The UK Government has introduced tough new lockdown restrictions which, unlike the first lockdown last March, include a ban on overseas holidays.
From midnight tonight, it will be illegal to travel outside the area where you live other than for a handful of permitted reasons, which doesn’t include going on holiday.
Government guidance on the new lockdown restrictions say: “You can only travel internationally – or within the UK – where you first have a legally permitted reason to leave home. In addition, you should consider the public health advice in the country you are visiting.”
If you are already abroad, you don’t need to return home immediately unless your tour operator advises it is bringing you back to the UK early.
Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said this morning that the restrictions are likely to last at least until mid-February. In Scotland, the restrictions will be reviewed at the end of January.
I’ve booked a holiday, should I cancel?
If you’ve booked a package, don’t cancel your holiday or you’ll lose your money. Wait for the tour operator to cancel, then you’ll be entitled to a refund. Tour operators will be obliged to cancel your holiday if your departure is imminent since it will be against the law for you to travel.
TUI, the biggest UK holiday company, says it is cancelling all departures from today. A message on its website says: “Customers due to travel from an English airport before mid-February will be contacted in departure date order to discuss their options, which will include amending to another holiday with an incentive, receiving an ATOL-protected refund credit note with incentive, or cancelling and receiving a full refund.
“All holidays from Scotland and Wales have been cancelled until 31 January. We will constantly review holiday cancellations in line with updated travel advice.
“Customers currently overseas can continue to enjoy their holidays as planned and we will update them directly if there are any changes to their holidays.”
Jet2 and Jet2holidays have extended the suspension of winter sun flights to the Canary Islands, Madeira and Turkey until 12 February.
EasyJet holidays says it is reviewing all holiday bookings. A spokesperson added: “We will be contacting customers whose holidays can no longer go ahead with the option of cancelling for easyJet holidays credit which can be used to rebook an alternative holiday, or customers can choose a full refund back to their original payment method.”
Should I take the TUI incentive or request a refund?
All package holiday customers are entitled to a cash refund if their trips are cancelled. However, TUI is offering certain incentives to try to persuade customers to re-book rather than request a cash refund.
I understand customers who choose to switch to a new holiday up 20% extra if their new holiday is more expensive. Alternatively, they can take a credit note for future use with an additional 10% added.
Of course, if you prefer to have your money back, you’re still entitled to a cash refund instead.
If you already know that you want to move your holiday and you’re happy with the price, there seems no reason not to accept TUI’s re-booking incentive. Your new holiday will still be ATOL-protected if TUI goes bust and you’ll be helping out the tour operator.
Similarly, the credit notes issued by all ATOL-holders, including TUI, will be financially protected up to the end of January 2021. If you accept a credit note, you should be entitled to swap this for a cash refund, minus the additional 10%, at any point.
When will I receive my refund?
By law, operators are obliged to refund cancelled holidays within 14 days. While it took much longer for companies to issue refunds during the first lockdown due to the sheer volume of cancellations, most companies are now managing to issue refunds pretty quickly. EasyJet holidays says it expects to refund customers within 12 days.
What if I booked a flight only?
You’ll need to contact your travel agent, or airline if you booked direct, to see if your flight is still going ahead.
If it’s cancelled you’ll be entitled to a cash refund within seven days.
But airlines aren’t obliged to cancel flights during the lockdown and if your flight it still operating the airline might not refund you, even if you’re banned from travelling.
Some airlines, including Ryanair, will offer you a free change to a later flight, but they might charge you more if the new flight is more expensive. Others are offering vouchers but not cash refunds.
The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating whether airlines for refusing refunds, so your best advice is to put your refund request to your airline in writing and if it refuses take your complaint to the CMA.