MSE News

Coronavirus Travel Rights

Latest on travel restrictions being lifted, plus refunds and travel insurance help

Coronavirus Travel Rights

After months of Covid-19 restrictions UK holidays are back on the cards and some overseas holidays are now allowed again, though widespread limitations on travel remain. Whether you're wondering if you can now book a trip or are still trying to get money back for a cancelled one, this guide has key info on the latest rules, travel insurance, refund rights and more.

Important: This is a fast-changing situation. The info below is the best we have currently, but we'll be updating this guide. If you've a question that isn't covered below, please let us know at news@moneysavingexpert.com (though unfortunately we can't respond to every email).

Looking for other help? This guide focuses on travel, but also see:

Plus we've specific info on: Wedding cancellation rights & WFH tax reclaiming

illustration

Overseas holidays return as travel restrictions are lifted – where can you go?

Travel restrictions have been easing gradually since the start of spring – travel within much of the UK is now allowed and some overseas holidays have resumed.

As restrictions are lifted, a new suite of rules has been put in place. There are three key points to bear in mind before you book: 

  1. Check the UK's traffic light system for what you need to do on your return. You can jump to How the new traffic light system works below – or read on.

  2. Check the UK Foreign Office's advice on whether it's safe to travel. This is key for travel insurance cover and your rights to a refund. If the Foreign Office advises against "all but essential travel" or "all travel" you aren't supposed to go, and this may trigger a refund. Travelling in defiance of the advice may also invalidate your insurance.

  3. Remember, even if the UK Government says it's OK to travel, there's no guarantee your destination will let you in (many currently won't). For example, Australia is on the green list from a UK perspective, but it's not letting holidaymakers in. Iceland is also green but visitors need to be double-vaccinated.

There's still a huge amount of uncertainty, as the rules could change unexpectedly. Essentially, before booking anything it's crucial to make sure you fully understand the financial risk, and book flexibly wherever possible.

The latest on UK and overseas travel restrictions – the key need-to-knows

Travel restrictions vary depending on which part of the UK you're in. To find out the exact rules which apply in a given area, see the following Government websites for: EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland – but here's a summary:

  • In England, stays in self-catering accommodation, as well as campsites, caravans, boats and second homes, are allowed. Plus, as of 17 May:

    • Up to six people (or more if they're part of two households only) can meet indoors and stay together overnight in guest accommodation or in each other's homes.
    • Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can reopen for people on holiday.

    You no longer need a reasonable excuse to leave England to travel to other parts of the UK, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man or the Republic of Ireland – but this does rely on the rules in these regions allowing people from England to enter, so check before booking.

    Some overseas holidays are also allowed from 17 May – see how the new 'traffic light' system works for more info.

    However, note that if you're in Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Greater Manchester, Hounslow, Kirklees, Lancashire, Leicester or North Tyneside, the Government says you should try to minimise travel in and out of affected areas where possible to minimise the risk of spreading a new Covid-19 variant – though this isn't legally enforceable. 

  • You can currently travel anywhere within Scotland, including for holidays. Overnight stays away from home in holiday lets and hotels are allowed. As of 17 May, a maximum of six people (not counting any under-12s) from up to three households can go on holiday together, provided each household stays in a separate room.

    Scottish rules also allow unrestricted travel to Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and most of England (except Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen and Bolton) – but you'll need to check those destinations' own rules for entry requirements and local restrictions before you go.

    Also from 17 May, Scotland has adopted a traffic light system similar to the one in England for all other international travel – see how this works.

  • Residents of Wales are currently allowed to travel around the country and to the Common Travel Area (CTA) of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland – provided those regions allow entry.

    All holiday accommodation, including hotels, B&Bs, hostels, holiday homes and caravan parks, can now fully open – but you can only share accommodation with people from your own household or extended household.

    Overseas holidays are also allowed from 17 May as Wales has adopted a traffic light system similar to those in England and Scotland – see how this works.

  • As of 24 May, travel from Northern Ireland to anywhere within the Common Travel Area (CTA) is permitted – but if you're staying overnight, you're expected to take lateral flow Covid-19 tests before you travel and after you return.

    In addition, all types of holiday accommodation are now allowed to reopen, including hotels, caravan parks and B&Bs. A maximum of six people from no more than two households (not counting any under-12s) can stay together overnight.

    Some overseas holidays are also now allowed – Northern Ireland has adopted a similar traffic light system to that put into place in England, Scotland and Wales. 

How the new traffic light system works – will I have to self-isolate?

It's no longer illegal to leave the UK to go on a holiday abroad. As part of a system of new rules on international travel, countries have been placed in one of three categories, as set out below. (Currently, destinations are categorised in exactly the same way by England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales though that could change in the future.)

The first review of the traffic light lists took place last week. The table below sets out the current position now that the latest changes – including Portugal moving to the amber list – have come into effect.

Traffic light system – summary of the rules across the UK

Category Destinations on list Rules on returning to England/ Northern Ireland/ Scotland/ Wales

Green
11, incl Australia, Gibraltar,  Iceland, Israel, New Zealand & Singapore. See full Eng list / NI list / Scot list / Wal list

• Must take pre-departure test before returning

• Must also take PCR test on or before day two of arrival

• DON'T need to quarantine on return, unless you get a positive result

 


Amber
170+, incl much of Europe (eg, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal & Spain), the USA, Morocco & Sri Lanka. See full Eng list / Scot list / Wal list (no separate NI list)  • Must take pre-departure test before returning
• Must also take PCR test on day two AND day eight after arriving
• Must self-isolate for 10 days after arrival – can be at home
• You can end self-isolation early on day five by taking extra test (Eng only)

Red
50, incl Brazil, Egypt, India, Maldives, South Africa & UAE. See full Eng list / NI list / Scot list / Wal list • Must take pre-departure test before returning
• Must also take PCR test on day two AND day eight after arriving
• Must undergo 10 days of managed quarantine in hotel, which could be pricey (currently single adult travellers are charged £1,750)

Day two/eight tests and managed quarantine packages must be booked before departure. If booking tests, see our Covid test cost-cutting tips, though in Scot and Wal tests must be booked via the CTM portal and in NI tests must be booked from a UK Government approved provider. Also see help booking hotel quarantine packages in Eng, NIScot and Wal.

