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2 Nov 2020

Coronavirus outbreak Q&A: advice for travellers

Everything you need to know: from the latest on travel corridors to package holiday refunds, airline cancellations and rebooking.

Following the government's announcement of a second lockdown, holidays are not allowed for residents of England from 5 November until at least 2 December.

Residents of Wales can travel within Wales but not abroad when the Covid 'firebreak' ends on 9 November. Scotland and Northern Ireland have different regulations.

The government doesn't require you to come home early as a result of the lockdown, but those with flight-only bookings may find that flights are cancelled.

If you were due to go on holiday during the lockdown period, do not cancel your holiday or flight. It is essential that you wait to hear from your airline or holiday company. If you cancel, you risk forfeiting your right to a refund.

For more information on what the new lockdown rules in England mean for holiday and flight refunds visit our UK travel ban Q&A.

For award-winning investigations, unbiased reviews and advice and access to legal advice, find out more about Which? Travel.

Coronavirus - your travel questions answered

We explain your rights in these unprecedented circumstances.

    Can I get money back for a cancelled holiday because of coronavirus?

    Yes, as long as it was a package holiday. If your holiday company cancels for any reason, including the lockdown in England from 5 November to 2 December, it will have to give you a full refund.

    Some companies are providing refunds much more quickly than others. And unfortunately some are ignoring this requirement altogether and are refusing to reimburse customers.

    We have reported on several travel firms that are breaking the law over package holiday refunds. Meanwhile, customers of other providers like Tui and Lastminute.com reported that it was almost impossible to contact them. Thankfully Tui has now introduced an online form enabling customers to claim a refund.

    However, not all travel firms are ignoring their obligations to customers. Many independent and smaller providers such as Trailfinders and Kuoni are offering cash refunds within 14 days of cancellation.

    Which? is calling on the government to establish a temporary Travel Guarantee Fund to support travel companies, which are unable to fulfil their legal responsibilities.That would ensure customers still receive a full refund even if their provider goes bust before they have a chance to redeem their holiday.

    Find out which package holiday companies we recommend

    Holidaymakers struggle to get refunds

    With holidaymakers still owed millions of pounds for cancelled holidays and flights, many will be reluctant to rebook if their trip is cancelled. Some major travel companies are still refusing to issue refunds as required by law, insisting customers rebook their trip or accept vouchers instead.

    We approached the UK's 10 biggest package holiday providers and 10 largest airlines at the end of April, and found none were consistently meeting their legal requirements to refund consumers within the statutory timeframe.

    Companies including Love Holidays and Ryanair are issuing credit notes for cancelled bookings in the first instance, even when customers have asked for cash refunds. Following months of pressure from Which?, the government finally confirmed that credit notes issued for air-based packages (up to 31 December) have the same financial protection as the holidays they replace, so if a travel company collapses, customers will be refunded by the travel industry Atol scheme.

    However, vouchers issued for scheduled flights booked separately aren't covered by the Atol scheme and have no financial protection.

    Clients still have a legal right to a cash refund instead of a credit note or voucher, if that's their preference. Some customers have resorted to asking their debit or credit card provider to help get their money back, while those still paying deposit instalments on holidays are wondering what to do.

    Should I accept a Refund Credit Note?

    Refund Credit Notes were introduced as a sort of IOU to help travel companies avoid a cash-flow crisis when they were forced to refund so many holidays at the same time. The government has promised to protect RCNs issued up to 31 December 2020, so if the travel company fails, customers with credit notes will get their money back from the Atol scheme.

    The Civil Aviation Authority, which manages Atol, says the credit notes must be redeemed for a new holiday or refunded by 30 September 2021.

    Credit notes might be an attractive option if your travel company is offering you additional credit as an incentive, but the law says you are entitled to a full cash refund if you prefer. Don't accept a credit note if you have any concerns.

    Which? Travel is lobbying on your behalf to ensure consumers are not left out of pocket at a time when they may already be feeling financial strain.

    What should I do? If your package holiday was cancelled, you don't have to accept a refund credit note, nor do you have to rebook. You are legally entitled to a refund. Make this clear to the firm, in writing. If it still won't do the right thing, you could try to claim through your card provider.

    The company that took your money is responsible for issuing your refund - so if you booked with a third party agent, go direct to them.

    Are airlines issuing refunds?

    If your flight is cancelled by the airline, you're due a refund. This applies for all flights on any airline that departs from an EU country, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the UK, and flights on any EU carrier from any airport.

