Do you want to create your own individual journey or do you prefer a package travel arranged by a tour operator? ECC Austria summarises what you should consider before booking.
You already know where you want to enjoy your holiday. Now it’s time to think about details: which flight, which hotel is the best? Is there a suitable package for that? Do I want to book by myself or ask a travel agency for help?
No matter if you book a flight and a hotelroom separately or if you choose the package of a tour operator already combining flight and hotel, you can book directly at the airline, the hotel, the tour operator or via a travel agency.
Travel agency is intermediary
A travel agency is always just an intermediary, not your contractual partner for the journey itself. If you book a package travel you have one contracting partner for the whole trip: the tour operator. If you arrange the parts of your journey individually you have one contract with the airline and another contract with the hotel.
Complain at your contracting partner
As long as everything is as expected during your holidays it does not really matter what kind of contract you concluded. However, as soon as troubles arise you have to be precise. If you booked a flight only, contact the airline if anything goes wrong. If you booked a hotel room individually but it turns out not to be as promised, complain to the hotel management.
Some traders unfortunately are not willing to solve problems voluntarily. Enforcing your legal rights with regards to an airline or hotel situated within the EU should not be a problem. Outside the EU it could become tricky, though: the national law of this foreign country is applicable.
EU Package Travel Directive
In case you chose a package travel organized by a tour operator located in the EU things are different. According to the EU Package Travel Directive you could sue a tour operator at an Austrian court as long as the trader’s registered office is in an EU country. Most of the popular companies offering package travel in Austria have a registered office here or in Germany.
Legal guarantee regarding package travel
If parts of a package travel are not provided as promised the tour operator is liable. The legal guarantee rules apply even if the tour operator did not cause the defects by default.
Flight delay, wrong hotel room
It does not matter why a flight is delayed by more than four hours – within a package travel contract you can demand a price reduction from the tour operator. If the hotel room offered is not in accordance with the commitments made in the catalogue or your booking confirmation and switching to another room is not possible you can demand a price reduction as well.
Note: it is crucial to complain about defects to the representative of the tour operator on-site. Make sure to get a written confirmation of your complaint and save pieces of evidence!
Amount of price reduction
In the so called Frankfurter Liste classical defects occurring during a package travel and a justified percentage of price reduction for each of them is listed. This scheme is helpful to get an idea how much you can demand from the tour operator. In case you cannot agree on a percentage in the end a court would define the amount due.
Damages and loss of joy during your holidays
If the tour operator or one of his representatives (e.g. the hotel) caused one of the defects by negligence or default he is not only obliged to offer guarantee but is also liable to damages.
E.g. if you suffer from a salmonella infection caused by the all-inclusive buffet of the hotel the tour operator has to pay the costs of recovery as well as immaterial damages for your pain.
In case major defects occured during your trip and the tour operator caused them by negligence or default you are entitled to a payment of compensation for the immaterial damage of loss of joy.
In any case: make photos, videos etc. of the defects, keep all kinds of evidence!
Protection in case of insolvency
According to the EU Package Travel Directive a tour operator has to ensure protection for consumers in case of his insolvency. Down payments have to be refunded respectively transport back home has to be arranged.
In case you booked the parts of your journey separately and the airline goes bankrupt you have to buy a new flight ticket and pay for it again. Airlines and hotels are not obliged to insolvency hedging. Claims for the reimbursement of a down payment could only be filed at court within bankruptcy proceedings. It is uncertain whether you get a refund at all respectively what amount will be refunded.
Personal assistance during booking process
Your are not very experienced in browsing the Internet and buying stuff online? Then you should not start with it when planning/organising your holidays. Booking a flight, hotel, package travel etc. can be rather tricky if you are not used to it. Better consult/go to an ordinary travel agent around the corner and enjoy the personal assistance regarding possible travel arrangements and the final booking of your journey.
As soon as the tour operator respectively the hotel or airline confirms your request the contract is concluded.
Booking online: be careful
Browsing various websites is your way of life? Fine, booking your holidays online will suit you. Also on the Internet there are travel agents that list offers of different traders according to your requested data. However, consulting an online agent first is not necessary. You can search for suitable offers directly on the website of a tour operator, airline or hotel as well. Caution, online travel agents usually charge a booking fee even though the effort to enter your data on their website is the same as on the website of your future contractual partner.
Check who your contractual partner is
No matter if you book online or offline: as soon as you found an offer for your dream holiday, check which company will be your contractual partner. What is the official name of the trader, what is his postal address, do you know e-mail address, fax and phone number? Read all the information provided on the trader’s website carefully, also the terms & conditions even though this might be tough. Here the cancellation conditions should be mentioned.
Be careful: one click on your computer is sufficient/enough in order to make a binding booking. On June 13th 2014 the button solution entered into force in Austrian law. This rule applies to many but not all kinds of online contracts. In order to make a legally binding booking the trader has to mention the main characters of the contract, such as the price, in a clear manner in the last/final mask of the booking process.
Clicking on a button saying "ok" or "next" would not be sufficient, whereas clicking on "buy now" or "order with obligation to pay" leads to a binding contract.
No right to withdrawal
There is no legal right to withdraw free of charge from a contract regarding journeys, neither when booking on the premises of a travel agency nor when booking online. If at all possible, amendments can be very expensive. Some flight tickets for instance cannot be changed after booking at all. Thus, be very precise and careful when entering your data and make a screenshot of each step during the booking process.
Booking confirmation / Confirmation of your booking request
When booking a trip via an online travel agency the first email you get usually is the confirmation of your booking request. Your request is binding for you, you cannot withdraw from it free of charge. Given that the requested offer (flight, package travel, etc.) is still available, the travel agency will book it for you.
Only after receiving a booking confirmation (from the agent or directly from the tour operator, the airline or the hotel) the contract is concluded and the travel agency was able to book the offer you wanted. Also online travel agencies charge a fee for this service.
Booking a trip; summary
Package or individual travel. If you book a package travel you get a package arranged by a tour operator consisting of a flight and a hotel for a total price (you cannot see how much each part costs). If you decide to travel individually you book the flight directly at the airline and the room directly at the hotel. Consumers enjoy a higher level of legal protection when choosing a package travel.
Booking. Package travel as well as flight-only or hotel-only can be booked via ordinary and online travel agents; they charge a service fee. Besides, you can also book directly at the tour operator, the airline, the hotel.
No right to withdrawal. Double check the data you entered so there is no mistake. A legal right to withdraw free of charge does not exist. Changes of reservation or amendments can be very expensive, if possible at all.