The EU Competitiveness Council today reached an agreement to extend the protections of the Package Travel Directive to benefit certain independent travellers.

The agreement follows an initial vote in March 2014 at which it was decided to update and amend the Directive to take into account the changing way in which consumers book holidays. Independent bookings (i.e. bookings made by travellers themselves, without going through a travel agent) have risen steadily in the past several years and are now estimated to account for some 118 million trips per year.

However, these bookings have operated in a legal grey area as they did not fall within the remit of the Package Travel Directive. This means that consumers who booked independently did not benefit from the same level of protection if something went wrong.

Today’s agreement will see the protections of the Directive extended to so-called “linked travel arrangements”, as well as providing for different kinds of packages.

“Linked travel arrangements” arise where a consumer, having booked one travel service (e.g. flights, accommodation) on one website, is invited to book another service by way of a targeted link or similar. The second service must be booked within 24 hours in order for the booking to be considered a linked travel arrangement. Crucially, if the traveller’s name, e-mail and payment details are passed from the first website to the second, the arrangement is not considered a “linked” arrangement but rather a customised package.

A package holiday is an all-inclusive offer purchased from a single trader and involving at least two of the following three elements – flights, accommodation, and additional services (e.g. guided tours). The new rules divide packages into two types:

  • Pre-arranged packages, where all arrangements are combined in advance by tour operators. Consumers can choose from a number of different packages but the option to customise arrangements is limited.
  • Customised packages are arranged by the operator in consultation with the consumer. The components are chosen on the basis of availability, thus offering greater flexibility and choice.

Following today’s vote, the protections of the Package Travel Directive will be extended to linked travel arrangements for the first time. The move is intended to update the existing rules for the digital age and thereby protect a greater number of consumers.

The main protections envisaged are as follows –

  • Information: traders must provide clear and comprehensive information on the package and applicable protections for consumers. In particular, information on prices and any possible additional charges must be made clear.
  • Price increase/decrease: Where there is a price increase of more than 8%, the consumer may cancel their holiday free of charge. Any reductions in price must be passed on to the consumer.
  • Cancellation by the consumer: in the event of a natural disaster, war, or other serious situation at the destination, consumers may cancel their holiday free of charge before the departure date. Package travellers may also cancel their holiday for any reason by paying a reasonable cancellation fee.
  • If something goes wrong: the organiser of the package is liable in the event of any problems. Member States may also choose to make the package retailer liable. All traders will be made explicitly liable for booking errors in relation to packages and linked travel arrangements.
  • Assistance for travellers: package organisers are required to assist travellers in difficulty, e.g. by providing information on health or consular services. If a return journey cannot be carried out at the originally scheduled time (e.g. due to a natural disaster), travellers will be entitled to additional accommodation for three nights. This period may be extended if the relevant passenger rights regulation provides for it.
  • Insolvency protection: Package travellers and consumers purchasing linked travel arrangements will benefit from the same protections against bankruptcy. Package travel organisers and facilitators of linked travel arrangements will be required to take out insolvency protection to ensure consumers are repatriated home and can get refunds if the organiser of their trip goes bankrupt.

The agreement has been welcomed by Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová, who highlighted that the new rules would protect the 120 million holidaymakers who book combined travel online. She commented, “Travellers will clearly know what they are buying and what their rights are, especially if something goes wrong during their holidays.”

The European Parliament is expected to endorse this agreement in June. The Council of the European Union will then give its formal approval of the agreed text in September or October, paving the way for the legislation to be published. Once this has been done, Member States will have two years to implement the new rules.

For more information on your rights when booking a package holiday, read our handy guide here.

For more information/media queries, contact Grace Duffy on (01) 8797 641.              

The European Commission press release on the agreement can be found here.