British holidaymakers are facing an unprecedented situation as coronavirus grinds the world to a halt.
As countries close borders and airlines ground flights, tens of thousands will already know that their holiday has been affected, while many more will be waiting to see how the crisis evolves.
Below, we answer your questions about your future travel, from whether you should cancel your plans to when you reschedule your holiday.
Please get in touch using the comments box at the bottom of the article if you have any further questions.
Should I cancel my holiday?
This is by far the most common question we are hearing from readers. Things have been simplified to some extent by the Foreign Secretary’s announcement on Tuesday advising against all but essential travel overseas for the next 30 days.
This effectively means that all holidays with departure dates until just after Easter will be cancelled anyway. We will have to wait and see if that advice is extended, but in the meantime, different companies are operating different cancellation policies.
For holidays booked further ahead the situation is more complex. If you have paid all the cost of your holiday already, there is no point in cancelling, because you are likely to lose your money if you act unilaterally. Instead, wait and see if it is cancelled anyway. If, however, the balance of the cost of holiday you have booked and paid a deposit for becomes due, it may be better to cancel, sacrifice the deposit and limit the damage. It’s a hard decision to make, and there is no easy answer.
What if my tour operator or airline cancels?
You are entitled to a cash refund – though see the issue around credits, below.
If however, like many people, you have booked your accommodation independently of your travel arrangements, the situation is not so straightforward. Some online agents, such as Expedia and Booking.com are allowing refunds in some circumstances, but otherwise, legally speaking, you have entered contract with the accommodation and if you don’t show up, you still have to pay. Some travel insurance policies do cover this situation under a ‘travel disruption’ section of the policy, but most don’t.
Other services that you may have already paid for such as car rental, rail tickets, ski passes and so on would also be covered under this insurance provision. But if you don’t have cover then you are at risk of losing your money and will have to contact each company directly to see if they are willing to offer a refund or for you to re-book for a later date as a goodwill gesture.
Can my tour operator offer me a credit rather than a refund?
Refusing to give a cash refund and offering a credit note for a future holiday instead seems to be a trend, especially among ski operators who have been cancelling holidays in recent days. Several, including Inghams, Esprit and Ski Total (which are all owned by Hotel Plan), as well as smaller operations such as VIP Ski and Alpine Elements are taking this approach.
However, the Consumers’ Association believes that this is not legally justifiable. Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “The rules around package holidays are clear – if extraordinary circumstances mean a trip has to be cancelled then the operator should refund the traveller, so it’s very concerning to hear reports that some are refusing to offer refunds to people who want them.” He went on to add: “While operators don’t have to pay compensation for cancellations because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions, they are still legally obliged to give customers a full refund. If any are found to be breaching the rules, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) must step in to ensure customers aren’t being left out of pocket.”
The problem is, as Which? also acknowledges, the financial strain of meeting current rules is putting huge pressure on travel providers. It has called for government help to see them through the crisis.
Will the crisis force travel companies out of business?
There is no doubt that the current situation is an existential threat to virtually all travel companies, from small hotels to car hire firms, and airlines and tour operators large and small. Travel businesses depend on a steady flow of cash from new bookings to keep them afloat. Now they have not only lost that income, but many have had to pay the additional cost of emergency repatriations and are having to refund those whose bookings have been cancelled (see above). At the same time, they have to pay their own staff and meet all their running costs. It seems certain that government help will be needed to keep them afloat until confidence returns and people start travelling again.
So will my money be at risk?
Even if companies do fail, any money you pay or have paid for a future holiday or travel service will be secure as long as you book with a credit card (and the total cost is over £100). If the company goes out of business, the card issuer will be responsible for refunding you the lost cash. It won’t however, pay for any additional costs you might face if – at some point in the future – you are stranded abroad because of a company failure. For full protection, which would also cover this, you need to book a holiday with a tour operator which is bonded by the Government-backed Atol scheme (see caa.co.uk/atol-protection for details and to check if an operator’s bonding arrangements are up to date).
When should I reschedule my holiday or flight?
This is one of the hardest questions to answer. If you are in one of the high-risk groups then you almost certainly won’t want to think about booking anything within the next four to six months at the earliest. For the rest of us the time horizon is hopefully a little shorter, but no-one can be sure. Telegraph Travel is working to promote some examples of holidays which you might consider booking now – they are particularly popular destinations and itineraries which always book up a long time in advance and they are for departures in the late autumn onwards.
Can I travel in the UK?
Although the Government has called for everyone to avoid gatherings and crowded places, such as pubs, clubs and theatres, and for those in the higher risk groups or showing symptoms to stay at home and be shielded from social contact where possible, there is no outright ban which prevents people from jumping in their car or on a train for, for example, a weekend in an Airbnb by the sea, a week in a cottage in the Lake District, or a camping trip to Cornwall. Of course, it won’t be the same as usual: pubs, restaurants and attractions are likely to be closed. The advice could also change overnight and we may up in a situation like in Italy, where almost everyone is required to stay at home for at least two weeks.
Inspiration for your inbox
Sign up to Telegraph Travel’s weekly newsletter for the latest features, advice, competitions, exclusive deals and comment.