Holiday consumer rights

Caroline Cassidy

Holidays should be a time to relax but things can go wrong? What if the company goes bust or you don't get what you paid for? You should choose your holiday carefully and know your rights before you travel. We've all heard of nightmare holiday experiences but you can avoid a holiday from hell by following some simple advice.

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When you choose your holiday make sure your travel agents and tour operators belong to a recognised trade association that have a code of practice. Look for ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) or AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) on your paperwork.

Tour operators who sell package holidays are required to be bonded, that means if the company goes bust before you travel, you will get your money back. If you're abroad on one of their holidays, you'll be able to finish the trip and return home without additional costs.

Tour operators who sell package holidays that include flights must have an ATOL, or Air Travel Organisers' Licence. Remember, your invoice from your tour operator is your proof of ATOL protection, so take it with you in case you need to prove that you are covered.

Tour operators are responsible for making sure the whole holiday is supplied as agreed. This applies even if another company supplies part of your holiday. If the other company (airline or hotel) has a problem you should be able to make a claim.

Should something go wrong speak with the tour rep immediately. If they can't help or correct the situation ask for a complaint form. If you don't do this any claim for compensation may be affected. Contact ABTA or AITO if you don't get satisfaction. They both use independent services to settle complaints.

You may be offered travel insurance and it is up to you to decide if you want the deal they have offered you. You may want to get a quote from another company. You travel agents and tour operators should not charge you a different price if you don't buy holiday insurance from them.

Many holidaymakers put together their own arrangements by finding the best deals for flights and accommodation. This way you can create a holiday exactly suited to your needs. However, constructing your holiday in this way means you won't have all the protection offered by package trips. If your airline or hotel goes bust you will have to make your own alternative arrangements, possibly incurring additional expense and travel. You are unlikely to receive any compensation either.

Independent travellers should check their insurance cover to see if they will be protected should part of their trip go wrong. Certain policies cover airline failure by including Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance (SAFI). Check your cover carefully however as many policies don't include SAFI and some insurance providers exclude certain airlines.

Using you credit card when paying for your holiday has real advantages. If you feel you didn't get what you paid for you may be able to claim against the credit company as well as the tour operator if the contract has been made in England, Wales or Scotland.

Before you sign on the dotted line take the time to read everything very carefully, including all the terms and conditions. Ask questions and if your tour operator seems to be changing the terms of your trip complain, you may be entitled to a refund.

If you have problems with your trip use your camera or video to record the problems and keep any receipts of extra expenses incurred. Contact the tour operator on your return and explain what's happened. Ask for compensation and be persistent if they offer you much less than you expect.