Tour operators and airlines are refusing to refund holidaymakers who can no longer travel because of new coronavirus restrictions, including tens of thousands of people in Wales who have been banned from taking half-term holidays.
Most customers will be forced to rebook their holiday for a later date, although it should be possible to do this without paying a penalty fee.
Local lockdowns and Jet2 Holidays, Tui and Easyjet Holidays
Jet2holidays, Tui and easyJet Holidays told us that they will waive amendment fees for customers who want to postpone their trips if local lockdowns prevent them from travelling, but they won’t give refunds or even vouchers.
British Airways’ customers can postpone their trips or take vouchers, but the airline isn’t issuing cash refunds either.
This means that customers either have to re-arrange their holidays, which in some cases will mean paying more money if the new dates are more expensive, or lose what they’ve already paid.
In England and Scotland, holidaymakers are unlikely to be entitled to refunds because the restrictions don’t ban overseas travel.
But in Wales, where lockdown restrictions prevent travel without a ‘reasonable excuse’, we believe people should be fully refunded for holidays they are unable to take, if their terms and conditions don’t say what would happen in a lockdown. Companies that refuse refunds by referring to their T&Cs may then be challenged on the basis that those terms are potentially unfair.
Find more unbiased advice on travel and the coronavirus, award-winning investigations and legal advice on holiday refunds and cancelled flights with Which? Travel
Can I still go on holiday if I live in Wales?
From 23 October, holidays from Wales will be banned until 9 November as part of a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown. The government has been clear that a holiday isn’t one of the permitted reasons from travel under the restrictions, which will come into force at 6pm on Friday, so if you do go on holiday, you could be fined.
Even so, airlines and tour operators are not allowing free cancellations, saying that if the holiday goes ahead and the customer cancels, normal penalties apply. Tour operators, including Jet2holidays and Tui, are offering free changes but not refunds.
However, Which? believes that since government restrictions prevent people from travelling they should be entitled to a refund where the terms and conditions are silent about what should happen in a lockdown.
Even where tour operators introduced clauses to new contracts after the start of the pandemic to exclude refunds due to local government lockdowns, Which? believes these could be challenged on the basis they are potentially unfair. This was done successfully with holiday cottage providers who refused refunds in the UK’s original lockdown.
Can I still go on holiday if I live in England?
A complex tiered system of restrictions has been introduced for England, with the toughest restrictions in Tier 3, which includes the Liverpool City Region. The government is clear that people shouldn’t travel from Tier 3 areas to the rest of the UK, but the advice regarding overseas travel is less clear. The government simply says people should follow local rules in the country they visit.
Unfortunately, because the guidance isn’t clear and isn’t in law, it might be hard to get a refund for your holiday or flight, but tour operators including Jet2hoidays and Tui say that customers who are directly impacted by the lockdown restrictions can rebook for free.
Government advice for people living in Tier 2 areas is only to travel with people from the same household, so if you’ve booked a holiday with people you don’t normally live with your tour operator might allow you to change it for free.
If you live in Tier 1, you can go on holiday but you’re advised to travel with no more than six people, including children.
Can I still go on holiday if I live in Scotland?
In Scotland, people living in areas with additional restrictions, including Glasgow city, East and West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire can still go on holiday including overseas, although in an address to the Scottish Parliament this week First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked all families in Scotland not to book holidays abroad during the October school break unless ‘essential’.
Again, tour operators and airlines aren’t offering free cancellations to holidaymakers from Scotland, saying that normal terms and conditions apply. Although the government has advised people not to book holidays, in the absence of an outright travel ban they’re unlikely to be able to claim free refunds.
I’m not allowed to take the holiday I’ve booked, what are my options?
Jet2holidays, Tui, British Airways and easyJet told Which? that they aren’t refunding clients who can’t travel because of the new coronavirus restrictions, but they will waive amendment fees for customers who want to switch to any other holiday currently on sale, including next year. BA is offering free changes or vouchers.
Customers will still have to pay any price difference, and in some cases this will mean paying more. Alternatively, Tui says customers can switch to a cheaper holiday and it will refund the difference.
EasyJet customers must call the airline’s customer services to amend their booking for free, but one customer told us they quoted him £89 more to change his flight than the fare quoted online. EasyJet told us their fares should be the same, online and over the phone, and the customer was offered a free transfer after Which? raised his case with the airline.
I want to cancel, will my insurance cover the cost?
You need to check your policy but many of those sold after mid-March exclude cover for travel disruption caused by government restrictions.
A spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers said travel insurance might cover non-refundable cancellation costs in specific circumstances, such as a change in Foreign Office advice, but that might not be the case here.
They said: ‘It is important to note that many policies taken out or renewed, or trips booked, after the pandemic was declared are likely to exclude cancellation due to coronavirus as it was a known risk when the policy was taken out or trip was booked.’ They said a refund should be sought in the first instance from the airline, accommodation provider or tour operator.
‘Following that, any bookings done through a credit card may also be able to have costs recovered through Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act or via a chargeback claim,’ they added.