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22 Mar 2021

UK holiday cottage companies with the best flexible booking policies

Choose companies that guarantee refunds and free date changes if you face restrictions due to coronavirus
cottage with flowers and thatched roof

With the latest government announcement indicating that self-catered, one-household, UK holidays will be permitted to go ahead from April 12, you may be tempted to book. There's no guarantee this date won't be pushed back though, so if you do decide to book, protect your trip by choosing a flexible provider.

Whilst there's been no mention of re-introducing local restrictions, if one area sees a significant spike in cases or a new variant, there's no guarantee you won't face local restrictions at the time of your trip. Restrictions can change overnight.

However, many reputable cottage providers offer free amendments if COVID-19 restrictions mean you aren't able to travel, while others offer full refunds.

Here, we round up some of the best flexible policies from UK holiday cottage companies - including two Which? Recommended Providers (WRPs) - who performed well in our recent survey.

National Trust flexible booking

The National Trust has more than 400 cottages, a few lighthouses, castles and manor houses to choose from. And the money you pay is used to preserve historical properties, so there's a feel-good factor when booking with this charitable organisation.

But, more importantly, the company offers flexible bookings up to 31 October 2021 (which will extend if coronavirus restrictions continue). During national lockdowns when the properties are closed you get your money back. If local restrictions prevent you from travelling, you fall ill with COVID-19, you're told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace, or you've booked a large property but can only travel with a small number of people, you'll also be refunded. All these changes and refunds are free.

If you're simply not inclined to travel anymore, charges will apply for cancelling, which vary depending on how close to the trip you cancel. For a date change, if you let the National Trust know 30 days or more before the trip starts a £25 admin fee is applied.

The National Trust is a WRP and readers ranked it highly in our recent survey of UK cottage holiday companies. It was praised for the quality of its accommodation. See the full review.

Forest holidays flexible booking
Sherwood Forest

WRP Forest Holidays' sustainably built log cabins are situated in 11 spots across the UK in the likes of Sherwood Forest, Forest of Dean and Thorpe Forest.

The cabins aren't the cheapest but each comes with a hot tub, which helps to justify the price.

If you're looking to book one of these woodland holiday homes, you needn't worry about getting stung by COVID-19 restrictions. The company will provide you with a refund (without admin charge) in almost every instance, including local lockdowns, quarantines and suffering from COVID-19.

If your large party can no longer travel because of government rules restricting numbers, you can also get a refund. Alternatively, you can swap to a smaller cabin if there's availability, so you don't have to forgo your trip. Although two households can mix inside from May 17 and multiple households can from June 21, these dates are just target dates and there is a chance they could be pushed back.

If you have simply changed your mind about travelling, you'll be subject to normal terms and conditions. But if it's just one member of the party not keen, you can change their name on the booking free of charge.

Rural Retreats flexible booking

Rural Retreats has more than 590 properties across the UK and Ireland, mostly located in the countryside or close to coastline. More than 200 of the sites are dog-friendly.

The luxury company is pricey but worth every penny, according to readers. In our recent survey it scored five out of five for the quality of accommodation and four stars for value.

Most COVID-related scenarios are covered in its flexible policy, so you can expect a refund. But the property owners may ask for proof of a party member falling ill with COVID-19 or being asked to isolate to get your money back.

If you don't wish to travel, refunds are at the owner's discretion. If they say no and you cancel, Rural Retreats will refund your money if it manages to re-rent the property for those dates.

Landmark Trust flexible booking

Landmark Trust's properties should appeal to history buffs. The charity rents out castles, forts, towers and cottages with historical, architectural or cultural importance and uses the money made to preserve them for people to enjoy as holiday homes. They are designed for holidaymakers to disconnect and so don't include wi-fi.

If the properties are forced to close due to lockdown, you'll receive a full refund - as expected. And if you book for 10 and you're only allowed six people at the time of travel, for example, you will be offered a refund, rate reduction, or date change for properties that sleep over six.

It also has a deferral scheme in place for bookings up to 27 September 2021. If you choose not to stay for any reason (including disinclination) you can gain a credit note and travel another time before the end of 2022, but not a refund. This change will be free of charge.

You need to give a minimum of 14 days' notice in order to cancel, so if you're notified of a local lockdown a few days before you travel you might come unstuck. However, Landmark Trust said to call in this instance and it can consider your circumstances.

Changing the dates of your holiday cottage booking

If you're thinking of booking a UK cottage holiday, you also need to think about where you would stand if your stay is able to go ahead, but you no longer want to go. This is known as disinclination to travel and means you'll be subject to whatever is in the cottage provider's booking conditions.

The table below shows how much some of the leading UK cottage providers charge to amend your holidays dates. There are always ifs and buts, though, so make sure you read the terms and conditions before booking.

For example, all of the cottage companies listed below say that date changes aren't guaranteed and will depend on whether the owner agrees and possibly also on when the request is made. And some companies, including Sykes, Coast and Country Cottages and Heart of the Lakes, all say that dates can only be brought forward, not pushed back.

Cottage companyCost to change dates
AirbnbDepends on host's policy
Booking.comDepends on host's policy
Coast & Country Cottages£30
Cornish Cottage Holidays£30
English Country Cottages£35
Forest HolidaysNo fee stated1
  1. Amendments to your booking can be made up to 12 weeks prior to the start date of your holiday, subject to availability.
  2. Holidaycottages.co.uk charge £20 to make 'minor adjustments to bookings', provided the owner agrees to the changes.
  3. You will have to pay a cancellation charge, which could be as much as 100% of the rental cost, unless Toad Hall Cottages can find new guests for your original dates, in which case a refund may be payable, minus a £50 admin charge.

See our full cottage holiday company survey results.