Coronavirus Travel Rights
23 April 2021
Your holiday's booked, you're counting down the days. But what happens if something goes wrong? Here we have your key rights covered, from ATOL and ABTA to when to get insurance and what to do if you need to cancel.
Most only find out their rights when something goes wrong. But if you know at the outset, before you book, you could save yourself hassle later down the line.
Booking a package holiday usually ensures you have the most protection if something goes wrong (eg, the travel firm goes bust). The rules on what counts as a package holiday changed in 2018 – here's how protection works for traditional packages and DIY packages (where you buy flights/hotel/car hire from the same website, travel shop or call centre) booked since 1 July 2018:
This includes financial protection (so you're entitled to a refund or to be brought home if necessary if the firm organising your package goes bust) AND legal protection (so you're covered if you don't get the holiday you paid for, eg, your hotel is overbooked or promised facilities are missing).
For years, only holidays from travel agents sold in one go as a ready-made package were protected. But with the rise of online bookings, this has been gradually extended – and since July 2018, you're fully protected if you create a package by selecting elements separately via the same website (or shop or call centre) and then buy them in the SAME transaction.
Under the new rules, this is what's technically known as a 'linked travel arrangement' – it applies if you buy the different elements separately in multiple transactions, but in the same visit to a website or shop, or in the same telephone call (eg, if you book and pay for a flight, then go on to book a hotel on the same site).
So if you book another kind of DIY package, or the different elements of your holiday with different providers, you won't be covered.
Crucially, ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents) says this means a few now get LESS protection than they used to – until July 2018, DIY packages booked from the same site within 24 hours gave you ATOL protection, but unless you book in the same website visit that now isn't the case.
The rules defining exactly what kind of holiday you have for protection purposes are pretty complicated and there are some fiddly exceptions to the rules above, so unless you're 100% sure, ask.
Travel firms are now required to tell you upfront if you're buying a 'package holiday' or 'linked travel arrangement' – so if in doubt, check before you buy.
If you booked your holiday before 1 July 2018, the previous protection rules – last given a major update in 2012 – apply. Again, the protection you get depends on the kind of holiday you booked.
While all package holidays are protected, the way that protection is provided varies:
If your flights, hotel or package holiday cost over £100, pay by credit card to nab extra protection if you book direct with the airline, hotel etc.
This is because when the transaction's over £100, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act means the card company's equally liable with the retailer/supplier if something goes wrong – see our Section 75 guide for full info.
So say the airline goes bust and you've booked directly with it, you can at least get your money back from the card company.
When Lowcostholidays went under, this is how many people got their money back, as it didn't have ATOL protection.
If you pay on credit card, always pay it off in full at the end of the month so you're not charged interest. For full info including more detail on the exceptions, see our Section 75 guide.
... here's when:
If you pay using a debit card you may be able to claim on the chargeback scheme, where your bank or card firm gets your cash back from the retailer's bank if something goes wrong. This is not a legal requirement, it's a customer service promise. But it's worth trying – see below.
You may be covered by ATOL/ABTA if it's a holiday, but for individual flight or hotel-only bookings via a travel agent or flight broker, you may not be covered by Section 75.
This is because you have no direct relationship with the supplier – ie, the airline – which is required for it to kick in; instead, your relationship is with the travel agent.
To break it down further, there are up to three layers when it comes to a flight booking – a comparison site such as Skyscanner, online flight brokers such as Expedia, and the airline. Of those, you can only book with a travel agent or the airline directly.
Obviously it's the airline that runs the flight – but online travel agents are the ones that tend to sell cheaper flights, so many choose to book with them. For more on this, see MSE Nick's blog on booking via third parties.
That said, flights and accommodation or car hire booked from the same company within 24 hours are covered by ATOL, even if not part of a formal package.
Many non-EU countries specify visa requirements. Some countries offer them on arrival, others require them in advance – sometimes a costly and lengthy process, sometimes relatively quick and cheap as with ESTA, the US Visa Waiver Program.
