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20 Jul 2021

What if NHS test and trace tells me to self-isolate before my flight? Refunds and insurance explained

Rules on rebooking and cancellations for British Airways, Jet2, Ryanair and Tui, and other airlines and holiday companies

The summer holidays are upon us, but it's been estimated that millions of people may be told to self-isolate by NHS test and trace in the coming months. Unfortunately, most travellers are unlikely to get a refund for accommodation and flights they can't take if they're pinged by the NHS app.

Tui, Jet2 and most other large operators will offer 'free' rebooking' if you are told by test and trace to self-isolate. However, this only means that the admin fee for rebooking will be waived - customers still need to pay any price difference for the new dates, which can be significant.

Airline booking policies can be more restrictive. While all offer 'free' rebooking some have significant restrictions. Under Ryanair's 'zero change fees' policy you can only rebook without having to pay a change fee with seven days' notice.

If alerted by test and trace to self-isolate within seven days of the flight, Ryanair customers will need to pay its standard charge of between £35 and £95 to rebook. That's on top of any additional cost of the new flights.

A handful of tour operators with the best flexible booking policies do offer refunds, and better travel insurance policies will cover you against having to cancel because of test and trace.

Many will have chosen to stay closer to home and enjoy a UK cottage break or hotel stay this summer holiday season instead. While some companies may be flexible, they aren't legally obliged to refund you if you have to go into isolation. Read more on cottage holiday company refund policies if you're pinged by NHS test and trace.

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Can I get a refund for my flight?

No. There are no airlines offering refunds if you are unable to travel because NHS test and trace tells you to self-isolate.

All airlines have flexible booking policies. These allow you to rebook without paying the standard admin fee, or in some instances take the value of your flight as a voucher. However, some policies come with restrictions on how far in advance you need to rebook, and you'll always have to pay more if the new dates you rebook for are more expensive.

Ryanair policy on test and trace refunds

There have been several flexible booking policies from Ryanair over the past two years, and the T&Cs of the one in place when you booked will apply.

Currently Ryanair has a 'zero change fees' policy. What that really means is you can rebook without paying a change fee if you give Ryanair at least seven days' notice. Within seven days the airline's standard terms and conditions apply, which means a fee of between £35 and £95 to rebook. That's per flight, so the cost of changing a return flight could be as much as £190.

British Airways policy on test and trace refunds

BA has one of the better flexible booking policies. Under its 'book with confidence' promise you can rebook for any reason up to the time check-in closes for the flight (usually two to three hours ahead of departure time).

If you don't want to rebook you can instead request a voucher, which is helpful if you don't feel ready to pick new dates. It also means you won't be stung if rebooking new dates for your destination is more expensive.

Jet2 policy on test and trace refunds

While Jet2 doesn't have a specific flexible booking policy in place, it has changed its terms and conditions to be more flexible - this includes for customers told to self-isolate by test and trace.

You can amend your flight without paying an admin fee up to the time of departure. This is applicable whether you have booked a package holiday or flight.

Tui policy on test and trace refunds

The 'free changes' policy at Tui allows you to rebook without paying an admin fee if you or someone else in your party is told to self-isolate by NHS test and trace

This policy is in place for flights, holidays and cruises.

Which flexible booking policies will cover me if I have to self-isolate because of NHS test and trace?

If you are considering booking a holiday, there are a handful of tour operators with flexible policies that do offer refunds for test and trace disruption. These policies tend to have all-round fantastic cover for disruption.

Exodus, which is an escorted tour provider that specialises in adventure and activity holidays, and Explore, which also offers small group adventure tours in adventurous locations,both guarantee refunds if NHS test and trace alerts mean you can't travel. Both have a good track record in refunding customers quickly

Luxury package holiday operator Kuoni has an excellent flexible booking policy. It said it would first encourage customers to claim from insurance for disruption caused by test and trace, but that if that wasn't possible would issue refunds.

All three operators are Which? Recommend Provider holiday companies.

What are my refund rights on my UK cottage break if I have to self-isolate because of NHS test and trace?

You aren't legally entitled to a refund if this happens, which could cause problems with thousands of people a week likely to be pinged by the NHS app this summer.

If you haven't booked yet, read the terms and conditions carefully. If this isn't listed, find out whether you can move the booking or get a refund in this instance and get it in writing. Find out which cottage companies were best-rated in our recent cottage holiday survey results.

Which travel insurance policies will cover me if I have to self-isolate because of NHS test and trace?

While most travel insurance policies don't cover cancellation because you are required to self-isolate, an increasing number do. Of the 263 policies Which? analysed, just over 40 included this cover.

See our list of Superior or Complete policies, which also offer protection against other types of Covid-19-related disruption.

It's important to check the T&Cs of the policy to make sure the cover extends to test and trace and self-isolation notifications by the NHS app, as for administrative and legal purposes the systems are different.