The UK Government has advised the public not to travel abroad for their holidays. But what if you already booked a trip before the pandemic hit? Here’s what you need to know.
As things change rapidly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this guide will be updated regularly to reflect changes in rules and regulations.
The UK Foreign Office has said that nobody should be travelling abroad right now, except for “essential” reasons. What does this mean for you? If you’ve already booked a trip, can you cancel it?
Unfortunately, if you booked a trip that was due to take place during the lockdown, it still looks like you’ll need to cancel your plans. There are several reasons for this.
Many countries have closed their borders, so it may be that you would not be able to go anyway.
It may also be difficult to return once you’re there, as many airlines have cancelled all their flights. The government advice against foreign travel does not yet have an end date. The Foreign Office has said that it will aim to change and relax its advice when possible.
Your travel insurance policy may be voided or not offer cover if you travel while the government advice is in place.
But you don’t necessarily need to cancel trips scheduled to take place in the future. It’s not yet clear when the travel advisory will be lifted. If you have a trip booked for the Christmas break, it may still take place.
Sadly, any travel that is not essential should not take place, no matter when you paid for it.
The government has not specified what counts as ‘essential’ international travel. But if you feel you absolutely have to travel, there are some things you should do.
Contact your airline, travel company, and accommodation providers to make sure you can still travel
Check carefully that your travel insurance will still cover you if you go
Make sure you can get hold of money to cover emergencies or unexpected delays while abroad
Be prepared to obey local rules, including those on isolation or quarantine
The government has been arranging flights for UK residents and citizens to return home. But this has taken some time, and some travellers have complained about the way the return flights have been managed.
The UK has said that if you’re stuck abroad you should firstly follow the advice of the local authorities where you are.
If you needed to get a visa to travel to the country you’re in, you should check it. The government has advice on what you may need to do about your visa, depending on the country you’re visiting. You can read the government’s full official coronavirus advice if you’re stuck abroad.
You may also want to think about getting in touch with your travel insurance provider to check your health cover. Most providers should be able to extend a single trip cover policy for up to 60 days.
Find out more about how travel insurance works.
You may be able to get a refund directly from your airline or hotel, or travel company. A range of questions are answered below.
For further information read our guide on holiday cancellation rights.
From 15 June 2020, the government will allow ‘non-essential’ retailers to reopen their doors to customers. So if you would prefer to speak in-person to the travel agency you used to book any holidays, you may be able to speak to an advisor in-store.
If the store has said it will re-open, make sure you follow safety precautions before going in to speak to a member of staff.
If your holiday was supposed to take place soon, it’s very possible that it’s already been cancelled. Your first step should be to contact your transport and accommodation providers directly, or your travel agency if you booked a package holiday.
Some airlines are trying to get their customers to take vouchers for future flights instead of refunding cancelled flights, but you do not have to accept this.
EU flight delay rules (which currently still apply in the UK) cover flights between the UK and an EU country booked with a UK or EU-based airline. They allow you to choose between a refund for any cancelled flights or rebooking on to a different flight.
There have been reports of people struggling to get refunds, with some companies using sneaky tactics to get passengers to accept vouchers instead.
UK Government travel advisories like the one in place now can make it easier for you to get your money back from a trip that has not yet been cancelled.
If you bought a travel insurance policy, you may be able to get a refund for your trip costs. But this will depend on a few things.
If you bought your policy before the Foreign Office officially advised against travel to your planned destination, and the advisory is still in place when you’re due to travel, you may be covered for cancellations.
Most travel insurance policies should let you claim if you want to cancel a trip if you bought the holiday and the insurance policy before the government travel warnings were issued.
But this is not a hard and fast rule. You’ll need to check your policy document and speak to your insurer if it’s not clear what your policy says about this.
Since the government issued advice on foreign travel, insurers have mostly stopped offering new policies that cover you against coronavirus-related disruption.
If your planned trip is much later in the year and has not yet been cancelled by your travel and accommodation firms, it’s a little bit trickier to get your money back now.
Even though the government’s no-travel advice is ‘indefinite’, i.e. it doesn’t yet have an end date, it’s possible that the advice could be lifted before you’re set to travel.
In practice this means that it is easier for holiday firms and insurers to refuse any refund requests. Again, check with your insurer and the firms you used to book your trip.
During large-scale global events like COVID-19, there is no guarantee that insurance companies will pay out against related claims.
In fact, some insurers may even mention in their policy agreements that these types of events, sometimes referred to as ‘Force Majeure’ situations, are not covered.
But if you feel that your policy does cover you, and your insurer has refused to pay out, there are some things you can do.
Insurers have to obey financial rules to treat customers ‘fairly’. So if you think you’ve been refused a claim unfairly you can make a formal complaint.
Contact your insurer directly and to discuss with them why you feel their decision is unfair. If you hear nothing back from your insurer or they do get back to you but still refuse your claim, you can go to the Financial Ombudsman.
The Financial Ombudsman is free, independent and can force businesses into action and to compensate anyone who has lost out.
You need to give the company you’re complaining about 8 weeks to resolve your issue before the Ombudsman will investigate it.
Find out more about how to make a complaint about your insurance company.