Travel advice

The advice sheets below have the lastest information on travel. If you need more advice, please call the Citizen Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Holidays

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 (referred to as the 'Package Travel Regulations') came into force on 1 July 2018. These new regulations modernise and update the legal framework to reflect how consumers choose to book their holidays and make their travel arrangements.

The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992 are revoked and, whilst they still cover holiday contracts made before 1 July 2018, they no longer apply to holiday contracts made on or after that date.

You also have rights and remedies under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and rights of redress under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2018.

Explanation of key terms

You may not focus on the 'small print' when booking a holiday but it is important to understand the law so that you know what a travel company is legally obliged to do, what your rights and remedies are and what you can do if things go wrong.

The first step is to understand the meaning behind some of the words and phrases used in the Package Travel Regulations.

ORGANISER

This is a trader who combines and then sells packages or offers packages for sale either directly or through another trader.

An organiser is also a trader who transmits your travel details to another trader as part of a linked online booking process.

RETAILER

A trader other than the organiser who sells packages or offers packages for sale that have been combined by an organiser.

PACKAGE TRAVEL CONTRACT

A contract for the whole package or, if the package is provided under separate contracts, all the contracts covering the travel services that are included in the package.

TRAVEL SERVICE

  • the carriage of passengers
  • the provision of accommodation
  • the rental of cars, motorcycles or other motor vehicles
  • any other tourist service

PACKAGE

A combination of at least two different types of travel services for the same trip or holiday if those services are combined by one trader - at your request or after you have selected them - before a single contract for all services is formed.

These services are:

  • purchased from a single point of sale (retail premises, website, online sales facility or telephone service) and selected by you before you agree to pay
  • offered, charged or sold at a total price
  • advertised or sold under the name 'package' or something similar
  • combined after the contract is formed (the trader allows you to chose from a selection of different types of travel services)

Alternatively the services may be:

  • purchased from separate traders through a linked online booking process where both of the following apply:
    - all your details are transmitted from the trader who you make the first travel service contract with to other traders
    - the contract with the other traders is formed no later than 24 hours after confirming the booking of the first travel service

LINKED TRAVEL ARRANGEMENT

At least two different types of travel service purchased for the same holiday or trip, not forming a package, which results in separate contracts with individual service providers.

Your right to information

The retailer or the organiser must provide certain information before the contract is agreed. It forms an important part of the contract and, as such, must not be altered without your clear agreement.

A summary of the information requirements is below:

  • main characteristics of the travel services and details of the organiser
  • destination, itinerary, periods of stay with dates and, if accommodation is included, the number of nights
  • transport information and itinerary
  • approximate time of departure and return if exact times are not yet determined
  • location, main features and any applicable tourist category of accommodation
  • meals, visits and excursions included in the holiday
  • details of any services that are provided to you as part of a group
  • language used for travel services that are dependent on spoken communication
  • information on whether the trip or holiday is generally suitable for persons with reduced mobility
  • total price of the holiday - including taxes and any fees - and payment arrangements
  • minimum number of persons required for the package to take place and the deadline for termination if the minimum number is not reached
  • passport and visa requirements
  • information that you can terminate the contract at any time before the start of the package upon payment of an appropriate or standardised termination fee
  • information on optional or compulsory insurance

In addition, and before the contract is agreed, you must be given information on your key rights under the Package Travel Regulations.

The package travel contract

The contract must contain the full details of the holiday, including all required information, and be given in a clear, understandable and prominent manner.

It must also include:

  • any special requirements the organiser has accepted (make sure you make your requirements clear to the retailer or organiser at the time of booking)
  • information that the organiser is responsible for the performance of all travel services included in the contract, such as travel, accommodation and pre-booked car hire, and that they are obliged to provide you with assistance if you are in difficulty
  • insolvency protection details
  • contact details for the organiser's local representative or for a contact point for you to request assistance or make a complaint
  • an instruction that if you have a complaint, you must complain without undue delay
  • information enabling direct contact between a parent or authorised person and a child, if the child is travelling unaccompanied
  • complaint handling procedures and alternative dispute resolution
  • information on your right to transfer the contract to someone else if you are unable to go on the holiday

Check this information, read the terms and conditions that apply to the contract before you make the booking and take note that you are responsible for any booking errors you make.

Remember that the terms and conditions must be 'fair and reasonable'; see the 'Unfair terms in consumer contracts & notices' guide for more information.

If you book online, make sure that you use a website with a secure payment facility.

After booking, you must be given a copy of the contract or confirmation of the contract in a durable form, such as by email. In some circumstances, you can ask for a paper copy of the contract.

The organiser or retailer commits an offence if they fail to give you the required information or if it is not clear, understandable and prominent. Report any concerns to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.

You must be given, in good time before the start of the holiday, all necessary receipts, vouchers and tickets, information on departure times and any deadlines for check-in as well as times for intermediate stops, transport connections and arrival. Check to make sure everything is in order and report any inaccuracies as soon as possible.

Can the price of the holiday be altered?

