London - Every year, tens of thousands of families find their dream holidays turn into nightmares. But travel firms are taking an increasingly hard line — making customers battle for every penny and sometimes even refusing compensation in genuine cases.
There are some things you can do to protect yourself before you travel but what if you’ve just returned from a holiday disaster? Here, we take a look at your rights and what you should do…
WHEN YOU’RE LEFT WITH A ROOM WITH NO VIEW
There are few things worse on holiday than arriving to discover your accommodation is nothing like the photos in the brochure. It happened to retired teacher Norma Cousin, who booked a sea-view room on a Baltic cruise, thinking she’d be able to see stunning city skylines from her cabin.
Miss Cousin, 65, had been among 1,700 passengers stranded on another cruise ship, MSC Opera, which broke down in the Baltic, leaving passengers with no power, blocked toilets and food rationing for ten days.
Miss Cousin, from Plymouth, used the vouchers offered to her after this trip to book another cruise, this time with her friend, retired nurse Audrey Quade, 65. As a treat, they forked out £320 (about R4 000) to reserve an ocean-view cabin.
But their room was in darkness because of a lifeboat dangling in front of the window. When they complained to cruise provider MSC, they were told they would have to put up with it and could not get a refund.
Miss Cousin says: “I was so disappointed. The view was not just restricted, it was completely obstructed. It’s unfair to class this type of cabin as an ocean-view room and make people pay extra for it.” MSC says it was clear from the deck plan that Miss Cousin’s cabin had a restricted view and there was a lifeboat outside.
Barbara Gornall, a police community support officer from Preston, paid more than £900 for a week’s trip to a four-star hotel in Marsa Alam, Egypt, and organised the accommodation through website You Hotels. But instead of luxury and the sea view shown on the hotel website, Mrs Gornall, 59, says she was faced with stained bedding and a neighbouring building site.
She says: “The area around the hotel looked like a disaster zone, and the bedding was filthy. I also feared for my safety as the fire alarms were coming off the wall and were stuck on with sticky tape.”
A You Hotels spokesman says: “We are sorry to hear the holiday did not live up to Mrs Gornall’s expectations. Customer safety and satisfaction is a priority and the points raised were addressed with the hotelier and their feedback was sent back to Ms Gornall’s travel agent.
‘We would urge her to return to the agent she booked with, and with whom she has a contract with, to pick up this matter.”
The agent, Going On Holiday, says it has done everything possible to investigate Mrs Gornall’s claims.
DON’T PUT UP WITH BROKEN PROMISES
It’s unlikely that travel insurance will cover you if your accommodation is not up to scratch. You will need to turn instead to the 1992 Package Travel Regulations, which were designed to protect people whose trip was not up to scratch or whose travel firm went bust.
These regulations are known as an Atol (Association of Travel Operators Licence) guarantee. Under the rules, you can take the holiday company to court if your packaged holiday is not good enough.
A packaged holiday includes several components, including flights, and is usually booked through a travel agent. Trips booked on websites such as Expedia, where you buy two or more components — such as car hire and flights — are also counted as a packaged trip.
IF A FAMILY CRISIS STOPPED YOUR TRIP
There is usually a very good reason why people cancel holidays, and it’s often because of unforeseen and sad personal circumstances. Nikki Getty, a teacher from Fareham, Hants, booked a £2,000 break to a top hotel in Boston in the US for her husband’s 40th birthday, through website ebookers. But five weeks later they suddenly separated, leaving Mrs Getty, 39, with a trip she no longer wanted.
She tried to cancel through ebookers but was told she could only get back £250. So she invited a friend rather than swallow a £1,711 loss.
But ebookers said the booking couldn’t be changed, and she’d have to pay £1,300 for a new flight. It would give her just £110 back for cancelling her husband’s ticket. She says: “It’s ridiculous I’m being charged more than £1,000 to change a name.” Ebookers says the terms and conditions on Mrs Getty’s booking state a cancellation would be non-refundable.
Many travel websites buy cheap tickets through airlines with strict conditions attached. As a result, they say changing a name or time of a long-haul ticket is almost always out of the question.
Bob Atkinson of website Travelsupermarket says: “Many people think when they are booking a flight they are booking a seat. In fact, they are simply reserving a place on the plane in someone’s name. Most long-haul airlines take the view that if you want to take someone different along, you have to buy a new ticket. However, if you have booked accommodation along with the flight, you may be able to press for a refund.”
Sandra Knight’s husband Nelson paid £70 a cruise on the historic steamship Balmoral from Ilfracombe, Devon later this year. But when he died earlier this month, ship owner Waverley Cruises refused to refund her. Instead it offered her a credit note for another cruise.
She says: “I feel it was a bit insensitive. My husband and I went to Ilfracombe every year, and it is so full of memories. I can’t imagine going back there, let alone on the boat trip we’d planned together.” After Money Mail intervened, Waverley Cruises agreed to refund her.
Teachers Kevin and Alison Lowes, from Sheffield, spent a month battling Ryanair for a £400 refund after Alison’s father died 18 days before they were due to fly to Portugal.
The airline’s terms and conditions state it will only give refunds in the event of a close family member dying if the death is within a fortnight before departure. You must also send a death certificate. Mr Lowes, 45, says: “I was shocked by the lack of compassion, and can’t believe the timing of our bereavement did not meet Ryanair’s terms and conditions.” Ryanair eventually refunded them.
If you have to cancel your holiday because a close relative dies or is taken seriously ill, some airlines will give you a refund if you provide a death certificate or a doctor’s note. Sometimes it depends how close the relative is. Nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts may not be covered.
Refunds may be in the form of a voucher for a future flight, and some airlines may ask you to claim on your insurance if you bought it via the airline.
If your airline cancels your flight, leaving you unable to use the accommodation or other transport you’d booked, your insurance policy may cover you. And don’t simply accept vouchers or money off a future holiday as compensation. If a company has accepted liability, it is unreasonable of them to assume you would want to book with them again.
HOW TO PLAN FOR THE WORST
It’s vital to buy travel insurance with a good cancellation policy. Take this out the moment you book. Some policies cover only flights and accommodation, others cover day trips, for example.
If you are going on a cruise, make sure your insurance policy covers it, as you may have to pay extra. You should also check the amount of money you can get back, and if it matches the cost of the cruise.
If you are flying and your flight is cancelled, usually you must provide your insurer with a letter from the airline explaining what happened. Some airlines charge for this, too.
If an airline cancels your flight you should be offered a refund within seven days of the flight’s cost. - Daily Mail