The Government has said its traffic light lists are based on factors including the percentage of the country's population which has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern, and the country's access to reliable scientific data. A 'green watchlist' has also been introduced to help identify countries most at risk of moving from green to amber.

Crucially, the traffic light list above is subject to change. It will be reviewed every three weeks – and the Government's also said it will "not hesitate to act immediately" should the data show that countries' risk ratings have changed. The traffic light system itself will be formally reviewed by 28 June and then again no later than 31 July and 1 October.

Check the Foreign Office's advice - it may not match the traffic light system 

It's important to note that the traffic light rules detailed above don't give the whole picture, as they're primarily about what you have to do on returning to the UK. While the Government says you shouldn't travel to amber destinations, this doesn't legally stop you from going there on holiday – though you will need to self-isolate when you get back. And if a country's on the green list, that doesn't necessarily mean it's safe to go.

So you also need to check the UK Foreign Office advice for travelling to your destination. This is key because if it advises against travel to where you're going and you decide to go anyway, it may invalidate your travel insurance. It may also make it easier for you to get a full refund if the Foreign Office advises against travel - see more on Refund rights if the Foreign Office warns against travel below.

Crucially, don't assume the Foreign Office's verdict will align exactly with the traffic light system. For example, currently the whole of Spain is 'amber' on the traffic light list (so according to the Government, you shouldn't go).

Yet while the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to most of Spain, that warning DOESN'T apply to the Canary Islands. So those with trips booked to the Canary Islands – unlike those booked to go elsewhere in Spain – are unlikely to invalidate their insurance if they travel, but are also not guaranteed refunds for package holidays if they don't go. 

Many countries have their own entry requirements or have banned Brits

In addition to checking the UK's traffic light system and Foreign Office advice, you also still need to check your destination's entry requirements. 

Countries across the globe have imposed various bans over the past year on Britons arriving from the UK. Australia, for example, has had a ban on travellers from the UK since the start of pandemic - that's despite it being on the UK's green list.

Even where there's no outright ban, there may be other restrictions in place, eg, you'll likely have to provide a negative coronavirus test and may have to quarantine on arrival. Check the Foreign Office website, as well as directly with the country itself (or its UK embassy website), for the latest before travelling.

Top 15 holiday destinations – what are their rules?

The table below, which we're updating regularly, shows the latest situation for the top 15 travel destinations for Brits. Always check for yourself before travelling or planning travel, as this is a fast-moving situation – if you spot something in the table that needs updating, please let us know.

Top 15 holiday destinations from the UK – what are the travel restrictions?

Country Traffic light list Foreign Office approved travel? UK holidaymakers allowed in? Can I go without quarantining on arrival? Can I go without Covid test? (1)
Spain Amber (excl Canary Islands) (2)
France (3) Amber  (if fully vaccinated) (2) (if fully vaccinated)
USA Amber ✘  (excl Northern Mariana Islands and US Virgin Islands)
N/A N/A
Italy Amber ✓ (but 10-day quarantine required if no test - and test must be taken for travel by air)
Germany Amber N/A N/A
Greece Amber  (excl Rhodes, Kos, Zakynthos, Corfu, Crete) Depends (not unless vaccinated)
Portugal Green (amber from Tue 8 June)
The Netherlands Amber N/A N/A
Turkey Red ✓ 
Croatia Amber Depends (not unless you have negative test) Depends (not unless vaccinated or hold a certificate of recovery)
United Arab Emirates Red
Canada Amber N/A N/A
Austria Amber N/A N/A
Switzerland Amber N/A N/A
Australia Green N/A N/A

Last fully checked 7 June 2021 – please let us know if you spot anything that needs updating. Top 15 countries from Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) data. (1) This shows if you need to take a test before entry – whether that's before travelling, on arrival at the airport or both. (2) May need to show proof of accommodation (eg, hotel booking confirmation or utility bill for holiday home) at the border. If staying with friends/ family an official letter confirming this may need to be sought (and possibly paid for). (3) Applies to France only – French overseas territories considered separately.

How can I prove my vaccination status?

If you're registered with a GP in England, the Government says you can use the existing NHS health app to show your vaccination status when abroad – though it's best to check your destination will accept this before travelling. Alternatively, you can request paper validation

Elsewhere around the UK: 

  • In Scotland, you can view your vaccination record online or request a copy via the Covid-19 Status Helpline.

  • In Wales, you can request a certificate if your travel is 'urgent' and the certificate is the only way to meet your destination's entry requirements (the Welsh government says it's working on delivering digital certification via the NHS app).

  • In Northern Ireland, the government says it's working on solutions to enable proof of vaccination but notes that neither GP practices or other public health organisations are able to issue letters for travel purposes – so it's unclear what travellers can do in the meantime. We've asked and we'll update this guide when we know more. 

What are my rights if I get stuck abroad?

With some countries around the world banning Brits and operators cancelling travel services, it may mean some UK travellers have been or could be stranded abroad. If so, here are your rights...

  • If your flight home is cancelled and it's leaving from the UK or an EU country, or it's to the UK/EU on a UK/EU airline, then the operator must get you home by any means at the earliest opportunity. If your flight doesn't fall within this scope, you're at the mercy of the rules of your flight operator.

    For those on a package holiday, there is also an obligation on providers to arrange for you to get home, but this won't necessarily be as soon as possible.

    For travel by any other means, contact your provider. If you're struggling to get help, you can also try contacting the UK embassy in the country for assistance.

  • If you're stranded due to a cancelled flight which is leaving a UK or EU country, or it's to the UK/EU on a UK/EU airline, then your airline must pay to put you up in the meantime, although you may need to pay and later claim this back. Keep hold of receipts and only expect reasonable costs to be reimbursed. If your flight doesn't fall within this scope, check with the airline if it's responsible.

    For package holidays, trade body ABTA says providers are only obliged to put you up for three nights if your return trip is cancelled.

    For travel by any other means, contact your provider. If you're struggling to get help, you can also try contacting the UK embassy in the country for assistance.

