Many Irish consumers will travel for a sun holiday abroad this summer. The travel situation in terms of disruption at present is much different from one year ago, but summer 2022 comes with its own set of problems, including flight cancellations due to airport staff shortages, COVID-19 outbreaks and airline staff strikes; for Irish consumers this is particularly concerning as flying is the main way to travel out of Ireland.
COVID-19 is still here despite no longer being a widespread pandemic and documented travel issues at airports result in daily cancellations, particularly for short-haul flights in and from Europe from Dublin airport and main central hubs in Europe, like Frankfurt, Schiphol and UK airports, too. It is why it remains important for Irish consumers to make sure their holiday bookings and payments stay protected should something go wrong at any point during their trip.
Most importantly, they should be fully aware of what cancellations they are covered for, depending on the booking type and the terms and conditions of contracts with various travel service operators. Secondly, it is useful to check the travel and transport operators’ record of refunds and general customer service over the past two years. Many travel companies and online travel agents, as well as airlines and other transport providers, have a good record of operating cancellations with reasonable notice, when needed, and refunding passengers within a reasonable timeframe. Some don’t.
To avoid problems and learn how to deal with travel disruption, here is what Irish holidaymakers should consider before and after making a holiday or travel reservation. (See note.)
We advise consumers to make a shortlist of the EU travel companies that offer holidays to their chosen destination and check their operators’ record for customer service and redress options over 2021 to get an idea of how they may deal with issues in 2022 in terms of changes, refunds and general care for their customers.
For more convenience and greater protection, they should consider a package holiday. Travel package offers the optimum form of consumer protection at present thanks to European Union and national law consumer protections against company insolvency, travel cancellations, exceptional circumstances and potential travel restrictions. It also guarantees that price increases will not go over 8% for holidays already booked.
If not booking a holiday package, in order to avoid possible problems, consumers should look for flexible terms on their reservations. We advise consumers to research travel companies and suppliers that offer flexibility if they need or are forced to change travel plans at a later stage, or at the very last minute, like at the airport, for instance. The best ones will allow customers to cancel or change bookings right up to the date of departure/start date. While this flexibility is more common with luxury operators, there are some flexible policies offered by most tourism providers of accommodation services, for instance. Many airlines are also offering free changes for extended periods at present. Generally, it is worth noting that the cheaper the price is, the less flexible the terms will be.
Generally, consumer rights will depend on the type of holiday, which can be classified under these three categories: package holidays, linked travel arrangements (a sub-category of package travel) and independent holidays. Compensation for cancelled, delayed or missed travel will depend on the type of services reserved. The specific sets of consumer protection rules applicable to the the various types of holidays can be found on our website eccireland.ie, in the sections linked to below.
Package Holidays. Consumers who experience cancellation or postponement of a travel package will be offered one of the following: a replacement holiday of equal or superior quality; a lower quality holiday, plus a refund for the difference; a full refund. Holidaymakers can cancel the package themselves for a reasonable fee but are entitled to free cancellation and full refund in the following situations: natural disasters; substantial changes in price and nature of the trip; conditions on the ground. Cash refunds should be made within 30 days or less. Linked travel arrangements enjoy similar consumer protections.
Independent travellers are likely to have different contracts with different companies for different services. Independent holiday individual services purchased from separate operators are governed solely by the Terms & Conditions specified in each of the contracts, which also detail the applicable jurisdiction law. Irish consumers who booked independent holidays – and a selection of services – with companies and service providers based abroad within the EU/EEA, won’t be protected by Irish law nor by EU package travel legislation specifically; general EU consumer rights apply. In such cases, obtaining compensation when something goes wrong may be more difficult and take longer (especially for multiple services bookings made through third-party agents). If holiday travel services/elements are all booked separately, consumers should look into how it all works in case any one of those gets cancelled, specifically when it comes to the cancellation of flights or ferry services out of Ireland, as this would prevent you from reaching your destination abroad, and therefore from accessing the other services at the holiday destination, such as hotels, accommodation, transfers, tours, etc.
