With UK self-catering accommodation (almost) definitely set to re-open on March 12, and overseas holidays slated to (hopefully) restart on May 17, holiday companies have reported a surge of interest and bookings.
But before you jump in and follow, it’s worth wising up on a few points.
1. I have a holiday booked and it's due to take place before April 12
This must now be cancelled and you should receive a refund or – if you prefer – a postponement. This view is backed by the Competition and Markets Authority (the CMA) for rental contracts which have been “frustrated” by a lockdown. (Be aware though that this could still be tested in the courts.) Do not cancel unilaterally or you may undermine your case. If you haven’t heard from the owner or agent, contact them and ask for confirmation that they are cancelling.
2. I have a hotel holiday booked before May 17
This will also have to be cancelled and you should receive a refund or – if you prefer – a postponement. The same rules apply as with self-catering accommodation (above).
3. I want to book a holiday after these dates – what should I consider?
First, that nothing is absolutely set in stone. Even the April 12 date may change if the data suggests that the pandemic is drifting out of control again. So because of this, it’s vital to be sure that you check the cancellation policy of the agent, company or accommodation owner. What would the situation be if, for example, you were required to self-isolate because of exposure to Covid-19 and so were unable to travel? Many are being flexible, and allowing last-minute cancellations but don’t get caught out by the small print. The good news is that it looks as though the Government wants to institute a consistent policy so that we don’t suffer the confusion of the tier system which applied differently to various regions. However, it’s always possible that the outbreak of a new variant might have to lead to a local lockdown.
4. What about insurance?
It is possible to get insurance for self-catering and hotel holidays in Britain – and some agencies insist that you buy it. But I don’t know of any policies which don’t have an exclusion for cancellations caused by Covid-19. It’s possible that you might be able to claim if you were actually too ill to travel, but not if you were self-isolating or in a local lockdown.
5. Will my money be safe?
It’s rare for hotels in the UK to go out of business and so leave clients who have paid in advance out of pocket. But it is always a potential risk, especially in these difficult times. There is no financial bonding system, so if possible pay with a credit card then you can claim any loss back from the card issuer under the Consumer Credit Act (1974).
6. Will vaccinations be required for UK holiday bookings?
While it is possible that some companies or holiday parks might impose a vaccination-only requirement – cruise ships touring the British coast for example – it is far less likely than for holidays abroad (see below).
1. I have a holiday booked before May 17. What will happen?
The law here is a little unclear. If you have booked a package holiday, the operator will be obliged to refund you (or, if you prefer, offer you an alternative or a postponement), but there is no clear-cut rule saying when they must do this. Some might hold out until the new Travel Task Force reports on March 12. My view is that all operators should now bite the bullet and cancel all packages due to depart before May 17. Do not cancel unilaterally - wait until the operator does so.
2. I have a holiday booked just after May 17 - will it go ahead?
Hopefully, but we probably won’t know until April 12 and there are so many unknowns still. We have no idea yet, which destinations may allow UK tourists to enter, nor what conditions over testing or self-isolation may be required. So I’m afraid you will have to grit your teeth and hope – it may be a close-run thing.
3. I want to book a holiday after May 17 - is it safe to do so?
The same caveats apply as above. The closer you book to May 17, the greater the risk you are taking. Personally, I would wait until April 12 before booking a foreign holiday in May or June.
4. Should I book with a tour operator?
Yes, I think you should. Your money will be protected against the operator going out of business and you also have a legal right to a refund if the trip has to be cancelled. Double-check though, before you book, that your holiday is covered under the Atol protection scheme (caa.co.uk/atol-protection)
5. What about independent bookings?
You’ll have much less protection overall. But if you book a plane ticket with an airline which allows you to postpone or change your flight free of charge (most now do), and you book your accommodation with an agent or owner who does the same, and you book with a credit card, then you are reasonably well protected – though your booking will not be as secure as with a tour operator.
6. Will vaccination passports be required for overseas travel?
There has been talk of this, and some countries, such as Greece have indicated that it might be the case, but the UK government has not taken an official position on such passports. We may know more on April 12.