  • If you're abroad for longer than planned due to your return journey being disrupted by travel bans, insurers we spoke to said your cover would be extended.

    But while this means you'll continue to be covered under the usual terms of your insurance – so for example, you should be able to claim for emergency medical expenses – insurers we spoke to said you won't be covered for extra costs incurred by having to stay longer, such as extra accommodation or travel.

    It's still worth checking with your insurer – but most policies won't cover you for coronavirus-related cancellation if you took out the insurance and booked your trip after mid-March 2020. As insurance only covers unknown events, that's the period most classed the pandemic as a 'known event'.

If my flight or holiday is cancelled, can I get a refund? 

As restrictions ease, many will be considering booking a holiday in the UK or abroad. But with millions of trips cancelled as a result of the pandemic and ongoing uncertainty about the future, you may be concerned about what happens if you can't go.

Fear not. Whether you're looking at booking a new trip or trying to get a refund for a cancelled one, we've a round-up of your rights below. (The following applies to overseas and UK bookings, but for extra help on your rights domestically, see UK holiday bookings below.)

Travel firms SHOULD refund you for cancelled trips – though many have dragged their feet

As a general rule, if you've paid for a trip and then the travel firm cancels, you should be due a refund. Yet that hasn't always proved easy with cancellations due to the pandemic. While coronavirus has been devastating across the travel industry, firms have been treating customers in very different ways – as shown by several major MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) surveys we ran last year.

  • A poll we ran between 19 November and 4 December 2020 – our third looking at refunds for those unable to travel due to coronavirus – asked travel firms' customers about their refund experience. We asked them to rate it as 'great', 'OK' or 'poor' (and to say if they actually got a refund) – we had 42,653 individual responses.

    Big names with dire overall feedback included Lastminute.com, with just 8% of customers telling us they'd had a full refund, while Teletext Holidays (12%), Loveholidays (32%) and Ryanair (33%) also performed poorly.

    On the other side of the coin, Jet2 Holidays and Jet2 had the highest proportion of full refunds, with 89% of customers of both brands whose bookings were cancelled saying they'd had their money back. Hays Travel also did well, with 73% reporting full refunds. For full details, see our Covid travel refunds MSE News story.

Even if some firms have previously been slow to refund customers, your right to a refund is clear:

  • With most cancelled flights, you're due a full refund within seven days. Most cancelled flights will fall under flight delay rules (which have been written into UK law, and cover all flights leaving the UK or EU, as well as flights to the UK/EU on a UK/EU airline). These state you're entitled to choose between:
    • EITHER a refund for the flight that was cancelled.
    • OR an alternative flight (airlines call this re-routing) to your destination.

    We've seen some airlines pushing customers towards getting a voucher instead, but you are absolutely entitled to a refund in this situation. In theory and according to the law, this should also be paid in seven days, though aviation regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) acknowledged it was "very challenging" for airlines to sort it that quickly at the height of the pandemic. While refund backlogs should now have been cleared, refunds may still take longer in the future if restrictions suddenly change and there's a spate of cancellations.
  • With cancelled package holidays, you're due a full refund within 14 days. Package holidaymakers whose trips are cancelled are also entitled to all their money back under the Package Travel Regulations.

    Technically you're due this refund within two weeks, but in practice it could be longer – the Chartered Trading Standards Institute previously told us that insisting on a 14-day turnaround could be tricky given the volume of refunds travel firms were grappling with. While most of these backlogs should now have been cleared, it may still be advisable to show forbearance and not push the law as far as it can technically go on the timescale. But the important thing is that you are due a refund.

  • With other travel bookings (hotels, car hire etc), the rules are less clear-cut but you SHOULD still get a refund. Generally speaking, if the service you have booked isn't provided, you should be refunded – and that's a principle the UK competition watchdog has clearly supported. Enforcing it may be tricky though, especially if the firm is abroad where local laws may be different to those in the UK – so there are no guarantees.

    Some countries may require you to show a negative test result on arrival. If you've taken the test but the trip is then cancelled, you need to contact the provider you ordered the test from to see if it'll refund you – but there are no guarantees. If you've paid for the test but not yet taken it as your trip was cancelled, you may find providers are more willing to give refunds.

Quick info & questions
  • The standard flight cancellation rules (which have now been written into UK law) state that if your flight is cancelled you are entitled to choose between a full refund or an alternative flight. If you've booked a specific return deal with the same airline and one leg is cancelled, you would expect a refund for both parts.

    However some say they've struggled to get refunds, and it may be because some budget airlines don't consider it a return flight but two individual flights.

    There's no easy answer here, and we need to be straight – we're still researching this (please do feedback your experiences) and hope to add more info as we get it. In the meantime, here's our provisional list of what to try:

    • Get in touch with the airline. The start point is always to contact the airline and ask. Before things get militant, you may just find you're pushing at an open door – we have certainly heard of a few (but not many so far) refunds in these circumstances.

    • Under flight rules, you can push for a refund. So if softly softly fails, let's start to consider the rules. EU regulation 261/2004, which has now been written into UK law, gives specific cancellation rights for EU-regulated flights, which is defined as:

      – Any flight departing from the UK/EU
      – Any flight arriving in the UK/EU provided it's operated by a UK/EU airline

      Within these rules, it states that what counts in terms of getting a refund for the return flight if the outbound flight is cancelled is if the flights are part of the same 'booking'. If they are, you should be offered a full refund on both flights.

      Sadly, the Civil Aviation Authority has admitted the precise definition of the same booking can be a grey area – for example, it says if you booked through a ticket agent and the two legs are with different airlines, it wouldn't count as the same booking. One key help though is if the outbound and return flights have the same reservation numbers. If so, then:

      1) Contact the airline and ask for a refund in writing.

      2) If this doesn't work or you don't hear back, you can make an official complaint and demand a refund. You may also be able to escalate your complaint to an alternative dispute resolution service – most are free to use, though double-check first as some may charge fees. See our Flight Cancellations guide for more info.

