Coronavirus and cancelled holidays
UPDATED 21st July 2021
As COVID restrictions begin to be lifted and social distancing rules removed, many people are hopeful of going on a summer holiday this year.
However, despite restrictions being lifted in England, widespread limitations on travel remain. As such, Thomas Sedley, dispute resolution specialist at our Bury office answers some of your commonly asked questions and provides information on your consumer rights should your holiday plans be affected.
What are the current rules for travelling?
In England, holidays within the country are allowed and, as of 19th July 2021, there are no restrictions on the number of people you can travel with.
You can also leave England to travel to other parts of the UK, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man or the Republic of Ireland – but this does rely on the rules in these regions allowing people from England to enter, so you should check before booking.
Some overseas holidays are also allowed and a ‘traffic light’ system has been adopted for international travel.
What are my rights if my package holiday has been cancelled?
If you purchased a package holiday and this has been cancelled, or you are prevented from travelling due to border closures/quarantine rules, then you are legally entitled to a refund in full from your travel provider. However, we are aware that a number of travel providers and holiday companies are not fully complying with their responsibilities by offering customers ‘travel credit’ or vouchers even when a cash refund has been requested.
A ‘package’ holiday is defined by The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 as the combination of at least two different types of travel services comprising either flights, accommodation, car rental or an essential tourist service where this is an essential part of your holiday.
It counts as a package if your travel company has;
- asked you to pay a single price through a single payment;
- let you select a combination of services – such as a flight and accommodation – before you agreed to pay for them;
- charged you an inclusive or total price for all the services you bought;
- advertised or sold the travel services to you as a ‘package’ or similar term; or
- sold you one travel service; and then transferred your details, including your payment details to another company which you then booked another travel service through within the space of 24 hours.
The Package Holiday Regulations entitle you to a full refund so you should not be forced into accepting a voucher or credit, and should inform your provider of your wish for a refund in writing.
What if my package holiday has not yet been cancelled and my travel provider is asking for the final instalment to be paid?
It is vitally important that if your package holiday has not yet been cancelled, and you still owe money on that holiday, that you ensure the holiday is paid for in full.
If you fail to pay the final balance on time, and when requested, then your travel provider will likely claim that you are in breach of the contract and the above regulations will not cover you. You also risk losing all of the money you have paid up to that point and may also have to pay a cancellation fee. Your travel insurers are also unlikely to cover you if you cancel your holiday.
You should therefore pay the balance in full and wait for your travel provider to cancel the trip.
Am I due a refund if my holiday destination is moved from the ‘green’ list to the ‘amber’ or ‘red’ list?
As a result of the traffic light restrictions, some package holiday providers will cancel any imminent bookings to red or amber destinations. If they do then the above position applies and you are entitled to a full refund if you do not want a voucher or to rebook.
However, it is important to stress that you are not automatically entitled to a refund if you choose to cancel because of a change in a country’s traffic light status. Therefore, it is vital that you study the terms and conditions of your trip and check with your travel company what your options are. While you may not be able to claim a refund if the provider is going ahead with the trip, you might be able to change the date or destination (however you may have to pay any difference in price).
What if I have not purchased a package holiday?
With recent innovations such as Airbnb and booking.com, less and less people are booking package holidays and ‘create your own’ holidays are becoming increasingly popular.
These are holidays where you have purchased elements of the trip separately, for example, you have purchased flights through Ryanair, and booked a hotel through booking.com/Last Minute.com etc.
Unfortunately, these do not offer the same protections as package holidays, but there are still various ways to ensure that your rights are protected.
What if my flight has been cancelled?
If your flight has been cancelled, and you were due to fly from any EU (or UK) airport, or your destination was in the EU, then under EU Regulation 261 you are entitled to a full refund. We are aware that many airlines are making it difficult for customers to obtain refunds or only offering vouchers or the option to rebook, but if this is not suitable or convenient for you, you should insist in writing on a refund.
If you have made a flight-only booking to a destination which changes from green to amber or red, you may also be able to use the ‘flexible booking policy’ of the airline to change the dates, although it won’t be possible to get a refund unless the airline cancels your flight
Some providers such as Airbnb, Booking.com and some major hotel chains are waiving their cancellation fees for those whose travel plans have been cancelled or abandoned and are allowing customers to rebook for no extra fee.
Whether you are entitled to a full refund depends on the terms and conditions of the booking, so you should check your agreement very carefully.
However, the Competition and Markets Authority previously published guidance stating that if a consumer has had to cancel their trip, or they are unable to access those services, due to Government public health measures, they should be entitled to a refund. You should therefore push your provider for a full refund and refer them to the CMA guidance – however, this is only ‘guidance’.
If you paid for your holiday with a Credit Card (up to £30,000) then you should contact your credit Card company directly as they are equally liable for losses under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
Most travel insurers have now stopped selling policies or have changed their policies to exclude cover for coronavirus related disruption. They are also unlikely to cover any losses caused as a result of a holiday destination’s change in ‘traffic light’ status.
However, if you had already purchased travel insurance and booked your holiday before the FCO advised against all but essential travel on 17th March 2020 your travel insurance should cover cancelled holidays and any consequential losses suffered. However you need to check your specific policy very carefully.
They are unlikely however to cover costs that you can recover from elsewhere, such as flight refunds from Regulation 261, and will only cover costs that can’t be refunded. However, unless the policy specifically states so, the option of receiving a voucher should not exclude you from recovering your costs (i.e. pounds and pence paid) from a cancelled holiday. You should also request, in writing, confirmation from your travel provider that they will not be providing you with a cash refund.
However, most policies will not provide cancellation, disruption or abandonment cover if you travel or book a holiday against FCO advice.
Businesses in the travel industry have been hit hard by the pandemic and will be doing all they can to mitigate their losses. As such, this may mean that some businesses will not provide refunds , unless you insist or may due to cash flow issues, take longer than the legislation allows to process them. Furthermore, terms and conditions of contracts can be complicated and therefore understanding your rights can be tricky.
The Butcher & Barlow Dispute Resolution team can assist you as much or as little as you require. We are able to provide you with initial advice on your contract for you to take up with your provider yourself, take up the claim if you are finding that the travel provider is being unreasonably difficult or make the claim on your behalf
Contact your local office and ask to speak to the Dispute Resolution team.
Thomas can be contacted at our Bury office on 0161 764 4062 or at firstname.lastname@example.org