Holidays in times of rising kerosene prices can quickly become more expensive. This also applies to package tours that have already been booked - or is it? A look at the fine print can help.
A family of four wants to travel to Spain. The package holiday has been booked for a long time and the anticipation is great. She is all the more surprised when she reads a letter from the organizer: Because of the increased kerosene prices, the trip now costs 2,300 euros instead of 2,000. Can something like this happen?
No, despite the rise in kerosene prices, vacationers hardly have to fear scenes like this. Lawyer Hans-Josef Vogel from Düsseldorf says: "A unilateral adjustment is capped at eight percent." This means that if the organizer wants to increase the prices by more than eight percent, the customer can pay the additional costs, but does not have to. And there are also specifications for a unilateral price adjustment by the organizer of up to eight percent of the price, more on that below.
To stay with the example of the family for now. Theoretically, a unilateral increase of up to 160 euros would have been conceivable, which is eight percent of 2000 euros. But do tour operators make use of this, for example in view of rising fuel costs?
A survey conducted by the specialist portal at the beginning of May among shipping companies should have brought some relief to holidaymakers: Very few cruise operators are planning fuel surcharges. The reason for the survey was the announcement by the provider Plantours, which charges surcharges for trips already booked, partly because of higher fuel costs.
But that is still the exception, as Kerstin Heinen from the German Travel Association (DRV) confirms. In their opinion, the prices for package tours - regardless of whether they travel by plane, ship or bus - have remained stable.
It is not that easy to change the prices, says lawyer Hans-Josef Vogel. "The organizer may only increase prices if he expressly reserves the right to do so." Appropriate formulations can be found in the terms and conditions (GTC). If you want to be sure whether the organizer is allowed to raise the prices, you can't avoid reading the small print.
In the same way, such clauses also mean that prices must, conversely, fall. For example, if exchange rates have changed between the conclusion of the contract and the start of the trip and the tour operator would have to pay less. Therefore, according to DRV spokeswoman Heinen, most providers refrain from price changes. In view of the complex calculation, the bureaucratic effort is not worth it.
In addition, holidaymakers have the right to withdraw free of charge in the event of significant price increases that are above the eight percent limit mentioned. In the end, in such a case, the event organizer would, in the worst case, be left with all the costs.
If the organizer decides to pass on the prices to the customer, there must be certain reasons: These include, for example, increased fuel or energy costs, which is why the transport has become more expensive. In the same way, he can pass on tax increases or higher charges for travel services and exchange rate changes to the customers.
The organizer must inform its customers in writing of a price increase for the booked trip at least 20 days before the start of the trip. Karolina Wojtal from the European Consumer Center therefore advises customers to keep a close eye on this period. If the increase in the travel price by up to eight percent occurs less than 20 days before the departure date, holidaymakers do not have to accept this surcharge. You can then refuse the payment with reference to the legal situation, according to the consumer advice centers.
And what if the organizer only wants to hand over the travel documents upon payment of this surcharge, but has already exceeded the deadline? Then you should pay the surcharge with reservations, advise the consumer advocates. This way you don't jeopardize your holiday, but you still have the option of a refund.
While timely price increases of up to eight percent have to be accepted with correspondingly effective price change clauses in the general terms and conditions, the situation is different for surcharges that go beyond this threshold. According to Wojtal, organizers could in this case "demand that the customer accepts the offer for a price increase within a reasonable period of time". This is a matter of weighing up the interests of the customer and the organizer. After all, the tour operator wants to resell the trip if the customer withdraws. But customers have a choice.
So you have to make a decision: within the period set by the organizer, you can either request an equivalent replacement trip at the previous price or cancel the booked holiday free of charge. However, holidaymakers who completely ignore the letter are tacitly accepting the price increase.
Despite the current uncertainties: Overall, the price level should remain quite stable this year, according to travel experts. Because the organizers have planned and booked their contingents for the long term.
In 2023, the situation could look different. Then the industry fears significant increases. Wojtal says: "It will depend on how well the organizers manage to negotiate prices with their service providers - including hotels and airlines - and how long this takes place."
(This article was first published on Monday, May 23, 2022.)