Coronavirus (COVID-19): consumer advice for holiday bookings

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, consumer advice is available if you’re booking a holiday, have an issue with a holiday or flight you’ve booked, or want to cancel a flight or holiday booking.

Travel advice

You can find the latest travel advice at this link:

Package holidays and linked travel arrangements

Travel companies are required to provide you with information about the type of holiday you’re buying. The travel company needs to tell you up front if you’re buying a package holiday or a linked travel arrangement. 

Package holidays

A package holiday is made up from two or more travel services – such as flights, accommodation, car hire or other tourist services (for example, guided tours) – bought from one single trader, or offered by travel agents with different traders, at a total price.

Package holidays offer the best form of protection. This means you're entitled to a refund or to be brought home if necessary should the travel company organising your package go out of business.

You’re also protected if elements of the holiday aren’t provided as required - for example the right to a refund if bad weather means your holiday can’t go ahead.

Linked travel arrangement

A linked travel arrangement is where you buy travel services from different traders in separate contracts but which are linked.

They are classed as linked when one trader enables the booking of another holiday service(s),  and it is bought for the purpose of the same holiday or trip.

A linked travel arrangement is not a package and the level of protection is significantly lower than if you bought a package holiday.

It comes with limited financial protection in case the company that sold it goes bust, and complaints about each holiday service will have to be taken up with the individual suppliers.

The insolvency protection for a linked travel arrangement applies:

  • only to the first element of the booked holiday

and

  • only during the period of time that the agent who sold the first element holds your money before passing it on to the service provider

Package holiday cancelled by the tour operator

If your package holiday has been cancelled, you are protected by law, and you are entitled to a refund of any money paid.

By law, tour operators must refund your money within 14 days - however, the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is causing problems for tour operators in meeting this deadline.

Nevertheless, refunds should be sent as soon as practicable.

The law has not changed, and although some travel businesses might prefer that you accept vouchers or a refund credit note, you are not legally obliged to accept such offers. You can legally insist on a refund if your prefer.

If a business refuses to refund you, you should do the following:

Write to the business

Write to the business to make a complaint and to make it clear that only a refund is acceptable to you.

Provide the details of your booking when you are writing, and keep a copy of what you sent.

Writing may be the best way to contact a travel business in the current circumstances, as it is a record of your complaint, and getting through to some businesses by telephone can be difficult.

Check your travel insurance

Check your travel insurance to see if you can make a claim for a refund from your insurance provider. Insurance booked after mid-March 2020 may be unlikely to provide cover for travel cancellation related to the coronavirus pandemic.

If you have paid by card

If you have paid using a debit card or credit card, contact the card provider asking for 'chargeback'.

Under chargeback, which isn't a legal requirement, just a customer service promise, your bank will try to get money back from the bank of the firm you bought from, and you can try it on debit card purchases and those which are less than £100.

If your chargeback claim was unsuccessful, and you paid for your holiday by credit card and the value of your booking was more than £100, then you should write to the credit card company requesting a full refund of the value of your holiday (even if you only paid for part of your holiday using your credit card).

In law, the credit card company is equally responsible for your booking together with the travel business.

Report it 

Report the matter to the Civil Aviation Authority, the Competition and Markets Authority, and any trade body where the travel business has membership, such as the Association of British Travel Agents.

Report to Trading Standards Service

Report the matter to the Trading Standards Service and get advice by contacting Consumerline.

Package travel refund charges or fees

You should not be charged additional money for requesting a refund or for having your refund processed. These type of charges are likely to be unfair.

If this happens you should report it to the Trading Standards Service and get advice by contacting Consumerline.

Vouchers

Currently, some travel businesses are offering vouchers instead of cash refunds. However. you should consider that there may be some risks associated with accepting a voucher instead of cash.

These risks include the possibility that:

  • the cost of holidays might rise, and if this happens your vouchers might not cover the cost of the same, or similar, holiday
  • there may be restrictive terms and conditions connected with the voucher, such as an expiry date
  • if the business issuing the voucher closes down permanently you may be unable to either use the voucher or get your money back

At the moment, many tour operators and airlines are really struggling. This means, of course, that it's safer to demand a refund rather than settle for a voucher, in case the business collapses before you can use it.

However, if you are willing to accept this risk, then accepting vouchers may help affected businesses to deal with the current circumstances. 

Refund credit notes

Some travel businesses may offer you a refund credit note (RCN), which is different from a voucher.

This should entitle you to rebook a holiday at a future date or get a cash refund at a later date, up until the expiry date of the note.

A RCN will provide you with more protection than you would have with vouchers.

A RCN issued between 10 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 for ATOL-protected bookings is financially protected in the same way that your original booking was.

