The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wants travel firms to check their terms and conditions are fair and to be more upfront about fees and charges, especially for cancellation.

The CMA launched a ‘Small Print. Big Difference’ campaign today (Wednesday), backed by Abta, The Specialist Travel Association (Aito) and the UKHospitality association.

It 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.

MoreComment: UK must lead way in ensuring booking conditions are fair

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.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Having to call off a long awaited trip away is bad enough, but it’s made even worse when holidaymakers are forced to hand over large sums of money unexpectedly because the cancellation policy is unfair, unclear or buried deep within the terms and conditions.

“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.”

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