We have received hundreds of questions from readers about changes to travel plans as a result of the coronavirus crisis. We are unable to respond to everyone directly but will endeavour to answer as many as we can over the coming weeks. Please bear with us and rest assured that we are working through them as fast as we can.
First, some general advice: travel companies are working round the clock to deal with the many thousands of queries from customers who are either still in destinations and trying to get home, as well as those due to travel imminently or with trips planned for later in the year. For those with travel plans that are not imminent, the advice is to postpone rather than cancel, if at all possible. Most companies have introduced special booking policies that allow customers to rebook, often into 2021, or get a credit for a future departure.
Companies are working through the many thousands of queries in date order, so if your trip is not until later in the year you are unlikely to get an immediate response. However, virtually every travel company has introduced special booking policies in response to the crisis, offering more flexibility in terms of rebooking or cancelling. Check the website of your travel provider for their terms and conditions.
Will we get our money back if our tour operator goes bust?
Jay from Ipswich has a trip for a family of four booked with Jet2holidays to Montenegro at the end of July. He has paid a deposit of £240, plus £600 towards paying off the holiday, with full payment due by mid-May.
Jay says, “Our main concern is that with all the cancellations to other European destinations as well as, I assume, a drop in revenue, is Jet2holidays strong enough to handle such a decline in revenue? And is it a possibility that we start seeing some tour operators go into administration or seek financial bailouts? If this happens, where do we stand with trying to get our money back ?”
There is no doubt that travel companies are under massive strain, with many fighting to survive. It’s impossible to predict which ones will collapse. Under the current Package Travel Regulations, travellers are entitled to be repatriated or receive a refund if a company goes into administration. However, travel bodies are asking the government to change the regulations as soon as possible, as they cannot afford to keep refunding travellers who can’t travel at the moment (another stipulation of the regulations), so these may change.
At the moment, Jet2holidays has suspended its flights and holidays departing from the UK until 30 April. But it says, “We plan to recommence from 1 May 2020, a decision we’ll keep under constant review.”
Jet2holidays is dealing with customers’ queries by date order, so unfortunately it is unlikely to respond to customers like Jay who are concerned about travel several months in advance. The best advice for Jay and others in a similar situation is to hold tight. Because Jay’s July holiday is currently unaffected by the changes, it falls under the usual terms and conditions, meaning he will lose his deposit if he cancels now. If he waits, the holiday may go ahead. If it can’t go ahead either because Montenegro has a travel ban in place or the FCO is still advising against all but essential travel, then he will be entitled to a full refund from Jet2. More at Jet2holiday’s coronavirus policy.
Can I get a refund for an Interrail pass?
Hazel from Oxford bought two senior Interrail passes (seven days’ travel in one month) last week. She planned to go to Austria and the Czech Republic, but two days after she booked the Czech Republic announced it was closing its borders from 16 March, and on 17 March the UK government advised against all but essential international travel. Because the passes she bought were a promotional offer with a 10% discount she was told she wasn’t entitled to a full refund.
We contacted Eurail, which issues Interrail tickets, to ask about her case. Like all other travel companies, Eurail has updated its exchange and refund policies in response to the coronavirus crisis. Under its new terms, customers are entitled to a 100% refund if: “you cannot leave your country of origin (as is now the case under new FCO advice); cannot enter your destination country; or cannot return to your country of origin and purchased a full-price pass.”
The last bit is key to Hazel’s case – because she purchased a discounted ticket she is only entitled to an 85% refund and not a full refund. However, in normal circumstances promotional tickets are non-exchangeable and non-refundable, so offering 85% on these promotional tickets is a concession that is being made during this crisis.
However, if she wants to postpone her trip, the tickets now have an additional six-month validity extension on the original 11-month window in which she could choose a start date. So a traveller who purchased a ticket in March 2020 has until August 2021. This applies to all travellers who purchased their passes on or after 1 June 2019 and before 1 April 2020.
More information on Interrail’s coronavirus policy.
Can I get a refund on a ferry crossing if ferries are still operating?
Margaret Dakin was about to leave the UK for an extended stay of six months in Corfu with her husband. She was due to take a ferry from the UK to France on 2 April, and another from Italy to mainland Greece on 5 April. Her return crossing from France to the UK was booked for 14 October.
She has received a refund from Minoan Ferries, as all ferries between Greece and Italy have been cancelled. However, she wants to know whether she can get a refund for the Dover-Dunkirk crossing with DFDS.
Under normal circumstances DFDS does not offer refunds on return bookings – and that still applies even now. The company continues to operate its crossings to Calais and Dunkirk as it is still carrying freight and some French nationals returning home. Its coronavirus policy states that for travel until 30 April it is offering either free rebooking or free cancellation and a credit equivalent to be used as a payment on future sailings. Travel credits expire on 31 December and must be redeemed for travel by 30 March 2021.
Because Margaret has a return booking she is not entitled to a refund, but she will be entitled to change the departure date of her Dover-Dunkirk crossing. However, when the Guardian contacted DFDS to ask about her particular – and unusual – circumstances DFDS said it was looking at each booking on a case-by-case basis and advised her to email a request. There is a possibility she may receive a refund.
Like every other travel company, DFDS has a reduced number of staff dealing with a vast number of enquiries. The best option for anyone who has a booking and is uncertain whether they can travel, or doesn’t want to travel, is to look at the company’s FAQs then email the company, stating your specific details.
Another useful resource is discoverferries.com.
Are UK campsites still open?
Asks Phil from Swindon. At the moment, yes. James Warner-Smith, editor at Cool Camping, which has 600 UK campsites on its website, says, “Right now, we have not heard from any campsite that plans to close or shift their opening dates. In fact, many are pushing the message of ‘fresh air and space’.”
According to Martin Smith at campsites.co.uk: “The situation is changing rapidly in reaction to news announcements, and in the absence of any guidance to the contrary, campsites are being left to make the most appropriate decisions for them.
“Currently, many campsites are remaining open with suitable precautions, such as enhanced cleaning, appropriate staff training, fewer guests and more space between pitches, closure of some facilities, and good advice for guests; while others are delaying their normal season opening date until a clearer picture emerges.”
Caravan and Motorhome Club sites are also currently still open, but bars and restaurants are closed. Updates are being posted on its website and on social media.
With the threat of lockdown in London imminent, and the situation evolving by the hour, that is likely to change. Keep an eye on the websites for further updates.
Will I get stranded if I travel?
A lot of readers are asking whether they should cancel plans to visit friends abroad/go to weddings abroad/have friends visit them from abroad. Rosie from Melbourne says, “My question is around my rights as a UK citizen living abroad (I’m a permanent resident in Australia), could I be stranded? If I fly to the UK then Italy for a wedding, would I be stranded in the UK and unable to return home to Australia for, potentially, a long time ?”
Rosie doesn’t say when she plans to travel, but right now it’s not only not a good idea, it’s just not possible. Borders and airports are closing and airlines are cancelling flights, so there is a high risk of getting stranded. The crisis has reached the point where citizens may not automatically get help from their government if they do become stranded. Best advice: stay at home.
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