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March is always an exciting time for consumer awareness as both World Consumer Day and European Consumer Day fall during the month. In this month’s eBulletin, we take a look at the themes of both events and also examine a recent vote by the European Parliament to extend package travel legislation. Our consumer query of the month relates to an online flight booking agent, while our success story involves a consumer seeking a refund for an undelivered item.

If you are experiencing problems with a purchase from another European country, please contact us on 01 8797 620 or click here. For information on your consumer rights in Europe, please consult the “popular consumer topics” section on this website.

 

Ann Neville
Manager

 

European and World Consumer Days

European Consumer Day, an initiative of the European Economic and Social Committee, takes place on March 14th in Thessaloniki. This year’s event focuses on consumer protection and inclusion in times of crisis and takes a look at the added challenges facing consumers since the economic crisis hit. More information, including an agenda for the event, can be accessed on the EESC’s website.

World Consumer Day is an annual event organised by Consumers International. It aims to promote consumer rights around the world and this year aims to raise awareness of the issues faced by consumers when dealing with mobile phone services. As part of the campaign, Consumers International have put together an agenda for phone rights, which can be accessed here. You can read more about the various events marking the day across the world at this link.

 

Reform of package travel directive

On Wednesday, 12th March, Members of the European Parliament voted to amend and extend the protections of the EU’s Package Travel Directive (Directive 90/314/EEC). The vote follows a proposal of the European Commission, which sought to modernise the current directive by taking into account changes in the way consumers book holidays.

Existing legislation protects consumers who have booked a “package” holiday. This is defined as an all-inclusive offer combining at least two of the following elements – transport, accommodation, and additional services (such as sightseeing tours). However, with the advent of the internet, more and more consumers are booking holidays online through the use of multiple commercially linked traders. It is estimated that such bookings account for 23% of the holiday market in the EU, or roughly 118 million trips a year. In many cases, these do not fall under the current definition of “package travel” and this lack of holiday protection costs EU consumers up to €1 billion a year.

The draft rules set out today mark the first step in ensuring greater protection for EU travellers. They will cover two types of contracts –

  • Package holidays: packages consisting of two or more elements (as above), bought from a single trader and paid for at the same time. MEPs also voted that additional bookings made by the buyer from the same trader within 24 hours of the conclusion of the original sale should be considered part of the same package.
  • “Linked” travel arrangements: arrangements consisting of two or more elements, bought from different traders and concluded through separate contracts, but linked through personal data such as contact information, credit card details, or passport numbers being passed on by the first trader. All contracts should be concluded within 24 hours in order to qualify as “linked”.

 

The main changes envisaged are as follows –

  • Package travel retailers may be made liable if something goes wrong during the holiday, in addition to the organiser of the package. The retailer may be made liable where travellers are invited to purchase additional travel services (such as a hotel room or car rental) on a linked website, and the retailer passes the traveller’s name or personal details to the other service provider.
  • Travellers must be repatriated if their travel organiser becomes insolvent or goes out of business while they are on holiday. Member States should ensure that insolvency protection schemes are effective and able to guarantee prompt repatriation and immediate refunds to affected travellers.
  • Prices can only be raised after a sale is concluded for specific reasons, such as an increase in fuel prices or taxes. If the price is raised by more than 8%, the traveller should be offered reimbursement or another holiday of equivalent value.
  • Any price reduction of more than 3% must be passed on to the traveller. Organisers will not be allowed to change flight times significantly (i.e. by more than three hours) after the sale has been concluded. If the flight times are changed as such, the traveller should be offered an equivalent package or full reimbursement.
  • Where the traveller is unable to return home on time due to “unforeseen” or “unavoidable” circumstances such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, the organiser must arrange accommodation. This must be of a similar level to that originally booked. Alternatively, the organiser must pay for accommodation – not exceeding five days – at up to €125 per night if it is unwilling or unable to make a booking on the traveller’s behalf.
  • In the case of a linked travel arrangement, each organiser is responsible for their own part of the contract.
  • If the trader fails to inform the traveller that the travel arrangements he/she has booked do not constitute a “package”, the traveller will have the same rights as anyone who books a package holiday.

Today’s vote closes the first reading of the new rules and ensures that the result is available for the new Parliament, which will then negotiate with Member States on the final wording of the directive. Negotiations are expected to begin after the upcoming European elections in May. Parliament proposes that Member States should then have two years to bring the new rules into effect once they are approved.

 

Consumer Query of the Month

I recently attempted to book a flight using a Spanish online booking agent. However, there was an error and the booking didn’t go through. I later made a booking for a different flight using the same online agent and received a confirmation. However, when I checked my credit card statement, I had been billed for both bookings. The agent said I would have to contact the airline directly, but the airline has no record of the original booking. What are my rights in this situation?

Third party booking websites are an increasingly popular option for consumers looking to book flights or accommodation. However, in most cases, the website acts only as an agent for the transaction, which means the consumer forms a contract directly with the service provider (e.g. the airline or hotel). This can cause confusion when something goes wrong, as the consumer is not always aware of who to contact to seek redress.

In the event of a problem, consumers are advised to closely consult the terms and conditions on the agent’s website and any that may be attached to the booking. These should indicate whether or not the contract is formed directly with the service provider.

In these circumstances however, as the airline have no record of your booking, it is possible that the agent charged your card for the transaction but was prevented from completing the booking due to the error. In this case, it is for the agent to process a refund, as the booking was not confirmed with the airline. We would advise you to firstly send a written complaint to the booking agent. You should outline the details of your complaint, including copies of all relevant documentation, and asking that the refund be processed within ten working days. If the agent does not respond or is uncooperative, contact our office for further assistance. You may also consider contacting your bank or credit card provider to enquire about the possibility of a chargeback for the additional payment.

 

Success Story

ECC Ireland was contacted by an Irish consumer who had ordered a baby carrier from a UK website. The item was to be delivered within five days; however, it did not arrive within this time. The consumer got in touch with the seller who informed her that a refund would be processed. The refund never came through and the trader did not reply to her further attempts at contact. The consumer contacted ECC Ireland for assistance and the case was shared with our sister office in the UK, which contacted the seller and reminded them of their obligations. Shortly thereafter the consumer received a full refund.

 

If you want more information on this or any other cross-border consumer issue, please contact us on 01 8797 620 or click here.