In the face of a world travel shutdown, Money readers have swamped the Consumer Champions email with requests for advice and help. Here we try to answer the most common questions.
My flight to Europe is cancelled. All I’m being offered is an alternative flight or vouchers. Is this legal?
No. But that hasn’t stopped a number of airlines doing exactly that. All flights on EU carriers within, or into the EU, and all flights leaving from an EU airport, are protected by the EU’s “denied boarding” rules, which requires refunds or rerouting when flights are cancelled.
The problem for consumers is that enforcing these rights is proving very difficult. Not to pick on them particularly, but easyJet has pushed cancelled customers towards its “manage booking” option. With this, they can only switch a booking to a future flight. Refunds are only being processed by customer services which, of course, is impossible to contact.
Note: the EU cancellation rules do not apply to non-EU carriers where the flight started outside the EU. For example, a Korean Air flight from Seoul to London.
In the face of a no-refund policy, what should I do?
Taking the offer of replacement vouchers in the current climate is highly risky given the airline may not be around in six months. While some will think vouchers are better than nothing, we would advise readers to insist on a refund. Tell the airline that you want one, and see how things develop. Remember, if your flight cost more than £100 and was booked using a credit card, you can hold the card provider jointly liable.
When things calm down we suspect many passengers will be forced down this route. If the airline fails, only about half of travel insurance policies include scheduled airline failure insurance.
My flight operated as scheduled but I was unable to go on it. What then?
The fact that the government has advised against all but essential travel means that most travel insurance policies should pay foreign trip cancellation claims. You will need to have bought your policy before the pandemic was declared on 11 March. Those whose flight ran before the Foreign Office advised against travelling will have to hope their insurance had travel disruption cover.
Note: travel policies bought after 11 March will probably not cover any coronavirus-based claims.
What about accommodation I can’t get to?
If you booked a holiday in the UK, and a cottage owner is refusing to give you a refund or move the booking, there is sadly not a great deal you can do. The fact that the cottage exists and is still being offered, has allowed owners to deny refunds. Several Scottish firms are refusing to refund bookings, even though ferries are not open to non-residents.
Two lawyers have said that if a contract becomes impossible to perform, or can only be performed illegally, it is considered “frustrated”. The threat of legal action to reclaim denied payments, may be enough to force a refund. Ultimately, you may have to go to court to get the money back, but who knows when that will possible.
Some more expensive travel insurance polices will cover UK trips, so it is worth checking.
My hotel in Spain has shut but it is still refusing a refund
Contact your card provider and file a claim – if you can get through. Claims usually have to be filed within a certain timeframe, although these deadlines could be extended given bank staff are all at home too.
I have booked an Airbnb. Can I get my money back?
The site has been offering both owners and those with reservations the chance to cancel without incurring fees. It applies to bookings made on, or before, 14 March, with a check-in date up until 14 April 2020, although this will most likely be extended.
I booked a tour package, can I get a refund?
You are much better placed. If your holiday has been cancelled you should get a full refund. If the tour operator collapses before it is able to compensate you, the government-backed Atol scheme is there to step in.
Several readers have asked about trips booked for July onwards. We would wait and see. There is little to be gained by cancelling now.
What about the trains? Can I get ticket refunds?
The government has announced that anyone with a previously non-refundable advanced fare can cancel and get a refund. Season ticket refunds are also being processed. Consumers should contact the rail company or other retailers. Eurostar is offering any passenger due to travel up until Monday 1 June an e-voucher to allow them to make a new booking by 30 September for travel up to the end of March 2021. Again, passengers could ask for a refund if the company cancelled their train, using the Consumer Rights Act, which covers train travel.
Compiled this week by Miles Brignall
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