International travel from England will resume on 17 May, but those travelling abroad will be subject to the rules of a new traffic light system, which classifies countries as red, amber or green.
The traffic lights will indicate whether non-essential travel and holidays are encouraged to certain destinations, the tests required and whether you need to quarantine on your return to England.
People returning from high-risk ‘red’ countries have to pay to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days. Arrivals from ‘amber’ countries are required to quarantine at home. While the government’s green list removes the quarantine requirements for certain countries, although you will still have to supply negative Covid-19 tests even if you have been vaccinated.
Popular holiday destination Portugal is on the green list, as well as Gibraltar, Iceland and Israel.
Many people have already booked a trip, 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:
- Traffic light system: 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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Traffic light system: what are the rules?
Countries are assigned green, amber or red status depending on health data such as vaccination rate, infection rate and the risk of variants. The list of countries will be reviewed every three weeks from the date that travel resumes: 17 May.
For green countries, you will still require pre-departure and post arrival tests when coming back to the UK. The total cost of these tests could add hundreds of pounds to the cost of your trip, depending on which country you’re in for the pre-departure test. The country you’re travelling to may also require a test, further adding to the cost.
However, airlines, airports and holiday companies are starting to offer much cheaper tests to customers. Tui has announced it is offering a testing package from as little as £20 this summer
For amber countries, you will need to quarantine for a period of 10 days at home on your return to the UK and to take a pre-departure test, a PCR test on day two and day eight. Alternatively, you can pay for an additional Test to Release test on day five to end self-isolation early.
However, the government has said that it will ‘discourage’ non-essential travel and holidays to amber countries.
In red listed countries you must quarantine in a hotel on return to the UK which will cost £1,750. You will also have to pay for pre-departure testing and PCR testing on day two and eight.
If you’re already on holiday when the country you’re in is added to the red list, this could cost £1,750 – the current cost of hotel quarantine. You may be able to return home early to avoid having to quarantine, but airfares are likely to be in high demand and very expensive.
Like with travel corridors last year, the government has said countries will be moved in and out of different colours. However, countries will be reviewed every three weeks, instead of weekly, to reduce disruption. To make it easier to predict, the government has also added a ‘Green Watchlist’ this year, which means these countries are at risk of moving into an amber rating at the next review.
The government warns it will not ‘hesitate to act immediately should data show countries’ risk ratings have changed’ meaning travellers could also face disruption this year. Details of the data used to determine which countries are green, amber and red will be published on gov.uk.
Read our traffic light Q&A for more on the risks of the system.
Will my package holiday be cancelled?
Definitely don’t cancel your holiday if it is due to take place before 17 May. Package holiday providers should cancel package bookings as a result of the travel ban.
We wouldn’t rush into cancelling your package holiday, beyond that date either, even if you’re worried your booking will be affected by 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.
Jet2 has cancelled all flights and holidays up to and including 23 June.
Most holiday companies will offer you a refund if the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) continues to advise against all non-essential travel to your destination and if it is ‘red’ rated, meaning you would have to quarantine in a hotel on your return to England.
Thomas Cook said earlier this year 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.
Currently all amber countries have an FCDO warning. That means almost all tour operators will offer a destination or date change or a refund. Love Holidays and On the Beach are notable exceptions to this rule.
However, the FCDO may not always advise against non-essential travel to an amber destination, making it less clear cut whether your holiday will be cancelled and if you will be entitled to a refund. But a good travel company will allow you to amend your holiday for free in this situation too.
If you’ve already decided you don’t want to travel past those dates 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?
Under the Package Travel Regulations, 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’re 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 if the flight goes ahead.
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.
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?
Despite the announcement of the new traffic light system, the green list is still very limited and we don’t know which countries will be added, or removed, at the next review.
While you can almost always get a refund if your package holiday is subsequently cancelled because restrictions haven’t lifted, some companies are still dragging their feet and making refunds difficult.
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