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Your summer 2020 holiday and coronavirus: where do you stand?

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Written by: Aman Johal
03/04/2020
With the coronavirus pandemic changing every aspect of our daily lives, many who have already booked summer holidays will want to know where they stand.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause unprecedented levels of chaos in the travel industry. It’s not just those having to cancel immediate travel plans; families across the UK are looking at upcoming summer holiday bookings and questioning what will happen to their plans too.

If you and your family are affected by this uncertainty, it’s important to look carefully at the different options you may have as your summer holiday draws closer, and as the Covid-19 situation continues to develop.

Flight refunds or changes

For passengers flying from a UK or EU airport or on an airline based in either the UK or EU, your provider must assist on cancelled flights because of the Denied Boarding Regulation. This act gives passengers the right to choose either an alternative flight or to cancel their flight and get a refund.

Despite a Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel ban, the likes of Ryanair, easyJet and British Airways are reportedly refusing cash refunds to passengers in favour of vouchers to prevent some of the losses their businesses are facing.

Ryanair has even been accused of charging extortionate fees for passengers to rebook flights for tickets already purchased. With airlines adopting different policies and a general lack of clarity about when the lockdown might end, consumers with upcoming holidays are understandably feeling like they’re left in limbo.

Consumer rights and advice amid the travel chaos

We can’t predict what the coronavirus situation will look like by the summer holidays, but we can look to the current advice on affected travel plans to gain a clearer picture. As it stands, if you have paid for your holiday in full already, you may be limited in what you can do immediately.

There are a few possible avenues, however. You may be able to claim a refund from the travel agent you booked through, citing the situation as a ‘force majeure’ or, failing this, you could make a claim from a credit card provider.

If payments have been made on a credit card – which is always the recommended method of payment for obtaining refunds – Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act can apply. This could, in some cases, allow for full refunds if more than £100 is put on the card in question.

Depending on the type of travel insurance you have, you might also be able to claim compensation for certain elements of your holiday too. How coronavirus might affect current travel insurance policies is hard to say at the moment.

It could largely depend on the exemptions and contractual clauses already in place. Often, in extraordinary circumstances such as this, insurers take the UK Government’s lead which is currently to avoid “all but essential travel”. As such, insurers will likely only cover essential trips following this stance.

Insurers are also known to find ways to avoid paying out large sums, but whether they can refuse indemnity or not very much depends on the contract in place. Be sure to read through your insurance policy very carefully to understand exactly what your insurance covers.

An alternative option might be to claim through Section.75 protection, but this is mainly there for when the primary option is not available. For example, if your travel agent went out of business, you may be able to take this route.

That being said, some credit providers offer additional cover and protection, although whether it would be honoured in such unprecedented circumstances is not a given.

Which approach proves most effective can all come down to the advice given at the time you are due to travel, as well as the terms of the contract you have with the travel agent or holiday provider.

If, when you are due to go away, you have only paid a deposit, you may have the option to simply not pay for the rest of your holiday package, potentially losing the deposit money in the process. It’s important to remember here that we still have months before the summer holiday season so you may want to hold fire for more clarity before cancelling if possible.

Otherwise, if the current travel restrictions have been lifted by the time you are due to go on your holiday, you might have lost out on both the deposit and the holiday itself.

If you bought a full package holiday, your travel agent could be liable for any non-performance by either the airline or accommodation provider, and so you can be protected in that sense. As mentioned above, a claim could be most effective if you’ve paid on a credit card, but it’s worth noting that some debit card providers have a similar scheme (chargeback), so be sure to get in touch with your bank either way.

If you’re looking at whether your travel insurance might cover you, particularly when the FCO advises against travel, this will ultimately be subject to the terms of the insurance and may come down to the timings of when you purchased the insurance policy and the holiday itself. Travellers who take out an insurance policy after having booked their travel may not be covered.

Ultimately, the best approach is to read through the terms of your policy very carefully before embarking on a claim, and always speak to your travel agent first if possible.

Aman Johal is director of consumer action law firm Your Lawyers

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