BMI Baby to close so know your rights

Wednesday 05 December 2012 11.23
Make sure you are protected before this summer's holiday
Make sure you are protected before this summer's holiday

The closure of BMI Baby is a timely reminder that we should take note of our rights when we book flights and package holidays.

Everyone has a degree of protection but as always airlines will try to get some wriggle room when things go wrong – Ryanair is still awaiting a European Court of Justice ruling on whether it has to pay for expenses of a passenger clocked up because of the ash cloud in april 2010.

Consumer expert Tina Leonard tells Today with Pat Kenny what to watch out for.

Package holidays - your rights

When you book a package holiday you are protected by a specific piece of legislation (the Package Holiday and Travel Trade Act 1995). But to have that protection you must be sure that what you are buying fits with the definition of a package holiday in legislation.

A package holiday is as consisting of at least two of three elements: flights; accommodation; other tourist services. It has been pre-arranged and is sold at an inclusive price by a travel agent or tour operator.

Protection

The information provided in the brochure must be accurate and should not be misleading. In effect, the information in the brochure forms the terms of your contract. In other words if you request and are advised that a hotel is child friendly, on the beach, quiet etc, it should be.

If the agent / tour operator contacts you before you travel to say that the price has changed or the accommodation is not available or if they make some significant alteration then you are entitled to:

  • A replacement package of equivalent or superior quality
     
  • A lower grade package and to recover the difference in price between the two
     
  • A full refund.

(Note that price changes are allowed but only prior to 20 days of departure and then only in specific situations such as variations in the price of fuel, currency fluctuations or government taxes.)

If something goes wrong after arrival or the accommodation is not as described complain first to the holiday rep, and if that doesn’t resolve issues, when you come home complain in writing within 28 days, including any evidence you have, such as photos. You are entitled to financial compensation in this instance.

To operate here travel agents / tour operators are bonded. That means they pay into a scheme run by the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) and that scheme ensures that there is a fund in place that will repatriate you if you are stranded abroad, and will refund you if you have not yet travelled.

This is especially important in the instance that a company goes bust for example.

Dynamic holiday packages - rights are different

This is relatively new but there are many agents online, who sell “dynamic packages”. Their offer is that you can choose your own holiday components rather that having to go along with a package that has put together by the agent.

It’s a great idea as this system gives you the freedom of choice. But while this may look and seem like a regulated package holiday it is not, so bear that in mind when you’re thinking of consumer protection.

Components such as hotel accommodation, flights and transfers are purchased at individual prices often from different service providers. It is not a pre-arranged deal; you are arranging it yourself via the choices provided by the ‘shopping centre’ that is the online site.

Essentially you are creating your own holiday and the agent is arranging and putting you in contact with the services to enable you to do that.

But your contract for the performance of the service will be with the provider of the service i.e. the airline or hotel directly.

Therefore, it does not fall under the rules of the Package Holidays and Travel Trade Act.

You don’t have the protection outlined above, as you would if you book a package holiday.

You won’t be able to submit a complaint to the agent but will have to contact the service provider directly.

The price you pay to the agent may not be the final price if extras are later charged by, for example, a low cost airline. With a package holiday the price cannot change, except under certain specified conditions.

Suppliers of regulated package holidays ensure that the services are supplied to a reasonable standard (checking hotels etc), but there is no requirement for providers of dynamic packages to do this.

If the flight is cancelled by industrial action or adverse weather conditions or if it goes bust, then you could lose the money you paid for your accommodation; you wouldn’t if it was a package holiday.

Flight only

For people who like complete control over their holiday an obvious choice is to book a flight directly with the airline or via an online flight-booking agent.

If you book directly with the airline it is clear that your contract is with them, so again you don’t have the protection of the package holidays legislation and there is no equivalent bond scheme for airlines.

Be aware that this is also the case if you book a flight via an online service (i.e. lastminute, ebookers etc). They are providing a shop where you can access all airlines in one place to get the best deal, but your contract for the provision of the service is still with the airline.

This means that if something goes wrong it is to the airline and not the online agent that you must turn.

What is the airline goes bust?

Malev airlines went bust earlier this year so let’s say you had tickets to fly with Malev. What protection would you have had depending on which way you booked?

Package holiday: Alternative travel arrangements made or a full refund, or repatriation home if you were stranded. No financial loss.

Dynamic holiday: You’re on your own. If you booked with a credit card or visa debit you would seek a chargeback for the cost of the flight. If you couldn’t book alternative flights you would also lose your accommodation costs.

Flight only: Whether you’d booked a flight only with the airline or via an online flight agent, again you’re on your own with the airline and are likely to have to seek a chargeback from your credit-issuing bank to get a refund.

Likewise, if the hotel you arrive to is not at all what was advertised, if you are on a package holiday your travel agent can help and if not you may be entitled to compensation. However, if you’ve booked the hotel directly via other means, you’ll have to try and sort out the issue directly with the hotel.