Holidaymakers returning to the UK from high-risk countries will have to pay to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days, the government has announced, casting further doubt on holidays planned for this spring and beyond.
These new Australia-style measures are being introduced from 15 February to help prevent the spread of new COVID-19 variants from overseas, with vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, saying that it is ‘far too early’ to book a holiday this summer.
Many people have already done so, however, including lots of holidaymakers who chose to push back their cancelled 2020 trips to this year in the hope that travel restrictions would no longer be in place.
If you have already booked a holiday for 2021, find out:
- Quarantine hotels: what are the new rules?
- Will my package holiday be cancelled?
- Do new quarantine rules count as a ‘significant change’ to my holiday?
- What are my rights if I’ve already postponed a holiday due to COVID-19?
- What if I’ve booked flights separately?
- My refund credit note or voucher expires soon – what should I do?
- Should I book a holiday for summer 2021 or beyond?
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Quarantine hotels: what are the new rules?
To help stem the spread of new coronavirus variants, the government has announced compulsory new quarantine restrictions for people arriving in the UK from 33 high-risk countries.
These include Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores), Seychelles, Mauritius, Panama, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Brazil, South Africa and a range of other South American and southern African countries where there is concern about the spread of new variants of COVID-19. Ministers added that other countries could be added to the quarantine list in the future if they are deemed high risk.
Under the rules, new arrivals from these destinations from 15 February will be transported to a hotel as soon as they land in the UK, where they will have to quarantine for 10 days. They will not be allowed to leave for any reason and must eat and exercise in their room, without exception.
As is the case in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, where similar rules apply, travellers will have to pay for the hotel stay out of their own pocket. This is likely to cost up to £1,500, making overseas holidays unaffordable for many.
Further details will be set out next week on how passengers will be able to book into the the quarantine hotels.
The government also announced that travellers wanting to leave the UK will have to declare their reason for doing so. Those attempting to travel for non-essential reasons will not be allowed to leave the country.
Will my package holiday be cancelled?
Don’t rush into cancelling your package holiday, even if you’re worried your booking will be affected by the new hotel quarantine measures. You may have to pay to do so, whereas you’ll be entitled to a full refund if the holiday ends up being cancelled or significantly changed by the provider.
While it’s not yet clear if all holiday providers will cancel package holidays as a result of the new hotel quarantine restrictions, they almost certainly will if national lockdown restrictions remain in place, or if the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) continues to advise against all non-essential travel to your destination.
Thomas Cook has already said that if there is a requirement for you to quarantine in a hotel on your return to the UK and this is in place two weeks before you travel, then it will allow you to amend your holiday with no charge, or cancel with a full refund.
Tui has cancelled holidays currently until the end of February.
The likes of easyJet and Jet2 have already cancelled package holidays up to and including 24 and 25 March, respectively, and other providers are expected to soon follow suit. Holidays in April will be next if current travel restrictions continue.
If you’ve already decided you don’t want to travel and don’t want to wait and see if the provider cancels it, your best bet is to try and amend or postpone the booking. Many travel companies have introduced flexible booking policies as standard, waiving any fees usually payable.
You can help make sure all travel companies follow the law on refunds by signing our petition.
Do new quarantine rules count as a ‘significant change’ to my holiday?
Package holiday providers must offer you a full refund if they make a ‘significant change’ to your booking.
So, you may be due a refund if your package holiday is scheduled to go ahead but you’ll have to pay to quarantine in a hotel when you return to the UK. Whether this counts as a significant change to your booking may depend on how the holiday is defined in your contract.
For example, it might only include being returned to a UK airport, which could mean the fact you have to quarantine for 10 days once you leave the airport is beyond the scope of the agreement.
If so, you could try complaining to your holiday provider that the terms in the contract are unfair or that the contract is ‘frustrated’, but it may just be easier to postpone the booking until later in 2021 or beyond.
What are my rights if I’ve already postponed a holiday due to COVID-19?
Many holidaymakers have already had to rebook a holiday as a result of coronavirus. When holidays first started to be cancelled last March, for example, lots of people chose to postpone by a year, either to support their travel company, or because they were refused a refund.
If you chose to rebook, it’s probably too late to go back to your holiday provider and claim a refund for the original booking that was cancelled last year. But the good news is that postponed or rescheduled bookings are still protected by the Package Travel Regulations, meaning you’ll again be entitled to a refund if your new booking for this year is cancelled by the provider.
The largest package holiday providers in the UK — TUI, Jet2 Holidays, On the Beach, Love Holidays, British Airways Holidays and EasyJet Holidays — all confirmed that if they cancel a package holiday that’s already been postponed, the customer is again eligible for a refund.
There are a couple of caveats, though. If you used a voucher to rebook your holiday, you are likely to be refunded in vouchers, rather than cash. And if you booked a package holiday with On the Beach and Love Holidays, they may not refund you for the flight portion of your booking, despite usually being legally obliged to do so.
You’re unlikely to be entitled to a refund if you cancel the booking yourself, so you should consider waiting for the provider to cancel the booking. If you don’t want to wait, you should be able to reschedule your holiday without incurring any fees.
What if I’ve booked flights separately?
Flights booked independently don’t have the same level of protection as package bookings.
Although airlines are obliged to refund you if they cancel your flight-only booking, they aren’t automatically cancelling flights to destinations the FCDO advises against visiting for non-essential reasons. Some airlines are also refusing to offer customers cash refunds for flights they could not legally take due to lockdown restrictions.
The Competition and Markets Authority is investigating this issue. In the meantime, though, if it gets to a few days before your departure date and your flight still hasn’t been cancelled, contact the airline to try and postpone your flights.
My refund credit note or voucher expires soon – what should I do?
Refund credit notes (RCNs) can either be used to book a holiday or exchanged for cash. Because it remains so unclear when travel will return to normal, if your RCN is about to expire, your best bet is to contact your holiday provider to tell them you want to exchange it for a refund. That way, you’re free to book a holiday at any time and with any provider you choose.
Vouchers, on the other hand, can only be used to book a holiday and they become worthless when they expire. You can try contacting your provider to see if they will extend the voucher, but there’s no guarantee they will. While British Airways recently extended the use-by date of its vouchers by a year to 30 April 2023, companies including easyJet have so far refused to do this. Other airlines, such as Norwegian, have dramatically scaled back the number of flights departing from the UK, limiting the choice for voucher-holders.
If you feel you were pressured or misled into accepting vouchers, it’s worth complaining to your holiday provider and checking your legal rights. Remember that holiday providers are legally obliged to refund you for bookings they cancel.
If you don’t want to pursue legal action, the most important thing is that you don’t let your voucher go to waste. If it’s about to expire and you cannot extend it, use it to book a holiday as far in advance as possible.
Should I book a holiday for summer 2021 or beyond?
It is not known how long current travel restrictions will last, meaning any new holiday booking remains risky.