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Advice Column: Compensation for when a holiday goes wrong

I’ve just come back from the worst holiday I have ever had.  Everything that could have gone wrong did.  Money won’t entirely make up for this but I would like to claim some compensation back so I can afford to try to get away again later in the year.


I’m sorry to hear things didn’t go well on your holiday – I know how upsetting it can be when you’ve been so looking forward to getting away from it all and it’s not what you hoped for or expected.

The following advice applies to England only.

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

There is separate advice at on what to do if your flight was delayed.

Your legal rights depend on whether you went on a package holiday (ie 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, eg 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, eg 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, eg 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, eg bad weather
  • you’ve already been compensated, eg the hotel compensated you while you were staying there

If your flight was cancelled

Your package holiday organiser should arrange an alternative flight or give you a refund if the flight you were booked on is delayed or cancelled.

Check the information you received when you made the booking to see what you’re supposed to get. If you don’t get the service you’ve been promised, you may be entitled to compensation for breach of contract.

If the airline you’re flying with goes bust

If you book a holiday that’s covered by the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) scheme and the airline you’re supposed to fly with goes out of business, you’ll get:

  • a refund if you haven’t travelled yet
  • to finish your holiday and a flight home without paying extra, if the airline goes bust during your holiday

Read the information on how to claim on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website.

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 (eg hotel or ski resort).

Make sure you include:

  • your booking reference
  • clear details of what went wrong
  • copies any evidence you have, eg photos
  • copies of receipts
  • how much compensation you want

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).

  1. 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.
  2. Register a complaint on the ABTA website.
  3. The company should get back to you.

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 in England and Wales, or raise civil legal action in the sheriff court in Scotland. However, this can be expensive and take a long time.

Further help

Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 if you need more help – a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone. You can also use an online form or write to them.

If you’re in Northern Ireland, contact Consumerline.

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