From staycations to foreign vacations, millions of people will be heading off on holiday over the next few months.

Most will have a fabulous time, with only a bit of sunburn and a few regrets about life choices to taint the trip.

But if you’re unlucky, you could find yourself facing a terrible travel experience. From bedbugs to bad buffets, a lot can ruin a holiday. So here’s my guide to your rights if your trip disappoints.

What is a bad holiday?

As anyone who has ever watched the Hotel Inspectors will know, the quality of a hotel or destination is very much down to the perception of the individual. A dream trip to some might be a tawdry nightmare to others.

So the starting point is: have I got what I was promised? When you purchase any part of a holiday, you are entering in to a contract with the provider of the goods or services. As with any contract, if all or part of the deal has been misrepresented then you can ask for some or all of your money back.

This problem can be a dramatic one – like turning up to find that your hotel is only half built. Or subjective, like finding out the pool is being repaired and isn’t available.

Getting your money back

There’s no one set of solutions for holiday complaints and compensation. If the accommodation is genuinely appalling, then you can ask for a full refund. But make sure you register your complaint as soon as you can while at the venue or on the holiday itself.

The challenge here is a little bit like having a bad meal at a restaurant. If you’ve eaten the food, you’ve (arguably) got what you paid for even if you didn’t like it. That’s why you need to report the matter as soon as possible. Have a think about whether you want the business to transfer you to a new hotel, or if you want to come home. If you’re willing to tough it out, can you get a refund or an upgrade?

When key components of the holiday are missing, like that pool I mentioned, or a kids club that isn’t available so you’re stuck with the children, you can argue that a vital part of the holiday is missing. Explain that you booked the holiday specifically so you could take advantage of the facilities or services. Have a think about what you would be willing to accept in terms or a refund or vouchers.

Overbookings, errors and icky things

There’s nothing worse that turning up to find that your hotel or apartment is overbooked or worse, you’ve been scammed. The best way to avoid this is to do a bit of prep in advance.

Firstly, read the website’s policy on overbooking or dissatisfactory accommodation and save the page and emergency number in your phone. Most big companies and travel agents will have a policy on getting you in to comparable accommodation should this happen.

Being an old cynic, I always message the hotel or apartment owner before I travel just to confirm the details. This is a good way to hammer home key requests, like early check ins, sea views and things like bathtubs or cribs for the room.

A good insurance policy is vital too. Check what your policy covers you for, should a holiday disaster occur.

Much has been said lately about the scourge of things like bedbugs. If something is unsafe or unsanitary in your holiday accommodation, report it immediately, request appropriate solutions and medical treatment where appropriate and negotiate a refund or discount depending on the severity of the situation. Don’t forget to fully document and photograph things so you can prove what happened later.

The trouble with apartment booking

One final word of warning. Private apartment bookings are by far the most complained-about holiday horror. Check photos thoroughly to see if the advertised facilities are all there, ask questions before booking and look at the reviews before you comit.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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