      3) If you've no luck speaking to the airline and you paid by debit or credit card, you could try and get a refund from your bank or card provider under the chargeback scheme, or Section 75 legal protection if you paid £100+ on a credit card. (Though while it's rare, after that the airline can dispute this and push for the money back – so don't think once it's in your account it's done and dusted.)
    • If you booked the flights before the pandemic and had travel insurance in place then too, speak to your insurer. You may be able to claim (assuming your policy covered pandemic cancellations), as clearly an unusable return flight is a knock-on cost.

      However, most insurers are pushing for people to go the whole way with their airline first before they will provide cover. That doesn't necessarily mean they are right to insist on you exhausting every possible avenue with the airline first, just that it isn't easy. So if your insurer isn't paying out when you feel it should, again you can take it to the free Financial Ombudsman Service.

    We hope to add more detail to this section, so do check back. Plus please do feedback your experiences.

  • We've heard from MoneySavers who have had 'cancellation charges' of up to £75 per person taken off their refunds by their travel agent after an airline or package holiday firm has cancelled their trip.

    Travel agents' association ABTA says agents ARE allowed to do this, as long as this is included in their T&Cs – though if in doubt, check what you agreed to when you booked.

    Yet even if a travel agent does cover this in their terms, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute told us there's a chance it may not be a "fair term", so might not be allowed. It told us it couldn't comment on whether such terms are fair at this stage, or whether holidaymakers can successfully challenge these fees – but if you think a cancellation charge is unfair, contact your travel agent and ask it to justify the fairness of its fees.

    Also note that tour operators and airlines can't charge you a cancellation fee if you booked direct, so if this happens, make sure you demand a refund in full.

  • The Government and the Air Travel Trust will protect credit note refunds issued since 10 March 2020 for ATOL-protected bookings that were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning those who accept them will get their money back if the travel firm goes bust.

    If you opt for a refund credit note, you can choose at any point up to 30 September 2022 to cash it in for a refund or to rebook another trip instead (the initial deadline was 30 September 2021, but this has been extended). The Government's said it would give a month's notice before ending the scheme.

    See our Government to protect refund credit notes MSE News story for full info on how to check if your refund credit note is protected.

  • Those who receive holiday refunds get it returned to the payment method used. This can often mean being £1,000s in credit on credit cards. And many have contacted us worried that they'll pay the usual 3%-ish fee to pay this into their bank account – yet those are money transfer fees, for shifting debt.

    If you're significantly in credit, you should be able to ask your provider to transfer the credit back into your bank account free of charge. You can do this by getting in touch with your provider directly and requesting a "refund of credit balance".

    All the providers we spoke to, including major names such as BarclaycardHSBC and Lloyds, told us they offer this service to customers.

    But if your provider refuses to transfer your credit back to you for free for some reason, you can appeal to the Financial Ombudsman – and do so on the grounds that it's not following standard industry practice. There's full info on how to do this in our Financial Ombudsman guide.

Struggling to get a refund? You can also try your card firm or insurer – though there are no guarantees

If you're having real difficulties getting the refund you're owed for a cancelled trip, there are other avenues you can try – though none are guaranteed to work:

  • You may be able to claim from your card firm. If you paid by debit or credit card, you can also try getting money back via your card firm. Try claiming from your card provider under chargeback (or Section 75).

    Under chargeback, which isn't a legal requirement, just a customer service promise, your bank will try to get money back from the bank of the firm you bought from – you can try it on debit card purchases and those which are less than £100. Alternatively, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, if you pay for something costing between £100 and £30,000 on a credit card, the card firm's equally liable if something goes wrong, so you may be able to claim. See full Section 75 and Chargeback info.


    MSE founder Martin Lewis suggests you try chargeback first though: "Even if you actually have a credit card and qualify for Section 75, I wouldn't ask for that at this stage. I would ask for a chargeback. That's because under the chargeback process, which is part of the Visa, Mastercard or Amex rules, your bank is asking for money back from the holiday firm's bank, which your bank is unlikely to have an issue doing."

  • You can try speaking to your insurer... but it's tricky. Most travel insurers have told us if you're entitled to a refund from a firm you've booked with, you'll need to chase that firm for a refund rather than claim on your insurance. This also applies if you're offered a voucher when you're legally entitled to a cash refund.

    Just because insurers say they won't accept your claims though, that doesn't mean there's no point trying. Insurers want to avoid paying out when they can and, while you should seek a refund from the provider first when you're legally owed one, if you're really struggling, ask your insurer if it can help – even if it's by goodwill. Plus if you are unhappy with your insurer's decision you can also take it to the independent arbitrator, the free Financial Ombudsman Service.

  • If all else fails, there's the legal route. Even though some insurers say you must do this before going to them, in practice this is probably the last resort – we've put it last because it could cost money, may be time-consuming and you'll need to weigh up seriously whether the sum you're chasing is worth it. How you do it will depend on what you're claiming for. A good first step may be to threaten court action in a letter – then you could end up having to file a county court claim online. See our Small Claims Court guide for full help.

Tip Email

FREE Weekly MoneySaving email 

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes simply sign up today - it’s spam free!

If my flight or holiday goes ahead but I don't want to travel – or can't – what are my rights? 

NB: Here we're only talking about trips, either overseas or within the UK, which AREN'T cancelled by the firm you booked with. If your trip is cancelled, see above for full help on how to get a refund.

Important. Check refund policies and DON'T automatically rush to cancel your trip yourself

The table below goes through different airline, tour operator etc refund policies. If you can't go and you can get a refund, then simply claim that money back and you're done.

But if you're not certain to get a refund, and your trip has NOT been cancelled by the firm you booked with, don't make a rash decision and automatically cancel the trip yourself. That's because if it later cancels it (given how fluid the situation is, that may yet happen) you're due a refund, so it's a bit of cat and mouse.

However, don't leave it too late and miss out on a voucher or the ability to change the ticket, as there are often deadlines to invoke these policies. Even if there's a fee, that's better than losing all your money.

Remember, though – if you booked a cancellable hotel, or your airline lets you cancel for no charge, then you can cancel at will.

