Advice: Problems on holiday - am I entitled to a refund?

Jaclyn Glover, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey.
Jaclyn Glover, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey.

By Jaclyn Glover, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey

Q: I have just returned from a holiday abroad with my family. The room we had reserved was overbooked and we were put in a room that did not have enough beds. Can I get the cost of my holiday refunded?

A: If something went wrong with your holiday you might be able to get compensation from the company you booked with.

Your legal rights depend on whether you went on a package holiday (i.e a holiday with transport and accommodation included) or organised the holiday yourself.

If you went on a package holiday

You’re legally entitled to compensation if:

• the holiday you went on was lower in value than the one you booked, e.g you paid for a deluxe room but only got a standard room - this is called ‘loss of value’ and you can claim back the difference in value

• you had to spend extra money because of a problem with the holiday, e.g you had to pay for another hotel because there were fewer beds than you booked - this is called claiming for ‘out-of-pocket expenses’

• something goes wrong that causes you distress or disappointment, e.g if the pool was closed for the whole trip - this is called ‘loss of enjoyment’

There’s no strict guidance on how much you can claim for loss of enjoyment. You’ll need to think of an amount that reflects the portion of the holiday that was affected.

You’ll only be able to get the full cost of the holiday back if it was completely ruined - this rarely happens.

You can’t get compensation if:

• you simply didn’t enjoy the holiday, even though it matched what you booked

• the problem was out of the holiday company’s control, e.g bad weather

• you’ve already been compensated, e.g the hotel compensated you while you were staying there

If you organised the holiday yourself

It’s harder to get compensation if you organised the holiday yourself, because it’s likely that you’ll have different contracts with different companies - for example, hotels, airlines and travel agents. If those companies were based abroad, you won’t be protected by UK law and your rights could be completely different.

However this doesn’t mean you can’t try. Most companies will have a complaints procedure that you can go through, so you might get some compensation.

Write to the company and ask for compensation - Who you write to will depend on who you booked the holiday through. If you booked a package holiday, write to the customer services department of the tour operator you used. If you booked it yourself write directly to the accommodation or service provider concerned (e.g hotel or resort).

It’s a good idea to send the letter by registered post, so you have proof that the holiday company received it.

If the company makes you an offer that you think is too low, you can ask for more. They might come back to you with a higher offer.

If you’re still unhappy - If you booked a package holiday you might be able to complain to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). Check if the company you booked with is a member of ABTA. You won’t be able to complain to ABTA if they’re not a member.

If this doesn’t work you can get ABTA to mediate between you and the company. This means that ABTA will work with both you and the company to reach an agreement. There’s a fee for this service.

Alternatively, you could choose a Trading Standards-approved ADR scheme yourself to try and solve the problem more informally. As a last resort you can take the company to the small claims court, however this can be expensive.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1pm - 1:30pm). Email advice is available at