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When travel is possible again, flexible booking policies are the best way to protect yourself against lockdown, travel bans and further disruption – and now, ‘red list’ hotel quarantine.
If you do book, choosing a package holiday is your best bet. You’ll have a legal right to a refund if a national lockdown occurs, or government travel advice and rules change. Most tour operators, unlike airlines, will cancel package holidays and you’ll be able to claim a refund under the Package Travel Regulations. Crucially, your money will be protected if the company goes bust.
Almost all package holiday providers now offer ‘flexible’ booking policies. But some are far better and more flexible than others.
Here we round up policies from some Which? Recommended Providers. All will refund in a national lockdown – as required by law – as well as if tier 4 restrictions return, meaning you can’t leave your local area to get to the airport. But some also extend to covering you for tier 3 restrictions, if NHS test and trace tells you to self-isolate and just about every other eventuality.
Looking for a provider you can trust? See the full results of our best and worst package holiday providers.
Book before 31 March to travel before 1 December 2021, and you can change your booking for free up to 45 days before departure for any reason with escorted tour provider Riviera Travel.
For holidays in 2021, if you have to cut the trip short as a direct result of the pandemic, such as a local lockdown at your destination, you’ll receive a refund for the bit of the trip you couldn’t take.
If you catch coronavirus or are asked to isolate at the time of the trip, Riviera will let you rebook for free with just 24 hours notice, or you can have a refund.
It will also refund or rebook your trip if you’re placed under tier 3 restrictions and your travel insurer won’t cover you. It told us it’s refunding customers within three days on average.
HF Holidays, which offers activity holidays all over the world as well as walking holidays here in the UK, won’t expect anyone to travel if they are from a tier 3 area. You’ll have the option to receive a full refund or, if you rebook instead, it will price match your holiday at a different time of the year.
Similarly, the company will allow you to rebook, receive a refund credit note or a full refund if you fall ill with coronavirus or are told to self-isolate.
The company told Which? It takes on average two to four weeks to process refunds.
Luxury tailor-made getaways with one of the best flexible booking policies around.
Its free ‘Flex Plus’ policy (which applies to particular destinations and dates) allows you to cancel and get a refund up to 10 days before departure (21 for European destinations) for any reason.
Kuoni’s more basic ‘Flex’ policy (which is free) allows you to amend your travel date for free up to seven days before departure if diagnosed with coronavirus, but if the holiday is more expensive, or the supplier charges for this, you will have to pay the extra.
It will also refund you if the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises against travel abroad or around the UK (meaning you can’t travel to the airport) and tells us it’ll do so within seven to 10 days.
Lakes and mountains specialist Inghams provides skiing, walking and cycling holidays in a range of European locations, as well as Canada.
The good news is it will refund you if your local area is placed under tier 3 restrictions and it won’t send you anywhere where the FCDO advises against travel.
Inghams told Which? that most refunds are being made within a few days and it always tries to meet the 14-day refund deadline.
The company will also let you move the holiday to a later date for free if you test positive for coronavirus, or the person sharing your room or a co-dependent travelling with you catches coronavirus at the time of your trip.
Escorted tour provider Exodus, which specialises in small-group adventure holidays, will refund all costs if you’re placed into tier 3, you catch coronavirus or are asked to isolate by NHS Test and Trace at the time of the holiday.
Exodus also allows you to transfer your holiday date or destination for any reason up to 21 days before departure. You can claim a refund of the balance of a holiday up to 42 days before the trip too, but it will hold your deposit for you to use towards a future holiday. You will lose anything unrecoverable.
On holidays it has to cancel, it told Which? it aims to refund within 14 days, but can take up to 30.
Trailfinders, which provides tailor-made trips to short and long-haul destinations, will offer a refund if FCDO advice changes, a quarantine is required in the UK or the destination country, or if your local area is placed into tier 3 restrictions.
When it comes to refunds, Trailfinders holds all its customer money in a separate trust account and pays its suppliers with its own reserves. It told Which? most customers receive their money back the same day.
If you test positive for coronavirus it won’t refund you, but it will have advised you to take out insurance to cover this scenario.
Activity provider Inntravel will refund you if you’re placed in tier 3 restrictions. If you catch coronavirus or are told to self-isolate at the time of travel, Inntravel will return recoverable costs. This means if the airline won’t refund Inntravel, you won’t be refunded either.
Additionally, if the holiday you’ve chosen means you must quarantine in a hotel on your return to the UK, you can get a refund or defer for free. Plus, you can rebook your holiday up to eight days before travel for any reason for free, but you may lose unrecoverable costs.
The company said it’s issuing refunds within eight to 10 days, on average.
Saga offers escorted tours and package holidays to the over fifties and will refund if you are placed under local restrictions or if FCDO advises against travel. It told us it’s refunding within 14 days.
It won’t give you your money back if you fall ill with coronavirus or are required to isolate, but it doesn’t let you book without insurance, so you should be covered anyway.
It’s important to note that Saga will require all customers to be vaccinated against coronavirus when they travel. So if you’re not sure when your vaccination will be, wait to book.
Explore specialises in small group adventure holidays from cycling tours, to wildlife safaris. But when it has to refund, it told us it does in less than 14 days.
Explore will refund recoverable costs if you fall ill with coronavirus before travel, if you are asked to isolate, or if you’re placed into tier 3 restrictions. It means there’s a chance you may lose money paid for flights or booked activities.
Don’t want to travel anymore for any reason? Let Explore know up to 10 days before departure and you’ll receive a credit note for recoverable elements.
Offering beach holidays, city breaks and far-flung tours, Hays Travel is one of the UK’s largest tour operators.
If you choose a holiday covered under its ‘peace of mind’ guarantee, you can amend or cancel free of charge up to six weeks before departure. If you are placed in tier 3 restrictions, it will let you move the holiday fee-free, although you will have to pay more if the new dates are more expensive.
It told Which? that it refunds the vast majority of customers within 14 days.
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What to look for when booking
Reputable providers – promises of flexibility are hard to believe if the company left customers in the lurch early in the crisis. Read our holiday company reviews to help you decide who to trust.
Local lockdown flexibility – if tiers return, you need a holiday company that will refund you in case you can’t leave your local area at the time of your trip.
Changes in FCDO advice – travelling against FCDO advice invalidates your travel insurance, so you need to book with an operator that will refund you if the advice for your destination changes.
Low deposit – with so much uncertainty, you should avoid paying out too much money in advance. Look for low deposits so you have less to lose.
Free changes – companies will often waive admin fees for changing holiday dates, although you will probably still have to pay for any increase in price for the new dates.
Trust accounts – some companies, such as Trailfinders, put their customers’ money into a ring-fenced trust account when they receive it. This usually makes getting a refund easier, although it depends on the company