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Loveholidays and On the Beach quit trade body ABTA so they can avoid paying refunds in full

Loveholidays and On the Beach quit trade body ABTA so they can avoid paying refunds in full

Loveholidays has followed fellow package travel firm On the Beach in resigning from the trade body ABTA, in a move to avoid paying full refunds to some customers hit by coronavirus cancellations.

The move could make it harder for some who are chasing a refund

In many cases, the decision by Loveholidays and On the Beach to leave ABTA will have no impact on your ability to get a refund for a cancelled holiday. Your rights to a refund for a cancelled holiday are determined by the Package Travel Regulations, which apply whether or not you bought the holiday from an ABTA member. For full details, see our step-by-step help below.

However, there is one specific situation where the firms leaving ABTA may have an impact – if you are chasing a refund for a package holiday which you cancelled because the Foreign Office had advised against non-essential travel to your destination, eg, Spain, yet the firm itself had not cancelled the holiday. Here's what you need to know if you're in that position:

  • Usually in this situation, you should expect a full refund from travel firms. The Package Travel Regulations state that if "unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances" occur which "significantly affect the performance of the package", you're due a full refund even if you cancel. Yet there's a lack of clarity here, as the regulations don't specifically say a Foreign Office warning would count as one of these circumstances – and Loveholidays and On the Beach say that if flights are still operating, they WON'T necessarily refund the flight part of the package.

  • ABTA has explicitly said it expects its members to fully refund customers in this situation. For example, if the Foreign Office warned against travel and they couldn't be given a holiday without "significant change". However, now Loveholidays and On the Beach have left the trade body, ABTA says it cannot enforce this and you can no longer complain to it.

  • If you are in this situation, don't give up. You may still be able to get a full refund, though you may have to fight for it. In our view, if you booked when they were ABTA members those rules should still apply, so you may be able to argue your case, or else try your card firm or insurer. See full details of what to try below.
  • If you believe you're owed a refund for a cancelled trip, here's what to try – though if you've already requested a refund and are in dispute, you can skip through the first couple of steps:

    1) Consider first if you're happy with a credit note instead of a cash refund, as some are now Government-backed. With many travel firms struggling, as a rule we always say it's worth considering whether you're in a position to show forbearance at a tough time.

    If you are willing to consider a refund credit note instead of a full refund, it's worth noting the Government has said it will protect all those issued between 10 March and 30 September 2020 for ATOL-protected bookings, meaning you WILL get a cash refund if you opt for a refund credit note but the firm were to go bust before you can spend it. See refund credit note protection for full info.

    You can try requesting a credit note through the 'Manage my Booking' function on both firms' websites.

    2) If you want a refund, request one online first – otherwise, call. It may be easier to try requesting a refund online through the 'Manage my Booking' function on each site, to avoid long wait times on the phone.

    If you do need to use the phone lines, you can contact On the Beach on 0871 474 3000 and Loveholidays on 01903 258288.

    3) Not heard back, or been paid the full refund you're owed? Make an official complaint. Technically, if you're owed a refund you should get it within 14 days, though many firms are struggling to meet this at the moment and it may take longer. If you're unhappy with how your request has been cancelled – or if you've only been paid a partial refund and you believe you're owed it in full – you can submit an official complaint to Love Holidays in the 'Manage my Booking' section of its site, or On the Beach via the 'Manage my Booking' section of its site.

    If you've been affected by the partial refund issue following a Foreign Office warning, you could argue here that the firm was signed up to ABTA when you booked with it and therefore morally should still follow ABTA's guidance.

    4) Check if your travel insurer will cover you – especially if a Foreign Office warning is in place. If you're struggling to get a refund and have travel insurance, it's worth speaking to your insurer.

    Normally insurers insist that if you're owed a refund by a travel firm, you must go to it for your money back. Yet it's worth checking, particularly if you're chasing a refund for a holiday you cancelled due to a Foreign Office warning. You could argue that as the travel firms believe they're not required to issue a full refund under the Package Travel Regulations, your insurer should cover you.

    Of course, whether your insurance will cover you at all in this scenario depends on a number of factors, including what policy you have, when you bought it and when you booked your trip. See I've bought travel insurance – am I covered? for more help.

    5) Still struggling to get paid or can't wait any longer for the cash? Submit a chargeback or Section 75 claim – though watch out for clawback. If you're still struggling to get a refund and paid for your flight or holiday using a debit or credit card, you can also try disputing it using the chargeback scheme. This is where your bank tries to get money back from the firm's bank, though remember this is a customer service promise rather than a legal requirement.

