For anyone with imminent travel plans, the implications are bleak, writes Tom Chesshyre
We’ve had a record number of enquiries from readers this week — hardly surprising given how coronavirus has turned the travel world upside down.
With the Government advising against all non-essential overseas trips until April 16 (a period that could be extended) as well as against non-essential UK breaks, holidays have been put on hold.
For anyone with imminent travel plans, the implications are bleak. As Money Mail reported this week: ‘Travellers fighting for refunds are being met with a chaotic response from airlines, hotels and tour operators.’ These are some of the most common questions — and their answers, accurate at the time of going to press.
Q . What if I booked a package trip abroad for travel before April 16?
A. Under the Package Travel Regulations (2018), you are due a full refund paid within 14 days of cancellation.
Q. So why am I finding this so difficult with my travel firm?
A. Travel firms have been in dire straits since the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised against all non-essential holidays overseas — effectively ending all foreign travel. Some are attempting to wriggle out of payments under Package Travel Regulations and offer postponements or money off future trips instead.
Q. How can they do this — why can’t I just get a refund?
A. Many travel firms are strapped for cash and need refunds from airlines and hotels in order to pay back customers. These have yet to come through, partly because airlines and hotels are also reeling from the collapse in bookings.
The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta, abta.com) says refunds issued to everyone now under the Package Travel Regulations could lead to mass failures. Were this to happen, customers might have to wait a long time for refunds under bankruptcy arrangements.
Q. Surely they can’t keep my money?
A. A few better-financed companies are offering refunds, but a large number have opted to adopt a scheme masterminded by Abta under which ‘refund credit notes’ are issued that can be used to book a holiday at a later date.
Q . What are ‘refund credit notes’?
A credit notes can be redeemed against a future holiday booking at any time until July 31, at which point you will be entitled to a cash refund. Abta has acted to cancel the usual 14-day deadline and introduce this new system.
Q. How can this be legal?
A. It’s a grey area. Abta is lobbying the Government to make the changes official, arguing that coronavirus has altered everything. They say that ‘unprecedented’ times require such action.
Q . What does government say?
A. Consumer group Which? (which.co.uk)says that it expects the Government to explain the situation in the next week or so.
Q. So what should I do?
A. In theory you could take your holiday company to a small claims court to demand a refund, says Which? But the consumer group recommends waiting to see what the Government does. ‘Nobody wants the travel industry to collapse, but it should not be the consumer who has to bail it out,’ said a spokesman.
Q. What if I am booked to travel after April 16?
A. At this stage, the presumption is your holiday will continue as usual. If you are worried and cancel, considered a ‘disinclination to travel’, you will probably lose what you spent on the trip.
We’ve had a record number of enquiries from readers this week — hardly surprising given how coronavirus has turned the travel world upside down
Q. Could I claim money back on my travel insurance?
A. No, as insurers will say it is the responsibility of the travel firm to reimburse you.
Q. What if I need to pay the balance on a trip after April 16?
A. We don’t know how long coronavirus will affect travel. However, Abta says the system of ‘refund credit notes’ is backed by the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (Atol, caa.co.uk/atol-protection). This Government-run fund should act as a ‘backstop’. You may wish to pay the balance on this basis.
Q. Are ‘refund credit notes’ the same as vouchers for cash off future trips?
A. No. Vouchers do not offer cash back and could also have a ‘use it or lose it’ date.
Q. What if I have booked a UK coach holiday?
A. The Government says all non-essential travel in the UK is banned, currently until April 13, so your travel firm should offer a refund or the chance to postpone your trip in this period.
Q. What if I have booked to stay in a UK hotel or self-catering property in coming weeks?
A. Until the Government alters its advice about domestic travel, you should not go anywhere. By law, for bookings up to April 13, your accommodation provider ought to offer a refund or the chance to re-book later. However, there is no guarantee that they will. The hope is that owners behave reasonably.
Q. What if my worries about catching coronavirus, my age or any underlying health problems make me want to cancel a trip I booked in advance, either in the UK or abroad?
A. You will not be entitled to a refund as such reasons would be deemed outside the control of the holiday provider.
Q. I booked a flight and a hotel abroad off my own back — how can I get cash back?
A. Some airlines are giving refunds, while others offer flight credits, as Nigel Tisdall reports on Page 70. If you’re struggling and have booked a flight costing more than £100 using a credit card, then your card issuer, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, should reimburse you.
The presumption is that flights that have not already been cancelled will go ahead after April 16. If you cancel your booking you have no consumer protection as the flight is still ‘live’. It’s best to wait and see what happens to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice (gov.uk).