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Spain travel restrictions – your rights on refunds, insurance, quarantine pay and more

Spain travel restrictions – your rights on refunds, insurance, quarantine pay and more

Holidaymakers returning from Spain must self-isolate for 14 days after the Government reimposed quarantine rules aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus on 26 July. The Government's now also warning against all non-essential travel to Spain – including the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands – in a move which will affect 100,000s of Brits' summer holiday plans.

Travel to Spain had been reopened in July when the UK Government started lifting travel restrictions, and almost 1.8 million people were booked to fly from the UK to Spain before the end of August, according to analysis by travel consultancy The PC Agency. But now, amid concern over rising rates of infection in Spain, new restrictions have been put in place:

  • Travellers arriving from Spain must quarantine for two weeks. This includes returning British holidaymakers, and applies from Sunday 26 July onwards to those arriving in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland from any part of Spain, including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, such as Mallorca and Ibiza. Under the quarantine rules, arrivals must self-isolate in their home or accommodation for 14 days – for more on how it works, see what the rules are on quarantining below.

  • The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now warning against all non-essential travel to ALL PARTS of Spain. This announcement has come in two parts. From Sunday 26 July, the FCO warned against non-essential travel to mainland Spain, but on Monday 27 July, this was extended to include the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands – so the warning now applies to the whole of Spain.

  • Brits already in Spain AREN'T being told to leave early. So there's no need to come home immediately.

While this guide is about travel to Spain, it also details what would likely happen if restrictions were placed on other countries too. For full help, see our Coronavirus Travel RightsLuxembourg added to UK travel exclusion list – your rights, and Top 15+ holiday destinations from the UK – which can you travel to hassle-free? guides.

Video: Martin's quick analysis

Here's MSE founder Martin Lewis's analysis of the situation, recorded in the wake of the announcement – though since this was filmed, the FCO warning has since been extended to the Balearic and Canary Islands, so the guidance for those destinations has changed. PS: Martin mentions that he'll be dotting the Is and crossing the Ts in due course – well, that's what this guide is for (though he was pretty much spot on).

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I'm in Spain at the moment – what do I need to do?

If you're already travelling in Spain then there's no need to come home immediately.

The Foreign Office says: "Travellers should follow the advice of the local authorities on how best to protect themselves and others, including any measures that they bring in to control the virus. If you are returning from Spain (including from the Balearics and Canaries) you will be required to quarantine on your return to the UK, but the FCO is not advising you to cut short your visit."

Don't worry about your travel insurance either. The Association of British Insurers says if you were already in Spain when the FCO advice changed, your insurance is likely to continue to cover you until you've returned home.

Given the Government is not advising people to cut short their visit, it is unlikely that your travel insurance would cover you if you choose to rebook new flights to go home early – though if you really want to do this, try speaking to your insurer, explaining your circumstances and why you need to go home early and see if it'll help you on a case-by-case basis.

Be aware though that some airlines appear to be asking customers to return earlier than planned. Jet2 has been contacting some customers in Spain to ask them to return to the UK earlier than planned or risk having to make their own way home.

A spokesperson for the airline said: "We are contacting customers who are currently in these destinations to advise them of their options regarding flying back to the UK.

"We appreciate that some of our package holiday customers were due to stay on holiday for longer than this and we apologise for any inconvenience caused. It is important to note that we are responding to a very fast-moving situation with updates coming from the Government with little or no notice, and we have had to make decisions about our programme accordingly.

"We can assure these customers that we will be in touch with them to resolve any issues that they may have."

I had a trip booked but it's been cancelled – what are my rights?

A number of big travel firms including Tui and Jet2 Holidays have been cancelling trips to Spain in the wake of the new restrictions, though many flights are still running (see which airlines and travel firms are cancelling trips below). The good news is if your flight or package holiday is cancelled by a travel firm, it has to refund you in full by law:

  • Under the Package Travel Regulations if a package holiday's cancelled, you're due a full refund within 14 days. Though right now, it's often taking longer and getting a full refund during the pandemic has not always proved easy (for more help, see cancelled package holiday refunds).

  • If you have a flight and it's cancelled, then under EU flight delay rules you're due a full refund within seven days. Though again, right now there are delays to refunds and some have struggled to get them (for more help, see cancelled flight refunds).

Hotel stays booked directly are unlikely to be cancelled. If they are, there's no specific regulation governing these like there is with package travel and flights. You'd likely be owed a refund, but it would depend on local law.

I've a trip booked and it's NOT been cancelled – what are my rights?

Here the answer depends on what kind of trip you have booked:
 
  • With package holidays, under the Package Travel Regulations you SHOULD be able to get a refund within 14 days even if the trip's not been cancelled.

