This article is aimed at those travelers who are either concerned about an existing hotel overbooking or are anxious to ensure that their hotel booking is secure. It is relevant to travelers on a package holiday through a Tour Operator or Travel Agent. Travelers who have booked their hotel room directly with the hotel should simply contact the hotel itself regarding any concerns. I worked in the land operations department of a well-known tour operator for over five years.

Things You Will Need

A telephone, persistence, a firm but polite manner

Step 1

If possible, book directly with a tour operator. Not only will this be cheaper but you will remove one layer of communication. While it's true that some travel agents are very experienced and can be effective advocates, in reality there is nothing they can do that is above the ability of most of us. PS. Don't waste time trying to speak to a tour operator directly IF you have booked through a Travel Agent. It is against ABTA regulations for them to speak to you. If you're travel agent is unhelpful or ineffective remind them that they have a duty of care towards you.

Step 2

If you think a confirmation of booking from your tour operator is confirmation that all elements of your holiday are taken care of then you may be in for a rude awakening. Although a booking request is often sent down on the day you made your booking, written confirmation, if chased at all, will be left until a few weeks before departure...if you're lucky! In the reality of a busy operations department, you're hotel room may be still unconfirmed within a week of departure.

Step 3

Call your tour operator customer service or operations department about a month before departure (about two months if there is a prestigious event near your holiday location). Ask them for the hotel confirmation number. If the representative tells you that they haven't got it yet, ask them to chase it for you. They will probably oblige but if they try and fob you off (it's not our policy,etc.) be persistent and they should assist. It takes only an email or a fax after all. For European holidays tell them you will call them back in an hour (or two if you're generous), give them until the end of the day for the US and Caribbean and give them 24 hours for Hawaii, Australasia and the Far East. Call them back promptly. If you are told that the hotel does not give confirmation numbers (some don't) ask the tour operator to confirm they have received written confirmation from the hotel.

Step 4

Once you have your verbal confirmation (which is, of course, useless) then call the hotel reception/booking line. Tell them your confirmation number (or surname if they don't have numbers) and - importantly - ask them to read back the details of your booking (arrival date, room type, departure date, number of rooms, guests, etc.). If the receptionist seems a bit put out don't forget that they may have already been harried by the tour operator...but at least they won't forget your name in a hurry.

Step 5

In the unlikely event that there is still no record of your booking call your tour operator back immediately and repeat step 3 again.

Step 6

If the worst happens and you are advised by the hotel that the booking has been refused, keep calm and politely ask the reason. The hotel are more likely to tell the truth than the tour operator. You might even get some juicy ammunition for your next conversation with the tour operator (such as 'I already told them they need to pay £250 if they want the room'). Compose yourself and call the tour operator again. Try to find out if the hotel overbooked the rooms or if the tour operator oversold their allocation. Although there's not a great deal of difference in legal terms, if the tour operator have fouled up you are more likely to shame them into doing their best for you.

Step 7

The tour operator now has three options: Get you reinstated, offer you an equal or higher standard hotel within a certain radius of the hotel or, if there is no such availability or the costs involved would be too substantial for them, a full refund with compensation. They may offer you a downgrade rather than take the final option but they have no right to force you to take it.

Step 8

If you really do not want the alternative offered (or there is no alternative) then stick to your guns. Ask the tour operator to source you another alternative or tell them you demand to be reinstated. Give the tour operator a reasonable amount of time (ideally up to a week) to fulfill your demands since they may need to involve their contracting and legal teams in negotiation with the hotel.

Step 9

If the representative seems to be struggling with your case, or worse still doesn't seem willing to help, ask to speak to the operations manager. Take the manager's name and double check they are in charge of the whole department (and not just the team supervisor). Ops managers are busy people with large company credit card budgets. If money is the issue then sometimes even the prospect of conflict will lead a manager to write off a certain amount of costs to secure a room. If, after pleading your case with the manager, you are told clearly that the company cannot reinstate you or are unwilling to cover the associated costs then, providing they have stuck to the terms and conditions of booking, you are probably best to call it a day. At the very least though, the company should have upped its offer of compensation to exceed the statutory minimum.

Tips & Warnings

1. Persistence really does pay. I have seen two identical bookings refused. While one passenger put up with a downgrade on the other side of town, the other refused to put down the phone until the company paid £500 to upgrade her. 2. Try to get a quote for the hotel directly, making sure you supply all the relevant room details. You should then know roughly how much the company could spend if they really wanted to get you the room and they will not be able to use the 'its completely full' line. 3. Certain events will be so busy that a refusal within a month of departure will not be worth contesting. Dublin on St.Patrick's Day and the Riviera during the Cannes Film Festival come to mind. 4. Don't mention 'Watchdog' or make up fake relatives. Nearly every disgruntled passenger seems to be related to a travel journalist or a top lawyer. This may cause the company to stick rigidly to the Ts and Cs but if you want their representatives to pull out all the stops then antagonizing and threatening them is counterproductive. Aim for a polite but firm manner at every stage and you will stand the best chance.