Should you book a post-pandemic holiday?
The latest coronavirus vaccine developments have prompted a glimmer of hope that it could be possible to go abroad sometime in 2021.
And with travel firms desperate for bookings, it’s possible we could see some bargain holidays for sale.
But how should you book your trip, and what protection do you need?
Will you get a refund if your holiday is cancelled?
Under the Package Travel Regulations, holidaymakers who book a package holiday and have their trip cancelled by the tour operator are entitled to all their money back within two weeks.
However, refunds have generally been taking much longer since the start of the pandemic.
Some travel firms are treating their customers better than others regarding refunds, so it might be worth checking out a travel agent’s refund record and reputation before choosing who to book with.
A survey by MoneySavingExpert.com in July found that Virgin Holidays, Loveholidays, Ryanair Alpharooms, Jetline and Teletext Holidays were among the worst firms for refunding customers for cancelled trips.
The best companies for speedy refunds were Travel Counsellors, Trailfinders and Jet2.
Book an ATOL-backed package holiday
Unfortunately numerous travel companies including STA Travel, Voyager Travel Direct and Flash Pack, have stopped trading since the pandemic began in March.
To be protected if your travel agent goes bust, you need to book with a company with an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL).
ATOL is a government-run financial protection scheme operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It covers package holidays that include flights, and some flight-only sales.
Some travel firms are offering customers with cancelled trips refund credit notes instead of a refund. Since July, refund credit notes have also been ATOL-protected in the event that the travel firm goes bust.
Always book with a credit card
It’s always best to book flights and holidays with a credit card.
Under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the credit card company is jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract by the retailer.
This means you can make a claim against the credit card company if a travel company or airline fails to refund you for a cancelled trip.
Know your flight refund rights
Under European Regulation EC 261/2004, if your flight is cancelled because of the coronavirus, you are entitled to a complete refund of your ticket within seven days.
However, many airlines are trying to force customers to accept vouchers instead – but you don’t have to accept these.
It’s important to understand that you’ll only be entitled to a refund if the airline cancels the flight – not because you can’t travel due to lockdown, tier restrictions, or because you have been told to self-isolate.
Ryanair has refused flight refunds during the November lockdown and is telling customers to re-book their flight instead, at no extra charge.
British Airways is issuing customers who can’t fly on a booked flight due to lockdown a voucher for the cost of the flight – this must be used before 30 April 2022. BA is not issuing refunds for flights still going ahead, even though it’s currently against lockdown rules to go on holiday.
EasyJet is currently waiving its amendment fee for changes made 14 days before the flight departure date.
Can you get Covid-19 travel insurance?
It’s always important to have travel insurance in place if you book a holiday – but you now need to check whether your policy will cover you for coronavirus-related cancellations or medical treatment.
Travel insurance from Allianz Assistance now includes pandemic-related cancellation cover for insured events, as well as medical assistance abroad. However, policyholders won’t be covered if they travel against Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice.
The Post Office is also selling travel insurance which includes cover for contracting coronavirus overseas.
Most travel insurance companies won’t cover you if you travel against FCDO advice. However, Staysure is offering insurance that will cover you if you travel to Europe against FCDO advice – but it won’t pay out for coronavirus-related claims.
Will EHIC still work after December?
Unfortunately, it’s not just coronavirus travellers will have to worry about in the future. At the moment Brits with an EHIC can receive reciprocal state health care when they go to EU countries.
But when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020, for most UK nationals, EHICs may not be valid. This means it’s more important than ever to buy comprehensive travel insurance. As well as medical costs, this will cover you for repatriation, lost luggage, personal possessions, and more.
Other things to check before you travel
Many countries have closed their borders to tourists while coronavirus is still circulating. These countries include some popular holiday destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, British Virgin Islands, Canada, and Venezuela. So even if flights are still scheduled to these countries, you may not be allowed across the border on arrival.
Other countries, such as several Caribbean islands, require holidaymakers to take a coronavirus test on arrival and quarantine until they receive the result.
There are other destinations, including St Lucia, Japan, and Singapore which require all visitors to quarantine for 14 days on arrival in the same way the UK does for arrivals from most other countries.
Holidaymakers should also check if their destination is on the UK’s safe travel list. If it’s not, they will need to quarantine for 14 days on arrival back in the UK.
Quarantine rules are constantly changing in many countries around the world, including the UK, so bear in mind that if you book a holiday for next year, the rules may have changed by the time you depart.