Separate consumer protections exist when it comes to passenger rights, for air travel as well as sea/waterways travel by ferry or passenger ship. If passengers are unable to leave Ireland, it might mean that they are also unable to take further transport to their final holiday destination. If this involves a bus or a train, other consumer rights apply for bus and rail travel in Europe.
If holidaymakers arrive too late or miss the first day of the reservation at a hotel or other accommodation, it may trigger automatic cancellations of the entire stay reservation in some strict cases and, in some other cases, the inability to claim your money back. This is the consumer protection for travellers facing a problem with travel services providers at destination: hotels, private accommodation, timeshares. As with travel bookings, the situation might differ when it comes to accommodation bookings through third-party engines / online travel agents / price comparison websites or through consumer-to-consumer platforms. In this scenario, multiple sets of Terms & Conditions apply, and cancellation/refund/rebooking conditions may differ though in the European Union the minimum standards of consumer rights apply.
Another big problem might be not arriving in time to collect a rental car at destination. Same as with some accommodation providers, car rental contracts might trigger a non-refundable cancellation, which results in not being able to get a refund or a replacement car when you finally arrive at your holiday destination. Delays also can cause problems, as some car hire offices are only open within certain times and provide no collection or drop-off services outside these set opening times. Moreover, car rental is different from the above types of travel in that it is not covered by specific sectoral consumer rights in either European or national law. If you book a car online, by phone or by e-mail in the EU, you don’t automatically have the right to cancel and claim a refund, although the car hire company’s terms and conditions may allow it. While there are no specific EU rules on hiring cars, consumers still benefit from basic consumer rights under general European legislation. Consumers should also pay extra attention to the Terms and Conditions of the third-party booking websites – and then separately to those of the car rental companies themselves -, if this is the method used to reserve a holiday car abroad. More about car rental consumer rights can be found on the European Consumer Centre Ireland website here.
For any problems with cross-border reservation of package travel or flights, accommodation, car rental and more, consumers resident in Ireland who have a complaint about a travel or flight operator based in another European Union country, Norway, Iceland or the United Kingdom, and they have tried to resolve the matter directly to no avail, are advised to contact ECC Ireland for assistance here. Advice on how to make an effective cross-border complaint is provided here.
If an Irish consumer has a consumer dispute with any of the operators of the travel services included in their holiday but has been unsuccessful in claiming a refund, s/he may have more financial protection if the booking was paid with a credit card. This means that, if the holiday is cancelled by the travel company or any of the service operators (airline, hotel, etc.), consumers can claim a refund from their card issuer for services not delivered (under certain conditions set in national law and bank policies). This is called a transaction reversal or chargeback. Consumers should note that banks are not legally obliged to operate the refund at your request, and all chargebacks require thorough investigations. Chargebacks can only be used as a last resort when it is confirmed that all the claims processes with the traders have been exhausted and no refunds are forthcoming. All the other out-of-court and in-court redress options available for cross-border transactions to Irish consumers are listed on the European Consumer Centre Ireland website here.
These days it is essential that you take out travel insurance as soon as you book your holiday. However, it is important to note that travel insurance that covers passengers for COVID-19-related illness and disruption is not standard, and there are no comprehensive covers for it in terms of medical or logistical expenses; some pricier policies do cover it.
When choosing the right policy, check what will be covered before, during and after your holiday, namely if cancellations (flights and accommodation, for example) are covered or if travel advice or disruption of any kind restricts outward travel. There should be separate clauses applicable specifically to contracting a disease before departure, hospital services at destination, or if you need to pay for quarantine or separate transport at destination or upon returning to Ireland. Some airlines, tour operators and hotels are now offering free or paid-for COVID-19 insurance cover as an optional addition to your booking/ticket, and many companies offer very strong all-inclusive travel insurance policies for anything like cancellations, lost luggage, missed hotel reservations, unrealised travel services on site, and many more. You should always make sure to have comprehensive travel and medical insurance if you want complete peace of mind.
Finally, it is always a good idea for all consumers to leave a customer review on the service and assistance you received from both good actors and bad actors in the travel industry. It will help other consumers make the right choices and, hopefully, improve unsatisfactory processes and rectify unfair practices by travel, hospitality and transport operators.