By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency
With the summer travel season imminent, you might want to review the rights you have as a traveler, such as they are. The main problem with most so-called “rights” is that they aren’t really rights unless a supplier faces some financial or regulatory consequence when it fails to live up to the promise. And, by that measure, your true rights as a traveler are slim indeed.
Air travelers. When you fly you have some real rights, which the travel press frequently reviews in detail. You know the basics: If an airline bumps you due to overbooking, you’re due a cash payment of up to $1,300 in addition to completing your trip. If an airline loses or damages your baggage, it owes you up to $3,500 for a domestic flight or around $1,500 on most international flights. If your flight is delayed on the tarmac more than three hours without giving you an opportunity to disembark (in most cases), the airline pays a fine. When you shop for an airfare, you can lock in what looks like a good deal but keep searching a better deal for 24 hours without a cancellation penalty. And airlines have to display all-up prices, including fees and taxes, in their ads and websites. Violators get fined.
Hotel guests. Although there are no federal laws, individual state “innkeepers” laws, dating back to common law, generally require that hotels maintain safe and secure premises and provide some form of secure storage for valuable items. But that’s about it. When a hotel is oversold or otherwise can’t honor a reservation or a prepayment, traditional industry practice is to “walk” you to a different hotel that is “equal or better” and pick up the tab for your first night. But this isn’t a legal requirement; it isn’t even posted as a guideline by the American Hotel and Lodging Association. And it’s often ignored.
Cruise passengers. Cruises operate under maritime laws, which strongly favor the cruise line over you. And your legal rights range from slim to none. About the only government requirement is that lines must post the scores from periodic ship sanitation inspections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Beyond that, you generally get bupkes. Cruise lines can alter itineraries and ports without your automatic right of a refund. When a line does offer a “refund,” it is often in the form of a voucher for or discount on a future cruise, not actual cash. And even if you can demonstrate monetary damage, cruise contracts make it difficult to sue them. A few years back, the Cruise Lines International Association published a “Passenger Bill of Rights,” but it’s just vaporware, because the cruise lines face no consequence if they fail to deliver.
Tour participants. Government rules require that tour operators using charter air service deposit your prepayments in an escrow account until the tour is complete. And each member of the United States Tour Operators Association — mostly the larger operators — must participate in a $1 million security program to protect prepayments. But typical contracts allow operators to make many changes, including hiking the price, after you’ve paid, without your right to an automatic refund. An operator can, for example, switch you from a hotel promised in the brochure to a different “equal or better” hotel, and the tour operator gets to decide what’s “equal.”
Car renters. When you rent a car, the only rights you have are those contained in the fine print of the rental contract, and those contracts are totally one-sided. If a rental company can’t provide a car you’ve reserved, for example, industry lore says it should arrange a car with some other company and pay the difference, if any. But the legal and industry backing for that “promise” is even weaker than for the equivalent hotel promise, and I’ve often seen it ignored.
Overall, as far as I can tell, the majority of travel suppliers try to do as they’ve promised. But, except in some limited airline cases, they often face no consequence — or owe you any cash — when they fail to deliver on those promises, so be warned.
Tribune Content Agency — May 17, 2016
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at Rail-Guru.com.)
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