Holiday disasters: how to complain

Whether it's a summer holiday close to home or an all- inclusive break further afield, no one wants to think that their trip will be anything less than perfect.

 But, if things go wrong, it makes financial sense to know your consumer rights and how to successfully seek compensation.

Here is everything you need to know before you set off.


Package deals

A quarter of British travellers have found their holiday accommodation to be different to what they expected, according to consumer group Which?. But few travellers know that the amount of compensation available depends on how the holiday was booked - whether you bought it as a package or whether you purchased your accommodation and flights separately.

If you booked a package deal - transport and accommodation from a single provider - the good news is that should things go wrong, it's much easier to sort them out. There is usually a holiday rep from the travel company on site at the hotel to help with any problems and you are protected by the Package Travel Regulations.

Under these, you're entitled to compensation from tour operators if the accommodation isn't up to the standard that you reasonably could have expected, based on the information provided online or in brochures.

Additional rights are also available if you book your holiday through an Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) approved travel agent.

As its code of conduct is designed to protect holidaymakers and hopefully make sure each trip is an enjoyable one, all holidays booked and paid for must be as described in the brochure. A sea view shouldn't be obstructed, for instance, while hotels in a quiet residential area shouldn't be on a main road.

Should you run into any such issues during your stay, you should inform the holiday rep immediately, who will try to find you a suitable alternative if they can. This should be of a similar standard to the hotel you booked – remember, they don't have to upgrade you to a hotel that's so much better that it's not a genuine substitute.

But if the worst comes to the worst and they can't find you an acceptable alternative and you don't want to stay in the hotel you booked, your travel company should bring you home.

If you've booked your package from a small independent, or specialist, travel company, you may also be protected by rules laid down by the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), which demands its 120 members provide "clear and accurate descriptions of holidays".

If they fail to comply, its arbitration scheme can force them to pay up to £2,500 per person travelling by way of compensation. The scheme only comes into play when customers and holiday companies cannot reach an agreement themselves, and customers are charged £140 for the service.

DIY trips

Many of us opt to book our travel and accommodation separately from different companies in a bid to save cash. But low-price flight and bargain beachside villas can come at a price by way of fewer consumer rights and less financial protection should things
go wrong.

All self-built trips, where you book each part separately with different providers, are not covered by the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) scheme that protects against suppliers going bust. So you will need to make sure you have sufficient travel insurance to cover you should things go wrong.

However, if you pay by credit card – even just a portion of the cost – you will be covered for bookings worth between £100 and £30,000 under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. So should you run into difficulty while on holiday, or before you're due to travel, simply call your credit card provider and it should assist you.

What's more, if you pay by Visa or MasterCard, you could also be eligible for protection via their chargeback scheme. Here, you can get your cash back from the retailer's (which can be an airline or a hotel) bank if something goes wrong (although MasterCard does require a minimum £100 spend).

This means the card provider and the retailer are both equally responsible if a company goes bust or the contract made during the original transaction is breached.


For holidaymakers staying a bit closer to home in the UK, there is protection in place should you experience any problems with your break but you'll have to sue the company – and either go to the Small Claims Court or pay a lawyer – to get it.

Any UK-based self-catering accommodation – a holiday cottage, hotel or caravan, for instance – is covered by the Supply of Goods and Services Act. This means the supplier must carry out the service of providing accommodation with reasonable care and skill.

The definition of 'reasonable' will differ according to the star rating of the accommodation but even the cheapest rooms must meet basic levels of cleanliness. If you don't fancy the legal route, don't forget you can take out travel insurance for staycations, too. While you won't need medical insurance, UK travel insurance will give you peace of mind if you have to cancel or curtail your holiday due to ill health or bereavement.


Delays and cancellation

When it comes to jetting off, the last thing you want is to be delayed at the airport before you have even left the UK.

If you're flying from an EU airport (on any airline) or from a non-EU country into an EU airport on an EU- based airline, then you are protected by the Denied Boarding Regulation. This means the airline must offer you compensation or assistance if your delay goes beyond a certain point.

You may be entitled to compensation if your delay was more than two hours and you were travelling more than 932 miles (which is further than a flight from London to Rome, which is 910 miles). However, this is dependent on the reason for the delay.

If the airline can prove the delay was caused by 'extraordinary circumstances', such as security risk, strikes, political instability or severe weather that makes flying dangerous, then no compensation is payable.

However, even if you are not entitled to financial compensation for flight delays in these circumstances, you are entitled to meals, refreshments, accommodation and hotel transfers depending on the length of your flight and delay.

Bear in mind that if you're travelling with a non-EU based airline, flying from a non-EU destination, the airline doesn't have the same responsibility.

"In the event of any delay or cancellation, talk to your airline for guidance on why you have been delayed and how to claim your welfare package. Don't spend anything yourself that you expect to get back without clarifying it with your airline," says Bob Atkinson, travel expert at

Avoid any unnecessary discomfort or confusion and check your travel rights while at the airport by downloading the free Your Passenger Rights app to your smartphone. Created by the European Commission, it provides clear and concise information on travel rights within the European Union.

If the airline goes bust…

Fear not, as your flights are likely to be covered by Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) protection. It's provided by the Civil Aviation Authority (, meaning it's backed by the government. It ensures you do not lose money or become stranded abroad if your travel company collapses.

So should your airline go bust, for example, the scheme will either replace or refund your flights. If the company collapses while you are on holiday, the scheme will make sure you can finish your holiday and get home as planned.

If you are affected during your holiday, you can call Atol on +44 (0) 20 7453 6350. And if the company collapses before you leave the UK, the scheme will provide a full refund for the holiday.

Atol protection applies to almost all overseas air holidays booked with a single UK travel company that includes: flights and accommodation (including a cruise); or flights and car hire; or flights, accommodation and car hire. It can also apply to some flights booked separately, as well as other non-flight components of your trip should, say, the care-hire firm go out of business. For more information, see the FAQ section at

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