Consumer advocates are calling for the end of prepayment when traveling

At least one fifth of the travel price can be requested by tour operators of package tours in advance. For consumer advocates, this special right favors bankruptcies.

Tourists at Playa del Salado in Cuba

GIt is particularly tricky at the moment: In view of the increasing number of corona infections, those who book a vacation cannot be sure that they can really travel. A deposit is often due anyway. That calls consumer advocates on the scene. “I consider the advance payments to be antiquated, no longer responsible in the flight and travel sector,” said the head of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv), Klaus Müller, of the German press agency.

Organizers of package tours have so far been allowed to demand at least a fifth of the travel price in advance. This is a special right that is no longer justified, says Müller. In almost all other businesses it is normal to first get a service and then pay. “You buy a roll and you pay as soon as the roll goes over the counter.” This is also the case with many hotel bookings: “You have been to the hotel, you check out and then pay for it”.

The fact that 20 or 30 percent of the travel price for package tours and even the entire amount has to be paid well in advance for flights is “an outdated mismanagement”, criticized Müller. Too often one has recently seen airlines or tour operators go bankrupt. “I doubt that we have seen the last bankruptcy in Europe here,” said the consumer advocate. Either a ban on prepayment must be discussed – or broader insolvency protection not only for package tours, but also for flights.

A travel warning is not a prohibition

After the bankruptcy of the major tour operator Thomas Cook, the federal government wants at least to improve the insurance for package tours. Organizers should have to pay into a fund so that huge amounts of damage are covered in the future. In the Thomas Cook case, the sum insured of 110 million euros was only enough to settle a fraction of the claims of the holidaymakers concerned. The federal government stepped in for the rest.

The German Travel Association (DRV) considers this to be the right approach. The industry, on the other hand, wants to hold on to prepayment. “Customers of package tours are protected against the bankruptcy of the tour operator, both for the down payment and the final payment,” emphasizes the association. “In this respect, there is no need to change this system, which is cheap for the customer.”

The Federal Court of Justice had recently declared down payments generally permissible – among other things, because the tour operators often have to pay in advance themselves. You either buy larger allotments from airlines and hotels at the beginning of the holiday season – or you can arrange trips based on current prices. In this case, they would usually also have to pay in advance and transfer the travel price to their partners immediately, said DRV spokesman Torsten Schäfer. “Therefore, down payments are necessary and justified.”

If a vacationer cancels his trip because of a short-term travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office, the deposit must be repaid within 14 days according to an expert opinion by the Federal Consumer Association. Travel warnings currently apply to more than 160 countries outside the European Union – including popular holiday destinations such as Egypt, Thailand and the Dominican Republic – but also to regions in France, Spain, Belgium, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. A travel warning is not a prohibition, but is intended to have a significant deterrent effect. It also enables travelers to cancel bookings free of charge.