    The rules state if "unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances" occur which "significantly affect the performance of the package", you're due a full refund if YOU cancel. And while they don't specifically state that an FCO warning would count as one of these circumstances – though they do give as an example "the outbreak of a serious disease at the travel destination" – in practice travel trade body ABTA says firms MUST refund you if the FCO warns against travel and you can't be given a holiday without "significant change".

    So you should be able to get a full refund, but always check first with the firm before you cancel, as we're hearing that some firms are refusing to refund customers. For example, On the Beach is saying that if the flight part of a package isn't cancelled by the airline, it won't refund that portion of the booking.

    If this happens to you and the firm is an ABTA member, you should report it here.

  • With other bookings (eg, flights), unfortunately these rules don't apply. If your flight hasn't been cancelled and is still running, then unfortunately you won't be owed a refund, even though the Foreign Office is warning against non-essential travel.

    In this situation you MAY be able to claim on travel insurance, but it'll depend on your policy, when you bought it and when you booked. See more on travel insurance claims below.

    Failing that, it's worth checking what your firm will offer you. Many airlines will let you rebook or offer a refund credit note, which may be worth taking if it's your best option – see what flexibility some of the big firms are offering below. In some cases, sadly it's possible that you may be left out of pocket. What the news about Spain has confirmed is that, unfortunately, at the moment overseas travel isn't financially risk-free.

I've a future trip booked but it's a way off – what should I do?

If you've a trip to Spain booked but it's not leaving in the next few weeks, then you may be best off waiting to see what happens.

Don't cancel your trip yourself. That means you have no rights to a refund in most cases. It is far better for the airline or travel firm to cancel the trip – then you have more rights. It's worth noting the big package holiday companies have so far only cancelled trips until early or mid-August. As this is a fast-moving situation, it's hard to say what will happen beyond that. It is possible that the FCO guidance and quarantine rules could change again, in which case your trip could be back on.

However, it's worth checking now exactly what your rights would be if the worst were to happen. In particular, if you're asked to make further payments towards a future holiday, weigh up carefully what the risks are and whether it's worth doing so. See our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide for more help.

Some firms are allowing holidaymakers to cancel even if the trip is a way in advance. For example, Tui is allowing customers who are booked to travel to mainland Spain before 1 September or the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands before 17 August to cancel and receive a full refund.

Which airlines and travel firms are cancelling trips – and what flexibility are they offering if not?

Here's a brief rundown of what some major firms have told us they're doing:

  • Some package holidays are being cancelled, but others are going ahead. While Jet2 and Tui have cancelled trips to mainland Spain, others are still running.

Is my firm cancelling holidays, and what flexibility is it offering if not?

Company What's it doing?
First Choice Hols to mainland Spain – those due to depart until 16 Aug are cancelled.
Hols to Balearic and Canary Islands – those due to depart until 9 Aug are cancelled.
Hays Travel Says it depends on the holiday – contacting customers individually
Jet2 Holidays Hols to mainland Spain departing until 16 Aug, and to Balearic and Canary Islands departing until 9 Aug, cancelled. For later hols, it'll update customers after further Govt guidance
Kuoni Not cancelling all hols – but if you don't want to travel, you can get a refund or rebook
On the Beach Not cancelling all hols - says customers can cancel and receive a full refund, unless a flight which is still operating is part of their package. If this is the case, they can cancel and receive a refund, minus the flight part of their booking.
Saga Yet to resume any holidays anyway
Tui Hols to mainland Spain – those due to depart until 16 Aug are cancelled.
Hols to Balearic and Canary Islands – those due to depart until 9 Aug are cancelled.
  • Many airlines AREN'T cancelling all flights. Some are continuing to fly – though even if so, the frequency of flights may be reduced and some individual flights may be cancelled as a result of the pandemic generally. Here's what some of the big ones have told us they're doing – and what flexibility they're offering:

Is my airline cancelling flights, and what flexibility is it offering if not?

Airline What's it doing?
British Airways Not cancelling all flights – but if you don't want to fly, you can get a voucher for value of your booking (this applies to flights departing until 30 Sep 2020 if you booked before 3 Mar 2020, or until 30 Apr 2021 if booked since)
Easyjet Not cancelling all flights – if you don't want to fly, you can transfer flights with no change fee or get a voucher for the value of the booking
Iberia Waiting to hear back
Jet2 Flights to mainland Spain departing until 16 Aug, and to Balearic and Canary Islands departing until 9 Aug, cancelled. For later flights, it'll update customers once further Govt guidance is released
Ryanair Not cancelling all flights. No flight change fee for new bookings made after 10 Jun for Jul/Aug flights, and after 17 Jul for Sep flights
Vueling Waiting to hear back
Wizz Air Waiting to hear back
  • Direct hotel bookings are unlikely to be cancelled. If you have a hotel stay booked that's not part of a package, it's unlikely to be cancelled. So the hotel won't be obliged to refund you, but it may still be worth contacting it to see if it'll let you move your booking.

