Consuming Issues: Beware the DIY approach when booking that trip

The fallout from the collapse of the British tour operator Goldtrail last month is still being felt. Those who booked holidays with the company and were unable to travel will be part-way through the process of trying to get their costs refunded. But what protection do you have in the event of a tour firm or airline going bust, and how likely are you to get your money back?

Goldtrail, based in New Malden, Surrey, was the latest in a string of airlines, tour companies, car hire firms and hotel brokers to collapse in the past two years. Each one brought with it media reports of distressed and confused travellers who actually had no right of redress, other than to contact administrators and add their names to creditors' lists, or seek a refund via their credit-card provider.

With each collapse, cracks within the travel industry itself widen. There are always rows between the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), groups such as the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta), travel suppliers, agents and their customers about who is actually responsible for refunds.

The sale of travel arrangements has customers exposed to the vagaries of the law. What you buy and how you buy it dictates what protection you get, and the rules governing those sales are woefully out of date. It is easy to book believing you are covered, only to find later that you are left high and dry.

Before the arrival of the internet, most people went on holiday with a tour operator, having booked via a travel agent. Organising trips any other way was time-consuming and difficult. In the early 1990s, the rules were revised and the EU Directive on Package Travel was introduced. The governing body for British tour operators, the CAA, updated its rules and since then packages have been sold under its Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) scheme.

Holidaymakers now have more protection if their travel company collapses. If it happens when you are away, you can continue your holiday as normal, while those yet to travel can apply for a full refund. Clear and simple. Yet two major factors have changed the landscape. Low-cost airlines give us cheap flights to destinations all over the world. Online booking allows everyone to be their own travel agent, and also allows those with products to sell, such as hoteliers, to offer their wares directly to customers, cutting out the need for tour operators.

Even Atol-bonded tour operators have jumped on the bandwagon, with several selling flights or hotel stays outside of Atol, making it hard to know what is or is not covered. These changes have resulted in most leisure trips sold today being bought without Atol protection, which most people are unaware of. This is where many put themselves at risk of losing their money if their travel firm goes bust.

That no-frills flight to Malaga for £49? No protection. That hotel in Marbella for only £149 from a hotel broker? No protection. The bargain car hire bought online? No protection. However your neighbour, who buys a complete package with the same flight, hotel and car hire is covered under Atol. There is no level playing field and the industry is not making it easy for people to book safely.

Recent events such as volanic ash cloud expose customers to differing treatment as well. EU261, the rule on flight delays and cancellations, is woefully inadequate and leaves some customers out of pocket if airlines refuse to pay out. Yet the EU is pressing ahead with plans to extend a similar scheme to ferries.

For years, there have been calls for a review of all the rules and in 2009 the Department for Transport began consulting the travel industry. The European Commission also plans to review the EU directives, yet these processes are slow and we cannot expect rapid changes. Any scheme should encompass all forms of travel, whichever way we purchase it, and clear rules for when things go wrong.

How to protect yourself

* Book your travel with a tour operator registered with the CAA's Atol scheme

* Pay for your holiday with a credit card. If the transaction is more than £100, you are guaranteed protection under the Consumer Credit Act

* Buy travel insurance that includes "end supplier failure" or a standalone policy for company failure

Bob Atkinson is a travel expert with travelsupermarket.com

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

    £20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

    SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

    Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

    £25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

    £45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence