That is not the case – yet. The travel industry is urgently lobbying the government to be allowed to refuse refunds and issue vouchers instead.
Abta, the travel association, wants these vouchers to be government-backed IOUs, with Atol cover protecting the customer’s money – and the right to claim a full refund after a certain length of time, initially four months.
But many hard-pressed travellers whose trips have been cancelled are furious that they are effectively expected to provide holiday companies with interest-free loans.
The Independent understands that new rules may take effect in the next few days, and it appears some travel firms are using delaying tactics to deflect claims until their obligation is eased.
The final payment for my summer holiday is due this week. Should I pay?
If you can afford to do so, pay the balance. While I have no idea what will happen in the next few months, there is a significant possibility that your trip will go ahead as normal, in which case you should have a happy and safe holiday.
There is some likelihood that the trip will be cancelled. If that happens, you can expect a full refund of the whole cost of the trip – even if, as mentioned above, the rules change and you have to wait some time.
It may sound counter-intuitive to pay out more money to guarantee either a holiday or your money back, but that is the way the system works.
Deciding not to pay the balance would mean that you lose the deposit – and, even if the trip is subsequently cancelled, you cannot get the money back.
You will not be able to claim on your travel insurance for what would be considered “disinclination to travel”.
I have paid in full for a holiday later in the summer. What are my rights?
At this stage there is no way of knowing whether your trip will go ahead. The presumption is that it will. So unless you wish to cancel and take a financial hit, all you can do is wait. Things will be clearer in a month or so.
I am in a risk category and do not wish to travel. Can I get a full refund?
This question is particularly relevant to older travellers who are booked on cruises. The Foreign Office advises “British nationals aged 70 and over and those with pre-existing health conditions against cruise ship travel at this time”.
The Package Travel Regulations provide for cancellation with a full refund if “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occur at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity which significantly affect the performance of the package”. The law has not yet been tested on coronavirus-related issues.
It is possible that operators might be compelled to issue refunds (or at least credit notes) in cases where a particular individual is advised not to travel. If not, travel insurance may cover you.
A possibly easier and more certain option: if you have booked a proper package holiday (flights and accommodation at the same time, from a company such as TUI or Jet2), then under the Package Travel Regulations you can transfer the booking to someone else for a payment of around £50 per person.
I have booked a flight-only trip. The airline cancelled my flight. Can I get my money back?
If it was a trip beginning in the UK or EU, then, under European air passengers’ rights rules, you are due a refund within a week of the cancellation. But once again, theory and practice are at odds, with many carriers saying they will only issue credit notes.
However, the Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that they must provide cash refunds.
My flight is due to depart in September. I doubt that it will go ahead and I want to cancel anyway. Can I get my money back?
No. Unless and until your flight is officially cancelled or simply does not depart, the presumption is that the trip will go ahead. This slightly gives the carriers the upper hand, because there is no consumer protection issue while the flight is still “live”.
Accordingly, many airlines are urging travellers with forward bookings to take a credit note or re-book for later in 2020, because this ensures your money stays inside their business.
You can either cancel now, on whatever terms the airline stipulates, or wait and see if it is grounded.
If you wait, and it is cancelled, then you will be in a stronger legal position. But that may be only a theoretical advantage …
We’ve been warned that airlines will go out of business. What happens if mine does before I travel – or after I have accepted a credit note?
If you booked direct with the airline and paid fully or partially with a credit card for a trip costing £100+, then you should be able to secure a full refund from the card issuer under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
Under the debit card “chargeback” arrangement, you may also be able to reclaim the ticket price.
Otherwise you may have taken out Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance, which should cover you – and, on some policies, pay the difference if you need to buy more expensive tickets. But it is often an optional add-on for travel insurance policies rather than included in basic cover.
In the worst case, you may become an unsecured creditor for an airline that is likely to have very few assets and very large debts. Vouchers are also likely to be worthless.
I booked through a travel agent. Does that make a difference?
It depends. If you booked through a professional – and human – travel agent, the chances are they are working extremely hard to help travellers return home and assist customers due to travel in the next few weeks. They will get to you just as soon as they can. The same applies for reputable online travel agents.
Regrettably, The Independent has heard from many travellers that some online travel agents based in both the UK and abroad are failing to provide anything like an adequate service. Any recompense is likely to take weeks or months.
Why do I have to wait so long for a response from my travel provider or airline?
In these unprecedented times, they are working in very difficult circumstances, with some staff furloughed and others working from home.
We’ve booked flights which have been cancelled, and paid separately for a hotel. The hotelier is refusing a refund. What can we do?
If the hotel is still open and able to accommodate you, there is very little you can do. The hotelier can say your room is ready – the fact you cannot get there is not his or her fault.
Travel insurance may help, if you have a robust policy.