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July 1999

By the book: Making sure the vacation package is a deal

Make sure you are getting what you pay for when planning your vacation

Your vacation should be pure pleasure. Unfortunately, things do not always go according to plan. What can you do when your dreamy getaway turns into a nightmare? For package vacations (Pauschalreisen), you have one contract, with your tour operator (Reiseveranstalter). This is usually a company different than the travel agent (Reisebüro) through which you booked. German travel law applies to all package vacations, even international ones. Sometimes problems occur before you have even left home. If you need or want to cancel, you will usually have to pay a cancellation fee (Stornogebühr). The nearer it is to your departure date, the higher this will be. In certain cases of “acts of God” — severe political unrest, terrorism, extreme health risks, natural disasters, etc. — you have the right to cancel, or change, your vacation at no cost. This applies only when the circumstances could not have been predicted at booking time. You also may cancel if the price is increased by more than 5 percent after you booked. To cover yourself against other causes of cancellation — e.g. the death of a close relative — and against having to cut short your trip, you can take out insurance (Reiserücktritt Versicherung). This must be done within eight days of booking, with your travel agent. What happens when you start your vacation, but it doesn’t meet the standard you were promised in the catalogue? The inconsistency of court judgments leave a broad gray area here. Certain principles are, however, clear. For you to have legal redress, the fault (Mangel) must be more than minimal. One judgment, for example, ruled that a four-hour flight delay had to be accepted. Also, if you book at a resort described as having “a lively atmosphere,” you will probably have to put up with loud music into the wee hours. Local conditions play a role, too. One court decreed that on Hawaii you had to put up with as many as three geckos in your room. On the other hand, if you are promised a beautiful sandy beach two minutes’ walk from the hotel, and all you find is a stretch of gravel after a three-hour bus ride, you have grounds to complain. When a problem arises, you must report it immediately, preferably in writing, to the local representative of the tour operator, who will often be your tour leader. The tour operator must then be given the chance to put things right, for example by moving you to another room or to a different hotel of the same standard. Should the operator fail to remedy the situation within a reasonable time, you can take action yourself, such as booking into another hotel, and be repaid later. If the problem cannot be solved, you have the right to demand a partial rebate when you return home. Collect evidence: photographs, video, statements from witnesses, etc. You must send a written complaint to the tour operator within four weeks of your return. If your demand is rejected, you have six months to take legal action, in which case you should seek advice from a lawyer or consumers’ association. For more information see Recht auf Reisen, available for DM 14 (plus postage) from the Bavarian Consumers’ Association (Verbraucherzentrale Bayern,) tel. (089) 53987-0.

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