Yesterday, the results of the latest sweep investigation have been published. A sweep investigation is a "coordinated enforcement action" whereby national authorities simultaneously check a certain sector's operator's compliance with EU law. This time, it concerned travelling websites.
An earlier investigation in 2013 had found that 382 of the 552 websites checked did not fully comply with EU consumer law. The investigation was repeated in order to see whether the situation had improved after the first report.
What the national authorities scrutinised was essentially whether the websites offered sufficient (and sufficiently early) transparency as to prices, and also how easy they made it for the consumer to know whom they were contracting with and how, if need be, they could file a complaint.
Indeed, many websites did not clearly show the trader's identity/the procedure to be followed in case of complaints, and additional costs (such as luggage surcharges) also seem to represent a source of concern. All in all, 38% of the websites checked still seem to be "somewhat" in breach of EU law.
The Commission's Q&A on the sweep contain a few useful tips for consumers who buy travelling services (not necessarily) online:
- Can you contact the trader? (and, if not the same as the trader, the airline/hotel)
- Do you have all the information you need about the air travel or hotel?
- How much is it really going to cost? Look out for the final price;
- Do you have a right to reimbursement? Check the cancellation policy;
- Can you find easily the contract terms? You should be able to print or save them *before* the purchase;
- Do you have a problem? Report it immediately to the contacts indicated to you, and if need be to a consumer association/competent authority;
- Is your flight delayed? Remember that as a passenger you have specific rights! (http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/ecc/consumer_topics/air_travel_en.htm)
Good to keep in mind as the summer approaches...