The new package travel law

On 1. July 2018, the new package travel law (PRG) came into force in Austria. It brought a lot of new rules, designed for the digital age and its new ways of travel booking. The aim to strengthen and modernise the protection for travellers brings more complexity.

 

Important note: The law will be applicable to all package travels booked after 1. July 2018. If you have already booked your summer vacation before that date, the old legal norms apply (read more).

 

The following article provides an overview of the new types of package travels covered by the law.

 

Find out more about your rights in case of problems or defects during your journey in our article Your new rights at package travels.

 

What are package travels?

 

Until now, the definition was rather easy: Package travels combine at least two travel services (see details below) for one package price, e.g. transport and accommodation. The tour operator of this package is the contract partner of the traveller for the complete service.

 

The new law adds several new options, even though the before mentioned conditions are still necessary in order to constitute a package travel. It is all about how a journey was planned and booked.

 

Travel services are:

  • Transportation of a person (by plane, bus etc...)
  • Accommodation of a person (e.g. in a hotel, a bed&breakfast – no long-term stays abroad)
  • Car rental
  • Every other touristic service

The "other touristic service" has to be an essential element of the journey. It is considered essential when it accounts for at least 25% of the price or is an essential part of the journey (e.g. the reason you booked this particular package).

 

Furthermore, the “other touristic service” has to be booked in advance. If you decide during your stay at the hotel that you want to book a wellness treatment, your journey doesn't turn into a package travel. But if you book a weekend trip with a guided hiking tour, with 300€ being the total price and 75€ for the hiking tour, it constitutes a package travel.

 

A journey has to last for at least 24 hours or include an overnight stay to be considered a package travel according to the Austrian law.

 

Example: A consumer books a package including the journey to Salzburg, a ticket to visit a play of the theatrical festival there and the return trip on the same day. This is no package travel, even though the visit of the theater (= other touristic service) surely accounts for more than 25% of the price and is an essential element of the journey.

 

The rental of a holiday home without any further touristic services does not constitute a package travel.

 

A cruise is a package travel as it combines the transport and the accommodation. However, travelling with a ferry overnight does not count as a package travel, even though you sleep there. The criteria of accommodation is not seen as an essential element of the contract.

 

New diversity

 

Up until now, travellers chose and booked a complete package from the catalogue or website of a tour operator. With time, individual combinations of services were – under specific circumstances –considered a package travel.

 

With the new law, several options of individual bundles are covered by the term package travel. The decisive questions are, whether the booking of the single elements happened at once and how it was paid for.

 

In practice, we consider the following variations of package travels to become important for consumers from 1. July 2018 on:

  • Classic package travel
  • Individually combined package travel
  • Click-through bookings

Classic package travel

  • The consumer chooses and books a prepared package from the travel agency around the corner or online.
  • The classic combination is flight + hotel, but other options are of course possible (see above).

Combination of modules

  • According to the wishes of the consumer, the travel agent (on- or offline) combines several services (there is no prepared package). Example: Some tour operators offer various hotels or flights for the consumer to choose from.
  • The consumer chooses the various modules for his journey online and puts everything in the shopping cart, then clicks on the button "Book now". The trader, who offered the booking, becomes the tour operator.
  • The new package travel law offers further variations. In our opinion, those won’t be too important for consumers in practice.

Click-through bookings

 

A new form of package travels are so called click-through bookings that are conducted online.

  1. The consumer books
    several services
    from different traders
    via one connected booking system
    within 24 hours.
  2. He only gives his data to the first trader who forwards it to the others.

Example: A consumer books a flight from Vienna to London. He clicks on the button and pays for the flight. Immediately afterwards, offers for a rental car and a hotel appear on the same website. He then books a rental car. His personal data and means of payment are forwarded by the airline to the rental car company. Therefore, he just booked a package travel.

 

If the traveler books the rental car more than 24 hours after he booked the flight, it's not a package travel. If he immediately books the hotel, but rents the car two days later, the package travel only includes the flight and the hotel.

 

The first trader – in our example the airline – becomes the tour operator of the package travel. If airlines will actually take on this task or if they are going to change their websites, remains to be seen.

 

Linked travel arrangements

 

Even though they are similar to click-through bookings, linked travel arrangements don’t constitute package travels. Only some regulations of the new law apply. The core elements of linked travel arrangements are:

  • mediation of one trader
  • within a very short amount of time

Linked travel arrangements mean at least two different types of travel services purchased for the purpose of the same trip or holiday, through the mediation of one trader, resulting in the conclusion of separate contracts with the individual travel service providers. The payment for each contract happens separately.

Furthermore,

  • the booking has to be made at a single visit or contact with the trader’s point of sale (travel agency or website)

or

  • the booking of the second travel service happens within 24 hours after the first one and was facilitated by the first trader in a targeted manner (e.g. link on the website), and the consumer himself has to give his personal data to the second trader (it’s not forwarded by the first trader).

Example: The traveler books a flight on an online platform. He enters his personal data and pays. A link with the offer to book accommodation appears: "Book the hotel La Maison for the top price of only 90 Euro per night!" He clicks on the link. On the next website, he has to enter his personal data again. Then he clicks on the button "book now" and pays.

 

This constitutes a targeted offer. If the link would have forwarded the consumer to a second website providing a general list of available hotels, it would not have been a targeted offer and therefore no linked travel arrangement.

 

Experts believe that the distinction between click-through bookings and linked travel arrangements might be difficult in practice. The most prominent criteria is that the traders don’t exchange the personal data of the traveler.

 

A further characteristic of linked travel arrangements is the separate payment of the mediated service. If you book at a travel agency (not online), the criteria of data transfer will be difficult to determine. Another question is whether separate contracts become a package travel if the travel agency lists both travel services on one invoice and the consumer pays the complete price at once.

 

The prevailing opinion is that the joint payment of individual contracts does not constitute a package travel as long as there are separate invoices. However, this is not finally resolved.

 

The distinction between linked travel arrangements and package travels is important in terms of the legal protection of consumers. For linked travel arrangements, not all rules of the new law apply. There is no tour operator. If something goes wrong, the consumer has to contact the contractual partner for the respective service (e.g. airline, hotel, rental car company…). Consumers are less protected than at the above mentioned types of package travels.

 

However, regulations regarding insolvency hedging also apply to linked travel arrangements.

 

Standard information forms

 

The law contains standard information forms. Most of the points listed there become content of the contract. When booking a package travel, the travel agency – off- or online – has to provide you with such a form.

 

Besides several other facts, those forms state whether it is a contract regarding a package travel or linked travel arrangements. This very important information is given in a box at the top of the form.

 

Consumers should read this information carefully and consider if the form actually suits the type of travel that they wish to book.

 

Who is the tour operator?

 

Up until now, this was easy – the tour operator is the trader providing the catalogue. With the new law, the trader who facilitates the package travel becomes the tour operator.

 

If the consumer chooses the modules by himself and puts them in the shopping cart, the trader who provided this cart (who operates the website) becomes the tour operator.

 

At click-through bookings, the company who forwarded the data of the traveler to the other service providers becomes the tour operator. In the above mentioned example, it would be the airline.

 

Tips and assistance from your ECC

 

Find out more about your rights during package travels at our respective article.

 

We are happy to provide you with free legal advice and out-of-court interventions if you face any problems during your travels. The only condition is that you have a cross-border contract with a tour operator from another EU Member State.

 

Please find our contact details at this link. In order to submit a claim, please send us an e-mail with all relevant documents and a short description of your case to info@europakonsument.at.