  • Many car hire firms allow free cancellation. Many car hire firms allow you to cancel your booking free of charge. With Goldcar for example, there are no cancellation costs 24 hours before the collection of the vehicle, while with Europcar, customers can cancel reservations free of charge up to 48 hours before the check-out start date and time. However, with others it's different. Hertz for example charges fees for changes or cancellations made more than two days after booking.

Can I claim on travel insurance?

The Foreign Office now warns against travel to the whole of Spain, which is usually the key trigger for you to be able to claim on your insurance.

Yet this is not a normal time. While there are exceptions and you should check with your insurer, in general:

  • If your travel insurance and holiday were booked pre-pandemic (roughly mid-March), you ARE likely to be covered.
  • If your holiday was booked pre-pandemic and you renewed existing annual cover with the same firm since, you ARE likely to be covered.
  • If you either booked the holiday or got new travel insurance since the pandemic began, you are NOT likely to be covered. The only mainstream exception we know of is via Nationwide FlexPlus.

I still want to travel to Spain – can I?

If your travel provider is still running trips, theoretically you can still travel. But be extremely wary of doing so. Most travel insurance won't cover you if you go to Spain when the FCO is advising against non-essential travel there. That means if something goes wrong while you're away, even if it's unrelated to coronavirus, eg, you have an accident, you won't be protected.

Remember too that the FCO has advised against travel to Spain with good reason. Cases of coronavirus are generally rising there and the Government has decided that it's riskier to go there than to go to many other countries. We don't think it is advisable to travel when the FCO says you shouldn't.

However, some have said they are determined to travel anyway – if that's the case, then you should at the very least make sure you take a valid EHIC and check you have travel insurance, which will continue to give you at least some protection.

When we checked with insurers earlier this year, there were a handful who told us that you MIGHT be covered by their travel insurance if you travelled in this scenario, so there may be some exceptions. But it may be safer to take out a policy with a provider which specifically offers protection in this scenario. One example we've seen is Battleface (though we've not looked at it in detail, so you'll need to check what's covered). You could also look for a specialist broker via the British Insurance Brokers' Association website – search for "Travel: High Risk Areas".

What are the rules on quarantining on return from Spain?

If you arrive in England from Spain, you will not be allowed to leave the place where you're staying for the first 14 days, and if you do not self-isolate, you can be fined £1,000 (the rules are similar but with slightly different specifics in ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland).

You should not have visitors, including friends and family, unless they are providing essential care, and you cannot go out to work or school or visit public areas. You should not go shopping and you must only exercise within your home or garden.

Those you share a home with will not have to self-isolate unless they travelled with you, but the Government says you should avoid contact with them as much as possible.

What are my rights with work if I have to quarantine – will I still get paid if I can't go in?

For many, being required to self-isolate for two weeks on return to the UK will be a huge issue – especially for those who are already in Spain and about to return, and weren't warned of any quarantine when they first went on holiday. Unfortunately, your rights in this situation are not clear-cut.

The official line from the Government is that you aren't entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) if you have to quarantine after returning to the UK. So you may have to rely on the goodwill of your employer if you cannot work while quarantining.

Speak to your employer as soon as you can to work out what's possible. If you can work from home, that may be one solution – alternatively, you may be able to take extra holiday, or some employers may agree to pay you sick pay.

We asked the Government for exactly what your rights are in this situation, and a spokesperson said: "We urge employers to show flexibility to employees who will have to self-isolate due to the changes to quarantine rules. No employee should be penalised for following the rules and self-isolating."

They also added that should an employee be dismissed for quarantining, they may be able to take their employer to a tribunal to rule on whether the dismissal was fair. In determining whether a dismissal is fair, a tribunal will take account of the entirety of the situation – this could include whether the employee was legally required to quarantine following a return from holiday, along with any other relevant factors relating to their absence.

They said that if an employee cannot do their job from home, they could request extra annual leave to cover the 14 days of self-isolation, and if their annual leave request is refused, their employer may agree to let them take unpaid leave.

Sadly, you're unlikely to be covered for any loss of earnings through your travel insurance – the Association of British Insurers says this isn't something travel insurance is designed to cover.

What does the Government say?

A Government spokesperson said: "The Joint Biosecurity Centre together with Public Health England have updated their coronavirus assessments of Spain based on the latest data.

"As a result, Spain has been removed from the lists of countries from which passengers arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are exempted from the need to self-isolate.

"Protecting public health is our absolute priority and we have taken this decision to limit any potential spread to the UK. We've always been clear that we would act immediately to remove a country where necessary.

"Both our list of quarantine exemptions and the FCO travel advice are being updated to reflect these latest risk assessments."

Additional reporting by PA Media.