Researchers at Which? have found significant differences in whether customers can get a refund or rebook their holidays without penalty if they are disrupted or cancelled as a result of Covid-19 rules, based on who they booked with.
This included being told to self-isolate by NHS test and trace, ordered to stay home as part of a national lockdown, or because their destination changed from green to amber on the government’s traffic light system.
Which? compared the policies of more than 70 tour operators. Several of the UK’s largest holiday firms, including some that advertise Covid-19 cover or flexibility, said they may refuse full refunds if a holidaymaker can’t travel because the government warns against it or there is a further national lockdown. Customers may also be refused refunds even if the country they are travelling to is placed on the red list.
Several of these scenarios cannot be covered by travel insurance meaning travellers face losing hundreds or thousands of pounds for holidays they can’t take.
Use our Which? Holiday Checker to find the flexible booking policies for your next holiday
Loveholidays, the UK’s fourth largest tour operator advertises a ‘Book with Confidence’ policy, which claims to ‘understand how important it is to have complete peace of mind, especially if your holiday plans need to change.’
Yet, Which? found it offers comparatively little flexibility if your holidays plans do indeed need to change. It is one of only a handful of holiday companies that told us it may refuse full refunds to customers who can’t travel because of a lockdown, or because a country has moved to the red list.
Several other firms, including Lastminute, say they may not refund customers if the destination introduces a requirement to quarantine for UK arrivals. That policy is likely a breach of the law under the package travel regulations.
Holiday disruption – the six problems you need cover for
Which? set out six key scenarios which can disrupt holidays
- Will I get a full refund if the holiday is cancelled by the operator?
- Will I get a full refund if there’s a government travel ban/national lockdown?
- Will I get a full refund if required to quarantine at the destination on arrival?
- Will I get a full refund if the FCDO advises against travel or the destination is added to the red list?
- Will I get a full refund or can I rebook with no amendment fee if my destination is moved from green to amber?
- Will I get a full refund or can I rebook with no amendment fee if told to isolate by NHS test and trace?
We asked holiday companies all six questions, as well as how long potential refunds would take. Just 42 told us they offered refunds or rebooking without an amendment fee for the first five scenarios.
Who to book a holiday with in 2021 and 2022
For holidays this year and next, the best way to protect your holiday and money is booking with a tour operator with a good flexible policy.
To help, Which? has launched its Which? Holiday Checker. It compares the policies of UK package holiday providers. Each company is rated Red, Amber or Green based on how much flexibility their policy offers. Those who failed to reply to our questions despite repeated requests, were marked down as Red too.
Travellers who book with a Green rated company and take out a comprehensive travel insurance policy will be protected against almost all Covid related disruption.
The best holiday companies – who is green?
All Which? Recommended Provider holiday companies achieved a green rating for their flexibility. These are firms, such as Jet2 Holidays, Kuoni and Trailfinders that not only have excellent refund and rebooking offers but were rated highly by customers for the quality of the holiday they provide.
Several smaller and specialist firms that were praised last year by customers when they, unlike many of larger rivals, continued to offer refunds for cancelled holidays are also rated Green. Ffestiniog Travel, Pura Aventura and Travel Counsellors are just three examples of companies with a strong track record on refunds.
Some of the holiday companies rated green treated customers poorly last year over cancellations and refunds. Tui, the UK’s largest tour operator, received significant criticism from customers over its communication and delays to refunds in 2020. But it subsequently apologised and changed its approach. It now offers quick refunds and excellent flexibility.
Green+ and NHS Test and Trace
Following a rise in people being contacted by NHS Test and Trace before they are due to travel, Which? also asked companies if they would provide full refunds if a customer couldn’t travel because they were told to self-isolate. Only three companies, including Which? Recommended Providers Explore and Exodus, guaranteed refunds in this situation, as well as meeting our requirements in every other scenario – and were rated Green+ as a result.
For those companies that are green, rather than green+ it’s crucial you take out an insurance policy that covers you Test and Trace (all policies rated Superior by Which? do).
Why are companies red?
Most companies are red because they don’t issue refunds for one or more of our six scenarios.
Others are rated red because of a lack of transparency over what their policy actually is. It’s essential that holidaymakers have a clear understanding of what they are and aren’t covered for before they book, of the financial risks they may be taking. Which? contacted all companies multiple times asking for clarification of their policies.
If holiday companies can’t be transparent with us about their policies we can’t recommend them to consumers.
What about airlines?
While all major UK airlines also offer flexible booking policies, these do not offer the same cover as tour operators.
For example, carriers are only required to issue refunds by law if the flight is cancelled – that means travellers have been unable to get refunds when travel bans, lockdowns and even entry requirements at the destination have prevented them from travelling.
While you can often take advantage of the airlines’ offer of fee free rebooking if you can’t travel, you will always pay more if the new dates are more expensive.
All tour operators are also Atol protected. That means if you book a package holiday and the operator goes bust you will get all of your money back. If you only booked a flight with an airline, and the carrier goes bust it’s unlikely you will see a penny of your payment returned.