Can I get a refund on my holiday?

Dear Iona,

My boyfriend and I have flights and a three night trip booked for Spain in July. We booked with a budget airline and a package tour operator, and I have travel insurance with my main bank account. I also bought my share of the holiday on my credit card.

We probably won't be able to go due to the government's ban on foreign travel, and we wouldn't want to take the risk anyway. Am I eligible for refunds? I have read that airlines are offering vouchers to travel on a future date - should I accept them?
Tara, 27
Catering manager

Dear Tara,

The bottom line is that you are legally entitled to refunds from both your airline and tour operator. Unfortunately, it is proving very hard to get some travel companies to uphold their customers’ legal rights at the moment. 

Under “denied boarding” rules covering carriers operating within and flying into the EU, anyone whose flight has been cancelled can claim a full refund within 7 days.

But airlines are something of a law unto themselves right now, with the likes of Ryanair only offering vouchers for 12 months (whereupon they would be refunded if unused), or otherwise refusing to offer refunds until the “crisis has passed”. 

Other airlines are proving difficult to contact and are taking a long time to process refunds. We have seen a very disappointing lapse in consumer regulation just at the moment travellers really need it.

We have seen a very disappointing lapse in consumer regulation just at the moment travellers really need it
Therefore, you may need to be patient, polite but persistent in chasing a refund. You are entitled to refuse a voucher, and it may help to reference the European Commission regulation (no.261 from 2004) that covers your right to a refund.
If your flight is not actually cancelled (and many aren’t, believe it or not!) it will still be possible to ask for a refund as the advice against foreign travel means the contract between you and the airline has been “frustrated”. If your airline won’t play ball, you have the option to issue small court proceedings or use the Alternative Dispute Resolution service.
But I think it’s far easier – not to mention less stressful – to claim on your travel insurance or claim a refund through charge-back on your credit card under Section 75 if you used that to buy the place tickets.
I personally wouldn’t accept airline vouchers at this time, and I recommend exhausting all other avenues first. Your rights in the case of a flight company collapsing are unclear right now, and while government or the wider industry might be compelled to reimburse anyone in that situation, I wouldn’t leave it up to chance. 
Whereas when it comes to smaller travel operators, you may be prepared to defer your holiday in order to keep them in business. You should definitely consider this if you don’t absolutely need the money now and think you would like to take the trip further down the line.
Your rights in the case of a flight company collapsing are unclear right now
Travel insurance policies should cover you because the government has advised against all but essential travel – but only if you had the insurance in place before a pandemic was declared on 11 March. For obvious reasons, any policies bought after that date will not cover coronavirus-related cancellations and disruption.
Otherwise, I would make a formal complaint to the insurer if it’s refusing to pay out, quoting your rights here, and go to the Financial Ombudsman if that doesn’t go anywhere.

Hoping you manage to get this sorted, Tara!

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