Coronavirus travel advice: our consumer champion explains your rights
People with holidays booked will have their travel plans disrupted, as the Government has banned non-essential travel from November 5.
Both domestic and international stays will no longer be permitted except for work purposes.
Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for holidays to go ahead this summer, this decision was dependent on the coronavirus infection rate remaining low.
The Foreign Office (FCO) is now advising against all non-essential travel and airlines are cancelling flights. Many people have already had holidays cancelled and are struggling to get a refund. But fear not, I’m here to help. To give you an overview of your rights, I’ve put together this guide on what to do if you’ve got a trip coming up or are thinking of booking one.
The Money team and I are here to answer your questions and tackle any injustices you come up against. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with specific questions or to have your case solved.
*Please note all information is correct at the time of writing, but information relating to the spread of coronavirus will change, so please check the Foreign Office’s specific page, which is regularly updated, and speak to your insurer and travel providers.*
You have a holiday booked
If your travel firm cancels on you, you should be entitled to your money back. However, tens of thousands of customers are still waiting to get a refund for holidays already cancelled, meaning you may find yourself at the back of a very long queue.
If the firm hasn’t yet cancelled, you should hold off doing so yourself and hope that it does. If you voluntarily cancel, you are unlikely to get any money back.
If it still does not cancel and you no longer wish to travel, you will have to cancel yourself and are unlikely to get a refund.
If you have booked your whole holiday as one package through a travel agent or tour operator, you should also have a right to a full refund. Sadly those who booked different parts of the holiday separately will be subject to the terms and conditions of each individual company. Check with each one to see what you’re entitled to.
Some travel companies are offering customers credit to put towards a future booking with them rather than a refund. However this may not have the same protection as a booked holiday and if the travel operator later goes bust, your credit note could be worth nothing.
Before booking any overseas or domestic holiday for when lockdown ends, make sure you know what your insurance covers you for and what the terms of any refunds are if official advice stops you from travelling. The Government has not yet ruled out extending the lockdown past December 2.
Those booking British getaways may not be covered by their insurer if the trip has to be cancelled as most standard policies do not include domestic travel.
One of the safest ways of booking a holiday is to go for a package option, as you should always be entitled to a cash refund if the holiday is cancelled due to FCO guidelines or because the company has gone bust under the Atol protection scheme.
If you are paying for flights and accommodation separately, check if they allow you to change your travel dates without a fee. If not, ask your credit or debit card provider what protection they’d offer you in case you have to cancel or the travel operator fails.
For bookings costing more than £100, your credit card provider will usually refund you for any services not provided under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Card Act. Some debit card providers also offer chargeback, where you can claim a refund for costs under £100. However this is not a legal protection and companies offer it at their own discretion.
Your airline goes bust
Flight operators are struggling to cope as they have to cancel more and more flights and people hold off booking holidays. One, Flybe, which was already experiencing difficulties, has even collapsed.
All Flybe flights are now grounded and refunds are highly unlikely unless you booked as part of a package holiday. You may be able to reclaim the money via your credit or debit card provider or claim on your travel insurance. Some insurers, however, will only cover you for airline failure if you purchased an optional add-on with this included.
You have a holiday booked but are worried due to age and/or health concerns
Some passengers who have holidays booked for after the lockdown ends may fear that travelling to other countries where coronavirus has been found could put them at increased risk due to their age or pre-existing health complications. In general, coronavirus has proved far deadlier to older patients with underlying health issues, so I can appreciate these concerns.
Even so, unless your tickets already state otherwise, unfortunately you have no absolute right to a refund for directly booked flights or package holidays. It is therefore down to the discretion of airlines and holiday companies to refund your travel if you no longer want to go.
If your airline or holiday company are unwilling to refund or let you postpone, you should ask your travel insurer if you’re covered. Make sure you fully put them in the picture about your health concerns, providing a doctor’s note if appropriate. This could really help your case.
You’re quarantined or asked to self-quarantine while on holiday
Holidaymakers who find themselves in quarantine are bound to feel their trip has been spoiled. Yet I asked Abta, the trade association that represents travel agents and tour operations, whether these people would be entitled to a refund, and I’m afraid it said they would not.
In such a situation, holiday companies would be obliged to provide assistance and information to travellers, which may involve arranging and paying for new flights to bring them home.
The good news is that travel insurance would be far more likely to pay out in a situation like this, so if this does happen to you, contact your insurer and provide all the evidence you have.
Has your holiday been ruined by coronavirus or are you worried about future travel plans? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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