Fear, terror and personal circumstances have proven to be amongst the many reasons and motivations that have caused UK consumers to cancel their holidays in this past year. For many, they have been met with the inflexible 'normal booking conditions apply' response from travel companies.
Surprisingly, a number of consumers cry foul when faced with this 'contractual' response, when in fact the power to enforce contractual rights were detailed within the contract at the time of booking the holiday; yes, its all about the small print!
Equally surprising, is the sizeable minority who do not take out Travel Insurance at the time of booking that getaway and are faced with unexpected events which suitable insurance could have protected them against, including financial loss.
Whilst some holidaymakers lose their deposits, or worse, the entire cost of the holiday, the picture of consumer unpreparedness, only tells part of the story when cancelling a holiday contract.
This past year in travel has delivered: The Tunisian Beach Massacre, The Russian and Egyptair crashes, The Brussels Attacks, the numerous attacks in France & Germany - the constant terror attacks in Turkey and its recent coup, not to mention the Zika Virus in South and Central America.
If you have booked a Package Holiday, these incidents could lead to the potential claim that a 'significant change' has arisen in your holiday contract before you depart. Regulations 12 and 13 of the Package Travel Regulations provide substantial rights to refund and/or arrange alternative holidays; you will find these 'rights' also reflected within your terms and conditions.
It seems strange to suggest thinking about the process of cancelling a holiday at the time of booking, but holidays are one of the most expensive items a consumer may buy each year and they need to think about it in two ways:
1. What kind of holiday are you buying - is it a Package Holiday or are you buying in separate components?
2. Now think about how you can protect yourself against potential financial loss or indeed, what rights are available to you
So to help you get into the mind-set of how to prepare to cancel a holiday, here are my top 6 tips:
1. At the time of booking, always read the contract! With a Package it will usually be one contract, if you are buying components there will be several. Always keep copies of the contract(s) you saw at the time of booking
2. Always take out insurance at the time of booking, if you are buying a component holiday, make sure that you take out 'supplier failure' cover - this will help you if a company fails
3. If you are booking a Package Holiday, make sure that you know where the company is based and which country operates the Consumer Financial Protection (Art 7) scheme; ask yourself the question - will that scheme pay all my money back if my company fails and my holiday is cancelled? If not, then consider taking out that 'supplier failure' cover
4. Remember, cancellations are sometimes delivered to you! If you are travelling by rail, coach, sea or air, there are substantial EU Passenger Rights which will help you get the assistance you need, your money back and compensation
5. If like this past 12 months, fear and terror are a feature of your destination before you travel, then remember Regulations 12 and 13 of the Package Travel Regulations. Some Travel Companies treat this as a one-way street right, in other words, it is only they who can activate it! Research is the key; use other countries travel advisories, local online news reports, other holidaymaker's experiences and present that evidence to argue your Rights. I know this works because many holidaymakers have succeeded in winning their argument, but you have to work hard for it and be as determined as the companies themselves!
6. Finally, whether you sit inside or outside these tips and are having problems in cancelling and getting your money back, remember if you paid by credit card, you could use your Rights under the Section 75 Consumer Credit Act. You may also enjoy legal expense insurance within the card or some other insurance or professional membership; this could be a vital tool, particularly if you think the contract term is unfair - you will need skilled help to argue the point
Consumers don't book a holiday with the intention to cancel, but you do need to prepare, be aware of extra Rights and be determined not to take no for an answer!