Unable to travel due to lockdown restrictions or is a border you want to cross closed? You may get a refund

We've an overview of the different scenarios, and what your travel firm or airline should do for you in each:

  • Your trip's still going ahead but lockdown restrictions don't allow you to travel. General guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) states that you should get a full refund if it would be illegal for you to use a booking, for example, if there's a full lockdown or 'stay at home' directive in place.

    Yet this isn't a definitive interpretation of the law, and the CMA has been investigating travel firms which only seem to offer vouchers in this scenario – so getting a refund may not always be plain sailing. Plus if you've flights that start in other countries, or hotels booked there, you're at the mercy of your travel provider and the country it's governed by.

  • You can go on the trip but your destination won't let you in. If your trip is still going ahead AND you can leave your region BUT the destination you're going to won't let you in, then you're also at the mercy of your travel provider – check its cancellation policy to see if it'll refund you.

    Plus the Package Travel Regulations state if "unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances" occur which "significantly affect the performance of the package," you're due a full refund even if YOU cancel. So this may offer some protection if you can't get to your destination.

  • You can leave your area, and your destination will let you in, but you simply don't want to travel. You're unlikely to get your money back as the provider is still offering the service you booked, unless you have a flexible flight and/or flexible or cancellable hotel booking.

If your flight or holiday is still running and you have travel insurance, it might cover you for overseas trips where it's illegal for you to travel – but only if your policy covers coronavirus cancellation. This will usually only be the case if you took out the insurance and booked the trip before mid-March 2020, but check. If the trip or hotel was booked later, travel insurance is very unlikely to help you.

The same goes for those who simply change their mind – travel insurance won't cover this scenario regardless of when you took out the policy or booked the trip. See more in I've bought travel insurance – am I covered? below.

What are travel providers' cancellation and rebooking policies?

The table below covers the cancellation policies of major travel firms, split into your rights when the firm cancels and your rights when you cancel – this applies for usually inflexible tickets.

Be aware though that the situation is changing fast, so it's best to double-check with your travel provider directly before making any decisions:

Travel firm cancellation and rebooking rights

Travel firm Refund policy if firm cancels Refund policy if you cancel
Airbnb Full refund Full refund if you cancel 24hrs+ before check-in if host has 'flexible' policy or 5 days+ before check-in if 'moderate flexibility'. Cancellation fees apply with other policies
British Airways Some flights cancelled until late summer (check yours here) – full refund, voucher or rebooking For flights before 30 Apr 22 – can claim voucher until check-in closes
Easyjet Full refund, voucher or rebooking For flights up to 30 Sep 21 – full refund, voucher or rebooking if lockdown travel ban means you can't fly. Otherwise cancellation fees may apply.
Eurostar Full refund For trips up to 30 Sep 21 – up to 7 full days before departure, can claim voucher to use before 30 Dec 21 or rearrange trip without paying fees (must pay any fare difference)
Hoseasons Refund or voucher where accommodation must close TBC
Jet2 All flights and hols up to 1 Jul 21 (excl Jersey) cancelled – full refund Full refund if destination has mandatory quarantine that you can't exit with negative Covid-19 test. Can rebook without fees in some other cases (must pay any fare difference). Otherwise change/cancellation fees apply
Logan Air Full refund or rebooking Full refund or rebooking (but must pay any fare difference) if UK Govt restrictions mean you legally can't fly. Otherwise change/cancellation fees apply
Loveholidays

Full refund or rebooking

 

Cancellation fees apply. May be able to rebook without fees in some cases
Ryanair Full refund or rebooking Cancellation fees apply. For bookings up to 29 Sep 2021 – up to 7 full days before departure, can rebook without fees for travel by 30 Dec 21 (must pay any fare difference). 
Tui Full refund or rebooking Cancellation fees apply. May be able to rebook without fees in some cases.
Virgin Atlantic All Orlando & some Caribbean flights from Heathrow/Manchester up to late Jun 21 cancelled – full refund, voucher or rebooking Cancellation fees may apply. For flights up to 30 Apr 22 – can rebook without fees (but must pay any fare difference) or claim voucher to be used by 30 Apr 23

The information in this table is constantly changing. This was the situation when we last checked on 7 June 2021.

When it comes to car hire, we checked the websites of several major car hire firms and saw that Avis and Budget say that bookings can be cancelled for free. If you've already paid, you can get a full refund if you cancel up to 24 hours before the day your rental was due to begin (though fees will be deducted from your refund if you cancel within 24 hours or don't show up). If you were due to pay on collection, you can cancel right up to the time your rental was set to start.

What if the Foreign Office advises against travel?

Between March and July 2020, the Foreign Office warned against all non-essential travel overseas. That blanket warning has now been lifted for some countries, but remains in place for others.

As well as being a useful safety guide, Foreign Office warnings are important in the following scenarios:

  • Package holiday firms should refund you if there's a Foreign Office warning. If a Foreign Office warning is put in place under the Package Travel Regulations, you SHOULD be able to get a refund within 14 days – even if the trip's not been cancelled – though always check first with the firm before you cancel. 

    This isn't the case if with DIY trips where you've booked hotels and flights separately. In that situation you can still ask try asking the companies concerned for a refund, but you don't have the same legal protection or rights. 

  • If you travel when there is a Foreign Office warning, most travel insurance becomes totally invalid. This applies even for non-Covid issues as the whole policy is usually invalid. As there are some exceptions, do check.

Foreign Office advice doesn't exactly align with the traffic light system - and it can be the key factor when it comes to refunds. For example, currently the whole of Spain is 'amber' on the traffic light list, but while the Foreign Office warns against all but essential travel to most of the country, that warning doesn't apply to the Canary Islands. That means those with package holidays booked to most of Spain should be entitled to a refund if they decide not to go, but that won't apply to those going to the Canary Islands. 

Can I get a refund if I need to quarantine on arrival at my destination?

If the country you're going to insists you must quarantine for a certain amount of time on arrival, it's unlikely that airlines or hotels will offer a refund if they're open and running services. You also won't be able to use credit or debit card protection, because the service is still available.

