/ Travel & Leisure

Brief cases: what are your rights when a holiday is cancelled?

Imagine the frustration of a special family holiday being cancelled at the last minute. When this happened to Valerie she was able to get back not only the cost of the holiday but – with our help – £3,000 compensation.

Which? Legal member Valerie Jackson booked a luxury family holiday to Tunisia to celebrate her husband’s 60th birthday – only for the booking agent to cancel it five days before the flight.

Valerie paid £4,348 to Thomson Holidays for the couple, their three sons and partners to stay for a week at a four-star resort.

When Thomson Holidays said that the trip couldn’t go ahead, she asked it to provide an alternative holiday. She told the company they could be flexible on the dates and the airport they flew from. But Thomson couldn’t provide an appropriate alternative and the cost of the holiday was refunded.

Valerie asked for compensation. The response was a £280 voucher, which she returned saying she expected appropriate compensation.

After three months trying to resolve the matter, Valerie contacted Which? Legal for advice.

Advice on cancellation of holidays

Valerie Jackson won compensation after her holiday was cancelledOur lawyers advised her to give Thomson a final chance to reach an agreement. It did respond, but just repeated what it had said before.

Which? Legal advised on issuing proceedings for breach of contract, seeking £3,500 damages for the family. Thomson then offered £1,000 in settlement.

After further communications with our lawyers, Valerie said that she believed Thomson had already had a chance to negotiate, and as such she would seek a decision from the court. Thomson then offered £3,000 plus £73 court fees, which Valerie accepted.

In a breach of contract claim, damages are usually limited to financial loss, such as the cost of a holiday. Compensation for inconvenience isn’t usually recoverable.

But if a contract’s purpose is relaxation or enjoyment, you can claim for loss of that enjoyment. In this case the obligation was to provide the holiday, which Thomson failed to do. It’s difficult to put a price on a holiday’s benefit, but the court may take into account how important the occasion was when making an award.

Have you had a similar experience to Valerie, or have you not felt confident enough to fight the case?


It must be one of the easiest things in the world for a major tour operator like Thomson to find a suitable alternative holiday from their range of destinations, especially when the customer is flexible on dates and departure airport. Their failure to achieve that must have added to the disappointment felt by the Jacksons. After all, one of the reasons for going to a major operator is to have more peace of mind than you might have with a smaller company. Top marks to Valerie for standing up to Thomson. I am glad their legal action was successful and I hope that they have all been able to have a happy holiday together. Will this result be a lesson to Thomson?

I personally have recently encountered the hard face of Thomson; to avoid further distress we decided not to make a legal issue over it but we shall never travel with them again.

Viking river cruises are currently cancelling cruises on the Elbe because the water level is too low for the boats.

These cancellations are being made weekly and only days before departure.

We have a cruise booked in four weeks time (3 September) from Prague to Berlin with a follow on holiday in Berlin which we have arranged ourselves. Any cancellation of our cruise will mean we will lose our outward flight to Prague and we will also need to book a new flight to get us to Berlin.

Viling say they are currently cancelling a few days before departure but customers cannot cancel without losing the £4,000 or more cost of the cruise.

Since booking we have discovered that the Elbe cruises are known in the travel world to be unreliable and that Viking cancelled cruises last year as well as this. There is however no mention of these known difficulties in the Viking brochure.

Has anyone any experience of cancellation or of obtaining compensation from Viking?

In July this year my wife and I booked a tour of Japan with Virgin Holidays starting 2/10/2015 . The web site advised that Virgin Holidays “Guaranteed to operate with a minimum of two passengers”. Because of the late booking we were obliged to pay in full, over £5,800.00. In September Virgin asked if we minded paying more because one of the hotels was fully booked and the alternative was more expensive. When we refused we were tole that Virgin would meet the difference. Later in September Virgin told us that the tour was fully booked and they would refund our money. We then received 9 emails advising that there would be a cancellation charge, initially of over £4,000.00 but the last one advised of a cancellation fee of £0.02 When we telephoned to complain about these charges (as we had not cancelled) we were told to ignore the email and we would receive a full refund. At the same time the lady to whom I spoke advised that the tour had been cancelled (i.e. it was not fully booked). However, when I checked Virgin’s web site, the tour was still being advertised and at a discount. Eventually we received a refund of all we had paid minus £0.02. I have tried complaining by email but have received no response.