    Bear in mind that even once you're paid the money, the firm can dispute it with the bank, and the money may later be clawed back – we have seen some reports of this happening recently, particularly with Loveholidays disputing chargeback claims. Loveholidays says it's "reviewing the appropriate response to chargebacks" and will only dispute chargeback claims "where there are valid grounds to do so". If this happens, you can fight it – see chargeback clawback for full help.

    So while there are no guarantees, and there is a risk of the money being clawed back, if you've exhausted other avenues and can't wait longer, it could be worth a try. Bear in mind you'll need to make a chargeback claim within 120 days of the scheduled date of your cancelled flight or holiday.

    If you paid for a flight or holiday costing over £100 using a credit card, you could also have extra legal protection through Section 75, which makes your card firm equally liable when something goes wrong – and these refunds can't be clawed back by the holiday firm, as they're paid for by the card firm.

    6) Your absolute last resort would be to go to court – though weigh up carefully if it's worth it. In some cases with other firms, sending a 'letter before action' (essentially a formal note warning you'll take court action if the problem isn't resolved) has been enough to spur firms on to refund you more quickly. We've seen successes from people using this method to get refunds from other firms.

    But we've not seen evidence that Loveholidays and On the Beach are reacting to formal notices in the same way, so you may need to weigh up very carefully if you want to follow through with your threat and file a county court claim.

    If you really want to do this, you may be able to do it through the small claims route – see more in our Small Claims Court guide. There is a cost of £25 to £300, which is 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). And of course, it's worth considering the hassle factor as well as the potential costs.

    Let us know how you've got on with chasing a refund at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

Future holiday booked? You'll still have ATOL or ABTA protection

We've heard from several MoneySavers who have bought or are in the process of paying for future holidays with Loveholidays or On the Beach, and are concerned that the firms leaving ABTA means they no longer have financial protection. Here are the key need-to-knows:

  • If your package holiday is ATOL-protected, you get the same financial protection you would with ABTA anyway. For example, if the firm were to collapse you'd be able to complete your holiday if it had started or, if it hadn't, get a full refund. If your package includes a flight, it'll be ATOL-protected and you should have received an ATOL certificate – see more on ATOL protection.

  • However, ABTA financial protection is key if your holiday doesn't involve a flight. If you're in this situation, the good news is ABTA says if you booked with On the Beach or Loveholidays before they quit the body, your booking WILL continue to be protected financially – so you'll be covered if either firm were to collapse. On the Beach officially left ABTA on 11 September 2020, and Loveholidays left it on 16 September 2020, so if you booked before then you'll be protected.

    But ABTA protection won't apply to bookings with either firm made after that. Though under the Package Travel Regulations, you should still have some form of financial protection even if it isn't with ABTA – check when you book.

Booking with an ABTA member offers some extra support

ABTA – formerly the Association of British Travel Agents – is a trade body with a membership of more than 4,000 businesses. UK travel firms don't have to be members, but those that are offer their customers some additional support.

ABTA members must abide by its rules, and commitments to customers. This is governed by the ABTA Code of Conduct, which covers areas such as accurate advertising, fair terms of trading, changes to bookings and managing customer complaints.

What do On the Beach and Love Holidays say?

An On the Beach spokesperson said: "Following an extended period of discussion, we were unable to align with ABTA's position on blanket full refunds in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, we disagreed with ABTA's stance on refund credit notes. On the Beach has been providing customers with cash refunds, not refund credit notes, since March.

"Our resignation does not leave customers unprotected if they cancel their holiday, nor does it mean that our customers are never entitled to a full refund. All package holidays are protected by ATOL and the Package Travel Regulations, and we have a process in place to assess all cancellation requests on a case-by-case basis to establish to what extent their holiday is impacted by Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice, with refunds processed accordingly.

"We've been very vocal about the challenge we have in refunding our customers with the flight portion of their holiday. While airlines continue to fly to holiday destinations despite FCDO advice, they do not provide us, other travel companies like us, and direct customers with refunds. We are often therefore not in a position to pass flight refunds on to customers."

A Loveholidays spokesperson said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for holidaymakers, which have been exacerbated by frequent changes in travel guidance issued by the UK Government. The current package travel legislation was never designed to deal with disruption on the scale we have seen since March 2020.

"Unfortunately, as a result of our divergent views on the legal position regarding cancellations and refunds, we have decided that it is no longer possible for Loveholidays to remain a member of ABTA. We would like to reassure all our customers that package holidays booked with Loveholidays remain financially protected by the 'gold standard' Air Travel Organiser's Licence (ATOL) scheme.

"We believe the priority for everyone in the travel industry should be to come up with a workable, fair solution to help holidaymakers get their money back as quickly as possible. Speeding up the refund process for airlines must be a key part of this solution, and we urge the entire industry to focus on working together to make this possible."