Besides keeping yourself out of harm's way, it's also important to check if your destination is considered safe to ensure your holiday is covered. Many travel insurance providers will refuse to pay out for issues – including cancellations – at destinations declared unsafe to visit.
To check entry requirements, destination safety and other information, refer to the Government's foreign travel advice.
If you've paid but don't have insurance, and you need to cancel because you fall ill or suffer a bereavement, you won't be covered.
Insurance won't just cover you while you're away – it'll also cover you for cancellation or anything else that might go wrong BEFORE you make your trip.
With annual policies, you can choose the start date so ensure they begin as soon as possible, not the day you travel. Also ensure that cover is continuous if you switch annual cover, so the new policy starts as soon as the old one ends. Our Cheap Travel Insurance guide has full details.
A Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) and European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) give you treatment at state-run EU hospitals and GPs at the same cost as a local.
If you already have an EHIC, it will continue to cover you in EU countries for the entire time it's valid, so you MUST check it's still in-date as they expire after five years.
If you need to renew, or apply for the first time, you'll receive a GHIC instead – but it does the same thing. For full help, including how to get one for FREE (never pay), see our Free GHIC or EHIC guide.
It might be the airline, hotel, tour operator or travel agent. Whichever has gone bust, don't panic, as there may be a way out. What you do and what you're entitled to depends on the type of holiday you've booked, whether you've booked it with a UK-registered agent or operator and what it includes (for example, air travel or not). We've full help depending on your holiday type below.
Before we get into it, we've focused on protection via Government schemes, via the travel industry or from your card firm or travel insurer. In theory, if a firm goes bust, administrators are appointed to split whatever cash is left among those it owes money to, such as customers. However, in reality customers are so far down the pecking order they rarely get anything back.
If you've booked a package including a flight with a UK-registered firm, you should be covered by ATOL. Double-check that's the case. If it is, the step-by-step help below is for you. If it's not, you'll need to see the other options.
If you're covered, you should have an ATOL certificate, usually attached via email or posted with your booking, and you should see the logo above on it. It details what is protected – for example, 'package holiday to Cancun for 14 nights'.
ATOL ensures you don't lose out financially if a travel firm you've booked with goes bust. This could mean refunding the holiday's cost, or reimbursing you for alternative arrangements you had to make if you were away at the time.
A hotel or airline going bust doesn't always result in a ruined holiday.
If the airline, hotel, hire firms or other service provider has gone bust... then the tour operator – if you've used one – should find you an alternative flight/room/etc or give you a full refund for the holiday.
But even if all seems OK, check with ATOL in case it has any additional information.
If you booked via a travel agent and there is no tour operator then check with your agent what is happening – under travel agent protection, it should ensure you can continue your holiday as planned (just with a different flight/room/etc) or get a refund.
If the tour operator has gone bust, check with ATOL. See its list of failed providers which should include what to do, as your firm should be on there.
It may be able to find another operator to take over your trip if elements such as your hotel haven't been paid, but this is rare and not guaranteed.
It may be that flights and hotels are still valid so check directly with the airline and accommodation to be safe. Then...
Bear in mind though that while ATOL protection may mean you get a refund for your flight and/or package holiday, it won't cover other elements booked separately that you can't use if your holiday is off – for example, if you've booked separate hotels or car hire. See our section below on consequential loss for what to do in this scenario.
Also check your travel insurance policy to see if you can claim through that, or if those elements are refundable anyway.
Note, sometimes ATOL agrees with credit card firms that they'll pay out instead of you being able to claim under the travel protection scheme. If this affects you, you should be told about what to do.
There's no need to panic – the rest of your holiday may be valid, otherwise there'll be cover in place so you don't lose out.
