Self-help Law

This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.

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How to deal with holiday and travel problems

Overbooking by airlines

Airlines are notorious for overbooking flights and this can often lead to passengers not being given seats and being held over to the next available flight. Unfortunately this is the way the business operates; your contract with the airline comes into force only when you check in and receive your boarding pass, and therefore the airline does not breach any contract with you by not giving you a seat.

The Consumers Institute advises that the airline's obligations in these situations are governed by various international agreements. For information on this and other travel problems, see the Institute's website at

Overbooking by an airline is not your travel agent's responsibility.

Lost luggage

If the airline loses your luggage, you can make a claim against it for compensation. There will normally be an upper limit that the airline will pay, specified as one of the contractual terms of your ticket.

However, it is advisable that you consider taking out baggage insurance before you leave, especially if you have luggage that is particularly valuable or fragile.

Overbooking at hotels and motels

Over bookings at hotels and other places of accommodation also sometimes occur. While you may in some cases have a legal right of action against the hotel or (where applicable) your tour operator for breach of contract, a practical way to avoid loss in this situation is to ensure that you have travel insurance that will compensate you.

What rights of action do I have against my travel agent?

If you have an unsatisfactory trip you may be able to take action against the travel agent. However, the travel agent is not responsible for such things as overbooked flights or accommodation, as in these cases your contract is with the particular airline or hotel, not the agent.

Nevertheless, travel agents are responsible under the CONSUMER GUARANTEES ACT 1993 for carrying out their work as agents with "reasonable care and skill", and the Act provides consumers with a number of remedies if that standard is not met, including compensation: see How to exercise your rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act. You should contact the Ministry of Consumer Affairs or a lawyer to see if you have a case against the agent.

What if my travel agent goes out of business?

Most travel agents are bonded members of the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ). If a bonded agent goes out of business after you've paid for your holiday in advance, the TAANZ will refund you this money. For more information, including a list of TAANZ members, see the Association's website at You can also call TAANZ on their freephone number, 0800 738 069.

If your agent was not bonded, you will be an unsecured creditor and will be unlikely to have your money refunded.

What if I need to cancel my holiday?

Whether or not you are able to get your money back will depend on your specific contract. Usually there will be a cancellation fee.

Cautionary notes
  • Unfortunately travelling is often a risky business and most organisations in the industry exempt themselves from liability when things go wrong. However there are still some instances where you may be able to bring legal action; you will, however, need to take your case to a lawyer to find out whether it is worth pursuing.
  • To avoid many difficulties associated with holidays and travel, it is advisable that you take out comprehensive travel insurance before you leave.

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