The first few months of the New Year are traditionally the time when our thoughts turn towards our summer holidays. If you’re booking a trip this year it’s a good idea to be aware of your consumer rights should something go wrong.

Scenario 1: You have to cancel your holiday

There may be several reasons why you’d need to cancel a holiday:

You may have changed your mind, or you can’t go because of illness or an emergency

In either case, check the terms and conditions of your booking to find out what options you have (if you can’t find your terms and conditions, contact the tour operator). You may find you have to pay a cancellation fee, or that you’re not entitled to a refund. But if you’ve already taken out travel insurance, this may cover you for cancellations (check your policy to find out).

Your holiday was changed by the tour operator after you booked

Whether or not you can cancel without any penalties depends on how much of a change your holiday company made. If it made major changes – for instance, the hotel or resort isn’t the one you booked – you have the right to cancel without charge. Contact your tour operator and if they agree the change was a major one, you can ask for a refund. You may also be able to rearrange the holiday.

Your tour operator increased the price of your holiday after you booked

Again, the change has to be a major one. According to the Association of British Travel Agents, an increase of 10% or more is major, though there is no legal definition of what a major increase is. If you can successfully argue that it is, your tour operator must give you a refund or book you on a different holiday.

Scenario 2: Your flight was delayed or cancelled

Whether or not you can claim compensation for a delayed flight – and how much you’ll receive – depends on the airline you’re flying with, where you’re flying from, how long the flight is delayed and how far you’re flying.

If you’re flying from an airport in the UK, EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland (or with an airline from any of those countries) and your flight is delayed or cancelled, you may be entitled to compensation under EU law.

At the very least, if your flight is delayed by 2 hours you’re entitled to food, drink, phone calls, emails and, if you’re delayed overnight, accommodation and travel between the airport and hotel. If you’re not offered any of these things, talk to someone who works for the airline. And if this fails, keep receipts for any reasonable expenses you incur as a result of the delay and make a claim from the airline later.

If your flight is delayed by more than 3 hours, you can get all of these things, plus compensation in the form of money. If the delay is 5 hours or more, you don’t have to take the flight, in which case the airline has to give you a full refund.

Meanwhile, a cancelled flight means the airline has to pay you anything up to €600. In the case of delays or cancellations, contact the airline for compensation.

Find out more about your rights and how to make a claim by visiting the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. If your flight isn’t covered by EU law, ask the airline you’re travelling with for a copy of their terms and conditions to find out what, if anything, you may be entitled to.

Scenario 3: Your luggage was lost or delayed

If your luggage doesn’t arrive at your destination when you get there, or if it becomes lost or damaged, inform your airline as soon as possible. If you have travel insurance, it should cover you for lost, delayed or damaged luggage (many experts agree it’s often easier to make an insurance claim than to claim direct from the airline).

But if you do have to make a claim from the airline, keep receipts for things you have to buy as a result of not having your luggage as well as the costs of replacing or repairing lost luggage and its contents. They should compensate you for some things, but they won’t pay anything if your luggage is found to be faulty.

You can get claim forms from some airlines, but others require you to write to the airline’s customer service department. Include as much detail in your letter as possible, including your flight details, what happened to your luggage and copies of receipts for anything you had to pay for as a result of your luggage being delayed, lost or damaged.

If your problem hasn’t been resolved to your satisfaction, The Civil Aviation Authority handles complaints against airlines and airports. Visit the CAA’s website.

Scenario 4: Something went wrong during your holiday

We all look forward to getting away. But what if the holiday you booked turns out to be a big disappointment? Obviously you can’t claim any compensation if you simply don’t enjoy your holiday or if the weather isn’t up to scratch. But if the holiday turns out not to be the one you booked, if you have to pay for something because of a problem with the holiday, or something happens at the hotel or resort to spoil your holiday, you may be able to claim back some cash.

You should approach your tour operator if you went on a package holiday, or if you booked your holiday yourself, contact the hotel or resort direct. Apply for compensation in writing and include details of the holiday itself, what happened and copies of receipts for expenses you had to pay for as a result.

If you’re claiming compensation for loss of enjoyment, it’s also a good idea to include photographs that illustrate the problem.

The tour operator or hotel/resort should write back to you with an offer of compensation. If the tour operator is an ABTA member, you can make a complaint via the ABTA website if you feel the situation hasn’t been resolved satisfactorily.

If you need further help, our partnership with Law Express allows us to offer free online legal advice and information to trainee, past and present ICAEW members and their families.

For advice and information call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.

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