Further investigation discovered another InteleTravel UK agent was claiming to hold Abta membership, despite Abta confirming the company, headquartered in the US, was not yet signed up to the association, having applied to join in July 2017. Abta told TTG it would be “raising these points” with the company.
It comes after TTG approached three different InteleTravel UK agents, posing as a consumer requesting a hotel and flights to a US city.
One agent claimed that having travel insurance was “pretty much the same thing” as booking an Atol-protected trip, while another said the booking would be covered by Abta. When asked if InteleTravel UK was a member of Abta, they replied “yes”. A third agent said InteleTravel UK would be receiving its Abta membership and would own an Atol “imminently”.
After TTG later requested these travel options over email, the same third agent provided a selection of flight and hotel choices and offered to book a flight and accommodation – inadvertently creating an unprotected package, which they advised should be “booked imminently to avoid the cost going [increasing] too far”.
They also advised “GDPR rules” meant each element had to be booked “at least 24 hours apart” and “as separate transactions”.
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, labelled it “a blatant attempt to avoid” the new Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018.
“It is utter nonsense to suggest that GDPR requires an agent to book elements on different days,” he told TTG. “With no Atol and no [Abta] membership, this could be a disaster waiting to happen for both consumers and those who join the scheme.”
Another travel lawyer explained that if an agent allowed a customer to purchase a combination of travel services from a single point of sale, a package holiday would be created within the rules of the PTRs – regardless of whether separate contracts are concluded with different travel suppliers who may have their own Atols. The agent creating this package would therefore require an Atol.
“The InteleTravel UK homeworker seems to be trying to avoid creating a package or a Linked Travel Arrangement by delaying the purchase of flights by more than 24 hours,” the lawyer told TTG. “The PTRs have really widened the definition of what constitutes a package holiday, so travel agents need to be careful.”
They added that although “there is some ambiguity around the definition of a package”, in the event of an accident or illness while on holiday, there was “a high chance” a court would consider the booking in this case to be a package holiday, “even if InteleTravel UK argued otherwise”.
An Abta spokesperson told TTG: “InteleTravel UK has applied to join Abta and the application process is currently ongoing following an initial application made in July 2017. InteleTravel UK is not an Abta member and no representative of the company should be claiming it is. We will be raising points raised by TTG with the company.”
A spokesperson for the CAA said: “We thank TTG for the information, which will be reviewed by our consumer enforcement team.”
A spokesperson from InteleTravel UK said: “InteleTravel UK is unable to comment while the training and testing process is being implemented.”