Yes, but only in certain circumstances.

The organiser can only increase the package travel contract prices if the contract states clearly that an increase can be made, and only for the following reasons:

  • the price rise is due to an increase in the cost of fuel or other power sources
  • there has been an increase in fees or taxes
  • exchange rates relevant to the package have increased

You must be given notification of any price increase at least 20 days before the start of the holiday. If the increase is more than 8% of the total price of the holiday, one of the options you have is to terminate the contract.

Airlines: extra charges

The Civil Aviation Authority produces an updated comparison table of optional fees and charges, such as charges for checking in luggage, reserved seating, meals and refreshments applied by major airlines operating in the UK. This will allow you to check the extra costs applicable on top of your ticket price.

Can you transfer the holiday contract to someone else?

Yes, subject to certain rules set out in the Package Travel Regulations. 

You must inform the organiser in writing or by email that you would like to transfer it to someone else. This must be done at least seven days before the start of the holiday. 

The organiser must inform you about any additional fees, charges or other costs that may apply and must provide proof of these costs. The transfer costs must be reasonable, and no more than the costs incurred by the organiser for carrying out the transfer.

Holiday insurance

Shop around and compare prices and level of cover before you go ahead. It is illegal for an organiser or retailer to insist that you take their own insurance.

It is vital that you obtain adequate cover for the type of holiday you are planning. Will you be undertaking risky activities on holiday, such as skiing, parasailing or scuba diving? Make sure your insurance covers you for the sort of activities you may want to do. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, always inform the prospective insurer and make sure you are covered. If you are worried that you may have to cancel a holiday, you might want to consider taking out cancellation insurance.

A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will allow you to obtain state medical care in the European Union. Visit the NHS website for more information. You can obtain the EHIC free of charge. There are some websites that will charge for obtaining the EHIC for you; this is not necessary and you do not have to use them. The EHIC is not a substitute for adequate travel insurance.

What can you do to protect your money?

If you pay for the holiday by credit card, and if it costs more than £100 but less than £30,000, you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the card provider as responsible as the trader for a breach of contract or a misrepresentation. You are entitled to take action against the trader, the card provider or both. This does not apply to charge cards or debit cards.

If you use a debit card to purchase the holiday or if you use a credit card and the price is less than £100 (your rights under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply), you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract - the tour operator ceases trading, for example - you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim.

Check whether the organiser or retailer is a member of a trade association, such as ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) or AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators). These trade associations have codes of conduct, which the members must abide by.

All travel companies in the UK that sell air holidays and flights are legally required to hold an ATOL licence (Air Travel Organiser's Licence). This is a scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority for flights and air holidays that offers you protection against being stranded or losing your money if the operator ceases trading. Please note that not all air travel arrangements come with ATOL protection, so you must always check with the organiser or retailer as to what protection arrangements they have in place.

Payment Surcharges

Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, which were amended by the Payment Services Regulations 2017, traders are banned from imposing surcharges on consumers for using the following payment methods:

  • credit, debit or charge cards
  • e-payment services such as PayPal
  • Apple Pay, Android Pay or other similar payment methods

Traders can impose a surcharge for other methods of payment, but the amount must not be excessive; it must reflect the actual cost to the trader of processing the payment. The Regulations apply to most sales and service contracts. 

The Regulations give you rights of redress. Any requirement to pay a banned surcharge or the part of a surcharge that is excessive, is unenforceable by the trader. This means you do not have to pay. If you have already paid the surcharge or the excess, you are entitled to a refund.

If you have a complaint about surcharges, report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service.

If things go wrong before you go on your holiday

There may be occasions when the organiser will be required to make significant changes to your contract, for example no longer being able to provide the resort or accommodation you booked, there are significant alterations to the travel services, they cannot fulfil a special requirement or an increase in the price of the holiday is more than 8%. 

If this happens, you must be:

  • notified as soon as possible of the change and where appropriate the impact on the price
  • given a deadline by which you must inform the organiser of your decision
  • told what happens if you do no respond to the organiser
  • provided with details of any substitute package of an equivalent or higher quality, if possible, and its price

The substitute package may be of a lower quality or price to that booked. If this is the case and you agree to go ahead, you are entitled to an appropriate reduction in the price.

If you do not accept the proposed changes, you can cancel and obtain a full refund. The organiser must refund you as soon as possible and, in any event, not later than 14 days after cancellation.

If the organiser, with required notice, terminates the contract due to:

  • the number of persons booked on the holiday is less than the minimum number stated in the contract; or
  • unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances

You will receive a full refund as soon as possible and, in any event, not later than 14 days after termination. You cannot claim additional compensation.

You have the right to terminate the contract at any time before the start of the holiday on payment of a termination fee.

If things go wrong when on holiday

The organiser is responsible for the performance of all the travel services included in the package travel contract, even if they are carried out by other travel service providers.

You must inform the organiser as soon as possible of any problem to give them the opportunity to put it right. 

