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Case studies - Valerie Jackson birthday surprise

Special family holiday ruined when travel company cancelled at the last minute

Which? Legal member Valerie Jackson booked a luxury family holiday to Tunisia to celebrate her husband’s 60th birthday – only for the booking agent to cancel it five days before the flight.

What happened

Valerie paid £4,348 to Thomson Holidays for the couple, their three sons and partners to stay for a week at a four-star resort.

When Thomson Holidays said that the trip couldn’t go ahead, she asked it to provide an alternative holiday. She told the company that the family could be flexible on the dates and the airport they flew from. However, Thomson couldn’t provide an appropriate alternative and the cost of the holiday was refunded.

Valerie asked for compensation. The response was a £280 voucher, which she returned saying she expected appropriate compensation.

Valerie spent three months trying to resolve the matter, but a suitable outcome couldn’t be reached, so she contacted Which? Legal for advice.

What we advised

Our lawyers advised Valerie to give Thomson a final chance to reach an agreement. This prompted a response from the company, although it simply repeated what it had said before.

Which? Legal advised on issuing proceedings for breach of contract, seeking £3,500 damages for the family.

Thomson then offered £1,000 in settlement. After further contacting our lawyers again, Valerie said that she believed Thomson had already had a chance to negotiate, and as such she would seek a decision from the court. Thomson then decided to offer £3,000 plus £73 court fees, which Valerie accepted.

The law

In a breach of contract claim, damages are usually limited to financial loss, such as the cost of a holiday. Compensation for inconvenience isn’t usually recoverable. But if a contract’s purpose is relaxation or enjoyment, you can claim for loss of that enjoyment. In this case the obligation was to provide the holiday, which Thomson failed to do. It’s difficult to put a price on a holiday’s benefit, but the court may take into account how important the occasion was when making an award.