Bookings and Tickets
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- Once you have accepted a booking from a customer, you normally have to honour the booking.
- All businesses should abide by good practice with regard to booking procedures.
Once you have accepted a booking from a customer, you normally have to honour the booking (see the Accepting customers section for circumstances where a booking does not have to be honoured). This is because once you have agreed the terms of the booking with a customer (e.g. the dates, accommodation type or services to be provided and price) and then accepted the booking, a legally enforceable contract exists between you and the guest.
This applies equally whether the arrangement has been made verbally over the telephone, by email or in writing. You may change the terms of the booking at a later date, provided that both you and the customer agree to the change of terms.
To avoid any problems with cancellations, no-shows or curtailment (when a customer cuts their stay short), you are strongly recommended to have a cancellation procedure. For the cancellation procedure to be enforceable, you must make it clear to customers before accepting a booking. See the Cancellations and no-shows section for further details.
Booking terms and conditions
Larger businesses may have arranged for their lawyers to prepare full booking conditions, and any operator that needs to comply with the Package Travel Regulations will require them. However, it is recommended that all operators have a policy relating to deposits and cancellations.
If you have any special arrangements like these, you must give customers the full details before they book to ensure the arrangements are part of the booking contract and binding on the guest.
In developing any terms and conditions for the provision of goods and services to customers, there are three important points to keep in mind:
- regardless of your terms and conditions, the law requires you to use reasonable skill and care in providing the underlying services
- you can't contract yourself out of your legal responsibilities. For example, you cannot have a condition which states you are not responsible for any injury a customer may sustain when the Health and Safety Act says you have a responsibility towards your customers. Similarly, you cannot say that that you will only deal with complaints that are brought to your attention while the customer is on the premises
- the law does not allow you to limit your liability to a customer for death or personal injury arising out of your negligence, or that of an employee or agent. In respect of any other loss or damage, you can only restrict your liability towards a guest as far as is reasonable.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) provides guidance as to what constitutes unfair terms in contracts. In general terms, their guidance is:
- a deposit is just to reserve the goods/services and should be no more than a small percentage of the total price
- advance payments should reflect the business' expenses and leave customers with a reasonable amount still to pay on completion
- customers should not lose large advance payments if they cancel
- businesses should set sliding scales of cancellation charges so they cover their likely losses directly from the cancellation.
However, this guidance should be viewed 'in the round'. A special deal which requires a large deposit or payment in full could be justified if there were no cancellation charges or if cancellation charges only applied within a few days of the customer arriving.
A more detailed Guide on Unfair Contract Terms is available on the Gov.uk website.
You can also see the Cancellations and no-shows section for more information.
As a matter of good practice, you should keep a clear, accurate record of the arrangements for each of your bookings. You might also want to have a simple checklist by the telephone or computer, to remind you of the details you need to run through with each guest, e.g.:
- data protection.
Ideally, you should confirm all bookings in writing to the guest, although this may not always be practical. However, you are advised to confirm in writing/email the booking details for any longer stays, larger groups or bookings that are more complex than usual.
Selling tickets for entry or for events is covered by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This means that you must provide full and clear information, including:
- any terms and conditions associated with the ticket
- what the ticket entitles the customer to
- opening hours
- the validity of the ticket (e.g. whether it is for a particular day or can be used on any day)
- if the ticket is for an event, the timing of the event, the location and, if it is seated, where the seats are.
Under these Regulations, it is illegal to give consumers misleading information or claims and to mislead the customer by omitting information that the customer requires to make an informed choice. This could include:
- additional charges not included in the ticket price (e.g. where the price for entry for an amusement park does not include the cost of rides on attractions)
- advertising an event as “A night with Michael Bublé” when the singer is only a guest that performs one song
- the cancellation policy if an event cannot be held
- information on any part of an attraction that is closed for maintenance.
- whether seating is allocated, and if so, where it is in relation to the stage and whether the view is restricted.
For events where there is a range of pricing for tickets, you can advertise that “prices start from £x”. However, when doing this, you must ensure that there are a reasonable number of tickets available at that price. Having a very limited number of tickets at the advertised price is referred to as “bait marketing” and is illegal.
It is also important to note that when you advertise and sell a ticket, the price must include all non-optional extra charges, such as booking fees.
It is important to have a cancellation policy where you are selling tickets ahead of an event and that the terms and conditions are fair to the customer. The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 apply to sales over the internet or by phone and generally require businesses to provide a 14 day period in which the customer can cancel a service or return goods.
However, there is an exemption for tickets for events held on a specific date or within a specific time period.
Guidance on ticketing for events
The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) has developed a code of practice for businesses selling tickets for events to the public.
Professional legal advice
Booking contracts and conditions are a complex area of law. For any detailed information or assistance, you should seek professional legal advice.