Step 1: Check if your hotel and flight home are still valid with whichever firm is still trading – this could be with a holiday rep at your hotel. If there's a trading tour operator, start there. If not, try the hotel or airline. If you're lucky everything may still be OK, eg, you're moved to another flight by the tour operator. ATOL should arrange payment so you shouldn't have to do anything.
Step 2: If the tour operator has gone bust, check with ATOL. It'll tell you if it's managed to find another tour operator to take over, if any element is likely to be valid (though you could check directly) or if it has found a replacement flight/hotel/etc.
Step 3: If it's not sorted, claim via the ATOL website. When a company goes under, ATOL puts full details of what to do and how to claim, including a claim form, in its list of failed providers. It includes how to fill out the claim form and the documents you'll need to go with it (eg, receipts).
Note, sometimes ATOL agrees with credit card firms that they'll pay out instead of you being able to claim under the travel protection scheme. If this affects you, you'll be told in the guidance attached to the claim forms and you'll need to make a claim to your credit card provider directly. There should be template letters to help though.
Step 4: Keep all your receipts – you'll be reimbursed up to the cost of the original booking. You can claim back any costs you've incurred to replace the elements of your holiday that have fallen through, if you have to sort them – for example, if you need to buy new plane tickets home.
If you've booked a holiday without air travel – a cruise, train or self-drive break – look for ABTA (see the logo, right) or other travel association protection. ABTA isn't the only travel association, but it is the biggest. If you buy a holiday through one of its members, you'll be protected if the firm goes bust – much in the same way as you are with ATOL.
Step 1: Check your booking, if still in the UK. Check with the tour operator first if you used one – if it's still trading. If an element of your trip has gone bust such as the airline, the tour operator should sort it out for you. If the tour operator itself has gone bust, the holiday will likely be cancelled and you'll need to claim via the travel association.
Step 2: If you're already away and something goes wrong, ABTA should look after you. Whether it's the hotel or airline, ABTA should arrange a replacement. You shouldn't need to buy anything, though in the rare occasions that you need to buy new tickets to get home, for example, ensure you keep receipts and full details of what you pay.
Step 3: If required, submit a claim through the ABTA website. Fill in the claim form and submit it via the ABTA website. Make sure you have your booking documents to go with your claim, and any details you think might be relevant.
A limited number of airlines may offer ATOL protection, usually because they sell holidays too. However, most flight-only bookings are usually excluded. So your options come down to how you pay.
If your booking cost £100 or more and you booked directly with the airline or hotel (even if you put just 1p of it on a credit card), under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, credit card firms are jointly liable with retailers if something goes wrong – such as a firm going bust – meaning you may be able to get a refund from the card provider.
To help, you can use our template letter to file a claim with your credit card provider – our Section 75 guide has full details.
While Section 75 is more powerful, Visa, Mastercard and Amex credit cards also have 'chargeback' protection (explained below). It may be worth using chargeback to claim as well, as some banks let you do both. If you want to do this, check with your bank to see if it'll let you.
Here, Section 75 doesn't apply, but you may be able to claim on the chargeback scheme, where your bank or card firm gets your cash back from the retailer's bank if something goes wrong. This is not a legal requirement, it's a customer service promise, but worth trying.
If you paid using a Visa or Amex card you must claim within 120 days of becoming aware your booking (or parts of it) won't be provided.
If you paid on a Mastercard, the deadline for making a claim is 120 days after the date the holiday was due to start.
You're covered by its buyer protection scheme, but only if you raise a dispute within 180 days of paying.
Sadly, there's little you can do using any of the protections mentioned above.
It's worth checking if you're able to make a claim on your travel insurance. But unless you bought a 'company failure' add-on, you may not be covered. If you can claim, make sure you keep hold of any receipts and paperwork to speed up the process.
A significant event such as these can lead the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to warn against all but essential travel to affected areas or leave you unable to travel due to grounded flights or other transport.
Often airlines or transport companies offer refunds or alternative arrangements to passengers when major events occur.
