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UK travel ban Q&A: what new lockdown rules in England mean for holiday and flight refunds

Holidaymakers with package holidays will get their money back, but airlines may not cancel flights and refuse to refund

UK travel ban Q&A: what new lockdown rules in England mean for holiday and flight refunds

The UK government has announced a new lockdown that will ban England residents from travelling abroad. Overnight stays and holidays in the UK and abroad are not allowed from 5 November to 2 December.

These new rules only apply to England. People living in Wales will be subject to the same international travel ban as England when the Welsh ‘firebreak’ comes to an end on 9 November, but they will be able to go on holiday in Wales. Different regulations apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If you are in England and you have a package holiday abroad between 5 November and 2 December your trip will be cancelled and you’ll get a refund. Those with flight-only bookings may not get be offered a refund if their flight isn’t cancelled.

Use our UK holiday Q&A if you have a domestic trip booked.

Do I need to cancel my holiday or flight?

No. If you cancel your flight or holiday you will forfeit your right to a refund. It’s essential you wait to hear from your airline or holiday company. Most will deal with customers abroad first, then in order of departure date.

Phone lines and customer service channels will be busy, so if your departure isn’t imminent try and wait before contacting your holiday company, airline or travel agent.

Should I come home early? 

Not necessarily. The government doesn’t require you to return early as a result of the lockdown.

If you are on a package holiday, follow advice from your provider. Most holidays already underway are likely to be completed. Neither Jet2 or Tui, the largest operators, have suggested that holidays need to be curtailed. Even if yours is cut short, your package holiday provider will be responsible for getting you home and providing a refund for the days of the holiday you missed.

If you have a flight only booking things are more complicated. When the first lockdown occurred some airlines cancelled flights because those leaving the UK were empty – it wasn’t profitable to operate. That left their customers abroad stranded. While airlines are legally responsible for getting you home if they cancel a flight, some airlines ignored this responsibility.

The best advice is to wait and see what your airline announces about its flight schedule. For those flying home in the next few days you are likely to be fine, as flights will continue. Those not due to depart until later may find their flight is cancelled. If that happens, your airline may offer you a refund. Refuse this, if you want to travel home. Instead, insist it gets you home on an alternate flight or, if that’s not possible, with another airline. If it refuses, book a flight home on a new airline and bill your original airline for the cost. You have the right to use any reasonable route to return home, but stick to the same class of ticket as you originally purchased.

Will I get a refund for my package holiday?

Yes. Tour operators will have to cancel trips between 5 November and 2 December as a result of the UK lockdown. How quickly you receive your refund will depend on who you booked with.

You are legally due a refund within 14 days of the cancellation. Many tour operators are now meeting this timeframe, although you may need to be understanding of temporary delays in the next few weeks caused by the number of cancellations required.

What has Tui said?

Tui, the UK’s largest tour operator, has cancelled all package holidays and flights. Customers can choose a full refund that will be paid in 14 days.

It is allowing customers to go on holiday still up to 4 November, but it is worth noting the flights home might be earlier than you’d planned or scheduled at short notice. If you don’t want to travel before 5 November, then you can amend your dates free of charge.

What has Jet2Holidays said?

Jet2 Holidays has yet to make an announcement, but it did a fantastic job of refunding passengers during the first lockdown and travel ban.

What has easyJet said?

EasyJet will run limited flights to repatriate people from holidays up to 8 November. It will also keep key cities within the UK connected but the majority of its flights will be cancelledYou are entitled to a full refund if your flight is cancelled, or you can change the date of travel. If your flight is running during lockdown, easyJet will allow you a date change free of charge. 

It says it will be in touch with its package holiday customers to arrange a refund, date change or credit

What has Thomas Cook said?

Thomas Cook says it’s already spoken with all of its customers due to travel within this period and has offered a full refund.

What has Virgin said?

The airline has not made a decision on its flights programme yet but says if your flight is cancelled, it will contact you to arrange a refund or free rebooking. If you no longer wish to fly and booked directly with Virgin you can  can change the date and name for free.

Virgin Holidays has already cancelled all package holidays until 30 November and will extend this to cover the full lockdown period and contact those affected. Florida holidays, including Disney trips, have been cancelled until 9 December.

Customers can request a refund or an Atol-protected digital credit note for the value of their trip which expires on 31 March 2021.

What to do if a holiday company refuses to give you a refund

Some tour operators and online travel agents have done a poor job of refunding customers, with some waiting more than six months for their money. Online travel agents have proved especially hard to contact and slow to refund. Which? continues to receive many complaints about Loveholidays, Opodo and Lastminute.com. If you have waited more than 30 days for a refund and still been given no deadline for when your money will be paid back, contact your debit card or credit card provider which can help with claiming your money.

Some holiday companies, previously forced refund credit notes onto customers and suggested they were following Abta guidance in not offering a cash refund. While Abta lobbied to replace cash refunds with refund credit notes, this failed and the government has not changed the law. Abta is now clear that customers retain the right to choose cash over a refund credit note.

Refund credit notes are financially protected, meaning you can later exchange them for cash even if the company goes bust. You will be helping the holiday company at a time of financial distress by accepting one, but you should be aware that this ties you to a single operator when you rebook meaning you can’t shop around for the best deal.

Will I get a refund for my flight?

Possibly, if your flight is cancelled (and many will be), the airline must offer you a full refund. Some airlines have previously confused customers by suggesting they must accept vouchers. You have a legal right to a cash refund.

As airline vouchers are not financially protected, and most carriers attach lengthy terms and conditions to the vouchers we advise customers not to accept them.

You are legally due a refund within seven days of the flight being cancelled, although most airlines have broken this law in recent months. Some, like Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic have forced passengers to wait several months for a refund. If you have been waiting more than 30 days and still don’t have a date from the company when your refund will be paid, contact your debit card or credit card provider which can help with claiming your money.

What has British Airways said?

BA will inform you if your flight-only booking is cancelled and issue you with a refund. However, it doesn’t appear to be cancelling all flights.  If your flight is not cancelled, BA is offering a voucher or a free date change. 

British Airways Holidays customers with holidays due to travel during the lockdown period can choose a refund, change their dates or accept a voucher for future travel.

What has Ryanair said?

Ryanair has confirmed that passengers will not be refunded for flights in November unless they are cancelled. The lockdown rules mean travelling for leisure would break UK law. On this basis, Which? believes customers are entitled to a refund. 

What do if an airline refuses to refund you

CMA guidelines say that in most cases a customer should be due a full refund, even if a customer cancels because government public health measures mean they’re not allowed to use the services.

Some flights will not be cancelled, as essential travel for work purposes can still take place. Previously, airlines have refused to refund passengers when the flight is still operating even though they can no longer travel. Some have offered vouchers or rebooking instead, others, like Ryanair, have stated that normal terms and conditions apply.

In May, Which? reported Wizz Air to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and flagged the case to the CMA over this issue. Neither regulator took any action.

Practically, you are likely to have to fight the airline through your credit or debit card provider or in court. You may prefer to accept rebooking or a voucher, if this is offered.

Will my travel insurance help with refunds?

Probably not. You should always ask as each policy and provider is different, but most policies issued since mid-March exclude coronavirus related claims.

Even if you have a policy that doesn’t include this exclusion, such as an annual policy taken out prior to March, you can only make claims for non-refundable losses. What that means is that your insurer will expect you to claim for cancelled package holidays and airlines from the holiday company or airline. You may, however, be able to claim for other losses, such as event tickets and tours.

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