The RCN allows you to rebook a holiday or receive a cash refund at a later date, up to the expiry date of the note.

Having accepted a RCN, should you at a later date wish to be provided with a cash refund then you have up to until 30 September 2021 to cash it in for a refund.
 
If your original booking came with Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) financial protection (for example a, cruise holiday or other package holiday including rail or coach travel), the RCN will still provide this protection.

RCNs may look different depending on your travel provider, but they should all have the following:

  • an expiry date, which is the date to which your money is protected and is based on your travel company’s financial protection arrangements - you're entitled to rebook or have a cash refund by this date at the latest (if your original booking was for a package holiday)
     
  • the value of the RCN, which must be equal in value to the amount you paid for the original booking (or less the amount your travel provider has offered you as a part cash refund) 
     
  • the original booking details and reference

The RCN must not include any other amount offered as a rebooking incentive or other offer. Any such offers must be documented separately and are not covered by any scheme of financial protection.

You should keep all previous booking documents, including booking confirmations, ATOL certificates where appropriate, and proofs of payment.

Cancel a package holiday

You are not automatically entitled to a refund if you cancel your holiday before it has been cancelled by the tour operator. This is because the holiday might still go ahead.

However, some tour operators might be prepared to allow you to cancel your booking or offer you the chance to rebook for a later date as a goodwill gesture.

Therefore, it’s always worthwhile contacting the operator to see if they're willing to work with you.

You should also check the terms and conditions you have with your tour operator, because you may have selected terms allowing for free cancellation or for a partial refund.

Also, check your travel insurance to see if it will pay if you cancel.

Failing this, don’t cancel until you’ve spoken to the tour operator to check if they intend to cancel the holiday.

If you have no other choice other than to go ahead and cancel your booking, it’s important to note that just because you're not legally entitled to a full refund, neither is the tour operator automatically entitled to keep all of the money you have paid.

It may be reasonable for the tour operator to keep some of your payment to cover the business’ net costs, or net loss of profit resulting directly from your cancellation.  For example, the business’s actual loss of profit minus the amount it has saved from not providing the services or finding another customer.

However, it’s likely to be unfair for the tour operator to keep additional money beyond this.

Paid a deposit for a holiday later in the year

At this time it might not be possible to say whether or not your planned holiday will still go ahead.

If you have already paid a deposit you might be wondering what to do next, especially if you’ve received a request to pay the outstanding balance.

You might be considering cancelling your booking, or paying the remaining balance due on the holiday.

There really isn’t an easy answer to this dilemma, but there is advice setting out the possible consequences of your decision:

  • if you chose to cancel your booking you will not be entitled to a refund even if the tour operator cancels the holiday at a later date
  • you will only be legally entitled to a refund from the tour operator where your holiday has been cancelled by the operator
  • if you pay the remaining balance due on your holiday then you should either get the holiday you paid for, or if it is later cancelled by the operator, you should get all of your money refunded (however, it is important to note that if after paying the balance you decide later to cancel your booking, you will not be entitled to have your money refunded)
  • if your trip isn't cancelled, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is still warning against travel to your destination, then provided you have got appropriate travel insurance, you can likely claim (you will need to check the terms and conditions of your insurance, and contact the insurance company)

Non-package travel, accommodation and holiday services

A holiday which you have booked yourself using different providers for travel, accommodation and holiday services is not a package holiday or linked travel arrangement.

This means the money you have paid is not protected in the same way.

However, if you booked travel, accommodation or holiday services using a credit card (and the booking cost more than £100) then you will have legal rights against the credit card company, including financial cover, if the business you booked with closes down permanently.

Flight cancelled by airline

If your flight is cancelled, the airline must offer you the opportunity to rebook or get a refund.

If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential travel to your destination, your airline will likely cancel your flight and offer a full refund.

If you are due to travel shortly and your flight has not been cancelled, check the airline website before contacting the airline.

Some airlines and travel providers are offering vouchers in place of refunds. If your flight has been cancelled, you are entitled to a refund, so if you would prefer a refund, ask for this from the airline.

If you believe you are entitled to get a refund from your airline but they are refusing, you should do the following:

Write to the airline

Write to the airline to make a complaint and to make it clear that only a refund is acceptable to you.

Provide the details of your booking when you are writing, and keep a copy of what you sent.

Writing may be the best way to contact an airline in the current circumstances, as it is a record of your complaint, and getting through to some businesses by telephone can be difficult.

Check your travel insurance

Check your travel insurance to see if you can make a claim for a refund from your insurance provider.

Insurance booked after mid-March 2020 may be unlikely to provide cover for travel cancellation related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Paid by card

If you have paid using a debit card or credit card, contact the card provider asking for 'chargeback'.

