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Smart Consumer: Why 'dynamic holidays' just aren't quite the full package

When is a package holiday not a package holiday? No, it's not a trick question. The answer is, when it's a 'dynamic package'.

A package holiday is defined by law as a holiday that has been pre-arranged and sold to you at an inclusive price, either by a travel agent or tour operator. It should cover at least 24 hours (or include an overnight stay) and has to be made up of at least two of the following components: transport; accommodation; or other tourist services such as guided tours.

Once you have booked a package holiday you have specific consumer protection: The price cannot change except in certain defined instances; If you get something different to what you've paid for you can claim compensation, and if the operator changes the accommodation, for example, you can pull out or change to another accommodation at no extra cost.

And when a flight is cancelled you'll be thankful that the whole holiday can be rearranged and you won't lose the cost of your hotel.

On the other hand, if you book the flight and accommodation separately yourself, you have two separate contracts. Let's say another volcano erupts and your flight is cancelled; well, then you could lose the money spent on accommodation.

At least if you book the various parts of your holiday independently, it's pretty clear that that's the case. It's not always so clear when you book a 'dynamic package,' though.

There are many agents online that sell dynamic holidays. Basically, they are an agent bringing various flight and accommodation choices to you in one web site.

Their offer is something along the lines of 'why go on a holiday that we have chosen for you when you can choose your own?'

Basically, they allow you to choose the various parts of your own holiday rather that having to go along with a package that has put together by them.

This might look and seem like a regulated package holiday, but it is not.

Hotel accommodation, flights and transfers are purchased at individual prices often from different service providers.

This means it does not fall under the rules of the package holiday legislation.

Although the agent is arranging and supplying the services, your contract for the performance of the service will be with the provider of the service; in other words, with the airline or hotel directly.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with booking your holiday this way, and the sellers aren't doing anything wrong either, but just be aware that you are not getting the same protection as you would when booking a package:

•You won't be able to submit a complaint to the agent but will have to contact each service provider directly to complain.

•You are not protected by the rules of package holiday legislation.

•The price you pay to the agent might not be the final price if extras are charged by a low-cost airline, for example.

•Suppliers of regulated package holidays ensure services are supplied to a reasonable standard, but there is no requirement for providers of dynamic packages to do this.

•If the flight is cancelled by industrial action or adverse weather, you could lose the money you paid for your accommodation.

Irish Independent