Hassle-free holidays: MEPs approved new rules to get stranded passengers home ©Belga/Easyfotostock/Zoonar/A.Varbenov 

Holidaymakers putting together their own package holidays from travel services sold on the internet or elsewhere need extra protection, as they are unlikely to get the same all-in cover as those buying from traditional travel agents, say MEPs. A draft law voted on Wednesday aims to ensure that travellers are not stranded if an airline or tour operator goes bankrupt, protect them against sharp price increases or flight time changes and specify their rights in unforeseen circumstances.

The current EU rules on package holidays date back to 1990. Since then, the growth in cheap flights and internet sales has significantly changed the way travellers plan and buy holidays. However, many of these holidays customised on the internet are not covered by the current rules and travellers risk ending up in a legal grey area which can be costly.

The updated directive will broaden the definition of package holidays to encompass most types of travel arrangements made up of various elements, such as flights, hotel accommodation and car hire, so as to protect holidaymakers in the event of problems. MEPs also insist that travellers should be explicitly informed before they conclude a contract if their travel arrangement does not constitute a package and does not offer the same level of protection.

"With the amended definitions on package and linked travel it is now clear what a package holiday is. Travellers need to be informed about their rights and how they are covered. The updated directive foresees a high level of consumer protection and information," said Parliament's rapporteur, Hans-Peter Mayer (EPP, DE).

The new draft rules approved by 610 votes to 58, with 13 abstentions, should ensure that:

  • Travellers are repatriated if their travel organiser goes bust while they are on holiday. If possible, travellers should have the option of continuing their trip before travelling home, MEPs say;
  • Prices can only be raised after a sale is concluded for special reasons such as an increase in fuel prices or taxes. If the price is raised by more than 8% (the Commission proposed 10%), the traveller should be offered another holiday or be reimbursed;
  • Organisers should not be able to change the flight times significantly, that is by more than three hours, after a sale is concluded.

If "unavoidable" and "unforeseen" circumstances, such as natural disasters or a terrorist attack, make it impossible for the traveller to return home on time, the organiser has to arrange accommodation of a similar standard to the accommodation originally booked or alternatively pay for a stay of five nights costing up to €125 per night if the organiser is unable or unwilling to make a booking (the Commission proposal says three nights at no more than €100 a night).

Read more about the proposed rules in the background note (link to the right).

Next steps

The vote on Wednesday closes the first reading and ensures that the new Parliament has a mandate for negotiations with member states on the final wording of the directive. Talks with member states are expected to begin after the elections in May.