Where the flight departed from a UK/EU airport regardless of the airline OR where a UK/EU airline landed at a UK/EU airport, you're entitled to the following (EU airports include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland):
If flights are cancelled: Airlines must give you a full refund of any unused ticket or offer suitable alternative flights. For full details of how to claim and your rights, see Flight Cancellations.
If flights are delayed: You're only entitled to compensation if the delay was caused by something within the airline's control. Extraordinary circumstances aren't covered, and airlines may well classify severe weather conditions as an extraordinary circumstance.
You can still try asking the airline if it'll compensate you – and if it turns you down and you disagree with the decision, you can challenge it. Guidelines state that the airline must prove there were extraordinary circumstances and it took all reasonable steps to avoid them.
If your departure is delayed by over five hours, you can choose not to travel on the delayed flight and get a refund for that trip and for later flights on the same ticket. For full details on your rights, see our Flight Delays guide.
You won't be covered by UK/EU rules. However, most airlines base their terms on recommendations from the International Air Transport Association. This means that in the event of a delay, you're usually offered a choice between a later flight, mutually agreed alternative transportation or a refund.
There may be a way to get compensation if similar schemes exist, eg, in New Zealand, under the Civil Aviation Act, airlines are liable for 'damage caused by delay'. Alternatively, you could make a complaint to the airline or be entitled to compensation under your travel insurance policy. Insurance policies vary though so check – it's not guaranteed and often where it is available, it's limited. See more on the flight delay rules.
When major incidents happen, tour operators often step in to help those travelling or those due to travel so your first port of call should be to contact the operator.
For example, in 2010 when an Icelandic volcano erupted and its ash cloud caused flight delays and cancellations, those with package holiday bookings were offered alternative transport whether abroad or in the UK, or even an alternative holiday. If not, they got a full refund.
This is standard practice for tour operators when incidents occur, so if you're caught up in one, don't panic.
If your tour operator doesn't sort things out, you may be covered under the package holiday rules – some packages get full protection which can kick in if you don't get the holiday you paid for, and ABTA says this could apply if bad weather stops your holiday taking place.
For ships departing or arriving into an EU port, whether a ferry or a cruise, under EU rules (regulation (EU) no. 1177/2010) if a delay is more than 90 minutes, you're entitled to refreshments, meals and snacks. If you're delayed overnight due to a cancellation, the cruise or ferry operator must also provide accommodation.
For ferry cancellations, you should also be offered the choice between an alternative sailing or a full refund, under the same EU rules. For delays you could also get 25-50% of the ticket price as compensation, though it depends on how late you arrive at your destination. You'll need to contact the ferry company directly to claim the compensation. How much you can claim is detailed below:
|4 hours||1 hour
|4 to 8 hours||2 hours
|8 to 24 hours||3 hours
|More than 24 hours||6 hours
For cruise passengers, it's less clear. EU rules under regulation (EU) no. 1177/2010 state that the delay would have to mean a significant change to the holiday, eg, for a 14-night trip, it would typically need to be more than 12 hours. Docking at a planned stop-off port an hour or two late wouldn't count, as it wouldn't be seen to take away from the day at that location.
For non-EU ferry or cruise travel delays, you're likely to be offered food, drinks and accommodation if necessary, depending on the travel firm's T&Cs. You may also wish to complain to the cruise or ferry company and see if you can get compensation that way. Check your insurance policy for cover too.
If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issues a warning against travel – check its travel advice – and you do go ahead and travel, it's likely to invalidate your travel insurance.
When an incident occurs, tour operators, airlines and travel firms often announce arrangements for those travelling to or currently in the affected area.
For example, when the FCO advised against all but essential travel to The Gambia in January 2017, Thomas Cook arranged flights home for those there at the time, and gave those who'd booked the chance to amend their holiday dates or travel somewhere else.
