Many travel companies are refusing to return clients’ cash for holiday cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, trying to persuade them to re-book or accept credit notes or vouchers instead.
I wrote earlier about why you shouldn’t accept vouchers and the risks of accepting credit notes and ‘refund credits’ too.
If you’re happy to rebook your holiday, that seems like the best outcome, but make sure your holiday company issues you with a new ATOL certificate to show your money will continue to be protected by the ATOL scheme.
However, if you don’t want to rebook, maybe because you can no longer afford to go away or because you don’t want to commit to new holiday dates at this time, then what can you do to get your money back?
The following advice assumes that you’ve already tried to negotiate with your travel company and been through their complaints process and they’ve flatly refused you a cash refund. If they have said they’re prepared to give a refund but have asked you to wait a little longer, then I’d say that, given the circumstances, it might be best to be patient and hope that in doing so, you’re saving them from going bust.
Claim on your credit card
Under the terms of the Package Travel Directive, any company that sells a package holiday (that’s a flight plus one other element, such as a hotel or a tour) must refund a client’s money within 14 days of the cancellation and, if they don’t agree to give a refund within 14 days, they’re breaking the law.
If you paid with a credit card – even if you only paid your deposit with your card – the easiest and fastest way to get your money back is to claim from your credit card company. This is because under the Consumer Credit Act, your credit card issuer is equally responsible with the retailer for the satisfactory delivery of goods or services.
You might also be able to do a ‘chargeback’ if you paid with a Visa Debit card. Contact your bank to find out.
Complain to ABTA
If your travel company is adamant it won’t give you a refund, or it will only offer you time-limited vouchers or credit instead, you could raise a complaint with ABTA, assuming the travel company is a member.
ABTA has advised its members that they can issue ‘refund credits’ for customers to use either to rebook another holiday or, if they prefer, to swap for cash by July 31. This is to give those travel companies struggling to cope with the avalanche of refund requests longer to find the cash; the alternative is that many will go bust.
However, ABTA is not suggesting that members should issue time-limited vouchers or credit that must be used within a fixed period of time. Also, under the terms of the Package Travel Directive, customers have a right to insist on cash. If your travel company tells you ABTA has ‘changed the rules’ to remove your right to a cash refund, it’s lying so you can ask ABTA to intervene – although they seem particularly reluctant to assist customers claiming refunds at the moment and are likely to side with your travel company if it’s offered you vouchers.
Make a court claim
Assuming your holiday cost no more than £100,000, it’s fairly easy to make a court claim using the online Money Claim Online service. The cost varies from £25 to £455 depending on the amount you are claiming and whether you make an online or paper application. However, there is no need to use a solicitor, so you avoid legal fees, and you probably won’t need to make a court appearance.
You might be able to make a claim on your travel insurance (many travel companies are telling their clients to do this) but it’s unlikely most policies will pay out for cancellations unless the travel company itself has gone out of business. Still, it’s worth checking your policy.
If you didn’t book a package you might find it harder to get a refund. Airlines which cancelled flights should give you your money back but many are offering vouchers instead. If they didn’t cancel but you chose not to travel due to the Foreign Office (FCO) advice against all but essential trips, you might be able to claim a refund on your travel insurance if it included cover for cancellations due to a change in FCO advice. The same goes for your accommodation and any tours or local transport you booked.