Coronavirus holidays: Will travellers still get to refunds if EU regulations change?

As the coronavirus global lockdown pushes on, fatalities are increasing, not only through the devastating loss of life but the impact that has since hit a number of industries resulting in job losses and financial struggle. One of the hardest-hit sectors is the travel industry, as flights were grounded, airports closed and borders implementing strict restrictions on foreigners.

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What’s more, millions of people worldwide had to face the heartbreaking reality that holidays would be cancelled and more worryingly money could be lost.

However, travel firms are now calling for changes to be made to the current policy in place under EU regulations which makes customers entitled to a refund within 14 days.

Unsurprisingly, during these times of job loss and struggle, many people are now concerned they won’t get their money back at all.

Some would-be holidaymakers even report being told by travel firms that they simply won’t receive a refund and are being asked to take vouchers for future travel instead.

While this is undoubtedly the most favourable option for the struggling industry, there are some critical circumstances where travellers say they simply can’t afford to take a voucher. 

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Coronavirus holidays: Many customers are now faced with cancelled holidays amid the pandemic (Image: Getty Images)Coronavirus holidays: Travellers with cancelled plans may now be unsure of their rights (Image: Getty Images)

Jane Clifford was interviewed on BBC Breakfast on Friday morning and spoke of her plight.

She said her holiday to Dubai was cancelled and she was offered either a rebooking or a credit voucher.

“I explained to them that my husband falls into the extremely vulnerable category and without any vaccine being currently available he would be very susceptible to catching COVID-19 if we were to travel within the next 12 to 18 months.

“But they just offered us, again, rebooking or the credit notes which they say will be valid until the 31 December.”

Of course, under the current EU Package travel and linked travel arrangements regulations 2018 Ms Clifford is entitled to her money back as the operator has cancelled the journey and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising against all but essential travel indefinitely.

However, for travel firms this is a matter that could be easier said than done. 

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According to the BBC: “If everybody asks for their money back right away it could be catastrophic for the industry.”

What’s more, it is predicted that around “one million jobs are being lost every single day in the travel and tourism sector around the world.”

Simply put, holiday operators may not even have the money on hand to refund potential passengers straight away, so what are the alternatives?

ABTA has warned that if airlines and other businesses are forced to cash out refunds to all of their would-be customers they may “collapse”.

Coronavirus holidays: Those who can afford to are being urged to rebook future holidays (Image: Getty Images)

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The travel trade association is calling on the UK government to rethink the current refund rules to allow companies to dish out credit notes as a “short-term alternative” to cash refunds.

Chief Executive of ABTA, Mark Tanzer, has asked the government to place an extension on the current 14-day refund rule, but he has assured customers are entitled to their money back and will receive it if that is their wish.

“They do owe the customer a refund and the customer has to have that right and we will make sure that ABTA members follow that rule. What we are asking for is more time to be able to give the refund,” he explained.

“So there are two strands here – some companies are absolutely denying those rights altogether and we completely refute that and will take actions against our members and look to the Department of Business to take actions against other companies.

“What we’re trying to do in the middle ground where people are asking for more time is to bring some order to that so these refund credit notes which our members are offering, they’re clearly attached to the booking, they have a date, the customers are fully protected during that so if the company does fail ABTA is protecting that with the ATOL scheme, and at the end of it if the customer hasn’t taken a holiday they get their cash back.”

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Similar measures are already in place in France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

ABTA says these measures are key in supporting the UK industry from dire consequences, something they add could cost British taxpayers around £4.5 billion to refund travellers should companies go bust.

Naturally, many UK nationals are now facing financial struggles of their own and can not afford to lose money over the promise of a future holiday – particularly if they are uncertain about the travel firm’s future.

However, it is an individual call and Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis says travellers must think “ethically and morally” before forcefully pursuing an instant cash refund.

He advises:“I would say in this day and age we are trying to keep as many companies surviving as we can.

“If you can take the voucher and that wouldn’t compromise you and your finances taking that voucher from this company may just be what keeps this company going and keeps its staff in a job.

“So I’m not telling anybody to do that, I’m saying we must all look at our own personal, ethics, morality and situation which is very important to decide how hard we are going to push in these unprecedented times.”