If you're affected, contact the tour operator, airline or hotel. Most tour operators have contingency plans for when warnings against travel change and, as such, you should be able to get your money back or to book a replacement holiday.
If the hotel or airline says no and you're unable to recover all costs, insurers will consider claims on a "case-by-case basis". Be warned many insurers won't cover you if terrorism is the underlying issue.
If you've booked a package holiday, tour operators tend to refund holidays or provide an alternative if there is an FCO warning against travel to that country, so check.
Not necessarily – while the FCO may say it's unsafe to travel to a destination, the decision to cancel flights is with the airline and tour operators.
These elements are otherwise known as consequential losses and can cost £100s. First, check with the provider if your booking is refundable, whether under the terms of the booking, or as a goodwill gesture.
If that doesn't work, contact your insurer. Some policies, especially those offering fuller protection, may cover you, often under what's known as 'abandonment protection'. Other policies won't. Some insurers set their own timescales as to when cover kicks in, for example if you're delayed by at least 24 hours.
When British Airways suffered an IT meltdown in May 2017, causing cancellations and delays, a spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers told us: "The main purpose of travel insurance is to cover emergency medical expenses and other travel-related expenses like baggage loss, rather than systemic computer breakdowns like this situation."
However, a number of insurers have told us they may cover consequential losses – their responses are detailed in the table below.
|Aviva||Yes – depending on the reason for cancelling|
|Axa||Yes – the majority of policies cover this|
|Churchill||Yes – depending on the reason for cancelling|
||Yes – depending on the reason for cancelling|
|Holidaysafe||Some will be covered but only if checked in and delayed for 24+ hours|
||Yes – if you're delayed by 12+ hours|
|LV||Depends on policy – only 'Premier Policies' offer cover|
Here, you may be lucky but it depends on the situation.
Step 1: Check if the booking is refundable. If you booked flights and a hotel yourself and not on a package, flights typically won't be, unless you booked a fully flexible ticket. Hotel bookings can be but terms vary.
If you booked a package holiday, it's unlikely to be refundable – at the very least you'll lose any deposit you've already paid. And the closer you get to travel, or if the contract states you still have to pay the full amount, the more you could lose.
It can be different with bereavements or serious illnesses as some companies' rules may allow you to cancel a non-flexible ticket if, for example, a close family member dies. Or the firm may at least bend the rules if you ask. Virgin Holidays, for instance, allows you to change names on the booking if one person can't make it due to illness or bereavement.
Step 2: Check your insurance policy – this is why we say to get insurance ASAP. Insurance often covers you if you get ill or you're made redundant, but check, as policies vary. It'll also often cover you if you're called for jury service that you can't get out of.
If cancellation cover is included, it may also pay out if a close family member such as a parent, child, sibling or grandparent gets ill, though you'll need a doctor's letter as proof.
If you're made redundant, you'll need a letter from your employer outlining the redundancy. The insurer may also call to confirm it too.
Based on those we contacted, insurers generally consider the following as close family, yet this list won't apply to all. Your:
Some insurers, including Coverwise and Direct Line, will cover you if the person you're due to travel with or stay with falls ill or passes away. This is standard for travel insurance but check your policy. You'll need evidence such as a medical certificate as proof.
If you're not covered and you need to cancel, talk to the travel company and explain the circumstances – it may be willing to offer a goodwill gesture. You may not get cash, but it may offer to move the dates of your trip free of charge, or give you a refund in vouchers.
You'll need to check the terms and conditions that you accepted when you booked – holiday firms don't give the same generous policies to return something that clothing and other retailers do. You need to be certain before you book that it's what you want.
If you booked a package holiday, it's rarely refundable – at the very least you'll probably lose any deposit you've already paid. And the closer you get to travel, or if the contract states you still have to pay the full amount, the more you could lose.
It depends on the type of ticket/room/etc you booked. If it was the cheapest, it's very unlikely, with most airlines or hotels, to be refundable. In this case, your only hope is a goodwill gesture.
