It’s that season again. The sleepless nights, the stressful confrontations and the hours spent on phone and email seeking resolutions. In other words the summer holidays, when many of us jet off for a break from the demands of work and discover the sunny retreat is more stressful than the office. Abta, the travel agents’ association, received nearly 13,000 complaints about botched holidays over 12 months last year. The problems can start as soon as you arrive at the airport, or spring out at you in the form of mysterious debits from your bank account weeks after your return. Whether your flight was overbooked or your hotel under-built, this guide tells you how to sort out the mayhem of the Great British Make Off.
Woman Fcaing Departure Board
At check-in you discover your flight has been delayed for three hours, or that someone else has been given your seat. The airline may forget to tell you that you are entitled to compensation of up to €600 (£544) depending on the length of the journey and the delay.
The sums are set out under EU rule 261/2004 and airlines are only exempt if the delay or cancellation was caused by an “extraordinary circumstance”. Airlines often claim that any setback is beyond their control and refuse to pay out. In fact, case law has ruled that favourite excuses like “bad weather”, “crew sickness” and “technical problems” are an inherent part of flying that airlines should plan for.
If your flight is delayed for three hours or more, or a cancellation delays your arrival by more than two hours, calculate how much you are due and request the relevant compensation from the air operator. Check the flight distance at DistancesFrom.com, while Which? has template letters on its website. The Resolver website is also a good starting point.
If you have been offered overnight accommodation because a flight was cancelled, or you incurred extra costs because you were sent to a different airport, you can claim them back. Again, first claims are likely to be ignored, particularly by easyJet and several other low-cost carriers, if Guardian Money’s postbag is representative. Be persistent. If you are repeatedly ignored you have two choices: bring a small claims court action, which is often enough to get the airline to pay up; or hand it over to a solicitor that specialises in EU261 claims.
There are some firms to avoid, but Bott & Co can be trusted, although it does retain 25% plus VAT of the total compensation plus a £25 per passenger admin charge.
It could be that you arrive at your destination but your luggage doesn’t, in which case you must fill out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) at the airport. The airline has 21 days to find it, after which it is deemed lost and you can make a claim. The compensation is usually paltry – £1,200 is the maximum – and doesn’t include new for old. It may be easier to claim under your travel insurance.
If your suitcase is damaged, submit a claim within seven days along with that PIR. Specify you are claiming under the Montreal Convention which governs airline liability for lost and damaged bags. If the airline refuses to pay, either for delayed flights or missing baggage, complain to whichever approved dispute resolution scheme it’s signed up to. If it isn’t signed up to one, complain to the Civil Aviation Authority. As a last resort threaten a the small claims court.
Weeks after your return you notice a three-figure sum debited from your account. This is an increasingly common ploy of car hire firms which help themselves without warning for alleged damage. In 2015, following a Europe-wide investigation, the biggest rental firms agreed to improve how they notify customers of this, and how they deal with disputes.
Ask the hire company for detailed evidence of damage and costings. If none is forthcoming, take it up with your card provider. It will demand evidence that the charge is correct, and should reverse any unsubstantiated charges.
The European Car Rental Conciliation Service can help with complaints about member companies including the likes of Hertz, Avis and Enterprise.
There is nothing more deflating than finding an empty swimming pool, a mildewed bedroom and a symphony of drills. If you booked a package, ie one or more components were provided by the operator, you are protected by the Package Travel Regulations which state that a holiday must be as described. If you couldn’t resolve the problems while away, you can claim for loss of enjoyment. This includes out-of-pocket expenses and loss of value if you had to fork out for things that should have been included. Or the difference paid if you were transferred to cheaper accommodation. Send in as much evidence as possible – and be persistent. Don’t over claim, however: a reasonable claim is much more likely to be paid out quickly.
If the tour operator fails to respond satisfactorily within 28 days, and is a member of Abta, you could use its mediation service. In 2015/16 it upheld 62% of complaints. The Association of Independent Tour Operators also offers a mediation service, but it costs £140. That, however, could be cheaper than the last resort – bringing a small claims case.
Your rights are less straightforward if you assembled the holiday yourself. You would have to complain to the individual providers which, if they are based abroad, won’t be governed by UK legislation.
If you paid for the hotel or villa directly by credit card, you could lodge a claim for breach of contract with your card issuer under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This can be hard work. If they unreasonably decline, the Financial Ombudsman Service is free.
If you booked accommodation in the UK you are protected by the Consumer Rights Act, which gives you compensation rights if, say, the self-catering house was not as described.
If Your Safety Net Fails?
You took the precaution of buying insurance in case of a stolen phone or a broken neck. You even read through the terms and conditions to check you were covered. But when you try to claim the insurer won’t pay. Write to the company detailing why you think it is wrong and quote any relevant section of the terms and conditions. New rules forbid insurers to reject a claim if you answered all the relevant questions honestly, and it can’t rely on facts it didn’t specifically ask for. If the firm refuses to give in, or eight weeks pass without a reply, you can take your case to the Financial Ombudsman Service.