What does Coronavirus mean for my travel plans?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all non-essential travel to every country in the world indefinitely, leaving people with future travel plans wondering which way to turn.

Here, we look at what this latest travel advice means for those with travel already booked, or for anyone still hoping to go away later this year.

What does the FCO’s advice mean for my imminent holiday?

If you’ve got a package holiday booked in the next couple of weeks, there’s a good chance it’s already been cancelled.

If it has, your first move should be to speak to your travel firm, as you should be legally entitled to a refund within 14 days. However, many people are finding it impossible to get refunds, or even to get hold of the companies they’ve booked with.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA, the UK trade association for travel companies and tour operators, said: “Many customers have rebooked their holidays for a future date, but I completely understand why those who have asked for a refund may feel frustrated and concerned at the amount of time it is taking. In normal circumstances the rules to provide a refund for a package holiday within 14 days work well. But these are not normal circumstances and the 14 day refund rule is impossible for the majority of companies to stick to.”

Where travel companies are unable to provide an immediate cash refund, ABTA instead wants them to offer customers a ‘Refund Credit Note’. This will entitle you to rebook your holiday at a future date or receive a cash refund at the expiry date of the note, which ABTA says should be July 31, 2020. Refund Credit Notes retain the financial protection that you had with your original booking, so if the company you booked with goes bust, you’d be reimbursed. You are not obliged to accept a Refund Credit Note if you’re offered one. You can refuse it and tell the travel company you want your money back in full.

If you have travel insurance which includes cancellation cover, you might find it quicker to get a refund from your insurer, so get in touch with your provider and check whether your policy will pay out. Some insurers may only pay out if your costs definitely won’t be refunded by the travel company, so frustratingly you may find yourself being redirected back to the firm you first booked with.

If you don’t have insurance and the travel company you booked with won’t offer you a refund – then if you paid for your holiday by credit card, you could try asking your card provider to reimburse you. Provided the holiday cost £100 or more then under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, your card provider is also jointly liable and may agree to refund the cost of your ticket, so it’s worth contacting them to see if you can make a claim.

If you paid with a debit card, or your flight or break cost less than £100, you may be able to claim your money back using ‘chargeback’ which enables your card issuer to provide you with a refund. This process is not as clear cut as the use of Section 75 in the Consumer Credit Act, so there are no guarantees that your issuer will be able to recover the money through chargeback – but it could still be worth a try. Find out more about how chargeback works here.

My holiday hasn’t been cancelled - can I get my money back?

Travel plans

Many travel companies are waiting until a few days before the holiday is due to take place before they cancel. At this point you should be able to request a refund.

You won’t usually be covered by your insurance until this point as your insurer will need to see proof that your holiday or flight is actually cancelled before they’ll agree to pay out.

A spokesman for ABTA said: “Each company will have their own process for managing future departures and will be contacting customers due to travel imminently. There is no legal definition of ‘imminent travel’, however it is generally considered to be within the next few days.

“Our advice to customers with future bookings is to be patient and wait to be contacted by your travel provider. Travel companies are extremely busy, given the pressures of the current crisis, and will be looking at imminent departures first and deciding how far in advance they will offer alternative arrangements or refunds.”

I’ve already booked a trip for later in the year, can I still get travel insurance?

If you are looking to get travel insurance now, you won’t be able to find a policy which will cover coronavirus cancellations. According to comparison website MoneySupermarket.com, there are currently no travel insurers at all that are offering new policies which will pay out for coronavirus-related cancellation claims.

It may still be possible for you to find a policy to provide cancellation cover for other eventualities, such as bereavement, although with the significant uncertainty surrounding coronavirus it may not feel worth taking out a policy that excludes this. As with any type of insurance, it’s essential to read the policy small print carefully so that you know exactly what you are and aren’t covered for..

I have an annual policy at the moment, but it is due to expire soon. What can I do?

Travel plans

If you have an existing annual travel insurance policy, you may be able to renew your cover with the same provider and still get the same level of protection on your next policy. Some policies will still give you cancellation cover for pre-existing bookings on renewal, but this will vary from provider to provider, so you’ll need to check with yours if this is the case. You almost certainly won’t be covered for any new trips that you booked after coronavirus was declared a pandemic or the FCO advised against global travel.

Ensure that your new cover starts the moment your current policy expires – that way, you will not have any gaps when you’re not covered.

What if I’ve got a UK-based staycation booked?

As the UK Government has issued advice recommending that people avoid all but essential travel within the UK, this means that you should not visit a second or holiday home, stay in caravan parks or even visit campsites.

If the company or accommodation provider that you booked your UK-based holiday with has been forced to close due to coronavirus, you should be offered a full refund, or the opportunity to postpone your booking to a later date.