Some exceptions apply, eg, you can pay £35 to cancel a booking made using Avios loyalty points. Also some airlines – eg, American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic – may allow you to cancel free of charge within 24 hours, though you're less likely to need to in that timeframe.
If you booked a fully flexible ticket or room you're usually able to cancel free of charge. It's a similar story with car hire – it's all down to the type of booking.
It's the last thing you need when you're hoping to jet off, but if your flight's delayed or cancelled the airline has a duty to look after you, get you on a flight, and in some cases pay you a hefty chunk of compensation or a refund.
These rules only apply to UK and EU-regulated flights, so if you're flying from a UK/EU airport regardless of airline, or on a UK/EU airline that lands at a UK/EU airport (including those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). See our Flight Delays guide for full info.
Unfortunately, there's little that can be done about the weather – that's just bad luck. If the hotel is rubbish, you've no protection by law in most cases and travel insurance almost certainly won't cover you.
However, if you booked it as part of a package, the tour operator is obliged to describe the hotel accurately under the Package Travel Regulations. If it doesn't, you're entitled to compensation.
If it wasn't a package, you could complain to the hotel or travel agent. It may do something if it agrees with you or if it simply wants to keep you sweet – particularly given how sensitive hotels are to bad reviews.
Outline exactly what the issues were. Your complaint is also likely to be stronger if you do it as soon as the problems arise. Taking photos as evidence will also be helpful.
And if the firm you booked with is an ABTA member, any accommodation provided must meet certain basic standards. So you could ask ABTA to step in if you get nowhere, though there's no guarantee of success. For full complaining help, see How to Complain and Consumer Rights.
Here's a list of your most frequently asked questions that are outside of the wider issues above. If you've a question not answered here or in this guide, please post it in the holiday rights forum discussion.
Annoyingly, in most cases the airline CAN change flight times – and not all let you rebook or get a refund.
It all comes down to the airline's T&Cs. For example, a two-hour change on British Airways means you'll be offered a comparable flight or a refund. This isn't covered by law, and unless there's been a "significant change" to the timings there's little you can do.
Just to add to the confusion, airlines have different definitions of what constitutes a significant change. See more on your rights in our Airlines changing flight times guide.
Airlines are liable for any checked-in hold luggage so you should be able to make a claim if your luggage is lost or damaged.
If you can't find your baggage at the carousel, report this to airline staff at the airport as soon as you can, and keep a copy of the 'property irregularity form' that the staff will fill in.
The amount you can claim is capped at about £1,000, but the CAA warns it is very rare to see payouts of this amount. Whether you'll be paid isn't guaranteed though – it's decided on a case-by-case basis so do bear that in mind.
Here are your rights:
If you have travel insurance this can have much higher levels of protection, but you'll still need the property irregularity form. Some policies suggest you try the airline first, so read your policy in detail to see what you can claim for and what evidence you'll need.
It can, but it depends how quickly you spot it, so act fast. If you notice as soon as you confirm the booking, call the firm you've booked through and see if it'll amend it there and then.
If it's within 24 hours the firm may change it without charge. After that, you could be subject to an admin fee. Firms' policies will vary, so do check. But even if there is a charge, it doesn't hurt to explain the situation and ask if fees can be waived.
You'll usually be told of the reason at the time and often it's due to travel documentation (which is your responsibility to check). In most situations, you're likely to have to pay for a flight home and any fines or costs the airline gets from the destination authorities as a consequence.
If you've a return flight booked, you may be able to use it towards flying home, though you'll need to check the conditions of carriage of the airline you're flying with.
If you have travel insurance, you won't usually be covered for cancellation unless you're not fit to travel, eg, if you have a health complaint that makes it dangerous to fly. This would have to be confirmed by a letter from your doctor.
However, you must keep your insurer updated of any changes to your health to avoid it giving you a reason to refuse a claim later on.
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