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Booking a holiday has never been so fraught with a new lockdown looming and the requirements around quarantine, travel corridors and COVID-19 testing constantly changing.
Furthermore, consumer confidence is at an all-time low after swathes of holiday firms broke the law over refunds for cancelled trips early in the pandemic.
But you can still book a holiday for 2021 if you find the right flexible, risk-free terms and conditions.
Many reputable providers promise free amendments if COVID-19 restrictions mean you are unable to travel. Some even allow you to get a full refund if you simply change your mind.
Here we round-up the best flexible booking options from companies who have been treating their customers right during the pandemic.
Kuoni flexible booking
Its tailor-made getaways are at the luxury end of the market, but Kuoni’s Flex+ policy might give you the confidence to plan a holiday again.
Selected holidays to destinations like the Indian Ocean and Asia are automatically covered, meaning you can change or cancel your plans up to 10 days before departure.
There are no penalty fees, even if you simply get cold feet about travelling during the pandemic.
The extra protection applies to new bookings made before the end of the year for travel up to 30 June 2021.
The luxury operator is a Which? Recommended Provider (WRP) and ranked joint top for package holidays in this year’s survey with an impressive overall score of 86%. It has also been providing quibble-free refunds for package holiday cancellations throughout the pandemic, as required by law.
Read about Kuoni’s Flex+ promise
Looking for a provider you can trust? See the full results of our best and worst package holiday providers.
Audley Travel flexible booking
WRP Audley Travel is another luxury operator hoping to tempt back nervous holidaymakers. For any of its European destinations, it is promising a full refund if you cancel up to 14 days before departure.
The policy applies to new bookings from now until the end of the year, for travel up until 14 December 2021.
For long-haul trips, customers can move their dates or switch to another destination without penalty up to 45 days before travel. However, there may be additional charges due to seasonality or accommodation changes.
Audley’s customer service received high praise in our survey of best and worst escorted tour providers.
And while it was initially slow to refund on holidays cancelled due to COVID-19, after pressure from Which?, it is now fulfilling all requests within 28 days.
Explore flexible booking
While fee-free cancellations aren’t an option – unless you’re required to self-isolate due to COVID-19 – customers can transfer to another trip or date (or request a credit voucher) up to 10 days before departure.
However, any elements of your trip – classed as non-recoverable – will be lost altogether. These could include international flights, or pre-booked activities (such as gorilla permits in Uganda or Inca Trail passes).
Check the T&Cs to see how many of these services you are committing to before you book.
This week (up to 8 November) customers can save £100 per person on small group tours when booking through an agent. The deal is part of the Holiday To Help Out initiative, organised by travel media business TTG to support the UK travel industry.
A WRP, Explore is highly-rated for its authentic cycling tours, wildlife safaris and mountain treks in exotic destinations including Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands. Big hotels are avoided in favour of small, family-run guesthouses.
It is also making sure its customers, with holidays cancelled due to the pandemic, are not been left out of pocket.
British Airways Holidays flexible booking
BA Holidays’ ‘book with confidence’ commitment allows you to swap your date and destination if you have a change of heart.
BA Holidays is asking for three weeks’ notice for any changes to new and existing bookings (made from 3 March onwards for travel by August 2021).
Either visit the ‘manage my booking’ section of the website (for date changes) or fill out the online form to receive a voucher, valid until 30 April 2022.
While amendments are fee-free, you will need to fork out for any differences in price, including airfares.
The holiday arm of the well-established airline brand specialises in beach breaks to a wide range of locations including Europe, the USA and Caribbean. It also offers city breaks, ski holidays and villa stays.
Exodus flexible booking
Escorted tour provider Exodus is also promising extra flexibility for customers. Specialising in small-group adventure and activity holidays, it will let you transfer to another trip free-of-charge up to 21 days before departure.
Those who want to cancel will need to notify the company at least 42 days in advance to get their money back, minus any non-refundable costs. Check the T&Cs when you book to see how many elements of your trip are affected.
Again customers can save 10% this week if they quote the Holiday to Help Out scheme.
Another WRP, Exodus was praised for its sustainable credentials and passionate local guides in our latest survey.
While the company did stall on refunds in the beginning, issuing refund credit notes, it has since committed to paying full cash refunds within 14 days after working with Which?.
Other good companies
WRP Trailfinders is offering fee-free date changes for any trip due to depart in the first three months of 2021. For all other bookings, the operator – which is consistently highly-rated by customers – is promising to be as flexible as possible. Just give its agents a call to discuss your options.
WRP Saga has a similar approach with all amendments decided on a case-by-case basis.
Tui flexible booking
Not only has Tui mended its ways after giving customers the runaround on refunds early in the pandemic, it is now offering more flexibility too.
The UK’s biggest travel company will allow fee-free amendments up until 21 days before departure. This applies to new and existing bookings on package holidays, accommodation-only and flight-only arrangements (as long as you booked before 31 December for travel between 1 November 2020 and 30 April 2021).
Its coronavirus cover (included as standard) also lets you amend your holiday for free if you contract COVID-19, are officially required to isolate or your local area goes into lockdown. Best known for its beach and poolside packages, Tui is a mid-table performer in our survey and struggles to compete with its (often cheaper) rivals.
Jet2 Holidays limited flexibility
WRP Jet2 Holidays is a consistent top performer and has swiftly refunded customers during the pandemic.
However, disinclination to travel is not reason enough to cancel a booking with the beach holiday specialists. Instead Jet2 Holidays promises to refund or transfer your trip if Foreign Office advice changes or travel restrictions mean you are required to quarantine when you return home.
Flexible booking policies: what to look for
Look for companies that will waive admin fees if you wish to move the date of your booking. While you’ll still have to pay the difference if the new holiday is more expensive, you can avoid any of the usual change fees.
Make sure you can move the dates of your holiday for free, if your local area goes into a Tier 3 lockdown in England. While the advice is not to travel outside your area, this isn’t set in law meaning some holidaymakers haven’t been able to get a refund.
Changes in FCDO advice
Travel restrictions are changing all the time, so check your providers’ policy if you are unable to quarantine on your return. Some tour operators won’t send you to destinations that aren’t on the travel corridor list – allowing you to change dates, destination or claim a refund instead.
With so much uncertainty right now, you should avoid shelling out too much money in advance. Look for low deposits or, better still, companies which will allow you to use those funds against a future booking if you’re unable – or unwilling – to travel.
Promises of flexibility are hard to swallow if the company left customers in the lurch early in the crisis. Find out which providers you can trust to refund your money if your package holiday is cancelled.