Under chargeback, which isn't a legal requirement, just a customer service promise, your bank will try to get money back from the bank of the firm you bought from, and you can try it on debit card purchases and those which are less than £100.

If you were unsuccessful in your chargeback request and you paid by credit card and the value of your booking was more than £100, then you should write to the credit card company requesting a full refund of the value of your holiday.

You should do this even if you only paid for part of your holiday using your credit card.

In law, the credit card company is equally responsible for your booking together with the travel business.

Report it

Report the matter to:

Flight-only refund charges or fees

If your flight is departing from an airport within the EU (whatever the airline is) or departing from an airport from outside the EU for an airport within the EU (if the airline is based in an EU state), the airline cannot charge you an administration fee and must provide you with a full refund.

However, this does not apply if you booked your flight through an agent, and not directly with the airline.

Some agents may have terms and conditions that allow them to charge fees for additional services, such as claiming a refund from an airline.

Others may have no such terms and conditions, while others may be willing to help by mediating between you and the airline for free.

If your flight-only booking is cancelled, and you don’t want to go through the agent, it is important to make it clear to the airline that it is responsible.

If you believe that you have been charged for a refund when you should not have been charged, report the matter to the Trading Standards Service and get advice by contacting Consumerline.

Cancelling a flight

You are not automatically entitled to a refund from your airline if you want to cancel your booking, even if the current Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice is against all non-essential international travel.

However, some airlines have made arrangements to waive the usual fees if you want to rebook at a later date. Or they may be offering vouchers for use at a later date.  

You should check with your airline to find out what they will do for you in the circumstances.

If you choose not to travel and the ticket is non-refundable, you can claim back the Air Passenger Duty (APD) that was part of the cost of the ticket you purchased. APD is essentially a government tax for flying.

Unfortunately, airlines often charge an administration fee to do so. As the majority of flights from Northern Ireland attract the short haul lower rate of APD (£13), this is often more than the amount of the APD you will get back.

However, in the case of long haul flights from UK airports, the rate of APD is much higher (£78), and therefore it is worthwhile claiming it back. You should contact ther airline to do this.

Be alert to all contact (emails/ text/ phone calls and so on) from the airline and contact the airline if you have not heard anything.

Holiday accommodation has been cancelled

You are entitled to a refund where the accommodation provider has cancelled your booking, because the provider is no longer able to offer you the accommodation you booked.

You may consider any offer that the accommodation provider makes to you, such as rebooking the accommodation on alternative dates, or an offer of vouchers.

However, you do not have to accept any such offers if you prefer to have your money refunded.

If your holiday accommodation was booked through an agent, and not directly with the accommodation provider, you're still entitled to a refund.

However, some agents may have terms and conditions that allow them to charge fees for additional services, such as claiming a refund from an accommodation provider.

Others may have no such terms and conditions, while others may be willing to help by mediating between you and the accommodation provider for free.

If it is difficult to avoid paying the agent fees for claiming a refund, you might consider contacting the accommodation provider directly to ask for a refund.

If you believe that you have been charged for a refund when you should not have been charged, report the matter to the Trading Standards Service and get advice by contacting Consumerline.

If you believe you're entitled to a refund for your cancelled holiday accommodation but are having difficulties getting it, you should do the following:

Write to the accommodation provider

Write to the accommodation provider (and agent if applicable) to make a complaint and to make it clear that only a refund is acceptable to you.

Provide the details of your booking when you are writing, and keep a copy of what you sent.

Writing may be the best way to contact a business in the current circumstances, as it is a record of your complaint, and getting through to some businesses by telephone can be difficult.

Check your travel insurance

Check your travel insurance to see if you can make a claim for a refund from your insurance provider.

Insurance booked after mid-March 2020 may be unlikely to provide cover for travel cancellation related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Paid by card

If you have paid using a debit card or credit card, contact the card provider asking for 'chargeback'.

Under chargeback, which isn't a legal requirement, just a customer service promise, your bank will try to get money back from the bank of the firm you bought from, and you can try it on debit card purchases and those which are less than £100.

If you were unsuccessful in your chargeback request and you paid by credit card, and the value of your booking was more than £100, then you should write to the credit card company requesting a full refund of the value of your holiday accommodation (even if you only paid for part of it using your credit card).

In law, the credit card company is equally responsible for your booking together with the accomodation business.

Report it to Trading Standards Service

Report the matter to the Trading Standards Service and get advice by contacting Consumerline.

Cancelling your holiday accommodation

You're not automatically entitled to a refund if you decide to cancel your holiday accommodation.

However, it might be worth contacting the accommodation provider to check if they are prepared to work with you to find an agreeable solution.

If you have holiday insurance you should contact the insurance company to check if your policy will cover your cancellation.

 

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