A new Which? investigation reveals that some of the UK’s biggest travel agents are putting travellers at risk of missing out on crucial holiday protections.
Posing as customers, Which? Travel called seven of the UK’s biggest travel agents to test their knowledge of the cover that holidaymakers can expect with different types of holiday bookings.
We found that many couldn’t correctly answer half the questions we posed on what holiday cover was included. Ryanair and eDreams gave us more wrong answers than right, while British Airways Holidays, LastMinute.com and Travel Republic all only got eight out of 15 questions correct.
The full investigation appears in the May 2019 issue of Which? Travel. With no advertising, we produce independent and unbiased reporting on the travel issues that matter, from dodgy holiday deals to insurers that don’t pay out. Find out more about Which? Travel.
Which travel agents failed our questions?
We spoke to agents from Trailfinders, Expedia, LastMinute.com, British Airways Holidays, Travel Republic, eDreams and Ryanair.
Spanish-based online travel agent eDreams could only correctly answer a third of our questions. It told us our holiday would be Atol protected despite its Atol licence having expired three months before we called. It now offers financial protection from a similar Spanish scheme.
Ryanair was just as bad, getting two thirds of our questions wrong. One staff member was even unable to tell us what a package was – claiming that because our ‘hotel was provided by a third party it doesn’t count as a package’. The ‘third party’ our hotel was booked via was Ryanair Rooms, and the flight and hotel were part of the same transaction.
When we put our results to eDreams it told us it would review its training materials and internal processes.
Ryanair did not respond to our requests for comment.
Here’s how the other agents we spoke to fared with our questions:
Read the full results of our Best and worst travel agents survey.
What you need to know about holiday protections?
A package holiday is when two or more parts of the holiday (such as flights and hotel) are booked at the same time through the same travel agent. It is the most comprehensive protection available, covering scenarios like your hotel not being as described or disruption caused by a natural disaster. The regulations mean that your travel agent is legally bound to put right a problem while you’re abroad, or compensate you once you’re home.
Atol is a scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Travel agents in the scheme must pay £2.50 for each person they book on a holiday. This money creates a fund that is used by the CAA to ensure that holidaymakers will get their money back if the airline, the hotel or the agent itself goes bust and repatriation in the event they are all already on holiday.
The important distinction is that Atol is a financial protection scheme whereas the Package Travel Regulations provide a level of legal protection. Nor are all travel agents selling packages signed up to the UK’s Atol scheme.
In July 2018, Linked Travel Arrangements (LTA) were introduced as part of the revamped Package Travel Regulations to protect the increasing number of travellers who book parts of their holiday separately. An LTA is when you buy one part of your holiday, such as the flight, and are then prompted within 24 hours, perhaps via email, to book another part, such as a hotel; or you book from one travel agent, but pay for the hotel and flight separately.
Yet of all the travel agents we spoke to, only Expedia agents were able to correctly define an LTA. Even then, Expedia failed to mention the limitations of an LTA: it only provides financial protection if your travel company goes bust. There’s no cover if something goes wrong or your holiday is not as it was described in the brochure.
Head over to the Which? Consumer Rights website to find out more about package travel protections, LTAs and Atol and why it’s important for your holiday.
The new Package Travel Regulations may be complicated, but the fact Trailfinders managed to get most of the answers right is proof that the advice given can be correct, and that other companies need to to carry our urgent training. We’ve presented our findings to the government department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy which is reviewing the regulations.
Which? has also shared our results with the Civil Aviation Authority and are urging it to take action against travel companies that are regularly misleading people about how well their holiday is protected, including those claiming to have an Atol licence when they don’t.
Read more on how to check whether your holiday is Atol-protected.