However, if you've a package holiday, you MAY be able to get a refund from the travel firm. Where the destination country puts a mandatory quarantine in place for all arrivals, this could be considered a 'significant change' to your holiday. Package travel association ABTA says travel companies should offer an alternative or a full refund in those circumstances.

What if I can't or don't want to go because I have to quarantine on my return?

We've previously been asked by users if they'll legally be able to get a refund on travel bookings (for example, a flight or package holiday) if they are unable or unwilling to quarantine on their return, and are therefore unable to take their trip. The short answer is no, as the company would not have to refund you for your disinclination to travel – though some firms may agree to help out, so it's worth asking.

Your travel insurance is also unlikely to cover you if you have to quarantine. However, insurance trade body the Association of British Insurers says you should ask your insurer directly to be certain, as some insurers may consider exemptions if you will be disproportionately affected, eg, if having to quarantine on your return will affect your employment.

Similarly, if an overseas destination moves from the green list to the amber or red lists in the new traffic light system, it's unlikely that you'll be able to claim a refund from travel firms or your travel insurer, as the change wouldn't impact the delivery of your holiday – only what happens when you get back. However, if your destination is reclassified, it's possible your travel provider may choose to cancel your booking itself – in the event this happens, the normal rules on cancellations would apply.

The Government has also said it will maintain a 'green watchlist' as part of the traffic light system to help identify countries most at risk of moving from green to amber, which could provide an added bit of certainty when booking – though it remains to be seen how this will work in practice, particularly as it's also said it "will not hesitate" to act immediately if a country's risk rating changes.

Quick questions

  • If you are quarantined during a trip abroad, you may incur extra costs, such as paying for more accommodation or booking new flights home.

    The first thing to do in this situation is to speak to your tour operator or the agent you booked your trip through to see if you can recover any extra costs.

    For any unrecoverable costs, you may be able to make a claim through your travel insurer if you have the right kind of policy. This situation will generally fall under 'disruption to travel', so check for this clause in your travel insurance documents – though in any case, it's worth speaking to your insurer directly to see if you're covered.

  • Some people will have medical risk factors that make coronavirus a more serious threat – for example, the NHS says older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease) are more likely to become seriously ill with the virus.

    If you're due to travel to an area which has a high volume of coronavirus cases but there's no Foreign Office warning at the time you travel, and you're worried about the heightened risk of the virus due to your age or underlying health conditions, speak to your insurer to discuss your options.

    The Association of British Insurers says that whether you'll be covered by your insurance depends on your specific policy and your situation. You may be asked to provide evidence of your pre-existing condition – a doctor's note, for example. Many insurers will make a decision on a case-by-case basis.

  • In general terms, don't expect a refund if you cancel in these circumstances. Unfortunately, if no warning is in place at the time that you're travelling, then airlines, tour operators and insurers won't usually offer a refund if you decide not to travel.

    Yet if you've booked a package holiday and were sold on the basis that you'd be able to visit a specific attraction and this was the main reason you booked the trip, you could argue that the attraction being closed counts as a "significant change" to your holiday under the Package Travel Regulations, and therefore ask for a refund.

    Check the documents and T&Cs from your travel provider to see whether you may be able to argue this. However, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) says it's unlikely that many packages would have been sold on this basis.

  • Many cruise lines have cancelled trips or altered their itineraries to avoid stopping at ports in affected areas.

    If you were due to travel on a cruise that has been cancelled, you'll generally receive a full refund – though check your cruise line's policy directly. If you have consequential losses, you can follow the steps above to try and recover them.

    If your cruise itinerary has been altered and you no longer want to travel as a result, your cruise line may let you cancel and get a refund or credit to spend on another cruise – again, you'll need to check directly to find out your options.

    If you can't get a refund this way and you had booked your cruise as part of a package holiday, you may have some protection under the Package Travel Regulations if you had a major alteration to your itinerary – though it's unlikely that changes to a couple of stops on a long cruise would count as "significant".

    The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) says if changes "are significant in relation to the overall trip", customers may be entitled to a refund.

    It said: "With cruises, there is the cruising element with the facilities and entertainment on board as well as ports of call, and all aspects of the trip must be considered in any decision about the significance of any changes to the itinerary."

Holidaying in the UK? Your refund rights

While the above sections on cancellations apply to both UK and overseas holidays, there are some specific extra points to consider with UK holidays – especially if you're still chasing a refund for a cancellation as a result of a previous lockdown.

If your holiday firm cancels your trip, you're likely due a full refund

As with overseas holidays, a key factor in whether you're owed a refund for a UK trip is whether your holiday firm has cancelled your booking. If yours does, then in simple terms you're likely due a full refund.

If you've booked a package holiday, then under the Package Travel Regulations you are entitled to get all your money back within two weeks of cancellation. But even if it's not a package, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says as a general rule firms MUST offer cash refunds for cancellations. So if your holiday or accommodation booking is cancelled, you're likely due a full refund and should ask for one if it's not offered.

  • If you do want to push for cash or you're struggling to get any refund, here's what we'd suggest, but there are no hard and fast rules:

    1) Insist on a refund in writing. Firms will naturally want to push you to accept a voucher or rebook your holiday, as it avoids them having to cough up. So make it clear, in writing, that you expect a refund. Sadly, pushy customers tend to be more successful than those who just leave it, though be firm and polite rather than rude and aggressive. It's also worth quoting what the CMA has said in cases about refunds in this situation.

    2) Try going to your card firm and asking it for a refund (ask for chargeback first, then try Section 75 if that doesn't work). Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, if you pay for something costing between £100 and £30,000 on a credit card, the card firm's equally liable if something goes wrong, so you may be able to claim your money back from it.

    Under chargeback, which isn't a legal requirement, just a customer service promise, your bank will try to get money back from the bank of the firm you bought from, and you can try it on debit card purchases and those which are less than £100. See our Section 75 and Chargeback guides for full info.

    As MSE founder Martin Lewis explains though, try chargeback first. Here, Martin explains why: "Even if you actually have a credit card and qualify for Section 75, I wouldn't ask for that at this stage. I would ask for a chargeback. That's because under the chargeback process, which is part of the Visa, Mastercard or Amex rules, your bank is asking for money back from the holiday firm's bank, which your bank is unlikely to have an issue doing.

