These are uncertain times for British holidaymakers, with air bridges being razed left, right and centre by the UK government in response to rising coronavirus infection rates abroad.
As a result, some are understandably dropping all their plans for a foreign trip, worried they’ll be left out of pocket if they’re forced to cancel a booking – unable to claim a refund or perhaps stuck with a travel voucher they don’t want.
But there is a way of vastly improving the chances of getting everything reimbursed – and that’s by making sure the trip is officially classed as a package holiday. Because package holiday providers are obliged by law to offer refunds if a trip is cancelled within 14 days.
These are uncertain times for British holidaymakers, with air bridges being razed left, right and centre by the UK government in response to rising coronavirus infection rates abroad
And this is still the case if the traveller cancels the trip in the event of an FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) warning being applied.
As moneysavingexpert.com says: ‘With package holidays, if an FCO warning is put in place – as has now happened in Spain [and now Belgium and the Bahamas] – under the Package Travel Regulations you should be able to get a refund within 14 days – even if the trip’s not been cancelled.
Even if you only need to rent a car for one hour, or a hotel for a night, adding a hotel or car to a flight booking can make all the difference in being entitled to a refund
Travel expert and frequent flier Gilbert Ott
‘The rules state if “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances” occur which “significantly affect the performance of the package”, you’re due a full refund if you cancel. And while they don’t specifically state that an FCO warning would count as one of these circumstances – though they do give as an example “the outbreak of a serious disease at the travel destination” – in practice travel trade body Abta says firms must refund you if the FCO warns against travel and you can’t be given a holiday without “significant change”.’
The most obvious route to a refund-friendly trip is to book a complete package holiday through an Atol-verified tour operator. Tui, for instance.
But there’s also a way of turning a flight-only booking into a package holiday – by taking up the carrier on the offer of an extra, such as car hire or a hotel.
As travel expert and frequent flier Gilbert Ott, who runs the flight tips site God Save The Points, writes: ‘Even if you only need to rent a car for one hour, or a hotel for a night, adding a hotel or car to a flight booking can make all the difference in being entitled to a refund, or stuck with a voucher, if anything.’
The key thing, though, is that the travel services are bought at a single point of sale, where all the elements are paid for in one go at an inclusive price.
A real-world example can be found on the British Airways site.
British Airways offers travellers the chance to book a package holiday – they just need to opt for flight + hotel or flight + car
At the very top of the homepage travellers are given three options – to book a flight, a flight + hotel or a flight + car.
Opt for one of the latter two, and you’re booking a trip that’s classed as a package holiday.
Further into the booking an ‘Atol protected’ sign will appear, then the following explanation regarding the refund rules: ‘The combination of travel services offered to you is a package within the meaning of the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations. Therefore, you will benefit from all EU rights applying to packages.’
If, during a booking, the traveller is directed away to a third party site to pay for the hotel and/or car hire, this is not a package booking, but a linked travel arrangement (LTA), which offers less protection.
Skyscanner, for example, only offers linked travel arrangements.
A further point to note is that some companies falsely claim to have Atol protection.
Visit www.packpeaceofmind.co.uk to check a company’s claims.
Martin Nolan, Senior Legal Director at Skyscanner, said: ‘Atol protection is a scheme which is run by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, and it’s there to protect travellers in a few limited situations. The primary protection is where a supplier as part of your trip goes bust, to give you protection that you either get all your money back, or still get to go on your trip as planned.
Opt for a flight + hotel on the BA site and the Atol protected symbol appears (above). This indicates that your booking is shielded
Here BA explains that the flight + hotel offer is classed as a package holiday
ATOL’S BOOKING TIPS
- Look out for the Atol logo. This is usually found on your travel company’s website, brochure or shop front.
- Research the travel company to ensure their Atol protection is legitimate. Some companies may falsely claim to have Atol protection to appear more reputable. Visit www.packpeaceofmind.co.uk to check for Atol protection.
- Watch out for hidden costs. Luggage and transfer fees that may not be included in the final bill and, when added up, can make your holiday significantly more expensive.
- Check for financial protection if booking with a non-UK based company. There are some non-UK travel companies which offer travel to UK consumers, but these will often not be Atol protected. Do your research and check what financial protection they provide and, if in doubt, book using a credit card, ensuring you are protected up to the value of £30,000 under UK law.
- Get travel insurance as soon as you book. You should consider taking out a policy as soon as you have booked your trip to ensure you are covered, should anything go wrong before you take off.
‘Where you book a “package holiday” in the UK, you will usually have Atol protection and you’ll receive an Atol certificate at the time of booking. Package holidays are where you’ve booked a packaged-up deal from a single supplier all at once, including via online travel agencies.
‘A new protection for “linked travel arrangements” was introduced in 2018, which does not offer the same protection as a package, but provides a little protection.
‘Where you make a booking that constitutes an LTA, you should be made aware of this – in the terms and conditions or somewhere else in the booking process – that you might be booking an LTA. There are also requirements on the provider of the LTA to take out insolvency protections to cover their own insolvency.
‘This is a very reduced protection compared to packages.’
Andrew McConnell, spokesman for Atol, said: ‘The easiest way to protect yourself financially when booking a holiday is to confirm that the holiday is Atol protected. You can do this by looking out for the Atol logo instore or online, checking the booking details for Atol protection and researching the company on our website.
‘Atol protection applies to flight-inclusive package holidays, so while booking flights and hotels separately can give you greater control over your holiday, you could be leaving yourself vulnerable without financial protection.’