Can we get redress after package holiday fell short?
Your questions answered
Q: We've just returned from a holiday in Spain. My husband and I booked a package holiday through a travel agent. We were very disappointed with the standard of the hotel accommodation. My husband and I both fell ill with food poisoning - as did many other guests.(Breakfast was included in the rate - and we also ate in the hotel on several occasions.) There were also cockroaches in our hotel room. Our concerns were dismissed by the hotel owner - and by the travel agent representative. We paid a lot of money for our holiday - are we entitled to any redress? Jessica, Co Kildare
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If your accommodation is part of a holiday package, you have much stronger rights if something goes wrong, and could be entitled to redress under EU package travel legislation.
Under this legislation, the brochure must indicate certain information clearly and accurately, including the type, location and description of the accommodation. The information contained in the brochure is binding on the travel organiser (such as the travel agent) and it must not be false or misleading.
The travel organiser is also responsible for the actual performance of the package (such as ensuring that the various travel services included in the package are provided as advertised).
If you discover that the accommodation is not as advertised or described, or that there are other issues (such as food hygiene and cockroach infestation), this should be reported immediately to the travel organiser or rep, as well as the hotel owner or manager - giving them the opportunity to rectify the situation.
The travel organiser or rep should be called on to resolve the matter directly with the hotel owner or manager.
If the matter is not resolved, it is important to gather evidence (such as photos) and to put your complaint in writing, including as much information as possible, in order to back up your claim should you pursue the matter.
Given that the travel agent rep failed to resolve the matter appropriately, it would be advisable to check the package holiday contract for details of the complaint procedure and to put your complaint in writing within 28 days of your return home. If the travel organiser does not respond (or if the response is unsatisfactory), you may pursue the matter through the Small Claims Court or, alternatively, through out-of-court dispute resolution (such as arbitration).
However, you may not be entitled to compensation if the failures in the performance of the contract were caused by you, a third party (unconnected with the holiday arrangements and which were unavoidable), or unusual and unforeseeable circumstances beyond the control of the organiser.
Q I Booked a ferry trip through a British-based travel agent. The booking was confirmed but then one of my travelling companions noticed that the same trip was advertised by the ferry service at almost €300 less than what we were charged by the travel agent. Must I pay this more expensive price, or can I request the difference between the two prices back? Ciaran, Co Cork
Unfortunately, it's not so clear-cut and may depend on how you make your complaint, as well as the evidence you provide to back up your claim.
In relation to your rights, traders are generally free to set the terms and conditions of the contract (including price), and so this may vary from trader to trader. However, the contract must still comply with consumer protection legislation. In addition, passenger transport services offered to the public by traders based in the EU, whether by carriers, travel agents or ticket vendors, must not discriminate on grounds of nationality or the place of establishment.
Before contacting the trader, examine the description of the service contracted, the terms and conditions, the way the price was presented (that is, the basic price and any extras), and the representations made by this trader (such as, for example, any claim to guarantee the best price). You may then consider contacting the travel agent in writing to clarify if there was an error with the tariff provided by the ferry service, the basic price or otherwise.
Take screenshots of the booking process, showing that while the details of the two bookings are the same, the prices are very different. All of this may help explain why this significant price variation occurred and what redress you may be able to request, if applicable.
Holiday rental scam
Q We had to cut our family holiday in Portugal short over the summer after discovering that I had fallen for a rental accommodation scam. I had booked a villa for my family and I - but when we turned up at the address, we discovered it didn't exist. Unfortunately, we had booked the villa directly with the 'owner' rather than through a holiday booking website. We paid more than €1,000 as the 'owner' insisted on payment upfront. Do we have any chance of getting our money back? Aisling, Co Galway
ECC Ireland receives many complaints from consumers who may have initially researched the rental property via a third-party accommodation booking website, which usually provide a secure payment system. However, they are then lured off the site and encouraged to deal directly with the owner. This often leads to the consumer being told that payment needs to be made by bank transfer. When the consumer arrives, they either find that the property doesn't exist, like in your case, or, it does exist - but the consumer had not been dealing with the real owner at all but an imposter.
ECC Ireland would always advise consumers that if using a legitimate holiday accommodation website which uses its own secure payment system, the consumer should stay on that platform and not go off it to pay the owner directly by bank transfer.
These platforms usually allow you to contact the owner to ask questions about the property, and this is recommended.
But, when it comes to payment, consumers should only pay using a secure method such as a credit or debit card - as it may then be possible to contact your bank or card provider to avail of charge-back if you've been scammed.
If you've already been the victim of a scam and paid by bank transfer, then unfortunately your options for getting this money back are very limited. Bank transfer is not a secure method of payment and can be difficult to trace.
You should certainly contact your bank as soon as you can to see if it can provide assistance, and ask about security measures you may need to take if you've provided any personal data (such as bank details) to the scammer.
You should also report the matter to the Garda Economic Crime Bureau as it would be deemed a criminal matter.
- Martina Nee is communications manager with ECC Ireland
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