Protect yourself when booking a holiday online

The disruptive strike by British Airways cabin crew members, coupled with the raft of airlines and travel companies that have collapsed over the last couple of years, has proved how important it is for holidaymakers to protect themselves should something go wrong with their travel plans.

And while travelling independently and booking online can save you money on the cost of your holiday, it may leave you more vulnerable should one of the firms involved go bust or fail to deliver the services you were promised.

So read on to find out how to stop a dream trip becoming a holiday from hell.

Package holidays used to be pretty much the only way to travel overseas. But the internet has cleared the way for millions of Britons to independently tailor their travel plans to their own individual needs, often paying less into the bargain.

The websites of no-frills airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair have opened up the skies to even those with very small budgets, while travel specialists such as Expedia have proved hugely popular with savvy holidaymakers looking to get more from their money.

The trusty old package holiday - which generally means a holiday with two or more pre-arranged aspects, such as flight and hotel - does have one advantage over independent travel, though.

Under the terms of the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992, tour operators offering trips of this kind have a responsibility to look after any payments you have made before you've taken the holiday, as well as looking after you while you're on holiday.

So you should never need to put your hand into your own pocket should something go wrong either before you go or while you are away.

However, you only get this protection if the company you book through is a member of a national scheme such as the Air Travel Organiser's License (ATOL) or the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), so it is worth checking this before booking a trip.

When it comes to websites offering separate deals on flights and hotels, the situation is less clear.

One potential area of confusion includes exactly what constitutes a package holiday.

Just because you book a flight and a hotel through the same travel website, there is no guarantee that the trip will be afforded the same level of protection as a package holiday booked through an ABTA member, for example.

Meanwhile, although flights booked through tour operators will often be ATOL protected, those bought directly from an airline are not covered in the same way.

It is therefore important to check a website's terms and conditions before handing over any money.

As long as you are booking through a UK-based website, you will however still be entitled to your basic consumer rights, which include full disclosure of all the costs involved, a description of your rights in relation to cancelling a product or service, a seven working day 'cooling off' period during which time you are entitled to a full refund should you change your mind, and a written confirmation of any payment including details of what you have booked.

Many independent outlets are also members of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), which offers a similar level of protection to ABTA.

Other ways to protect yourself include paying by credit card if your flight or holiday is from a UK-based firm and costs between £100 and £30,000, as your card provider is then jointly and severally liable for any losses you incur due to the airline or travel company going out of business or letting you down in some other way.

Remember, though, that just because a company has UK within the website name, this does not necessarily mean that the company operates within the UK and under UK jurisdiction.

Finally, buy a travel insurance policy that covers insolvency or includes supply failure cover - and do it as soon as you have made your booking to ensure you do not leave yourself vulnerable in the meantime.
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