When you click on a retailer link on our site, we may earn affiliate commission to help fund our not-for-profit mission. Find out more.
Holidays to the Algarve, Madeira and the rest of Portugal are set to restart, but many of us thinking about booking worry what will happen to our holiday if disruption strikes.
With the government set to revise its green list every three weeks, lots of holidaymakers are concerned their destination might change from green to amber or red – leaving them with a holiday they can’t take, but unable to claim a refund.
Most holiday companies now promise Covid-19 flexible policies , but most have big holes in their cover.
The worst providers will not refund you even if the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) warns against travel to your destination. This loophole led to millions of people being left out of pocket last year.
To avoid this, question your tour operator about its flexible booking policy before handing over your money. Can you rebook for free if your destination is amber or red at the time of departure? Make sure you can transfer the full value of your trip, without unrecoverable costs being deducted.
You’ll also need assurance that you’ll be refunded if the FCDO adds a warning to the country you’re travelling to. And what happens if you test positive for Covid-19 before travel? While some operators are flexible in this scenario, you’re often better covered by travel insurance.
Above all, always book with a reputable operator. Here we round up the best flexible policies from some of the biggest package holiday providers. These are listed in alphabetical order.
Audley Travel flexible booking policy explained
A Which? Recommended Provider for escorted tours, Audley excels at providing tailor-made luxury trips. You can also rely on its flexibility promise: customers will be issued a full refund if they are due to visit a red-list country, or the FCDO advises against travel.
Those unwilling or unable to travel to an amber country will also get their money back – although 21 days’ notice may be required to avoid supplier costs.
Customers can also rearrange their trip without amendment fees up to 45 days before departure, for any reason with no questions asked. Some holidays to destinations including Europe, the Indian Ocean, Caribbean and Middle East allow extra flexibility with just 14 days’ notice. However, there may be extra charges for changes such as accommodation or seasonality.
British Airways Holidays flexible booking policy explained
British Airways Holidays’ customers will be offered a refund if their destination is added to the red list. If it moves from green to amber, you can change your destination or date with no change fees or supplier costs. Just be aware you will have to pay the difference if the new holiday is more expensive (the same is true of most, if not all, suppliers).
In fact, give British Airways Holidays three weeks’ notice and you can amend your booking for any reason, even disinclination to travel. Vouchers can be used for travel right up until 30 April 2023.
This policy doesn’t cover the traveller if they, or a member of their party, tests positive for Covid-19 before departure. Instead BA Holidays is recommending travellers take out insurance with its preferred partner Allianz Assistance. It also tells us it is refunding cancelled holidays within 14 days.
easyJet Holidays flexible booking policy explained
The well-known airline also sells packages, mostly to Europe including Portugal. Again customers due to travel to a red-list country will be offered a refund, while amber-list holidays can be amended for free right up until 24 hours before departure.
Final balance isn’t due until 28 days before travel; so if you get cold feet before then, you’ll be able to change your booking without being left out of pocket. Alternatively, you can opt for a full refund, minus your deposit which can be used as credit against a future easyJet Holidays booking.
It tells us it is refunding cancelled holidays in just five days.
Exodus flexible booking policy explained
Escorted tour provider Exodus, which specialises in small-group adventure holidays, will refund in full if you are due to visit a red-list country. It also allows penalty-free amendments if your destination turns amber and you want to avoid self-isolating on return to the UK.
Unlike the majority of providers, the Which? Recommended Provider will refund all costs if you catch Covid-19 or have been asked to isolate by the government at the time of the holiday.
It also allows you to transfer your date or destination for any reason up to 21 days before departure. You can claim a refund of the balance up to 42 days before the trip too, but it will hold your deposit for use towards a future holiday. In both scenarios, you will lose anything unrecoverable – so read the T&Cs carefully before booking.
On holidays it has to cancel, Exodus told us it is refunding within 14 days.
Explore flexible booking policy explained
Explore specialises in small group adventure holidays, from cycling tours to wildlife safaris.
The Which? Recommended escorted tour provider has also taken the decision not to operate to any red or amber list countries. This means the trip will automatically be cancelled and you’ll have the option to transfer your booking, accept a credit voucher or receive a full refund. The latter, Explore tells us, will be issued within 12 days. All trips are being reviewed 60 and 35 days before departure.
