Britons with summer holidays booked have been warned they face a “fight for their money” as the disruption from the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned people it is “unlikely” they will be able to take a foreign holiday this summer because of COVID-19.
And the Foreign Office continues to advise against “all but essential” international travel during the coronavirus outbreak.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, has told Sky News the current situation concerning foreign travel from the UK is “chaotic”.
He said: “The guidance issued by the government against travelling abroad is indefinite, yet some airlines and travel companies are selling flights and holidays due to depart within the next few weeks, with no warning that they are unlikely to go ahead.
“Even if these flights and holidays are eventually cancelled, customers still face a fight for their money as the number of refund requests being denied or delayed by airlines and holiday companies continues to pile up.
“The FCO warning against travel must be extended to a definitive date to give consumers and businesses more clarity on when travel will be allowed again, and the aviation regulator and government must stand up for passengers’ rights and start taking action against any airlines that are flouting the law around refunds.”
So what should you do if you are due to head off on a trip in the coming months?
Sky News takes a look at the options available to you.
I am due to be going away this summer, should I try and cancel my trip?
The advice from consumer group Which? is no.
You should wait for the holiday company or airline to do so, which will entitle you to a full refund.
Companies won’t send you on holiday while the FCO advice remains in force.
ABTA, the UK travel trade association for tour operators and travel agents, says on its website: “Our advice to customers with future bookings is to be patient and wait to be contacted by your travel provider.
“Travel companies are extremely busy, given the pressures of the current crisis, and will be looking at imminent departures first and deciding how far in advance they will offer alternative arrangements or refunds.”
I have booked a package holiday, what can I do?
When you are contacted by your travel company, ABTA “strongly encourages” you to talk to them about potential alternative arrangements, like rearranging the trip to a later date.
If this is not possible, you are entitled to a refund if you booked a package holiday.
Usually, this would be processed within 14 days. But the ABTA says many travel companies are finding it “impossible” to process refunds within this timeframe and warn that it may take longer.
You may find it quicker to apply for a refund under your travel insurance policy, if you have one.
Another potential option is for your travel company to offer you a Refund Credit Note (RCN) instead of a cash refund.
According to Which?, many companies are using these because of fears they could go out of business if they have to refund all their customers.
This can be used to rearrange your holiday at a later date, but also entitles you to a cash refund at a later date as well.
ABTA says it has the same financial protection as your original booking, although the government has yet to confirm this.
Make sure to check its expiration date, as once this passes you can no longer rearrange your trip or apply for a cash refund.
Should I accept a voucher or credit note?
Research from Which? has found that vouchers and RCNs being offered to holidaymakers instead of cash refunds may not be financially protected.
If people accepted them, this would mean they may not get their money back if the company later went bust.
The advice from Which? is to reject them.
Case study: “It’s a really tricky dilemma”
Steve Bax and his wife Kim were looking forward to a two-week break in the Dominican Republic in August before the coronavirus outbreak occurred.
Having paid the initial deposit of £1,600, they now have to pay the remaining £6,600 cost of their trip next week.
The family, from Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, recently looked at moving the holiday to next August but were quoted an extra £1,700 to shift the date.
Mr Bax, a father of three, told Sky News: “It looks like the only thing we can really do is pay the full amount and either hope that we get the holiday or we can get a full refund.
“It’s a really tricky dilemma.”
The 46-year-old added: “It’s a bit like in order to avoid losing £1,600, I’ve got to hand over £6,000 of my own money.
“It’s disappointing for the children as well, they were looking forward to it.
“It would have been good to have something to look forward to with the lockdown situation.”
A Tui spokesperson told Sky News: “Our holidays departing after 12 June 2020 are currently due to operate as planned, so we ask all customers to make their balance payments as normal.
“We appreciate that customers may be feeling apprehensive about paying their final balance, so we’d like to reassure them that all of our package holidays are ATOL protected, so they can pay the balance with confidence.
“And, should their holiday be cancelled at a later date, they will have the option to receive a refund credit or cash refund.
“We have extended our flexible amends programme so customers with bookings between 12 June and 11 July can amend to another date for free.
“We’re continually reviewing and updating our cancellation and amend policies in line with government guidelines.”
Can I get a refund for the flights that I have booked?
If the airline is based in the UK or EU, or you are flying from a UK or EU airport, they have to offer you the option of a refund or being rerouted if they cancel your flight.
It does not matter what the reason for the cancellation is, or how far in advance it happens.
The refund has to be processed within seven days.
Outside of the EU, the picture is less clear. It will depend on the airline you have booked with or the terms and conditions of your travel agent.
Are all airlines offering refunds for cancelled flights?
The picture is mixed.
Which? reports that some are making it difficult to claim, with many people struggling to get through on the phone or online, while others are refusing refunds altogether.
Many are offering vouchers for future travel.
People are advised to keep trying or claim through your credit or debit card provider.
My flight hasn’t been cancelled, what should I do?
You could wait and see what your airline does, they may opt to cancel further flights as the lockdown and FCO advice remains in force.
If that happens, you can claim a refund.
Or you can rebook it for a later date if that is workable.
However, there is no guarantee that the situation with COVID-19 will have markedly changed.
What’s the situation with hotels?
It is worth checking with the hotel to see what their situation is, as it will vary from chain to chain, Which? says.
Some will have introduced new cancellation and rebooking policies because of the coronavirus.
I’ve booked a ferry trip this summer, what should I do?
If your ferry service gets cancelled, the firm is required to offer you either an alternative journey or a full refund, Which? says.
But like with many other travel companies, some operators are issuing credit notices instead.
“For journeys in late June and beyond, hold off on cancelling or amending your booking for now, as the official advice may change closer to the time of your booking,” Which? advice adds.
Is my cruise still going ahead?
Probably, Which? says.
If you are not comfortable with going, you can ask for a refund, but there is no guarantee you will get one.
Some companies will let you postpone the voyage for anywhere up to two years.
If you want a refund, the advisable course of action is to wait and see, but make sure you know what your rights are if the cruise is cancelled.
These can vary depending on how you booked the cruise, Which? notes.