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Defects at destination

When your holiday dream turns out to be a nightmare

You wait for hours at the airport until your flight finally starts. Your hotel is overbooked, a cheap motel the only alternative. Instead of the beautiful sand beach that was promised by the travel brochure, you only find a cliff bay. And, as if this weren't enough, the noise of a nearby construction site is constantly hammering.

What is the basic legal situation?

You don't have to accept such shortcomings, because there is a principle that the tour operator has to stick to what he promised in the travel brochure or on his website. Everything that is written oder displayed there can be considered as assured feature, except the tour operator changes the originally indicated description in the booking confirmation. The operator has to stand up for this promised services, irrespective of whether he is responsible for the faults or not.

So if you had to wait a whole day at the airport, the promised deep blue swimming pool appears to be algae-green and dirty, the tennis court cannot be found or the luxury suite is more like a broom chamber - then you have the right as a customer to legal guarantee.

How many hours of flight delay do I have to accept?

Regarding package travel, delays up to four hours are considered to be acceptable. For each additional hour you are entitled to a price reduction of 5 percent of the price per day.

The following formula is used:

Total travel price / number of days * (number of additional hours of delay * 0,05)

An example: The total duration of the trip is 14 days, it costs 1.500€, the delay was 22 hours. 4 hours are acceptable, therefore 18 hours remain which you can charge. You divide the total price by 14 to get the price per day and then take 5 percent of that and multiply it by 18. This results in approximately 96€.

How about deficiencies in the hotel?

Does the room you get not apply to the booked category or shows deficits like fungus or dirt? Is the hotel clearly not like it was promised in the travel brochure? Do you not get the meal type noted in your reservation document?

These are travel deficiencies which should be fixed primarily on-site. Sometimes another room can save the whole trip. If an immediate correction of the defect is not possible, you are entitled to price reduction.

What can be done on-site?

If things don't go right, you should demand a correction free of charge. On the one hand, you want to enjoy your vacation. On the other hand, it is important to talk to the tour operator on-site immediately due to legal implications.

If this is impossible, you need to secure evidence. Make photos and videos, note names, addresses and phone numbers of other affected tourists.

Furthermore, you should try to get a written confirmation of the tour guide, who represents your contractual partner on-site, that you made a claim but that it was impossible to cure the defect.

The tour guide usually comes to the hotels on a regular basis; their consultation hours are stated in the portfolio of the tour operator in the hotel. If this is not the case, you don't have to spend precious time on finding the travel guide.

What can you do if there is no solution for the problem?

There is a principle that you are entitled to what you have booked. However, sometimes a solution is impossible on-site: A cliff bay cannot be changed into a sand beach, a construction site does not simply disappear. In these cases you are entitled to a reduction of the price because your trip was provided with defects. In order to demand this reduction at home, it is important to document the deficiencies and to get a written confirmation by the tour guide that it was not offered or possible to correct them. 

Is it possible to interrupt the vacation and get the money back?

If the deficiencies are so severe that you would not have booked the trip if you had known about them beforehand (like a cliff bay instead of a sand beach), you are entitled to interrupt the trip and demand the refund of the travel price as well as any additional expenditures (compensation).

Also, if the claimed deficiencies are not corrected by the tour operator after your claim, you can for example move to another hotel that meets your booked category. You then have to pay for the hotel yourself and try to get those expenses back from the tour operator - provided that he is responsible for the defects - when you're back home.

Concerning the two scenarios described above, you should bear in mind that a costly judicial enforcement might become necessary if the trader refuses to pay. Such action takes strong nerves, patience and the willingness to take risks.

What should be done back home?

After your return you should claim your demands as soon as possible with a registered letter to the tour operator (not the travel agency).

Demands for legal guarantee (price reduction) have to be claimed before court two years after your return the latest, if no out-of-court decision was possible.

How much compensation?

If the deficiencies were not corrected on-site, you are entitled to price reduction. There is always the question, how defects are valued in relation to the travel price.

A panel of judges in Frankfurt (Germany) has gathered and sorted various individual decisions about compensations regarding holiday trips. This so called "Frankfurter Liste" is also considered by Austrian courts when assessing claims of harmed travellers. Comparable lists like the "Zak Reisepreisminderungstabelle" are available with decisions of Austrian courts.

Important note: These lists are not legally binding. They are only available in German.

Is it possible to claim damages?

If the tour operator or his contractual partner on-site is responsible for the deficiencies, he is liable to damages. If you get sick with vomiting and diarrhea, it often is bad luck and nobody is to blame. However, if the disease is caused by contaminated food or water, the tour operator has to take the responsibility for the failures of his partners.

In this case, you are entitled to damages for personal suffering, recovery costs and lacking joy of holiday. Document the extent of your disease, gather the addresses of other sick vacationers in the same hotel and keep medical certificates and maybe even stool tests.

Beginning with the occurence of damage and the date of knowledge of the wrongdoer, you have three years time to claim your demands for damages. Nevertheless we advise you to act as soon as possible in order to avoid lack of evidence.

Precondition for the compensation of non-material harm (e.g. lacking of joy of holiday) is that the purpose of the journey (e.g. recovery, cultural trip...) was largely defeated. According to the previous judicature regarding package travel, damages between 20 to 70 Euro per day and person can be claimed.

Do I have to accept a voucher?

No. You are entitled to get a refund respectively a monetary compensation and don't have to accept a voucher.

Last updated on 25.11.2014



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