How consumer law protects us when we buy a holiday

Going on a holiday is something we all look forward to get away from our stressful lives and routines. But to really enjoy our vacations, they need to be problem free.

While unfortunately no one can guarantee that no problems will crop up during a holiday, the good news is that consumers are well-protected legally should something go wrong. To benefit from this legal protection it is, however, vital that we know our legal rights and how to enforce them.

When it comes to holidays, consumer protection is strongest when we either buy a pre-arranged travel package from a travel agency, which involves two or more travel services, such as flights and accommodation, or a linked travel arrangement. The latter involves the booking of one travel service from one website and then the consumer is invited through a targeted link to book a second service.

Upon purchasing these type of holidays consumers are fully protected in situations where the travel agency or tour operator fails to perform all the services as stipulated in the agreement. The law also protects us if we cannot proceed with the booked holiday due to unexpected or unavoidable circumstances.

In addition, the travel organizer from whom the holiday is purchased must provide insolvency protection in case it goes out of business before fully executing our holiday. This protection would cover the refunds we are due and any costs related to repatriation, if necessary. The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations give us the right to request a remedy from the organizer responsible for the performance of the travel services should something go wrong.

In the first instance, the organizer is obliged to remedy any lack of conformity through alternative arrangements. If, for instance, our holiday is significantly altered or cancelled, the organizer should offer us either a replacement package of equivalent or superior quality; or a lower grade package with a refund of the difference in price between the two packages; or a full refund.

If the price increases by eight per cent or more, consumers have the right to cancel the holiday and request a full refund– Odette Vella

When problems arise while we are still on holiday, the travel agency or its representative should be immediately notified. If the problem cannot be resolved within a reasonable time while we are still on holiday, the travel agency should offer us suitable alternative arrangements or proportionate compensation for the shortcomings suffered during the holiday. We may also seek compensation for any additional costs incurred as a direct result of the changed holiday.

We should also be aware that once a holiday is booked and confirmed, price revisions of the package holiday purchased are only allowed in cases of currency fluctuations, variations in the cost of fuel, or changes in government tax or duty. If the price in this case increases by eight per cent or more, consumers will have the right to opt to cancel the booked holiday and request a full refund of the money paid. It is also worth noting that no price changes are allowed within 20 days of the departure date.

Specific legal rights apply when consumers need to cancel a booked holiday. The rules stipulate that we can cancel at any time up to the start of our holiday against payment of a reasonable cancellation fee which must be stipulated in the sales contract.

We are, however, entitled to a free cancellation and a full refund in case we need to cancel our holiday because of extraordinary circumstances, such as war, terrorism, a pandemic or a natural disaster that will significantly affect the holiday or prevent us from reaching our destination safely. We may also choose to cancel the booked holiday if the organizer informs us that our holiday will be significantly changed.

To exercise these legal rights, all we need to do is write to the travel agency and request a remedy. If our claim concerns a problem encountered during our holiday, it is important that with our claim we also send any relevant evidence, such as photographs or videos. Any claims for extra costs incurred should be supported by the relevant receipts. We should also send a copy of the holiday contract agreement as proof of any discrepancies and shortcomings.

If our request for compensation is rejected by the holiday organizer, we can proceed with our claim through the Office for Consumer Affairs to start a conciliation process to try and reach an amicable agreement.

WWW.MCCAA.ORG.MT

ODETTE.VELLA@MCCAA.ORG.MT

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