However, Explore will only refund recoverable costs if you fall ill with coronavirus before travel or you are asked to isolate. It means there’s a chance you could 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 – but again only for recoverable elements.
Explore tells us customers with cancelled holidays will typically receive their refund within 12 days.
HF Holidays flexible booking policy explained
HF Holidays, which offers activity holidays all over the world as well as walking itineraries here in the UK, will not expect customers to travel against government advice. It says it is unlikely to operate to red or amber list countries.
To manage this, HF Holidays – a Which? Recommended Provider – is delaying final balance payments on European breaks until it is sure the trip can go ahead as planned. This means customers won’t be stung by supplier costs.
You’ll have the option to receive a full refund or rebook instead. The company told Which? it takes on average three weeks to process refunds.
Inntravel flexible booking policy explained
Activity operator Inntravel has decided not to send customers to any red or amber list destinations, irrespective of FCDO advice. Instead the Which? Recommended provider will contact customers four to five weeks prior to departure to give them the option of a full refund, or transfer to a new destination or date. It says refunds are being processed as quickly as five days later.
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.
You can also amend your holiday up to eight days before travel for any reason. No fees are charged, but again you could lose unrecoverable costs if you’re not covered by travel insurance in this scenario.
Kuoni flexible booking policy explained
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 allow free-of-charge amendments or issue a full refund if your destination is on the red or amber list – even if there’s no FCDO warning in place.
If Kuoni has to cancel, the Which? Recommended Provider tells us refunds are being processed within 10 days.
Riviera Travel’s flexible booking policy explained
Riviera Travel customers can amend their holiday if they are due to travel to an amber-list country, with no hidden fees. For red-list countries, they can claim a full refund.
Book before 30 June and the escorted tour provider will let you change your booking for free up to 45 days before departure for any reason. You can also make fee-free changes to your holiday up to 24 hours before departure if you test positive for Covid-19 or you are told to self-isolate.
If a negative Covid result is required for travel, Riviera Travel will even pay for the test. This could be a significant saving; private tests can cost £120 on the high street or over £200 at some clinics.
On holidays it has to cancel, the Which? Recommended Provider says it is refunding in nine days.
Saga flexible booking policy explained
Saga offers escorted tours and package holidays to the over fifties and will refund if FCDO advises against travel. If your destination moves from green to amber after you’ve paid the final balance, you will be offered free amendments or a full refund with no costs deducted.
For Saga Cruises, itineraries are being changed where possible to avoid these destinations. Customers will be offered a refund if these changes are significant, with the process typically taking 14 days.
You can also amend your booking up to 24 hours before travel if you test positive for Covid-19.
It’s important to note that Saga will require all customers to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before departure. Any person not able get both doses in time can cancel or amend without penalty, up to two weeks before departure
Trailfinders flexible booking policy explained
Trailfinders, which provides tailor-made trips to short and long-haul destinations, is going one better than most. A full refund is due if FCDO advice changes or your destination moves to the red list. Crucially it is also offering customers their money back if their destination is on the amber list when they are due to travel.
When it comes to refunds, Trailfinders holds all 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, the Which? Recommended Provider won’t refund you – but it will have advised you to take out insurance to cover this scenario.
Tui flexible booking policy explained
Tui customers due to travel to a red-list country can cancel and get a full refund to avoid hotel quarantine. For holidays to amber countries, those unwilling or unable to self-isolate can amend their booking without penalty.
Impressively, the package holiday giant is offering affordable Covid-19 tests from £20. If the customer tests positive (or the results don’t come back in time) Tui will refund the test and move their holiday for free.
Customers will only need to put their hand in their pocket if the new booking is more expensive. And, if it’s cheaper, Tui will refund the difference. For cancelled holidays, it tells us it is refunding within 14 days.
For more unbiased news and advice sign up to Which? Travel
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.
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. While the government has advised against leisure travel to amber countries, there may not be an FCDO warning in place – potentially making the refund process more arduous if you no longer wish to travel.
Quarantine flexibility – if you are unwilling or unable to quarantine, make sure your provider offers fee-free changes without deducting unrecoverable supplier costs (these could be your entire airfare). Bear in mind you will still have to pay the increase if your new dates are more expensive.
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.
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.