Coronavirus holidays: Refund rights need to be protected – latest FCO travel advice

Coronavirus has thrown the travel industry into chaos, affecting the holiday plans of countless Britons. Many are worried about losing money after they parted with funds for a holiday that is no longer going ahead. However, travel companies earning no revenue during this difficult time could be sent out of business if they are forced to hand back payments for cancelled holidays.

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Consequently, some airlines and package travel providers are refusing to meet their legal obligations to issue refunds for cancelled flights and holidays.

Consumer site Which? is now warning urgent action is needed to protect Britons who face losing large sums of money amid a breakdown of the system of travel protections.

The government has pledged to protect the travel industry.

On Friday, the European Commission updated its guidance on refunds for package holidays.

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Coronavirus holidays: Many are worried about losing money after they parted with funds (Image: Getty Images)Coronavirus holidays: The government has pledged to protect the travel industry (Image: Getty Images)

The European Commission is now encouraging customers to accept vouchers or credit notes – as long as the holidaymaker can eventually reclaim their money.

However, many British consumers now face losing thousands of pounds.

Which? heard from a family who were meant to be travelling to a wedding in Italy and whose flights have not been cancelled, despite UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) guidance against going to the country hardest hit by the virus.  

Instead, the airline is allegedly offering to switch their flights to more expensive ones in the future. In some cases, this can cost as much as £100 more per person.

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People are also said to have been in touch reporting their travel agents are refusing to offer refunds for cancelled holidays, despite travel regulations.

Dozens of holidaymakers due to travel to France in the coming weeks told Which? their travel agent is refusing to issue a refund.

One customer claims he was refused a refund for his holiday with a well-known beach holiday specialist.

The customer faces losing £2,300 and the only options being offered are a credit note or rebooking, reported Which?.

Coronavirus holidays: Some airlines and package travel providers are refusing to pay refunds (Image: Getty Images)

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And, that if he decided to cancel instead, he would have to try to claim on his travel insurance.

Faced with these difficulties, many people are finding themselves pushed from pillar to post between airlines, tour operators and insurance companies – whose policies are not set up for providers failing to fulfil their duties in this way.

Which? also heard from holidaymakers who had fallen foul of little-known exclusions in insurance policies – meaning they were not covered for cancelling an upcoming trip, even after the FCO advised against travel to their destination.

“Taken together, these issues represent a serious breakdown of the current system of travel protections, which is vital to ensuring millions of consumers have the confidence to book expensive holidays and flights abroad,” said Which?

“Urgent action is needed to protect consumers amid the crisis in the travel industry.

“It is vital that any emergency measures under discussion, such as credit notes replacing refunds for package holidays, include strong guarantees or protections so consumers know they are not at risk of losing their money if a travel firm fails.”

Trending Coronavirus holidays: The European Commission is now encouraging customers to accept vouchers (Image: Getty Images)

Which? continued: “And while consumers with holidays booked under the current regulations may choose to accept a credit note, their right to claim a refund must not be taken away retrospectively by any changes to the law.

“The hard-earned money of thousands of holidaymakers – who may be facing difficulty themselves – must not be used as a backdoor bailout of the travel industry, when direct government support is being used in other sectors.

“While the current uncertainty continues, airlines must respond swiftly to this fast-moving situation by informing passengers about what is happening with future flights, and show flexibility with rebooking options if a flight has not been cancelled.”

The current FCO advice is as follows: “As countries respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including travel and border restrictions, the FCO advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. Any country or area may restrict travel without notice.

“If you live in the UK and are currently travelling abroad, you are strongly advised to return now, where and while there are still commercial routes available. Many airlines are suspending flights and many airports are closing, preventing flights from leaving.”