Travel & COVID: Consumer Letters

Travel Consumers are facing their biggest challenges during the COVID19 crisis

The issue of Consumer Rights is now is sharp focus!

Travel Consumers need to be treated fairly and rights respected, not unilaterally decided upon!

Hello and welcome to my latest podcast!

These past few months has been a bittersweet experience for me, in the sense that I am now witness to real-time Consumer angst and detriment. It has always been the case where Consumers, Rights and Industry clash, but there was a time when Travel Consumers had a central point to go to, to seek help, without charge, from my team at what was then HolidayTravelWatch.

I was the owner and Consumer Director of that organisation; an organisation that punched well above its weight and one that was responsible for some of the measures that you see today within the Package Travel Directive & the UK’s adoption of that Directive, under The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements 2018.

I left HolidayTravelWatch in 2017, hoping that the organisation would carry on in its fine tradition of being a true voice of the travel consumer; sadly that was not the case and so today, Travel Consumers have limited options, particularly where their money is at a premium to seek genuine help and assistance.

So I begin this podcast with a description of the past and an apology here in the future. An apology to all those Travel Consumers out there, listening to this podcast or using the letters that I have drafted, that I cannot enter into providing the direct assistance of old, partly because it would time-consume me, partly because I don’t have the resources to be able to do so and partly because I am now involved with project work which is taking me across borders, some of that work will hopefully benefit the Travel Consumer. That said, I am ever watchful and the media usually or eventually in some cases, always come to me for opinion!

So in hearing and reading the now many stories of those contacting me through social mediums, I asked myself, ‘how can I best help Travel Consumers, through their difficulties with travel companies, against a backdrop of a generally impotent industry and government?’ 

The answer came about 10 days ago when I decided to draft a letter to help Travel Consumers with their COVID Travel problems. But, as the issues became clearer to me, it also became clear that the Consumer would be best served if I wrote more than one precedent letter.

So I have drafted letters for Package Holidays, Flights and Cottage Holidays, along with letters of complaint to the “Authorities”.

But before I outline and link you to those letters, I want to provide a brief warning on a few issues:

  1. Consider which letter suits your situation best;
  2. Read it carefully;
  3. Make sure you complete details where I have asked you to do so;
  4. Make sure you delete what is not relevant to your case (this is particularly important in the letter to ABTA and I will tell you how to do that);
  5. Make sure that you agree with what is being said and understand the links within each of the letters - add anything you think is missing from your own situation;
  6. When copying and pasting the letter into your productivity app, DO NOT copy my © Copyright paragraph at the bottom of each page;
  7. That copyright paragraph gives you, the Travel Consumer, permission to use a letter(s) in your disputes with Travel Companies or to complain to any of the “Authorities”;
  8. It does not however give permission to anyone else to use, copy or manipulate or spread or publish any of these letters, nor to pass them off as their own. I apologise to you the Travel Consumer for having to put this in the letters you will use, but it is a necessary device in a world where others do not respect authorship; we had to do the same thing within the Consumer Organisation I once ran.

But one thing you should remember in all of this - none of these letters will guarantee success in your dealings with any Travel Company. I suspect that you will have to join a long line of Travel Consumers before you, who had to invest time and energy to challenge commercial wrongs.

I would finally say, do not be swayed by an opinion that says you shouldn’t pursue companies for the early return of your monies, guaranteed under Consumer Rights - if you like, the so-called ‘Compensation Culture’ argument. My riposte to that mantra would be:

  • the rights exist;
  • you as an industry have unilaterally determined how those rights will be given;
  • the industry is split on how to deal with consumers and rights;
  • the industry has shunned the voices of reason that could have helped deliver a solution;
  • government ministers have been spectacularly quiet on Consumer Rights;
  • I have every sympathy for the difficulties created by COVID, but a fair and equitable balance must be struck!

