Competition watchdog the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a campaign encouraging travel firms to check their terms and conditions are fair and to be more upfront about fees and charges.
The CMA’s ‘Small Print. Big Difference’ campaign launched today and applies to travel retailers, including online travel agents.
It has been backed by Abta, The Specialist Travel Association (Aito) and the UKHospitality association.
The CMA said demanding a large deposit and refusing a refund if a customer cancels, regardless of the reason, is unfair – as is charging a cancellation fee that bears no relation to the cost to the business.
The authority noted terms are more likely to be considered ‘fair’ if it is explained clearly how a charge is calculated.
A CMA-commissioned survey of 2,260 UK adults found 89% felt they should receive most or all of their money back if a holiday they cancel is resold, two-thirds (66%) felt travel firms didn’t always make it easy to cancel and one in five of those who had cancelled a holiday felt they had been unfairly treated.
CMA research in 2016 suggested 85% of business owners “aren’t familiar with the Consumer Rights Act” covering terms and conditions.
CMA director of strategy and communications Paul Latham said: “Fair terms are a legal requirement [and] reassure customers they’re dealing with a company they can trust. Unfair terms can’t be enforced so they won’t protect businesses if challenged.”
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “A cancellation charge must genuinely reflect the costs of cancellation.”
A CMA spokeswoman insisted: “Stimulating consumer complaints is not the aim of this campaign. The purpose is to help prevent disputes. If you can’t understand your terms and conditions, your customers aren’t likely to.”
A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said: “We welcome the CMA’s campaign to tackle unfair terms and conditions in the travel industry. We have taken action against a number of businesses for breaches of consumer protection law, which include offences such as applying hidden charges.
“We are determined that consumers are able to make informed choices based on access to clear and concise information provided by airlines, tour operators and travel agents.
“We are currently carrying out our own review of the transparency of the terms and conditions used by airlines and will publish our findings in the coming weeks.”
Rob Stross, chief marketing officer at B2B currency exchange WeSwap said the campaign was a “positive announcement”, adding: “The recent CMA warnings prove that travellers aren’t at the mercy of unfair non-refundable deposits and that providers should always be working in the interest of their customers.
“This doesn’t stop with deposits for accommodation.”
He urged holidaymakers shopping online to use the web to their advantage to make savings. “There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the cost of flights, travel money and more,” said Stross. “From using a private browser to abandoning your basket to see if a provider will offer you a voucher for a cheaper cost, consumers can be savvy with the spending.”
Rory Boland, travel editor at consumer magazine Which? said: “It’s time for travel firms to up their game. If they continue to fail to treat their customers fairly, the CMA should not hesitate to take the enforcement action needed to stop people from getting ripped off.”