    Outside of the EU, the rules are more complex. Your rights likely depend on the individual airline or travel agent's terms and conditions.

    Despite the rules, airlines like British Airways and Ryanair have made it very difficult to claim.

    BA customers must call 0800 727 800 from the UK, or +44 (0)203 250 0145 from outside the UK to request a refund, and some customers report multiple frustrations trying to get through on the phone. Those who have tried to claim a refund online say they've accidentally been sent a voucher instead and, once issued, BA is refusing to exchange vouchers for cash.

    Ryanair automatically issues customers with vouchers, which they can then exchange for cash. Although it claims to have made rapid progress in processing refunds, some customers say they are still waiting months.

    EasyJet customers can claim refunds online and it appears to be processing most (but not all) refunds within 30 days.

    What should I do? If your flight is cancelled, you are due a refund. You don't have to request a refund before your flight's scheduled departure. In fact you have at least 12 months to make a claim. Many people are telling us that the airline websites aren't working, or they can't reach the carrier to request a refund. Your options are to keep trying or to try to claim through your debit or credit card provider, or paypal.

    Make sure you don't click the Cancel & Refund button on British Airways' website as customers have told us they've then received a voucher, and BA won't swap vouchers for cash. Neither will EasyJet, so make sure you're happy with a voucher before you accept.

    British Airways, Ryanair, EasyJet hasn't cancelled my flight. Can I claim a refund?

    Unfortunately not. Even when there are FCDO travel warnings or a nationwide lockdown in place, airlines will not necessarily cancel flights. This is despite the fact that holidaymakers taking those flights will invalidate their travel insurance, unless they have specialist cover.

    Several airlines are flying on some routes despite the FCDO warning against travel, but some will issue vouchers or waive rebooking fees if you want to change your flight. During England's second lockdown, some flights are likely to still operate for 'essential' business travel.

    BA will issue vouchers for the full cost of the flight, valid up to April 2022, if a customer cancels at any point before check in. However, for customers who booked before 3 March, this only applies up to 31 October. Those who booked after 3 March have up until 31 August 2021 to change their minds.

    Ryanair is refusing to offer refunds for November flights unless they are cancelled. Passengers who booked after 10 June can change flights departing up the end of November for free, with at least seven days notice, but take care that you don't get ripped off when rebooking. Some Ryanair passengers have found that fares when rebooking are more expensive than a new ticket on the same flight.

    EasyJet will waive its amendment fee for changes made a full 14 days before the flight departure date.

    Some BA and easyJet customers who have accepted vouchers or tried to change flights say it's tricky to rebook because it must be done over the phone and it's hard to get through. It might be worth waiting to rebook as customer services are experiencing an extremely high volume of calls, although there's a danger fares will rise while you wait.

    Wizz Air customers who want to cancel flights due to FCDO advice have to pay a fee to claim a refund and cannot swap free of charge onto another flight. Which? reported Wizz Air to the CAA and CMA for not following guidelines.

    What should I do? If your airline has not cancelled a flight, despite the FCDO warning against travel, ask if you can rebook for a later date for free, as a refund isn't likely.

    What about my accommodation? Can I get a refund?

    Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and some major hotel chains waived their cancellation fees for those whose travel plans have had to be abandoned because of the outbreak. However, those booking after coronavirus was a 'known event' were encouraged to choose accommodation with a flexible booking policy.

    What should I do? If your hotel has closed, you're due a full refund. Even if it is open but government restrictions prevent you from getting to your accommodation, CMA advice suggests you should be entitled to a refund. Some suppliers have been better than others - find out who you should book your next holiday with.

    What about UK holiday cottages?

    Unlike with flights and package holidays, you're not necessarily entitled to a refund if your holiday cottage booking is cancelled due to coronavirus. It depends on the terms and conditions in your booking contract.

    If your contract states that you're entitled to your money back if the company you booked with cancels the booking, then that's what you should demand.

    We believe that if a national lockdown or local coronavirus restrictions prevent you from travelling, such as Tier 3 restrictions in England and local lockdowns in parts of Wales, you should be entitled to a full refund.

    Following enforcement action by the CMA, the major cottage providers, including Hoseasons and Sykes Cottages, are now refunding customers where travel restrictions prevent overnight stays.

    Find out which holiday cottage providers we recommend

    What about ferries?

    If you're booked on a ferry service that's been cancelled, the provider is obligated to offer a choice between an alternative journey or a full refund. However, some companies are currently issuing vouchers instead.

