When you’ve spent hundreds or even thousands of pounds to escape to somewhere sunny for the summer holidays, you may have to stifle a scream when you find out that your travel operator has gone bust days before you were set to fly.
This scenario will sound all too familiar to many families, after news emerged last Friday that two package holiday companies, Super Break and Late Room, ceased trading.
It’s thought that more than 50,000 travellers are affected by the collapse of the firms’ parent company, Malvern Group.
Malvern is just the latest addition to the list of holiday companies which have run into trouble lately – take, for example, London-based The Holiday Place, which went into administration in May, taking its 16 travel brands down with it.
Even the UK’s largest travel operator Thomas Cook isn’t immune, having reported a £1.5bn half-year loss in May, which it blamed on consumers putting off their holiday plans due to Brexit.
And just to add fuel to the fire, it’s not been an easy ride for the airlines either, with five European companies going bust since October last year, not to mention major flight disruptions caused by drones at Gatwick airport or the now-suspended strikes at Heathrow.
Many holidaymakers are probably holding their breath, wondering if they’re going to have to ditch their overseas holiday plans and head to the slightly less exotic region of Bognor Regis instead.
It’s certainly worth knowing your rights, and seeing if there are steps you can take to protect yourself financially if disaster strikes before or during your holiday.
The whole package
If you’ve been sold a package holiday by a member of either the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) or a provider that is protected by the Civil Aviation Authority’s Atol scheme, the good news is that you won’t lose money, as both schemes will refund you if the company collapses before you’ve set off.
And if you’re already on holiday, fortunately both Atol and ABTA schemes will make sure that you can continue the rest of your trip as planned, and won’t leave you stranded abroad.
Where the airline is not at fault, such as for weather-related reasons or due to a drone incident, it won’t be obliged to pay passengers extra in the way of flight delay compensation
It’s not such great news for those who booked a hotel-only deal rather than a package holiday, because these consumers aren’t afforded the same protections.
For example, Malvern warned that hotel bookings through the Late Rooms website may be cancelled, while customers who are already on a break might be asked to pay again.
In instances like these, you’re advised to contact your credit card provider, which should be able to offer you some protection if your holiday company goes out of business.
Indeed, for payments between £100 and £30,000, the Consumer Credit Act allows you to get some of your money back. But be warned that credit card issuers will not help you get home if you are abroad when the company goes under.
Although there is no legal requirement for debit cards to cover you, ABTA points out that travellers may be able to claim some money from their banks under Visa’s voluntary policy, so you’re advised to check with your card provider.
In the event of a corporate failure of an airline, you should first find out if you can get money back through your travel insurer.
While some insurance policies cover you for airline failure, beware that many don’t, so make sure you read the terms and conditions. And if your insurer doesn’t cover this, again you should be able to get some kind of recourse through your credit card provider.
While not as severe a situation as a company closure, flight delays and cancellations can also be hugely stressful for travellers.
Bear in mind that if your flight departed from an airport in the European Union, the airline must adhere to EU law. This means that if your flight has been delayed or cancelled, the airline must either offer a full refund (including for the return journey), or a replacement flight.
For longer delays of at least two hours, the airline is obliged to provide food and drink vouchers, and for overnight delays, it should provide hotel accommodation.
However, where the airline is not at fault, such as for weather-related reasons or due to a drone incident, it won’t be obliged to pay passengers extra in the way of flight delay compensation.
The Civil Aviation Authority explains that while an airline might put you onto the next flight hours after the one you booked, it won’t offer you extra redress for the delay incurred from the replacement flight.
Take, for example, the threat of strikes at Heathrow earlier this week, which prompted a number of airlines to cancel flights as a precaution. Given that it was the airport staff who were threatening to strike, the airlines are not obliged to pay delay compensation to passengers because it counts as an “extraordinary circumstance”.
And while the Civil Aviation Authority told City A.M. that consumers can still apply for redress, the regulator warned that airlines may turn claims down.
Flying without wings
With all this in mind, what steps can you take to safeguard yourself financially before travelling?
First, make sure you pay for your holiday on a credit card to guarantee that you get some of your money back if you don’t receive the product or service you bought.
Second, if you’re purchasing a package holiday, ensure that the travel operators are either Atol or ABTA protected. “This will ensure that you are compensated if your holiday is cancelled, and that you receive financial assistance for travel and accommodation,” says Wouter van Rijn, head of travel at Comparethemarket.
And finally, while most travel insurance policies typically only cover belongings, cancellations, and medical assistance, consider scoping out an insurer that offers more comprehensive cover so you can claim if a company fails, particularly if you’re booking flights and accommodation separately.
You can also buy stand-alone specialist cover called “scheduled airline failure insurance” in addition to your standard travel insurance policy to save yourself some pre-holiday stress.
According to Rijn, holidaymakers can prepare for every eventuality by forward-planning.
And ultimately, by not burying your head in the proverbial sand now, you can make sure you can lounge on the real sand later on.