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11 May 2021

Is it safe to book a holiday in 2021? Q&A on traffic lights and Covid tests

Flexible booking policies, package holidays and trusted companies are essential

The new travel traffic light system will make travel and holidays easier, but there will be additional costs to trips this summer and risks remain.

Crucially, travellers will need to protect themselves against their green list countrychanging to amber or red, as well as potential issues around vaccine passports and delayed Covid-19 test results for travel. But these risks can be reduced depending on how you book and who you book with.

Last year millions of people lost their holidays and their money when airlines and some online travel agents refused to refund them after travel corridors changed.Millions more were denied refunds for flights they couldn't legally take during national lockdowns.

It is safe to book a holiday in 2021 if you choose your holiday company and booking policy carefully. You may also need to be flexible. It's often possible to move your trip to different dates and even destinations if disruption does affect your travel, but you won't always be able to claim a refund.

How red, amber and green work - travel traffic light system Q&A

What could go wrong. Is disruption to green list holidays likely this summer?

Yes. The greatest risk is you book a holiday in a green list country, but it later moves to amber or red, or it changes colour while you are on holiday.

The government will revise the list every three weeks, but has also said countries can be moved at any time if the health situation requires this.

Whether you can get a refund or rebook if your destination goes from green to amber will depend on how you book (see below).

Given this, it is only sensible to go on holiday if you are able to quarantine for 10 days on your return in case the country moves from the green to amber list while you are away.

Other potential disruption to consider is not having received your vaccines on time, or not being able to provide evidence of vaccination - because your vaccination records haven't yet linked to the NHS app, for example. In both these instances you will need to pay for additional Covid-19 tests.

All travellers will be required to take Covid-19 tests before and after arriving in the UK, even if they have been vaccinated. You not only need to factor in the cost of this, but ensure you are covered if the tests aren't provided on time or you test positive. If you aren't covered, you may lose the total cost of the flight or holiday.

The best way to protect yourself from most of the above is to book a package holiday.

Can I get a refund on my holiday if the country I am going to is changed from green to amber?

In many cases, yes. Almost all package holiday providers won't operate holidays to countries with an FCDO warning, which currently includes most amber list countries. This is thanks to the package travel regulations.

However, some amber list countries and islands don't have an FCDO warning. In this case you may not have a legal right to a refund, and several tour operators have said they intend to operate to amber list countries.

Most tour operators will still allow you to rebook, but this will come at an extra cost for the new dates in many cases. Instead, look for tour operators that have flexible booking policies that allow refunds if a country is changed from green to amber or red.

Can I get a refund on my flight if the country I am going to is changed from green to amber?

No. Airlines also won't help when traffic lights change. They will likely continue to fly if a country is moved from green to amber and even red.

Unless the flight is cancelled, you have limited rights to a refund. Millions of people lost money on flight-only bookings last year when they couldn't travel because the destination country wasn't letting UK residents in, national lockdowns made travel illegal or the FCDO said don't go.

British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet all have flexible booking policies, but for the most part these only allow rebooking. When you rebook you will have to pay the difference in cost between the old and new dates, and this is often significant.

Find a good flexible booking policy

Beyond booking a package holiday, it's important to pick a tour operator that has a good flexible booking policy.

Almost every tour operator now offers one of these policies - but choosing the right one can mean the difference between getting a full refund and being left with no holiday and no money.

Look for those that are clear about refunds if a country moves from green to amber, when FCDO advice changes and what your options are if you don't get a test result back in time or test positive and have to quarantine. The very best policies can cover all of these scenarios; the very worst none of them. Here are the questions you should ask.

Questions you should ask your tour operator about its flexible booking policy

Q. Can I rebook for free (including the cost of new dates) or claim a refund if the country I am travelling to is changed from green to amber or red? Is it a full refund, or are there unrecoverable costs?
Many companies will only allow rebooking, and this can cost extra. Look for those that will offer a full refund. Similarly, some will only allow for a partial refund. Make sure they will give you all your money back.

Q. Can I rebook for free (including cost of new dates) or claim a refund if the FCDO adds a warning to the country I am travelling to? Most companies should offer a full refund in these circumstances. Avoid those that don't.

Q. If my holiday is cancelled, will I be refunded in full in 14 days. If not, how long will it take?
Many holiday companies have taken months to refund customers. That's not much use if you plan to rebook. Only book with companies committing to refunds in 14 days, or 30 days in extreme circumstances.

Q. What happens if I test positive for Covid-19, before I travel?
The very best flexible booking policies will let you rebook for free if you test positive before travel. Some travel insurance policies can also help.

Q. What happens if I test positive for Covid-19, after I travel?
Some tour operators have policies to help with this, but you will find better cover through travel insurance.

Q. What if I later change my mind and decide I no longer want to travel to a destination because it's too risky?
It's better to only book if you will be comfortable travelling this summer, but the best flexible booking policies will allow you to cancel for any reason. It's known as disinclination to travel. It's crucial to look for the notice period you need to give before you cancel, as these can vary from ten days to ten weeks. The shorter the better.

Book with a tour operator you can trust

Many airlines and many holiday companies broke the law last year over refunds for cancelled holidays. Some have suggested they may do so again.

If your holiday does have to be cancelled because of further lockdowns you don't want to wait months or a year to get your money back - especially if you want to rebook somewhere else.

All Which? Recommended Provider tour operators are committed to providing refunds within 14 days of a cancelled holiday.

Consider using a travel agent

During the current crisis many customers have struggled to contact travel companies who have failed to keep them informed of changes to their bookings, about cancellations or the progress of their refunds - some companies have even turned off their phones.

You won't get that if you book with a good travel agent. A good travel agent will be on hand to amend your booking if further travel restrictions are put in place, or if things go wrong while you're away. You'll know someone is at the other end of the phone to help if you have questions or, if your trip is cancelled, fight for your refund.

It's important to say that Which? doesn't rate travel agents so it is essential you do your research into customer reviews first.