Some Ryanair customers might be surprised to learn that they are entitled to a refund for holidays they couldn’t take because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Airlines usually have no legal obligation to refund passengers who choose not to take a flight that is still operating. This means many customers have lost out after deciding not to travel because closed borders, accommodation cancellations or local lockdowns made their holiday impossible.
But anybody who booked a hotel, car hire or even certain kinds of tours through Ryanair at the same time as their flight will have inadvertently created a package holiday.
In some circumstances, this could mean they are entitled to a full refund whereas passengers with a flight-only booking are not.
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Your package holiday rights
Since July 2018, package holiday customers have had additional rights under the Package Travel Regulations. If you buy a package from Ryanair, it’s responsible for the performance of the whole package – not just the flight.
However, Ryanair customers may not even been aware that they have a package holiday. The majority of large holiday firms – including BA Holidays, easyJet Holidays, Expedia, Jet2 Holidays, Love Holidays and On The Beach – send customers an Atol certificate confirming their package. But Ryanair packages are not Atol protected – they are covered by a different scheme regulated in Ireland.
When might you have more legal rights with a Ryanair package than a ‘flight-only’ booking?
- If accommodation is closed by a lockdown at your destination
If your hotel is closed but Ryanair is still flying, you would not have any right to a refund if you booked the hotel separately. However, if you booked your hotel via Ryanair’s website, it’s obliged to find you new accommodation of a similar standard, compensate you if it’s of a lower standard or provide a refund of the whole package, including the flight, if it can’t provide accommodation.
- If the country that you’re visiting has closed its borders
Ryanair refused to refund travellers who had flights booked to Cyprus if the flights were still running – despite the fact that UK nationals were banned from entering the country. This was entirely legal. However, under the Package Travel Regulations, anyone who booked a hotel or car with their flight through Ryanair’s website should have been given a full refund for the whole package.
- If something goes wrong with part of the package while you’re on holiday
Package holiday providers are responsible for the performance of the whole package. That means if something goes wrong with a trip booked through Ryanair, the onus may be on the airline to put it right. If you booked a hotel with your flight and the room you were given wasn’t what was advertised, the food was inedible, or even if there was an injury or illness, it’s Ryanair’s responsibility. See more about your legal rights for package holidays here.
- If you booked a hire car as part of a driving holiday but no cars are available
If you book a hire car separately, Ryanair would not need to refund your flight if local lockdowns meant your car wasn’t available. But if you had a driving holiday planned that’s no longer possible, it would have to refund you for the whole package – both the flight and the hire car.
- If the reason for your trip was a particular tour or event that is cancelled
If the whole reason for your visit to a country is a tour or event that you booked separately and is subsequently cancelled, Ryanair does not need to refund your flight ticket. But if you booked the tour or event through Ryanair Tickets, it should refund you for the whole package – including the flight.
How do I know if I booked a package holiday from Ryanair?
Passengers who add a hotel, car hire, tour or event at the same time as their flight should receive a message informing them of their rights. At the bottom of the emails Ryanair send to customers who have booked a hotel along with the flight is the message: ‘If you have booked a combination of travel services together (eg any two of flight, hotel or car hire), we will be fully responsible for the proper performance of the package.’
Why aren’t Ryanair package holidays Atol protected?
The vast majority of package holidays with flights sold in the UK are Atol protected, so you get your money back from a scheme regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) if your holiday company goes bust. You will also be repatriated if the company fails while you are on holiday.
But as Ryanair is based in Ireland, it isn’t allowed to be part of the Atol scheme under EU rules. It is obliged to provide financial protection regulated by Ireland and has taken out insolvency protection with an insurance company associated with Lloyds of London. The company eDreams, which is based in Spain, and other European holiday companies are in a similar situation.
After the Brexit transition, Ryanair and other EU holiday companies’ package holidays sold to UK customers probably will need to be Atol protected (depending on the final agreement made by the government). That means it will have to pay £2.50 per passenger into the Air Travel Trust (Atol scheme) every time anyone based in the UK books a hotel or car hire with their flight.
In theory, this protection should be applied to all package holidays booked from 1 January 2021, but the Civil Aviation Authority has said that it may not enforce it initially, as long as EU-based holiday companies can demonstrate that they are in the process of applying for an Atol license.