem. If it is a minor change and the holiday company has offered an alternative service, then the booking should continue.
If you have purchased a single service (eg, just a flight, or an accommodation booking) then the terms may be very different to the above and you’ll need to reference the T&Cs.
GAT: Is it always better to book a package than flights and accommodation individually and directly with suppliers?
VHE: Package holidays are by far the more straightforward, and offer very clean and concise protection under the PTRs. However, it’s fine to purchase those single elements as long as you have the right type of insurance and are clear on the cancellation and change policies with the company in which you decide to purchase through.
Lastly, when booking a holiday, how do I make sure I’m guaranteed interconnecting rooms?
VHE: If you are booking with a travel agent, ask them to ensure you have those rooms and highlight that your booking is dependent on the interconnecting rooms. If you are dealing directly with a hotel call them and check they have them, then follow up with an email to request them as a requirement of your booking and ask for written confirmation by email.