Consuming Issues: Beware the DIY approach when booking that trip
Saturday 07 August 2010
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 What you buy and how you buy it dictates what protection you get, and the rules governing those sales are woefully out of date.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
10 tips for taking out a personal loan
Simon Read: Frozen in time - the expat British pensioners who deserve a better deal
Simon Read: If this is BT's idea of 'simple', beware if it gets complicated
Donald MacInnes: My wasted hours in the retail deserts of Dixons-Carphone
Pension firms must ask consumers more questions, says City Watchdog
- 1 King Salman: Just five days in, Saudi Arabia's new king has already overseen a beheading
- 2 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Presidential optical illusion offers clues to how brain processes faces
- 5 Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
iJobs Money & Business
£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...
£16500 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Finance compa...
£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...
Day In a Page
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village