Center Parcs, for example, has closed all its villages until the end of April, and is offering guests the choice of either a full refund, or the option to rebook until the end of 2021 with a £100 discount.

If the accommodation provider isn’t forced to close due to the outbreak, it’s less likely you’ll be able to get a refund, but it may still be possible. Many hotels and bed and breakfasts have a specific cancellation policy that you should have been sent when making the booking. If you can’t find this, contact the company directly and ask about the options available to you.

Again, if you paid for your accommodation using a credit card, you may be able to get your money back from your card provider if the place you were planning to stay is unable to provide you with a refund.

I’ve booked a holiday, but haven’t paid for it in full yet. What shall I do?

Booking holiday

If you have booked a trip and are paying for it in instalments, think carefully before being tempted to freeze your repayments – even if you’re due to travel in the next few months. If you break the financial agreement, you may lose the money you’ve already paid and forfeit ATOL protection under the package holiday protection scheme. This means that should the travel company go bust before your departure date, your money will only be protected if you continue your payments as agreed.

The risk is that by stopping future payments you invalidate your ability to get any money back so for those who have paid the majority of the cost of their travel, it will likely make sense to complete the payments to stay eligible for a full refund. For those who have only paid a small fraction of the overall cost of their holiday, some people may choose to knowingly lose what they have already paid, to avoid the process of having to try and get a refund of the full amount at a later date. By continuing payments there is also the risk that if the Foreign Office lifts the travel ban, your holiday will still go ahead – and you will be charged – whether you want to go on it or not.

Your first port of call should be to speak to your travel provider as they may be willing to defer payments or the holiday itself to a later date. You could also try speaking to your travel insurance provider if you have already purchased insurance.

I booked flights online and they have been cancelled, can I get a refund?

As long as your flight is leaving the UK or EU or flying into the UK or EU, you should be covered by EU law which entitles you to a full refund if the flight is cancelled. You have up to 12 months to claim this refund. Some airlines will offer a voucher or the option to rebook instead, but you do not have to accept either of these options if you’d prefer a refund.

If you’re finding it impossible to get through or can’t get a refund from the airline, then you can approach your credit card company to see if they will reimburse you under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Under this act, they are jointly responsible for the provision of goods and services sold, however they may insist on waiting to see if the airline will offer a refund first.

If your flight is not covered by EU law, the rules are more complicated and your rights will depend on the booking terms and conditions of the individual airline involved and the rules of the country which has jurisdiction over the flight. You’ll need to contact the airline to see whether a refund will be possible.

If you have travel insurance and booked your flights before the FCO advised against travel, you should be able to get your flight costs back from your insurer, although some will only pay out if you bought travel disruption as an add-on, so you’ll need to check your policy small print.

I have flights booked for the summer, but they have not yet been cancelled. What can I do?

Deckchairs

If the airline you’ve booked with hasn’t yet announced they’ve cancelled your flights, chances are that you won’t be able to get a refund until they do – even if the airline is not flying at all at present. Frustratingly, flights are often only cancelled only a few days before they are due to depart.

As the travel ban advice could change at any time, flights that are scheduled to depart imminently are the airlines’ priorities. If you are adamant that you no longer want to travel and do not want to wait until closer to the time for an official cancellation, you may be able to amend the date of your journey without incurring fees, but it will depend on your flight provider so contact them in the first instance.

I’ve booked my accommodation separately from my flights. Is there any chance of a refund?

Hotels will have a cancellation policy, so get in touch with them and find out what your options are. You may be offered a refund, or the opportunity to reschedule your stay for a later date.

If the hotel you’re supposed to be staying in has closed as a result of government advice in that country, you should be able to get your money back – but only if the hotel is able to weather the current economic storm and stays in business. If they become insolvent, then you may be able to get your money back via your credit or debit card provider.

If you used an online booking site to book your accommodation, you may have extra protection.This can be found in the terms and conditions on the relevant website. If not, check your travel insurance to see if you can make a claim.

Should I put all holiday planning on hold for the time being?

Whether you have already had to postpone or cancel a holiday due to coronavirus or you are simply hoping to book something to look forward to, it is hard to say with any certainty when things will return to normal given the FCO advice against all non-essential travel indefinitely.

Whilst travel companies may be offering very competitive pricing in a bid to attract customers, with so much uncertainty there is a significant risk that non-essential travel could remain banned by the time of your trip, the travel company may go bankrupt by that time, or simply that the logistics of travel including insurance, accomodation, visas etc are significantly more complex than they used to be.

Importantly, if you are in a category that’s thought to be particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, then it may be much longer before it is deemed safe for you to travel.

Have your travel plans been cancelled due to coronavirus or have you already had a refund or rescheduled your trip? You can get in touch at [email protected] or leave a comment below.

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