The FCO has ended its non-essential travel advice to more than 70 countries. But the sudden removal of mainland Spain from the list on 25 July, with the Balearic and Canary islands following on 27 July, is a warning that the situation is still extremely volatile.
The UK government’s ‘travel corridors’ remove the requirement for travellers from the likes of France, Italy and Australia to quarantine when returning to England.
Travellers from the countries on the travel corridor list returning to the UK no longer have to self-isolate for 14-days. The government is continually updating the list to add and remove more countries.
But the fact that Spain could be removed from the list with no warning over a weekend is a reminder that no foreign holiday is guaranteed to go ahead this summer. See our full advice on Spanish holidays here.
Holidaymakers struggle to get refunds
With holidaymakers still owed millions of pounds for cancelled holidays and flights, many will be reluctant to rebook if their trip is cancelled. Some major travel companies are still refusing to issue refunds as required by law, insisting customers rebook their trip or accept vouchers instead.
We approached the UK’s 10 biggest package holiday providers and 10 largest airlines at the end of April, and found none were consistently meeting their legal requirements to refund consumers within the statutory timeframe.
Companies including TUI, Love Holidays, Virgin Holidays and Ryanair are issuing credit notes for cancelled bookings in the first instance, even when customers have asked for cash refunds. Following months of pressure from Which?, the government has finally confirmed that credit notes issued for air-based packages have the same financial protection as the holidays they replace, so if a travel company collapses, customers will be refunded by the travel industry Atol scheme.
However, vouchers issued for scheduled flights booked separately aren’t covered by the Atol scheme and have no financial protection.
Clients still have a legal right to a cash refund instead of a credit note or voucher, if that’s their preference. Some customers have resorted to asking their debit or credit card provider to help get their money back, while those still paying deposit instalments on holidays for this summer are wondering what to do.
For award-winning investigations, unbiased reviews and advice and access to legal advice, find out more about Which? Travel.
Video: Coronavirus – your travel questions answered
Below, we explain your rights in these unprecedented circumstances. Click on the links for answers to these questions:
- Can I get money back for a cancelled holiday?
- Are airlines issuing refunds?
- What about my accommodation? Can I get a refund?
- What about ferries?
- Should I cancel my summer holiday?
- Is coronavirus covered by my travel insurance?
- My travel is essential. What do I need to know?
- How can I travel safely?
You can keep up to date with our latest advice on the coronavirus outbreak over on our coronavirus advice hub.
Can I get money back for a cancelled holiday because of coronavirus?
Yes, as long as it was a package holiday. Unfortunately many companies are ignoring this requirement and are refusing to reimburse customers.
We have reported on several travel firms that are breaking the law over package holiday refunds. Meanwhile, customers of other providers like Tui and Lastminute.com have reported that it’s almost impossible to contact them. Thankfully Tui has now introduced an online form enabling customers to claim a refund.
However, not all travel firms are ignoring their obligations to customers. Many independent and smaller providers such as Trailfinders and Kuoni are offering cash refunds within 14 days of cancellation.
Which? is calling on the government to establish a temporary Travel Guarantee Fund to support travel companies, which are unable to fulfil their legal responsibilities. That would ensure customers still receive a full refund even if their provider goes bust before they have a chance to redeem their holiday.
The law says you are entitled to a full refund, so don’t accept a voucher if you have any concerns. Refund Credit Notes are a safe option, now the government has confirmed they’re protected by the Atol scheme, and they might be an attractive option if your travel company is offering you additional credit as an incentive, but you’re entitled to a cash refund if you prefer. Which? Travel is lobbying on your behalf to ensure consumers are not left out of pocket at a time when they may already be feeling financial strain.
What should I do? If your flight or package holiday was cancelled, you don’t have to accept a voucher or credit note, nor do you have to rebook. You are legally entitled to a refund. Make this clear to the firm, in writing. If it still won’t do the right thing, you could try to claim through your card provider.
For package holidays, the company which took your money is responsible for issuing your refund – so if you booked with a third party agent, go direct to them. If it’s a single booking for a flight, ultimately it’s the airline who the contract is with regardless who you booked through. The third party may have to issue the refund, but it may be worth pressuring the airline rather than the agent to release the funds.
If the FCO advises against travel, you can claim from your travel insurer for consequential losses, such as booked hotel rooms or car hire. However, you won’t be entitled to any compensation, such as flight delay compensation under EU261 rules, as a disease outbreak is considered an extraordinary circumstance
Are airlines issuing refunds?
It depends on the airline.
The good news is that if your flight was cancelled, you’re due a refund. This applies for all flights on any airline that departs from an EU country, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the UK, and flights on any EU carrier from any airport.
Outside of the EU, the rules are more complex. Your rights likely depend on the individual airline or travel agent’s terms and conditions.
Despite the rules, airlines like British Airways and Ryanair are making it very difficult to claim.
