By Mark Hodson, Editor of 101 Holidays
What can you do if your holiday starts to unravel?
Maybe you’ve turned up at your hotel to find it looks nothing like the photos on the website, or the sound of building work is keeping you awake at night. Whatever the problem, here’s a 10-step guide to making an effective complaint.
Before you set off
If you’ve booked a package holiday with a tour operator, the description of your holiday on the website or in the brochure is a legally binding contract. Take a copy with you. If you have any questions, email them to the company, print off the reply and ask for that member of staff’s email address.
If you encounter a problem, point it out straight away, giving hotel staff or your holiday rep the chance to fix it on the spot. If you’re not happy with your hotel room, don’t wait until the next morning – return directly to the reception desk and ask for an alternative.
Decide your desired outcome
If a problem is likely to affect the enjoyment of your whole holiday, don’t be afraid to complain. But decide first what outcome you hope to achieve. That makes the argument easier to resolve, and will help you focus on the crux of the problem, rather than ranting and raving.
Don’t demand to be moved to a better hotel if you find a cracked tile in the bathroom. If you are made a sensible offer, such as an alternative room, and you refuse it, that could affect any compensation you might receive. In legal terms you have failed to “mitigate your loss”. It’s usually better to accept a partial resolution, while telling staff you are not fully satisfied.
Don’t lose your cool
If you feel your complaint is not being taken seriously, make notes of who said what and when. Written evidence is going to be useful if you lodge a formal complaint. Be assertive but not emotional. Yelling at a junior member of staff is unfair and unlikely to produce results.
Escalate the complaint
If your first complaint cuts no ice, go to the next level up. In a hotel, demand to see the general manager or duty manager. If you booked with a tour company, speak to the resort manager. If that fails, phone the tour operator’s head office in the UK. Most have a 24-hour contact.
Do some detective work
At this stage, corroborative evidence is going to be useful. If the shower is leaking all over the bedroom floor, take photos or video footage. If the hotel pool is filthy, collect the names and addresses of other guests. Keep receipts of any extra money you’ve spent – you may be able to claim it back later.
Write a letter
If you felt your complaint wasn’t dealt with properly on your holiday, write to the tour company or travel agent within 14 days of getting home. Keep the letter brief and outline the compensation you expect. For advice on how to write a letter, consult the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Bring in the experts
If after a further 8 weeks the dispute has not been resolved, contact the Consumer Affairs section at Abta. For a small charge, it offers an independent arbitration service; for claims of up to £3,000, the fee starts at £71.30. For complaints against airlines, go to the Air Transport Users Council.
See them in court
If all else fails, go to a small claims court. The system is designed to be user-friendly and allows you to present your own case without the need for a solicitor. You can also name the court where you want the case heard.
Mark Hodson is a journalist and co-founder of the travel inspiration sites, 101 Holidays and 101 Honeymoons. He spent 12 years as a full-time freelance travel writer for The Sunday Times and has visited more than 70 countries.