    "If you claim under Section 75 though, then you are asking the credit card company itself to cover you, and while it may be legally obliged to do this, it is likely to be much more reticent to do it. So it's worth trying Section 75 only if chargeback fails. And with both, if you are rejected you have the right to go on to the free Financial Ombudsman, which can adjudicate."

    There's no guarantee this will work, but some who've struggled to get other travel refunds, eg, for Ryanair flights, have had joy this way. Do be aware that even once you're paid the money with chargeback, the firm can dispute it with the bank and the money may later be clawed back. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. See chargeback clawback help if it does.

    3) If you are prepared to play hardball, threaten court action. This is the route a very senior, and often litigious, lawyer told us he would take if it happened to him. This is about writing a formal note that you plan to file a county court claim if it doesn't pay a refund. Keep it short and sweet, with just the basic information about what's happened, and state a time (say, three weeks later) when you expect a response or you'll go ahead.

    Think carefully about whether you want to do this and how hard to push. Consumer lawyer Dean Dunham previously drafted two template letters for Sykes Cottages customers, and we saw some report that they'd successfully used them to get a refund. Of course, these should no longer be necessary for Sykes Cottages customers as it's now committed to provide full refunds, but they could give you a sense of what this type of letter could look like if you want to write to another firm. (Some details will be specific to Sykes, so should be treated as inspiration rather than as direct templates.) 

    4) File a county court claim online. This is following up on your promise to go to court – and again, it's what our senior lawyer says they'd do, but of course everyone is different. Essentially, it will hopefully go through the small claims route – a low-hassle online process for simple cases where you can represent yourself – though it will take some time, and it does depend on how good you are at this type of thing. This can be objected to by the other side though, and be pushed up to a district court, where you may need legal representation.

    There is a cost for doing this – it's £25 to £300, and it's refunded if you win. If you lose, there are no costs against you in the small claims court, but there may be if it goes up to a higher court (you'll know beforehand though and could drop the case then). See our Small Claims Court guide for full help.

    Let us know how you get on at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

Holiday not cancelled? Your refund rights depend on rules in place at the time of your trip

Things are more complex if your holiday is running and your accommodation is open but you're unable to go due to lockdown restrictions either at your holiday destination or in your local area. The key to your rights here is the legal status of the restrictions which are stopping you travelling:

If travel's illegal under coronavirus rules, you're likely due a full refund

The good news is in this situation the CMA says you should expect a full refund. Its guidance states that consumers should get their money back if they're not provided with a service due to lockdown laws, or can't access what they paid for "because, for example, lockdown laws in the UK or abroad have made it illegal to receive or use the goods or service". This would apply both to not being able to leave their area or to get to an area where the accommodation is based – and it will apply in the majority of cases due to current lockdown restrictions across different areas of the UK.

It's important to note however that CMA guidance isn't a definitive interpretation of the law, and this is a new scenario which hasn't been tested – so while you can direct your holiday accommodation provider to the guidance, complain to the CMA or even pursue legal action, there are no guarantees.

If travel's advised against but not illegal, your refund rights are less clear

If your trip is to or from a part of the UK where travel is advised against but is not illegal, things could be more complicated.

Unfortunately, in this situation you may find it more difficult to get your money back if you decide not to travel. The CMA's guidance says if the restrictions which prevent a service being used aren't legal restrictions, it's not clear whether a consumer would be entitled to a full refund.

This doesn't mean you're definitely not entitled to a refund. The CMA says if a consumer would be at serious risk if they went ahead with a contract (such as a holiday booking) against Government guidance, the contract could be deemed to have been "frustrated" – in which case you could be owed a full refund. But it's much murkier – and again, you need to remember these are untested situations and ultimately only a court can decide how the law applies in different scenarios.

The best bet is to speak to your holiday or accommodation provider and ask what it'll offer. You may be able to cancel under your usual terms and conditions, or ask for more flexibility such as a date change. If you can't come to an agreement you're both happy with, you'll need to weigh up how hard to push for a refund. You can try the steps we outline above, but there are no guarantees and you may be less likely to have success if your trip isn't technically forbidden by law.

If you're still allowed to travel but decide not to go, you've no automatic right to a refund

If you are still permitted to go on your holiday under official restrictions and guidance, it's important to understand you don't have any automatic right to a refund if you choose not to go.

If your holiday's still on or the hotel's still open, your refund rights will simply depend on the terms and conditions you agreed to when you booked. Of course, these may still let you cancel for free or move your trip, and some firms are also offering extra flexibility to all their customers at the moment due to coronavirus, so it's still worth checking what your options are.

What if I've booked a trip for multiple households?

If your holiday is to and from a permitted area, but would break the rules because the travellers are from multiple households, CMA guidance suggests you'd be owed a refund (though it's not completely clear-cut and there are no guarantees).

When we checked back in September, all the major UK firms we've spoken to said they would pay out – see more details in our Social gatherings of more than six banned – your refund rights MSE News story.

Travel insurance WON'T cover cancellations if travel rules change

We need to make one thing clear from the outset – going forward, travel insurance WON'T cover cancellations due to future UK or foreign government no-travel rules.

No mainstream policies we know of cover cancellations where coronavirus rules mean you can't travel, or where you need to quarantine on your return and can't go as a result. Nor will they cover you cancelling if the rules will let you go, but you don't feel safe.

This is because coronavirus became a "known event" in March 2020 and insurance is usually only there to protect from unexpected events.

So whether you need to cancel because you legally can't travel due to a local lockdown being reimposed, the Foreign Office has advised against travel to your intended destination, or the country itself won't let you in, the result is the same – you're very unlikely to be able to claim on your travel insurance.

However, there are still a couple of scenarios where your insurer may still offer some level of cover:

  • You or a family member get coronavirus before you're due to go. Some policies still cover coronavirus medically, and will pay out if you (or a family member or travelling companion) catch coronavirus and therefore can't go on holiday.

  • You booked both the holiday and the insurance before March 2020. If this is the case, your travel insurance should still cover you, as both were booked before the pandemic was deemed a known event. However, you will be expected to seek refunds from your airline or travel firm first.