At the beginning of the crisis Ryanair was one of only a handful of carriers to include an automatic refund link on its website, albeit one that frequently failed. Customers struggled to make the refund system work, with many receiving error messages. Others reported waits of up to six hours to receive a reply from its Live Chat.
Ryanair then told customers to accept a voucher for future travel or wait ‘until the COVID-19 emergency has passed’ – potentially for a year or more – to get their money back. More recently it’s said that it’ll clear 90% of its backlog by the end of July, but many passengers are still waiting.
EasyJet has reinstated an online refund form and claims it is aiming to process refunds for cancelled flights within 28 days – although some still have to wait longer. Previously the carrier was forcing customers to phone, with many reporting lengthy waits to get through.
British Airways has been directing customers to claim a voucher for future rebooking. Those that want a refund are required to call the airline on 0800 727 800 from the UK, or +44 (0)203 250 0145 from outside the UK. It warns that ‘call volumes are high’.
Other airlines aren’t just delaying refunds but flatly refusing them; including Air France-KLM and WestJet. Air France-KLM offers vouchers which passengers aren’t able to convert into a refund for at least 12 months.
What should I do? If your flight is cancelled, you are due a refund. You don’t have to request a refund before your flight’s scheduled departure. In fact you have at least 12 months to make a claim. Many people are telling us that the airline websites aren’t working, or they can’t reach the carrier to request a refund. Your options are to keep trying or to try to claim through your debit or credit card provider, or paypal.
British Airways, Ryanair, EasyJet hasn’t cancelled my flight. Can I claim a refund?
Unfortunately not. Even when there are FCO travel warnings in place, as for Spain, airlines will not necessarily cancel flights. This is despite the fact that holidaymakers taking those flights will invalidate their travel insurance.
Wizz Air is flying on some routes despite the FCO warning against travel and those with standard tickets have to pay a fee to claim a refund and cannot swap free of charge onto another flight. Which? has reported Wizz Air to the CAA and CMA for not following guidelines.
Ryanair restarted more routes on July 1. It would not confirm whether it would allow passengers to rebook free of charge, but we know that passengers booked on flights to Cyprus, which has banned British holidaymakers at least until August 1, are being charged to change their flights.
On 10 June Ryanair introduced a new policy meaning that anybody who booked flights for July or August from then on could change them to later in the year without a charge. But flights do need to be changed at least seven days before the original departure date.
On 17 July it extended this policy for September as well. Passengers won’t get a refund if new flights are cheaper, but will have to pay the difference if they’re more expensive.
EasyJet is also flying again, although the airline has assured us it will continue its free rebooking policy if you don’t wish to travel.
Jet2 restarted flights on 15 July. Virgin restarted some flights on 20 July and relaunches more routes from 1 August. If it cancels your flight, you are due a refund.
You can make a claim as soon as you receive email confirmation that your flight has been cancelled. However, it may be worth waiting longer if you can as customer services are experiencing an extremely high volume of calls.
But take care when rebooking your flight that you don’t get ripped off. Some Ryanair passengers have found that fares when rebooking are more expensive than a new ticket on the same flight.
What should I do? If your airline has not cancelled a flight, despite the FCO warning against travel, ask if you can rebook for a later date for free, as a refund isn’t likely. However, the CMA recently issued guidance about general businesses. If a consumer has to cancel due to Government public health measures meaning they cannot access those services, they should be entitled to a refund. Push for a refund based on CMA guidance.
What about my accommodation? Can I get a refund?
Airbnb, Booking.com and some major hotel chains are waiving their cancellation fees for those whose travel plans have had to be abandoned because of the outbreak.
Airbnb said that reservations for stays and experiences made on or before 14 March with a check-in date before 31 August are eligible for a full refund, if customers cancel before check-in.
Chains such as IHG, Hilton and Premier Inn are giving guests the option to cancel or amend bookings without charge. Booking.com is also asking its properties to waive cancellation fees for affected customers but this may not apply to bookings made after 6 April.
Similarly, Expedia is asking customers to change or cancel reservations using their online account. It says that changes to most hotels, flights, car rentals and activities booked prior to the pandemic won’t incur any additional fees.
What should I do? If your hotel has closed, you’re due a full refund. Even if it is open but government restrictions prevent you from getting to your accommodation, CMA advice suggests you should be entitled to a refund. Some suppliers have been better than others – find out who you should book your next holiday with.
What about UK holiday cottages?
Unlike with flights and package holidays, you’re not necessarily entitled to a refund if your holiday cottage booking is cancelled due to coronavirus. It depends on the terms and conditions in your booking contract.
If your contract states that you’re entitled to your money back if the company you booked with cancels the booking, then that’s what you should demand.
Following enforcement action by the CMA, some major cottage providers, including Hoseasons and Sykes Cottages, are now refunding customers where travel restrictions prevent overnight stays.
