Coronavirus Travel Cancellations – What Are My Rights?

With the Foreign Office now advising against almost all foreign travel for an indefinite period, what are holidaymakers’ and business travellers’ cancellation rights?

With different operators offering different approaches to refunds or cancellation, there’s a great deal of confusion for consumers, who are being left very much on their own to sort out the problems. Some operators are refusing refunds, offering rebookings or vouchers instead, in contravention of consumer law.

Up to a point, their attitude is understandable – in many cases, operators have paid for flights and accommodation packages in advance, and if they have to refund the consumer, they may never get that money back, leaving them in a dire financial position. This isn’t much consolation for the poor consumer.

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Tour operators

So what are the operators offering? A survey by Which? showed the following (bear in mind this may change at a moment’s notice):

Tui, the UK’s largest tour operator and travel agent, has cancelled all holidays up to and including 11 June, and is issuing credit notes for cancelled bookings in the first instance, even when customers have asked for a cash refund. Love Holidays, Ryanair and Virgin Holidays are doing the same.

Jet 2 has cancelled all flights and holidays until 16 June. Other operators are waiting until two weeks before the date to cancel flights.

Which? points out that vouchers or credit notes may not be protected by ATOL should the operator go bust before they are cashed in, and says that some customers are resorting to trying to get refunds directly from their credit card companies.

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Travellers stranded abroad are finding it difficult to refunds on cancelled flights or help wth rebookings, and airlines are widely flouting the rules on consumer protection.

Travel tips

Here are our top tips based on expert advice.

What should I do if I’m stranded abroad?

Your airline is legally bound to get you home on its own planes or on those of another airline. If you have to make our own arrangements, you should claim the cost of the flight from your airline if it’s from an EU airport or on an EU carrier. You can also claim back additional accommodation expenses. For non-EU flights check your airline’s T&Cs.

Can I claim back money for a cancelled holiday?

Yes, if it’s a package covered by ABTA. You should receive compensation within 14 days. If your flight or package holiday was cancelled, you don’t have to accept a voucher or credit note or rebook, you are legally entitled to a refund.

Can I claim a refund if my flight isn’t cancelled?

Usually, no. Some flights are still operating as they are needed to get people home, but some operators are refusing refunds to people who don’t want to fly because of the FO advice not to travel. You will have to wait and see if your flight is cancelled, then make a claim as soon as possible.

Can I get a refund for accommodation?

Some major hotel chains, Airbnb and Booking.com are waiving their cancellation fees for those whose trips have been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Hotels.com is offering refunds and vouchers to the full value of stays for booked trips due to start prior to 30 April. Many hotels, particularly in Spain and Italy, have closed, in which case you are due a full refund; if the hotel remains open, you will have to rely on the goodwill of the hotel or the booking website for a refund.

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What about ferry cancellations?

You should be offered a choice between an alternative journey or a full refund for cancelled ferry passenger services. Some other ferry companies have waived their cancellation fees.

Should I cancel my summer holiday?

The advice from Which? is not to cancel your package holiday ahead of time, as you may lose your deposit or cancellation fee, and you won’t be able to claim on insurance. First ask if you can rebook for a later date without charge.

Will my insurer help?

Bear in mind that many insurers have temporarily suspended sales of travel insurance to new customers, and many will not cover cancellation of you book a holiday against FO advice. If your holiday is cancelled, try to get a refund from your travel or accommodation provider before claiming on insurance, as insurers will only pay out for costs that would not be refunded.

If I do travel, what health precautions can I take?

Website Fit for Travel gives the following advice:

  • Check the latest advice for your destination on the Foreign Office website Speak to your doctor before travelling, particularly if you are older.
  • Choose a window seat on the plane as this brings you into contact with fewer people.
  • Paper surgical masks may be of little use; wash your hands thoroughly with plenty of soap and water before eating and drinking, use alcohol-based gels and cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing.
  • Carry a thermometer to check your temperature.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who appears unwell, with animals and with public surfaces such as shop counters. Make contactless payments where possible.
  • Call NHS 111 for further health advice or visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus

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