The organiser must make suitable alternative arrangements for you to continue with your holiday if this is possible and if the costs are not disproportionate. These arrangements should, where possible, be of an equivalent or higher quality than those booked. If arrangements are of a lower quality, you are entitled to a reduction in price.

You have the option to reject proposed alternative arrangements if they are not comparable with the arrangements you booked, cancel the holiday and seek a price reduction and/or compensation.

If you wish to continue with the holiday because the organiser cannot make alternative arrangements, or the arrangements made are not acceptable, you can do so and seek a price reduction and/or compensation.

If travel is included in the holiday package, upon cancellation the organiser must repatriate you as soon as possible and at no extra cost. Where there is a delay in repatriation, the organiser must bear the cost of up to three night's accommodation per traveller or for a period in line with EU passenger rights legislation.

There are some international rules called 'conventions' that limit claims for compensation in certain circumstances. In other cases, the organiser can limit compensation to three times the total price of the package, unless it relates to personal injury, damage caused intentionally, with negligence, or if the law does not allow a limit.

If you are in difficulty, the organiser must provide you with appropriate assistance, including giving information on health services, local authorities and consular assistance, by helping with communications and making alternative arrangements.

It is important that you:

  • have all holiday documentation available, including insurance documents (paper or e-copies)
  • gather evidence to support your complaint - for example, photographs, video footage and written witness statements from other holidaymakers. You may need to produce this evidence later for mediation, arbitration or for a court case
  • keep a statement of events with details of actions taken and relevant dates

After returning home

Steps you should take to progress your complaint when you return from holiday:

  • check the organiser's terms and conditions (online or in the brochure) and find out what the complaints procedure is
  • write to / email the organiser at the correct address for complaints or fill in the online complaint form, give details of your booking, including the booking reference, and be specific about the problems and the compensation you are seeking
  • include evidence in support of your complaint
  • if you paid all or part of your package holiday on your credit card and the total cost of the holiday is more than £100 but less than £30,000, forward a copy of your complaint to your credit card provider
  • be persistent; write again and do not be deterred if you are not happy with the initial response

Taking the matter further

If you reach deadlock with the organiser over your dispute, you can take further action. Find out if the organiser is a member of a trade association that offers alternative dispute resolution services such as ABTA or AITO. As a last resort you could take action against the organiser in the County Court; see 'Thinking of suing in court'.

If you believe the organiser or retailer misled you over any aspect of the package holiday, report your complaint to the Citizens Advice consumer service. Your complaint can be referred to trading standards.

See the 'Problems with flights' guide if your flight was delayed, cancelled, re-routed or denied boarding or your luggage was lost or damaged.

The 'Timeshares & holiday clubs' and 'Holidays & travellers with disabilities' guides also give useful information.

Other legislation

CONSUMER RIGHTS ACT 2015

This law gives you rights against a trader, such as a holiday organiser and retailer, that provides you with a service. The service you receive must be carried out with reasonable care and skill, within a reasonable time (if the time is not fixed by the contract) and you are only required to pay a reasonable price for the service unless the price (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract.

Anything said or written down by a trader (or someone acting on their behalf) about their business or the service forms part of the contract if you take that information into consideration before you agree the contract; it also applies if you make a decision about the service, based on that information, after the contract is made.

The 'Supply of services: your consumer rights' guide gives more information on your rights and which remedy you are entitled to.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 also covers unfair terms in all consumer contracts (contracts between a trader and a consumer), including contracts for the provision of holiday services, whether they are in writing or not. It also covers notices if they are 'consumer notices', which means they set out rights or obligations between you and a trader or try to deny or restrict a trader's responsibility to you.

Traders must draft and present their holiday contracts and notices to you in a way that is fair and open and respects your legitimate interests. Terms and notices should be transparent; the wording used should be plain (no legal jargon), capable of being understood and legible. They should not be designed to trick or trap you and any terms that are important (because they may put you at a disadvantage) must be prominent.

You are not legally bound by an unfair contract term or consumer notice and you have the right to challenge it, in court if necessary.

The 'Unfair terms in consumer contracts & notices' guide gives more information.

CONSUMER PROTECTION FROM UNFAIR TRADING REGULATIONS 2008

These Regulations prohibit commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If a trader misleads a consumer or engages in an aggressive commercial practice and the consumer makes a decision to purchase goods or services that they would not otherwise have done, the trader may be in breach of the Regulations. For example, the price shown in a brochure or on a website should not be misleading and distances from the beach must be accurate.

If you think you have been misled complain to the Citizens Advice consumer service; your complaint can be referred to trading standards.

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because the trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. See 'Misleading & aggressive practices: your right to redress' for more information.

Useful contacts

Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA)
30 Park Street, London, SE1 9EQ
Tel: 020 3117 0599
www.abta.com

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
CAA House, 45-59 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6TE
Tel: 0300 303 2800
www.caa.co.uk

Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO)
18 Bridle Lane, Twickenham, Middlesex, TW1 3EG
Tel: 020 8744 9280
www.aito.com

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: August 2018

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.