Holiday coronavirus cancellations: what are your rights on refunds?

Which? finds UK travel operators breaking the law by refusing to pay out in 14 days

(Image credit: Silas Stein/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)

All of the UK’s major airlines and many large holiday companies are breaking the law by denying timely refunds to customers for cancellations during the coronavirus pandemic, according to new research.

Consumer association Which? has found that 20 of the UK’s largest travel operators are illegally withholding refunds that should be paid within 14 days, with many offering vouchers or credit notes instead.

The Guardian reports that according to the travel industry’s own estimates, up to £7bn could be owed for cancelled trips.

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However, the paper adds, airline and travel industry bodies say firms would be bankrupted by repaying now during a period when they are receiving no booking revenue. So what are your rights if your travel is disrupted?

What is happening at the moment?

Which? found 20 of the UK’s biggest travel operators and airlines were breaking the law by not repaying money promptly, adding that it has received “thousands of complaints and requests for help” from people trying to secure refunds.

Researchers at Which? found 10 of the UK’s biggest holiday companies, including Love Holidays and Tui, are not offering full refunds within 14 days. Passengers booking with airlines including easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways also told the Guardian they have been unable to obtain refunds.

However, the paper notes, Which? has backed travel industry calls for the government to intervene, reporting that firms are under “unprecedented strain” and could go out of business should they process refunds immediately.

Which? has suggested “extending the processing deadline to 28 days” and for any vouchers to be “guaranteed against insolvency and eventually redeemable for cash”. It also “called for a definitive timescale for Foreign Office travel warnings, and transparent travel insurance terms and conditions”, the Guardian reports.

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So can you get a refund?

“If your flight or package holiday was cancelled, you don’t have to accept a voucher or credit note, nor do you have to rebook. You are legally entitled to a refund,” Which? says in its advice for travellers.

“Make this clear to the firm, in writing. If it still won’t do the right thing, you could try to claim through your card provider.”

Which? says that the company that took your money is responsible for issuing your refund. So if it is a flight, for example, you have to check whether you booked with the airline or through a third party travel agent.

This advice is echoed by MoneySavingExpert, which adds that if you choose to cancel your travel based on Foreign Office advice, it is slightly more complicated and requires you to have travel insurance.

“If you’ve booked a future trip, then your right to cancel and get a refund depends very much on the latest UK Government travel advice… which is what insurers and airlines generally take their cue from,” the site says.

“In some ways though, the Foreign Office now warning against non-essential travel ‘indefinitely’ makes things trickier.”

When the end date for that advice was 16 April, many firms were paying out for all travel booked before this date, MoneySavingExpert explains.

“But as the warning is now effectively ‘no travel until we say so’ and we don’t know when they’ll say so, it’s likely you’ll need to wait until close to your travel date before airlines, hotels and travel insurers agree to refund you.”

Based on this, the site says that you are unlikely to be refunded if you cancel a trip planned for the distant future. However, “some firms are now being more flexible and in particular letting customers rebook”, the site adds, meaning that you may need to check if that is an option.

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