What about ferries?
If you’re booked on a ferry service that’s been cancelled, the provider is obligated to offer a choice between an alternative journey or a full refund. However, some companies are currently issuing credit notes notes instead.
Brittany Ferries has restarted many of its routes but will usually allow you to amend dates if you can’t travel. Cancellations will still incur a fee.
DFDS restarted its Amsterdam to Newcastle service on 17 July. Other companies that are still running services include Irish Ferries, P&O Ferries and Stena Line.
If you are due to sail with one of these companies until the end of August, you can either amend your date of travel for free or get a voucher for the equivalent price for future use.
What should I do? If your ferry journey has been cancelled you’ll probably be issued with a credit voucher, rather than a refund. If you’re unhappy about this, try contacting the ferry company directly to ask for your money back.
If the service hasn’t been cancelled but you don’t want to go you can usually amend the booking, but cancelling it will incur a fee.
If you’ve booked a trip for later in the year and are worried, some companies will allow you to rebook your holiday for a later date. For example, easyJet Holidays is allowing you to amend package holiday bookings up to 21 days before the departure date. You will, however, have to pay any fare/price difference.
What should I do? If you cancel, normal cancellation charges will apply and you’ll lose your money. Ask your travel company if you can rebook for a later date free of charge. For more detail on whether/when to cancel package holidays, flights, accommodation and cruises planned for summer 2020, read our in-depth guide, Coronavirus: should you cancel your summer holiday?
Is coronavirus covered by my travel insurance?
Major travel insurers responded to the pandemic by changing policies so they no longer covered coronavirus-related incidents.
It’s important to check your policy to see if you’re covered before you travel. If you booked your trip after the pandemic was a ‘known event’ it’s unlikely that you’ll be covered for cancellations, although you may be for health expenses if you bought an annual policy before mid-March.
Most policies will not provide cancellation, disruption or abandonment cover if you travel or book a holiday against FCO advice.
What should I do? If you can no longer travel due to FCO advice, you may be able to claim from your insurer for any costs that won’t be refunded. Check with your insurer.
For more information, see our separate guide on what coronavirus means for your travel insurance.
Can I get money back for a cancelled holiday from my travel insurer?
Before you get in touch with your insurer, you should try to get a refund from travel or accommodation providers. Insurers will only pay out for costs that couldn’t be refunded, so you must explore that route first.
If your travel operator tells you to claim on your insurance, get this in writing. You will need proof it refused to issue a refund before you can progress further.
Next, make a list of all the non-refundable costs you want to claim for. Not just hotels and flights, but transfers, tours and excursions. After that, you’re ready to contact your insurer.
What if I’m taking out travel insurance now?
If your holiday is later in the year, it’s important to get travel insurance as soon as you can. In recent weeks policies that cover coronavirus have come on to the market. At least nine insurers now cover coronavirus cancellations. Some others will cover you for medical expenses, but not if you have to cancel your trip.
Most insurance policies still have exemptions for coronavirus. For a full rundown of which insurance companies are offering what, see our coronavirus insurance guide in Which? Money.
For more information, read our guide to the best and worst travel insurance companies.
My travel is essential. What do I need to know?
Make sure you check the latest advice for your destination on the Foreign Office website and Fit For Travel.
If you’re concerned about the risks to you, speak to your doctor. Older travellers and those with underlying health conditions are most vulnerable.
Make sure to check in with your travel insurance provider before you travel. The FCO is still advising against all but essential travel to most countries worldwide, so choosing to travel to anywhere that’s not included in its ‘travel corridors’ will mean you are not covered on insurance.
Admiral, The Co-op and NFU Mutual said they wouldn’t cover anyone who travels to a country that has an ‘all but essential travel’ warning in place, regardless of the reason.
How can I travel safely?
Which? Travel spoke to Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth, author of several travel health guides, for her advice on protecting yourself against infection. She says:
- ‘Wash your hands thoroughly before eating and drinking, and after visiting the toilet. Alcohol-based gels aren’t nearly as effective as plenty of soap and water. Choose a window seat on the plane, if possible. A 2018 study found that these passengers typically only come into contact with 12 other people, compared with those in middle (58 people) or aisle seats (64). There is currently insufficient evidence around the effectiveness of paper surgical masks. Instead use good hygiene etiquette, and cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing.’
Fit For Travel also advises travellers to consider carrying a small first aid kit, with a thermometer or strips to check body temperature.
Avoid contact with animals and people who appear unwell, including their personal items. And make contactless payments where possible to avoid handling cash.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that has flu-like symptoms – including a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Anyone who is worried that they may have contracted the disease should use the NHS 111 site. There you’ll find advice on whether you should call 111 for further assistance.
How to protect yourself and others from coronavirus We explain how to help prevent infection, and which health products are worth buying and which ones are not.