When you book a journey, it is important to know who your contractual partner is. Sounds simple, but with online booking, things can get confusing. The European Consumer Centre Austria has summarised the most important terms for you.
Contractual partner is the person or company with which you conclude the contract about the requested service - the flight, accommodation in a hotel, a rental car or a package travel. Many consumers don't book directly at their future contractual partner, but at a travel agency. The travel agency (regardless of whether it is online or offline) only is the contractual partner for the act of booking, not for the booked service itself.
Comparison portals are very popular. Many consumers search for information like the best price for a flight or hotel online before they book their trip. The important thing is: Comparison portals are never contractual partner. They only show the requested information, so that consumers are able to compare prices. If the consumer clicks on one of the offers, he is forwarded to another website where he can book the offer. This can be the website of an intermediary or the direct service provider, like for example the airline.
During the booking process, it is important to always be careful which website you are currently on and with whom you are concluding a contract. Note: Possible claims can only be made against the contractual partner, not the comparison portal.
Intermediary is not the direct provider of the requested service (he is not the hotel, airline or car rental company). The intermediary is an online travel agency and offers to conduct the booking for the consumer. Contractual partner for the service itself is the provider of this service (the hotel, airline, car rental company or tour operator).
If, however, a problem in connection with the booking arises, for example when the intermediary forwards false data of the consumer to the provider or vice versa, the intermediary is responsible for possible damages.
Operator: Especially with package travels, the term "operator" occurs. A package travel is a package of several services for one price. A common example is one package price for flight + hotel. The (online) travel agency mediates the trip and books it for the consumer - at the operator of the package travel. If the consumer books the trip not online, but at a traditional travel agency, it is easier to recognize the tour operator - it is the company that published the travel brochure.
Regarding online booking, the operator is referred to as "travel organizer" or "service provider" - consumers have to be more careful to recognize such indications. This is important as the tour operator (and not the intermediary) is the contractual partner of the consumer for the package travel.
A consumer wants to fly away. On the Internet, he finds a website that compares prices for flights and hotels. He enters his trip details. The comparison portal shows several cheap offers and the consumer choses one of them. He is forwarded to the website of an intermediary who offers to book an especially cheap offer for the consumer at the airline. The consumer enters his data and pays via credit card for the flight. He receives a booking confirmation via mail as well as all important information regarding the flight (airline, departure, arrival, booking reference number...). This means: The first website was a comparison portal, the second an intermediary. The contractual partner for the trip itself is the airline. So if the flight is delayed or the baggage of the consumer is lost, he needs to turn to the airline.
The European Consumer Centre Austria (ECC) recommends: Book your trip directly at the service provider and avoid, as far as possible, intermediaries. Of course you can get information about several offers at a comparison portal beforehand. But, in most cases, the difference between the price offered by an intermediary and the price of the airline, the hotel, the car rental company or the tour operator is very small. Because intermediaries tend to charge extra fees the direct provider would not charge. If you want to book your trip with an intermediary, ECC Austria recommends to make screenshots of every booking step. In case of a dispute, it is possible to track when and where which information was given.
If you have a problem with a company in another EU Member State, the Network of the European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net) offers you advice free of charge. For national cases, please turn to the Austrian Verein für Konsumenteninformation (VKI).