Millions of people’s holiday plans have been thrown into disarray by the announcement that people returning from France will have to go into quarantine.
Because of increasing infection rates, the Department of Transport decided that all people returning from France will need to quarantine for 14 days if they arrive back after 04:00 on Saturday.
Foreign Office travel advice will also change when quarantine measures come in - advising against all “non- essential” travel.
The FCO advice is important because it means that if you choose to travel, your insurance will effectively be invalidated, and you do so at your own risk.
At the time of writing, a number of other countries with significant tourism industries are seeing rises in Covid-19 cases, so it’s likely that other countries will join Spain, Belgium and France on the list soon.
What should you do if you are on holiday when travel advice changes?
Contact your travel insurer now to find out what they’re advising. Keep an eye on the FCO website – the advice is updating and changing all the time. You can read the latest guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/spain
Check with your airline to find out of there are any changes to your flight home and speak to the hotel in advance to see if there’s any flexibility if the flights are changed.
Is insurance still valid if travel advice changes?
Travel insurance policies are still be valid in France, though there’s a considerable amount of variation in what policies cover.
For example, some policies have been sold as ‘Covid 19 cover’. In practice that covers you for getting sick with the virus while away, but not before travel or for opting not to travel.
Given that most countries have quarantine procedures in place for those who do test positive, it’s arguable how much benefit this provides.
Some more comprehensive policies will cover you for some costs if your stay is extended due to being quarantined or, say, put in lockdown in your hotel even if you’re not diagnosed as having the virus.
As for leaving early, while some insurers may allow this, in practice this is often dependant on the existing FCO guidance, which currently doesn’t say to come home now.
Will I be entitled to a refund if I have a summer holiday booked in France?
You are only entitled to a refund if your airline or packaged holiday is cancelled.
If the flights are going ahead but the FCO advice is ‘all but essential travel’ that doesn’t mean you get the refund, though you can put that argument to the firm.
If you booked flights and accommodation separately or don’t have a packaged deal, negotiate. Be prepared to compromise and that vouchers are a good result, given the lack of other options.
You may be able to claim on an insurance policy if it’s an existing annual one and has not renewed since the pandemic broke but check with your insurer.
Finally, if you paid on a credit or debit card for the holiday then you can ask the card provider to ‘charge back’ your payment – but this is by no means guaranteed.
Credit card payments towards something that costs more than £100 give you the option of making a ‘section 75’ claim against your card provider if the goods or services can’t be provided – an argument you could use here too.
What about booking a holiday now?
If you book a holiday now, you are the one bearing the risk.
Your fundamental consumer rights remain unchanged but there are many situations people are facing where it’s not clear where – or how – you can get your money back.
I don’t think this is fair. Resolver is calling for vouchers to be extended to people who took a risk and couldn’t travel for various reasons – and for these to be guaranteed by the Government if the firm goes under.
However, for now, it’s important that you check booking terms and conditions before you commit – and take copies of them. You may find you can ask for an alternative date or a voucher (or even a refund) as part of the company’s own terms if you can’t travel.
New travel insurance policies will almost certainly have exclusions for Covid-19 related claims, but a policy should still cover you for non-Covid related illness or injury abroad, or if you have to cancel if for example, you are made redundant.
My flight has just been cancelled
If you’re due to fly soon and the airline has cancelled your flight, then you should get a full refund or occasionally the option to rebook or move the flight to a future date.
Though the law says this should happen within 7 days, I know this is not happening often.
There are all kinds of investigations going on into the conduct of airlines and travel companies but for now, stick to your guns, take a voucher if you feel able but insist on a refund if not.
What if my future flight/holiday hasn’t been cancelled?
As we saw during the lockdown, chaos ensued over contacting holiday firms and airlines, getting refunds and being given the runnaround. This should not have been happening.
However, you are only entitled to a refund for a cancelled flight (within 7 days) or a cancelled packaged holiday (you must have a certificate showing it’s a packaged deal and the refund should happen in 14 days).
I’m already hearing about airlines that are not cancelling flights despite the FCO advice and it seems likely that some holiday firms might try this on as well. This is ridiculously unfair, and I expect a firm response from regulators and Government bodies, but for now, be prepared to negotiate as before.
If the firm won’t play ball ask them to confirm that in writing (use social media if necessary).
In the worst case scenario, you can ask your bank or card provider to ‘charge back’ the money you’ve spent because the firm are refusing the refund. Again, there are delays for this service due to the volume of requests, so be patient.
I can’t get hold of the airline/holiday firm
Unfortunately, the answer here is to persist.
We’re calling for greater clarity on the situation for travellers on airline and holiday firm websites.
Keep records of when you called and how long you waited along with screenshots of website problems.
I’ve been charged for moving my booking
During the initial lockdown, airlines and travel firms waived rebooking fees. But now some have apparently reinstated these charges.
Again, this is really unfair. If you have to swallow a charge you can still complain after, so note down what you were told and make a formal complaint to the airline.
I’ve booked a holiday but I want to cancel
Even if you’re not travelling in the next few weeks, this will become an issue when you do come to take a holiday, depending on how the virus spreads.
You have a few main options to look at:
Unless you had a pre-lockdown (March 2020) annual policy that hasn't been renewed yet, chances are you won’t be covered on your insurance for not being able to travel – and definitely not if you decide you don’t want to travel.
So does that mean I’ll lose my cash?
Not necessarily. Travel insurance includes clauses for cancelation. So if your doctor says you can’t travel due to illness, for example, you can usually claim.
Now is the time to dig out the policy and look through it though to see what you’re covered for. Speak to the insurer too so you can find out your options.
What else can I do?
Be flexible. Your rights to cancel and get refunds from holiday companies, travel agents and airlines all vary so check ‘em out now before the holiday is upon you.
If you don’t want to go and the terms aren’t in your favour, why not come up with an alternative solution?
You may still be able to transfer your flight to another destination or date further in the future, so you don’t lose your money completely if you decide not to travel.
Ask the holiday company what their plans are if something does occur closer to the time. Do they have alternative hotels or accommodation in other areas, for example?
The big gamble
A number of people who I’ve spoken to have told me that they’ve cancelled their holidays outright and lost all their cash.
Don’t do this unless you have to. As long as the firm has your money, you have its attention. So ask them what your options are and get a written response.
Remember there’s a big difference between your holiday being cancelled (you’ll generally get a refund) and choosing to cancel (you may not if there’s no official advice that you can’t travel).
So think carefully about what you’re willing to do and what you aren’t – then see what you can negotiate.
Resolver can help you with any travel complaint you might have – and it’s totally free. Get in touch at www.resolver.co.uk