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Dublin, 9th April 2014 – The European Consumer Centre in Ireland is advising consumers to be cautious when booking holidays through third party websites this summer.

Complaints about booking sites accounted for 50% of all accommodation and air passenger queries received in 2013, an increase of 68% on figures for 2012. As the countdown to summer begins and many consumers look to make arrangements for their holidays, ECC Ireland is encouraging travellers to be vigilant and make sure they do their research before making a booking.

Third party booking sites are proving an increasingly popular option among consumers. They allow visitors to compare different rates and deals on hotels, airlines, and other services before booking, thereby allowing them to make a more informed decision.

However, they can also cause considerable confusion if something goes wrong. Many consumers who book through such websites are not certain as to whether their contract is directly with the booking site or with the service provider, leaving them unsure as to where to turn in the event of a problem.

In most cases, third party booking sites facilitate the online processing of reservations for accommodation and travel services. They provide a space on which the services of airlines, hotels, and other suppliers are displayed and facilitate the booking with the provider. This means that when a consumer makes a booking, his/her contract will usually be directly with the service provider and not with the booking website.

Consumers are advised to closely read the terms and conditions attached to the booking website. These should clearly set out the exact nature of the contractual relationship and any additional information such as modification/cancellation procedures.

However, consumers should also ensure that they read the terms of the service provider, as these may place additional requirements on the booking – for example, an airline may demand certain specific documentation from a passenger, but the booking site may not necessarily inform them about this.

It is also important to note that booking through a third party website does not necessarily invoke the protection of the Package Travel Directive. Certain booking websites do offer consumers the option of booking a package, but this is subject to a strict definition and does not apply to separate travel or accommodation arrangements made for an individual consumer’s requirements, even if all such arrangements are processed through a single booking with the intermediary.

In order to qualify as a package holiday, the booking must consist of at least two of the following three elements – transport, accommodation, and additional tourist services (e.g. guided tours), provided that the package is pre-arranged and sold at an inclusive price, and lasts for at least 24 hours or includes an overnight stay.

Where a third party booking site offers package holidays, this should be clearly indicated in the terms and conditions and consumers should verify whether or not it applies to their booking.

Package travel legislation is currently under review so that all those buying customised holidays are suitably protected, either when booking packages or new forms of “linked” travel arrangements. However, this legislation has yet to be passed, and for this reason ECC Ireland urges consumers to continue being cautious when booking a holiday through third party websites.

For more information, please contact Grace Duffy on (01) 8797641 or at gduffy@eccireland.ie.

ECC Ireland can also be found on Twitter @eccireland.