    What should I do? If your ferry journey has been cancelled you'll probably be issued with a voucher, rather than a refund. If you're unhappy about this, try contacting the ferry company directly to ask for your money back.

    If the service hasn't been cancelled but you don't want to go you can usually amend the booking, but cancelling it will incur a fee.

    I'm worried about taking my holiday/flight/cruise, should I cancel?

    If you cancel your trip you risk losing what you've already paid, but some travel companies have introduced more flexible rebooking policies. For example easyJet Holidays will allow you to amend package holiday bookings up to 21 days before the departure date. You will, however, have to pay any fare/price difference.

    Other companies, such as Marella Cruises, are actively encouraging customers to rebook their holidays for later this year and early 2021 by offering free changes for a limited period. But in the likely event that these holidays are later cancelled, you'll have given up your right to a cash refund, so it might be better to wait for the operator to cancel.

    The same applies to flights. If you cancel your flight before the airline cancels, you won't be entitled to a refund. Airlines are only obliged to give passengers two weeks' notice of cancellations before they're obliged to pay compensation for the inconvenience (unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as government flight bans), so you might have to wait until 14 days before the departure date to find out if your flight is going ahead.

    What should I do? If you want to find out the likelihood of your flight or holiday being cancelled, check to see if it's still available on the company's website. If it has disappeared, it will likely be cancelled at least 14 days before departure. If you want to risk running down the clock, you could check with your travel company and see if they'll allow you to rebook for a later date.

    Is coronavirus covered by my travel insurance?

    Major travel insurers responded to the pandemic by changing policies so they no longer covered coronavirus-related incidents, but over the past few months at least two dozen insurers have reintroduced some form of coronavirus cover.

    But there is a big difference between policies in terms of what is actually covered. It's important to check your policy to see if you're covered for medical bills if you get sick with coronavirus, or if you have to cancel because of government restrictions, if you get coronavirus before you travel, or if you're told by Test & Trace to self-isolate.

    Most standard travel policies don't provide cancellation, disruption or abandonment cover if you travel or book a holiday against FCDO advice. There are specialist policies available for these areas, but bear in mind that the advice is there for a reason and you'd be travelling to countries deemed risky by the government.

    What should I do? If you no longer wish to travel due to FCDO advice and you bought your insurance before coronavirus became a known event, you may be able to claim from your insurer for any costs that won't be refunded. Check with your insurer.

    If you need a new travel insurance policy that covers you for coronavirus related issues, check our guide: Coronavirus travel insurance: who will cover me?

    Can I get money back for a cancelled holiday from my travel insurer?

    Before you get in touch with your insurer, you should try to get a refund from travel or accommodation providers. Insurers will only pay out for costs that couldn't be refunded, so you must explore that route first.

    If your travel operator tells you to claim on your insurance, get this in writing. You will need proof it refused to issue a refund before you can progress further.

    Next, make a list of all the non-refundable costs you want to claim for. Not just hotels and flights, but transfers, tours and excursions. After that, you're ready to contact your insurer.

    My travel is essential. What do I need to know?

    Make sure you check the latest advice for your destination on the Foreign Office website and Fit For Travel.

    If you're concerned about the risks to you, speak to your doctor. Older travellers and those with underlying health conditions are most vulnerable.

    Make sure you check in with your travel insurance provider before you travel. The FCDO is still advising against all but essential travel to most countries worldwide, so choosing to travel to anywhere that's not included in its 'travel corridors' will mean you are not covered on insurance, unless you have a specialist policy.

    How can I travel safely?

    Which? Travel spoke to Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth, author of several travel health guides, for her advice on protecting yourself against infection. She says:

    • 'Wash your hands thoroughly before eating and drinking, and after visiting the toilet. Alcohol-based gels aren't nearly as effective as plenty of soap and water. Choose a window seat on the plane, if possible. A 2018 study found that these passengers typically only come into contact with 12 other people, compared with those in middle (58 people) or aisle seats (64). Use good hygiene etiquette, and cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing.'

    Fit For Travel also advises travellers to consider carrying a small first aid kit, with a thermometer or strips to check body temperature.

    Avoid contact with animals and people who appear unwell, including their personal items. And make contactless payments where possible to avoid handling cash.

    Anyone who is worried that they may have contracted the disease should use the NHS 111 site. There you'll find advice on whether you should call 111 for further assistance.

    How to protect yourself and others from coronavirus We explain how to help prevent infection, and which health products are worth buying and which ones are not.