ONE of the benefits of using a tour operator for a package holiday – voyage à forfait (“inclusive price trip”) is they are your sole port of call when it comes to complaints: they are their legal responsibility and the holiday should match the description they gave.
Check they are properly insured travel professionals. The main risk is with internet firms – look in mentions légales on their site for a numéro de licence or numéro d’immatriculation (licence or registration number).
Get full written details – price, meals and excursions included etc – before signing up. When paying an instalment, there should be a formal contract to sign (which can include completing an internet form), including extras such as airport taxes or taxe de séjour (a nightly fee payable in many French resorts).
When buying a holiday including air travel over the internet, the usual distance selling retraction period of seven days does not apply. Once the contract is signed, the agency cannot change the price unless the contract says so (eg. owing to variables such as fuel price or exchange rates) and no later than 31 days before departure, by recommended post (you can cancel and be reimbursed if the rise is significant).
If you cancel for personal reasons, you pay a proportion, increasing as departure approaches (up to 100% in the last week). Get travel insurance or pay with a premium bank card which offers a guarantee. Someone else (eg. a friend) can take your place if you tell the agent a week before departure by recommended post.
If the contract mentions it, the agency can annul the holiday owing to low take-up, no later than 21 days before departure, and you will be refunded (the same goes for force majeure – eg. a natural disaster).
In other cases, if the firm cancels it owes you a refund and compensation equal to what you would have had to pay if you had cancelled (you can also ask for compensation for economic loss or personal harm). If the agency wants to alter key services – eg. a different hotel star rating – before departure, it must say so in writing and if you refuse you are refunded.
If you agree, an addition to the contract is signed and you are refunded any excess you may have paid.
Significant changes – a major excursion is cancelled or the hotel star rating is wrong – would mean the offer of a replacement even if it is to their cost, or to reimburse you the difference if it is not as good. If none is offered or you refuse it because it is unsuitable, the agency must pay to fly you home or to an agreed destination.
Whether or not you accept the change, you can demand damages on your return if you feel you suffered loss or harm.
On holiday, if you are not happy with an aspect of the service, talk to your rep, if possible with photos and backed up by other witnesses.
On your return, ask for compensation from the firm.
If they refuse or offer too little, you can go to court – the juge de proximité – for claims under €4,000.
To claim fraudulent publicity (the hotel was not, as advertised, by the sea or did not have promised entertainments etc), apply to the tribunal de grande instance, with proof of what was promised.
If the agency is a member of the union Snav or guaranteed by the professional association APS you can contact Snav’s mediator for free help in finding an amicable arrangement if necessary (www.snav.org).