Complaining about a holiday you’re not happy with – what you can do

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Every year thousands of people have holidays that go seriously wrong. Hotels haven’t been built or facilities aren’t completed, the swimming pool is a building site… staff are rude and the food is shocking. You know the kind of thing. If you’ve had a bad holiday, what can you do?

Complain while you’re away
The sooner you say something, the sooner the problem can get resolved. So, make sure you say something at the time.

1. Complain at the time. Talk to the hotel staff/hire car company/airline/tour operator and explain what you’re not happy with and what you’d like them to do to put it right. Don’t assume they’ll know why you’re unhappy. Other people may have stayed at the same resort/hotel and enjoyed it or not been the complaining type.

SAVVY TIP: If you don’t give the holiday company a chance to resolve the problem while you’re on holiday, it could count against you if you have to go to mediation or the small claims court, that’s according to Trading Standards.

2. Take photos to back up your complaint. Even if this doesn’t help get your problem resolved while you’re on holiday, it should help your case when you get back. Make sure they show what you’re unhappy about.

SAVVY TIP: You can take video footage if you prefer and/or talk to others who were unhappy. Make sure you get their contact details if you can. Make a note of what happened on holiday (with dates, if relevant).

3. Keep a record of any money you’ve spent. If you’ve had to get taxis when you were promised a bus or have had to book into another hotel, make sure you have receipts or credit/debit card statements to show how much you spent.

Know your rights
How you’re protected will depend on the type of holiday you booked.

1. If you booked a package holiday: You are covered by specific regulations governing package holidays.

SAVVY TIP: If the travel company you booked with is a member of ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents), you can complain to ABTA and use its independent complaints service if you don’t get the response you’re after from the company itself.

2. If you booked a holiday independently: You are covered by general consumer law. If the hotel/ car hire company (or other organisation you’re complaining about) is a member of a trade association or has signed up to a complaints/mediation scheme, it may be easier to get your complaint resolved than if they are not.

SAVVY TIP: If you paid for your holiday by credit or debit card, you may be able to complain to your card provider. See below for more details.

Complain when you return
If you can’t sort out the problem while you’re on holiday, complain when you get back. I always recommend complaining by email/letter because it will save the frustration of telling your story to someone at a call centre again and again.

1. Complain within 28 days of getting back. Citizens Advice recommends you complain promptly and preferably within 28 days.

2. Spell out what you’re unhappy about. Also specify how much compensation you would like to be paid.

SAVVY TIP: You can contact Citizens Advice consumer line on 0345 040506 if you want help on how to structure your complaint or what you can complain about.

3. Send copies of the photos / statements/video footage.

4. Follow up your complaint letter or email. Some companies are much better than others when it comes to dealing with complaints.

SAVVY TIP: ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) says that if the company that is one of their members doesn’t respond within 28 days, you should fill in an online complaints form.

5. If you’re not getting anywhere, consider using a mediation or independent arbitration service. Both ABTA and AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators) run a free to use mediation/arbitration service. You don’t have to use it, but it may be quicker and cheaper than going to the small claims court.

6. Consider using social media. Call me old fashioned, but I’m not a fan of people tweeting a company saying they received bad service if they haven’t complained to the company directly first. But using Twitter or Facebook is a good way of getting a company’s attention if you’ve tried using more conventional methods.

Claiming on your credit card
If you have paid for your holiday using your credit card, and it costs more than £100 (and less than £30,000!!), you can complain to your credit card provider. Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, the credit card provider is equally liable if the holiday has been misrepresented or the travel company doesn’t fulfill its part of the contract. If you paid by credit or debit card you may be able to get the card provider to do a ‘chargeback’ (essentially a refund by reversing the transaction). Be aware that the travel company may challenge a chargeback if it doesn’t agree with you.

Related articles:

Getting a refund from your credit or debit card with chargeback

Understanding your credit card rights under section 75

How to get the right travel insurance for less

What ombudsman schemes are there? Who can you complain to if there’s a problem?

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