It's important to note that other reasons you may need to cancel a holiday, such as bereavement, illness, accident or redundancy, for example, should still be covered as normal (provided you're not travelling against Foreign Office advice). And many of the other normal reasons to get travel insurance still apply.

So if you're booking trips for the future, get cover ASAB (as soon as you book) – see our Cheap Travel Insurance guide for help choosing a policy. All our current top picks cover you if you catch coronavirus on holiday and need medical help, and many cover cancellation if you can't go because you catch it in the days before your trip. We also have a few picks which let you add cover to travel against Foreign Office advice.

If you already have insurance but you're not sure what you're covered for, read your policy and ask your insurer. It should be able to advise you if you have a claim or not. If you're convinced you do, but it's turned down your claim or not treated you fairly, we've help in the questions below about what you can do.

Quick travel insurance questions

  • Under the NHS's Test and Trace system and the Covid-19 app, you may be told to stay at home (self-isolate) for 10 days.

    If you are told to do this, you'll be asked not to leave your home for any reason, and so, if you had travel booked during this period, you wouldn't be able to go.

    In that case, if you have a travel insurance policy that doesn't exclude coronavirus as a medical condition (this will be the case with most policies taken out before mid-March 2020, but double-check), then the Association of British Insurers says it expects insurers to pay out to cover the trip.

    But it adds that you may risk invalidating your policy cover if you travel despite being advised to self-isolate, because your policy may insist that you abide by Government advice.

    However, if you bought the policy more recently, then it's unlikely to pay out as self-isolation would be deemed to be related to coronavirus, and – as we say above – very few policies cover it.

  • You may be, but only if your trip(s) were booked before March 2020. If they were, it may be worth renewing your existing policy for the continuation of cover – though check first if your travel insurer will cover this scenario.

    However, city watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority has confirmed to us that if you had an annual policy before mid-March 2020 and renew with the same insurer after that, you SHOULD still be covered for coronavirus issues (as long as you were covered before you renew). All the insurers we've spoken to – including all those listed in the table below – have confirmed this. So if you're rejected, go to the Financial Ombudsman and argue the firm isn't following "standard industry practice".

    If you've now no future trips left that were planned before March 2020, then there's no gain from renewing your travel insurance.

  • If you are one of the many who had to postpone your 2020 holiday and rearrange it for 2021, you might find that you can still use your current travel insurance policy. To move the insurance dates, or extend your annual travel insurance policy, you will need get in touch with your insurer. But in short:

    • If you have a single trip policy, you may still be covered if you take the holiday within a year of the original travel date. For single-trip policies, the rearranged holiday would need to be within 365 days of the original departure date to do this.

    • Got an annual policy? You might be able to extend it by up to three months. There is some flexibility for annual travel insurance policies, with many insurers giving the option to suspend the policy for three months, or get an extra three months of cover. For example, if you moved your holiday to February next year, and your travel insurance policy ends December 2020, you might be able to extend it to March next year.

    • It won't cost you anything as long as your holiday is like-for-like, just at a different date. If your rearranged holiday is to a new destination seen as 'riskier', or for a longer trip, it is likely you will be asked to pay extra, eg, if you decide to swap your week in Spain for 10 days in South Africa.

    • Your cover stays the same except for the coronavirus cover. While your original travel insurance policy might have included cancellation cover if the Foreign Office advice was not to travel due to coronavirus, it is likely you will lose this cover for any extension period of an annual policy or a rearranged single-trip policy. But you should still be covered if you need to cancel because you or a family member is diagnosed with coronavirus before you go (many give this, but not all). Plus when you are on holiday, you will still have medical cover, including repatriation, if you need medical help abroad due to coronavirus.

      Everything else will stay the same – so, for instance, if you were to break your arm, be made redundant or suffer a bereavement before travel, your usual cover will remain in place.

    • You can ONLY move your policy if it's due to Foreign Office advice or travel disruptions (eg, local lockdown). If your holiday has been rearranged because you no longer want to go this year, it may not be possible to change the insurance dates (as it will be viewed as disinclination to travel), but it is always worth asking.

    • If you can't extend it, you might be able to get a refund instead. Many travel insurers are now offering pro-rata refunds to customers who've ruled out travelling due to coronavirus and want to cancel their policy. But you'll need to request a refund to get one – and should only do this if you're certain you no longer need the cover. Importantly, you can only do this if you haven't already made a claim on your policy. For more, see our Can I get a refund? section.

    Here is a table showing what some insurers will let you do if you need to move your holiday because your original holiday has been cancelled. If your insurer is not listed, and you have feedback to share, let us know.

    Which insurers will let you change your policy to your new travel dates?

      Single-trip policy Annual-trip policy
    AllClear Yes  Yes (1) 
    Axa Yes No
    Churchill Yes  No
    Cover4You Yes Yes (2)
    Coverwise Yes No
    Direct Line Yes No
    Insurefor.com Yes  Yes
    Leisure Guard (3) Yes Yes 
    LV Yes No 
    Saga
    Yes Yes
    Trailfinders Yes Yes 

    (1) If purchased from 1 Jan - 14 Jul 2020, a three-month extension is added. The extension will also apply for renewing customers up until 10 Aug 2020.
    (2) Three-month extension request ends 31 Jul 2020.

    (3) Applicable to Leisure Guard policies purchased before 18 Jun 2020.

  • Insurance is about unexpected eventualities. Within that there are the usual likely known eventualities, such as illness or lost luggage. Then there are the unknown eventualities, like Icelandic volcanoes or pandemics. Therefore, it is very difficult to predict whether insurers will pay out in different circumstances.

    Yet it's important to understand insurers are covered by the financial 'treating customers fairly' rules, which mean if you don't think it has been fair, you can make a formal complaint. After it replies, or after eight weeks if it doesn't, you can then go on to the free Financial Ombudsman to adjudicate.

    Eight weeks may be a long time in this case, so if your situation is really financially pressing, tell the ombudsman.

Tip Email

FREE Weekly MoneySaving email

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes simply sign up today - it’s spam free!