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23 Oct 2020

Holidays in 2021 - the tour operators and travel agents Which? recommends

And the big names you should avoid, like Lastminute.com and Loveholidays

It is safe to book a holiday for 2021, but only if you book with a tour operator that can deliver a great trip and, crucially, that can be trusted to give you your money back if local lockdowns or changing travel corridors mean it can't go ahead.

Nearly 6,000 customers rated their tour operator or travel agent in our holiday companies 2020 customer survey. They told us just how good (or bad) everything from the customer service to the organisation of the trip was - from package holiday beach breaks to escorted tours. They also told us about refunds.

Many holiday firms broke the law over refunds for cancelled trips during the current pandemic. Some issued credit notes instead of cash, with the support of Abta, while others flatly refused to offer anything, turning off their phones instead. It left customers billions of pounds out of pocket with many forced to wait months for a response, or turn to their credit card or debit card provider to get a refund.

While some, like Tui, have apologised and mended their ways, others like Love Holidays and Lastminute.com have continued to delay and dodge on refunds. It's essential you don't book with companies such as this.

Summer holiday 2021 with Jet2 Holidays, Kuoni, InnTravel, Explore and Trailfinders

To be named a Which? Recommended Provider (WRP), companies must be highly rated in our customer survey. But this year, we took extra steps to assess their treatment of customers throughout the coronavirus pandemic. We asked thousands of customers about their experience of claiming a refund, as well as investigating complaints from our helplines and social media.

Some companies, like Trailfinders, Jet2 Holidays, InnTravel, Explore and Kuoni have looked after their customers throughout the crisis. Five-star holidays, five-star customer service and no quibble refunds.

It was clear that with some other companies that would have been eligible for a Which? Recommended Provider status there were problems. Many of you told us about Exodus and Riviera Travel issuing refund credit notes, when you had requested cash, while Audley was making customers wait far too long for a refund.

Rather than write these ordinarily good companies off, we spoke to them and asked them to change their approach to customer refunds if they wanted to be a WRP. We're happy to say most did. All Which? Recommended Provider holiday companies have committed to paying full cash refunds quickly, if your holiday has to be cancelled.

We have withheld Which? Recommend Provider status from Villa Plus. It was highly rated by customers but refused refunds in some instances.

See the full ratings in ourbest and worst holiday companies.

Exodus reverses holiday refund policy

Exodus has expressed regret that it wasn't 'in a position' to facilitate refunds early in the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the adventure holiday company told us: 'It has been a battle and we didn't always get the communication or the management of this process right. We would like to extend our sincere apologies to those customers impacted or disappointed.'

Exodus says it is now fulfilling all refund requests within 14 days.

With an impressive customer score of 88% in our survey, it has since been named a Which? Recommended Provider for 2020.

HF Holidays and Audley Travel: doing right by customers on refunds

HF Holidays also responded to our concerns after customers complained of being fobbed off with credit notes.

This was simply not good enough for those who were not in a position to rebook, or whose financial circumstances had changed as a result of the crisis.

The activity holiday specialist has since promised to honour all refund requests - as well as offering flexible risk-free future bookings. It admitted to poor communication early on.

Audley Travel was refunding from the beginning, but customers were asked to wait a lengthy three months for their money back.

It has now sped up that process.

HF Holidays and Audley Travel have been named WRPs this year after they both earned a maximum five-star rating for their customer service and the quality of their accommodation.

Other companies to consider for your 2021 holidays

Our holiday company survey only captures the brands where we get enough respondents to rate them. That's to ensure that the ratings we provide are substantive and accurate. Unfortunately, it means we often miss out on rating many small and specialist tour operators.

We know many of these smaller firms have done a fantastic job of looking after their customers. So while we don't have the survey data to rate the likes of Ffestiniog Travel, Llama Travel and Erna Low, you can be sure that if you book with them you won't have any problems getting a refund.

20+ travel companies you can trust with your money

Holding holiday companies to account

We know many of you are still struggling to get your money back for cancelled holidays. We will continue to monitor these companies and we want to hear from you if any of our recommended providers backtracks on its promises.

Please contact us at travelexperts@which.co.uk if a WRP tries to give you the runaround.