The human touch – protect your money and book with a reputable operator
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It’s a jungle out there. I’ve been in the
travel industry for 50 years and never has it been so confusing for the public
when it comes to booking a holiday. Those in travel hardly understand the
constantly-changing regulations – or the rationale behind them – let alone the
However, in these challenging times, it is
important that you understand how the system works so that you can choose the
most appropriate way to book your overseas break. Let me explain the different
methods and what they each involve.
Doing it yourself
This is generally the cheapest way of booking
a holiday – but you have to understand the risks involved and to weigh up if
the savings are worthwhile or not from your personal perspective.
So, you go online, book a villa in Spain
directly with the overseas owner, book a car for pick-up at the airport and of
course also book your flights. What you have are three separate transactions –
and three different contracts. You will have paid for the flight immediately,
and probably sent a deposit to the villa owner using either a credit card or a
bank transfer. Generally hire cars are payable locally on arrival, having given
the company your credit card details initially.
Most of the time you will have no problems and
you will generally (but not always) have saved money by not using a middleman
such as an online travel agent (OTA) or a tour operator.
But, if things go wrong, you will need a lot
of patience. Usually it will be impossible to speak to a human when contacting
the airline or the car hire company. While you have a contract with the villa
owners, they may well have found a better offer in the meantime; if so, they
might tell you a few days before you travel, or you might find others already
in the villa on arrival. Your contract is useless; taking the owner to court
outside the UK is a non-starter.
Yes, you may well be able to get your money
back via the credit card company, but you will have to find another property –
which may not be available on the same dates – and your flights are already
booked. You are then at the mercy of the airline. One thing’s certain – you
will end up paying the airline a lot more to change your booking; you may even
have to cancel, lose your money and book with another airline at the last
You will have to spend time re-arranging car
hire; you will have to fight to pay a similar price to that you originally
agreed, as they will add a long list of extras.
And what if one of your family has an accident
at the villa – is the owner insured and, if so, how much cover does he/she
have? Your travel insurance (make sure you buy it!) will help with medical
expenses, but who will get you to hospital, translate for you and alleviate the
stress? What recourse do you have against the accommodation owner? If they have
public liability insurance, it’s unlikely to cover much; any legal action will
take years and is unlikely to deliver a decent outcome.
Booking online with a travel agent (OTA)
You have more security here, but are using a
middleman so it will probably cost you more. Booking with an OTA, the chances
of speaking to a human are again slim should things go wrong. These companies
carry huge volumes at very low mark-ups, so they will never have enough staff to
deal with problems swiftly.
Generally, they act as agents for
accommodation providers; that part of your contract is not with them, but with
the overseas property owner – check by reading the booking conditions
carefully. If anything goes wrong, they will refer you to the owner abroad; you
will have to fight hard to get the OTA involved.
Always check to see if the OTA has local
representatives or agents abroad. Sorting out a problem with accommodation
overseas with no-one based locally/when overseas problems are dealt with from
the UK is often problematic.
Your money, however, is protected – the
revised 2018 Package Travel Regulations have extended cover provided by OTAs.
Booking a ‘package’ via a travel agent/via a tour operator or with a tour operator directly
You will usually pay more because a travel
agent's commission is costed in and traditional operators carry much higher
overheads per client – including full financial protection should they fail.
You will however be able to speak to a human,
and that human will generally be helpful – retaining your business is very
important. More often than not there will be an agent or representative abroad
to help with any local difficulties.
Your money will be protected under the Package
Travel Regulations and the tour operator will be acting as a ‘principal’,
meaning that it will take full responsibility for the actions of all suppliers
and is obliged to re-arrange the package, should a component fail, at no cost
to the client. Always take time to check the booking conditions. If you have a
problem with the holiday accommodation, if the description is incorrect, if you
are overbooked, if there is building work next door, then you go to the UK tour
operator – and they will have a large public liability insurance policy to
cover such situations.
It’s when plans go wrong that the traditional
agent and tour operator excel. During the pandemic, tour operators and their
agents, in spite of horrendous trading difficulties, have generally managed to
repatriate, rearrange and refund all their clients in full when the client has
had to cancel – albeit not always, understandably given the tsunami of work
involved, within two weeks.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Sunvil.
- Our Greek Experience with Sunvil Holidays by Glynis Sullivan
- Our Greek Experience with GIC The Villa Collection by Glynis Sullivan
90 people found this feature helpful