Since July 2018 new EU rules on package travel have come into force to provide a stronger legal protection for consumers when opting to purchase a package holiday.
These rules not only apply to traditional package holidays but also to travel packages combined at the consumer’s request. In fact, the new definition of a package holiday includes the purchase of at least two types of travel services for the purpose of the same trip or holiday.
These travel services normally include transport by air or sea, accommodation in a hotel, car rental or excursions.
When two or more of these services are purchased from a travel agency, or through linked travel arrangements concluded within 24 hours of the first booking, the purchase is legally covered by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations.
Before the purchase of a holiday is concluded, the organiser is obliged to provide consumers with specific information about the holiday. This should include information on the destination and mode of transport used; itinerary; details about accommodation and meals included; visits, excursions or other services included in the holiday; where applicable the approximate size of the group; the contact details of the organiser; total price of the package and method of payment; cancellation arrangements where a minimum take-up is required for a package holiday to take place; and the time by when the organiser has to inform consumers that the package holiday will not take place.
Before buying a package holiday, consumers must ensure that the package organiser has insolvency protection
At booking stage consumers must also be informed about their right to cancel the purchase of the package holiday at any time before the start of the package and pay an appropriate termination fee. However, the regulations stipulate that the holiday may be cancelled without paying any termination fee when in the destination booked there are extraordinary circumstances that can affect the performance of the holiday or the carriage of passengers to the destination.
The regulations do not allow for the agreed price of the package to be increased unless these additional charges are directly related to transport costs, taxes or the exchange rate. However, even in these situations the increase in price should not exceed eight per cent of the total price of the package. If it does then consumers can opt to cancel the booking and request full refund of the money paid.
In situations where the package organiser changes an essential part of the holiday and consumers are informed about this after concluding the contract of sale, if the proposed change is unacceptable, then consumers may either terminate the contract without paying a termination fee or choose an alternative package of equivalent, higher or lower quality.
Should the change in the holiday’s programme occur after the holiday commences, the package organiser is obliged to make alternative arrangements of equivalent value or give consumers a proportionate compensation. Financial compensation does not apply when the change in the package holiday is necessary due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances beyond the organiser’s control.
Complaints related to the performance of package holidays must be reported immediately to the package organiser. The organiser must have the opportunity to fix the problem during the holiday. If a problem remains unresolved, when consumers return from their holiday they need to notify the agency in writing about the problems encountered, and if no agreement is reached, lodge a formal complaint with the Office for Consumer Affairs within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations provide additional protection in case of bankruptcy to travellers who purchase linked travel arrangements. Before paying a deposit on a package holiday, consumers must ensure that the package organiser has insolvency protection, as this entitles consumers to claim a refund of the money paid should the organiser go out of business.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
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