So now to the letters; I shall briefly describe them and within the published script of this podcast, I shall link you to each letter on my website through my blog section and the title of this podcast is: “Travel & COVID: Consumer Letters”:

  1. The first letter is for those consumers who are wondering if their Package Holiday will be cancelled and have not yet received a Credit-Note. This will help them determine how their travel company will view their booking whilst setting out important issues you can use going forward;
  1. The second letter is for those Consumers who have had their Package Holiday cancelled and have received a Credit Note. The letter sets out key issues and presents a compromise on the timescale for the receipt of your refund;
  1. The third letter is a ‘Travel Company’ chaser letter. Once you receive a response, the letter directs you on how to respond and challenge each of their positions. Details within the first and second letter contain issues of research that you can use to challenge;
  1. The fourth letter is designed to let a Travel Company, who are members of ABTA, that, if they do not resolve matters, you will complain to ABTA about potential breaches under the ABTA Code of Conduct;
  1. The fifth letter is that actual complaint to ABTA. You will need to examine this letter carefully to determine which potential breaches apply to you. To understand that, you will need to review each point against the ABTA Code of Conduct and the Guidance to the Code of Conduct. You will need to match each Code against any potential breach you think is valid;
  1. The sixth letter is directed more directed toward Package Holidays and possibly rental holidays (more about that category further on). The letter is addressed to the Competition & Markets Authority who are responsible for failures in law toward consumers and distortions of the market. I would recommend that you also cc your local MP and the Consumer Minister at BEIS (Mr Paul Scully MP) to this letter for their responses. Please remember to also copy in your local Citizens Advice Bureau for their attention also;
  1. The seventh letter is a little more difficult to draft because of the many different scenarios. This concerns your right to seek assistance from your credit card issuer, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, where you are in dispute with a trader. It appears that credit card companies are blanket-refusing assistance. You can appeal their decision by using the complaints process found in your contract with them. This letter is but one example of how to structure a letter of appeal (it relates to a single component product holiday) and you should consider and adapt this letter according to how they may have responded to you with your own single component or package holiday!
  1. The eighth letter is for those Consumers who have had a flight cancelled. It challenges the issue of the credit note and offers a compromise on the issue of a refund;
  1. The ninth letter is to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (note if your flight was due to depart from another country, you will have to complain to the Civil Aviation Authority in that Country). This calls upon the CAA to consider, investigate and help you achieve an early return of your refund. It also makes clear that you will not enter into Arbitration;
  1. The tenth letter is a letter reporting the failure of Air Passenger European Law at State level to the European Commission. This may seem at odds with the fact that the UK left the EU on 31/1/2020. However, the Withdrawal Agreement requires the UK to maintain and follow EU law until a Trade Deal or when we finally leave the EU legal system on 31/12/2020. This is an important route on the journey to secure your rights and that of European Citizens;
  1. The eleventh letter is also a letter to the European Commission, which is important for the reasons I have already stated and this letter relates to breaches of European Law on Package Holidays;
  1. The twelfth and final letter relate to those Consumers who have booked a holiday cottage rental here in the UK - you could use the letter for holiday rentals outside the UK - but in those cases, you may need to adjust the letter if the terms and conditions refer to the laws of the country you intend to visit. If the rental is in the UK, you may wish to use the sixth letter to the CMA and you also have the option of going to your local CAB for assistance;
  2. Since the publication of this article and podcast, the European Commission has produced further guidance and recommendations to the Travel Industry and European Member States (remember, although the UK is not a Member State, we still have to comply and implement EU law). I suspect that this is a moving-feast and I will make any further adjustments through the creation of additional "Flight" or "Package Holiday" notes or annexes. Before you send any of these letters, please consider these; if you have already sent letters, do not be concerned, these additional notes provide you with instructions. So, please refer to "Flights 1" & "Package Holidays 1" and use them as I direct within my notes in these documents.

It’s important to remember that not all Package Holidays are indeed Package Holidays. If that is the case, in other words, you have bought component products to make a holiday, separately, then you need to refer to each set of Terms and conditions and perhaps use the 12th letter, if they are based in the UK and adapt the letter accordingly - you may also be able to use the 8th, 9th and 10th letters if you booked a flight with an airline based in the EU.

One final point, I have added a short guidance note which you should read. It has important information on how to use the letters along with information on how to access legal assistance and that you must be mindful of any limitation dates and to seek legal assistance on that issue alone if you have concerns.

I hope these letters will help you all to quickly resolve your complaints in this COVID crisis and that Travel Companies and those who are responsible for protecting Consumers will step up to the mark!

(Note: This is the text of the script for Frank's CreatingRipples™ Podcast: Travel & COVID: Consumer Letters. You can listen to Frank's Podcast here)