Holidaymakers are being advised not to book with a host of package holiday providers, including Lastminute.com, Love Holidays and Teletext, following extensive new research from Which?.
The consumer champion is warning holidaymakers against booking with a number of providers, based on shortcomings with their booking terms and commitments to refunding customers in the event of coronavirus-related disruption, or a lack of transparency about their policies.
Holidaymakers can search the findings for themselves using the Which? Holiday Checker, which compares the booking policies of more than 70 of the UK’s package holiday providers and rates each as Red, Amber, Green or Green+, depending on how they perform against criteria set by Which? experts.
Using the tool will help point customers in the direction of the companies with the best flexible booking options, so they can book with greater confidence that they won’t be left out of pocket should something go wrong.
The extensive research considered various policies on coronavirus-related disruption, including whether firms would refund customers in the event of a lockdown, if FCDO advice changes, if the customer is told to self-isolate before travelling, and if customers are forced to quarantine in a hotel on their return.
Companies that committed to offering refunds in most scenarios put to them by Which? – including British Airways Holidays, First Choice, Hays Travel, Jet2 Holidays, Trailfinders and Tui – were rated as Green in the tool. Those considering a holiday are being encouraged by Which? to book with a Green company, based on their generous refund policies.
Following a rise in concerns about people being contacted by NHS Test and Trace before they are due to travel, Which? also asked companies if they would provide full refunds in the event someone is told to self-isolate.
Only three companies – Exodus, Explore and Discover Egypt – guaranteed refunds in this situation, as well as every other situation put to them by Which?, and were rated Green+ as a result.
Meanwhile, companies that may put customers at risk of being left out of pocket if they are unable to travel as planned – including Lastminute.com, Love Holidays, On the Beach and Teletext – were rated as Red. Companies that did not provide clear information to Which? about their booking policies when approached for information about their policies were also rated as Red for a lack of transparency.
While Red companies’ policies were not necessarily in breach of consumer law, some have faced investigations from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the past year over failure to refund their customers, such as Love Holidays and Teletext.
Which? is advising anyone considering a holiday to avoid booking with a Red company, and to check before they book to ensure their holiday provider offers a good flexible booking policy.
Companies’ ratings will be regularly evaluated to keep up to date with any changes to their policies as well as any changes to rules around international travel, and Which? is engaging with companies to encourage them to improve their policies.
Which? is also calling on the government to ensure travellers’ safety and their consumer protections are a priority as more international travel resumes, and urging regulators to take action against any travel operators that flout the law on refunds.
The full list of holiday providers can be viewed in the Which? Holiday Checker tool at which.co.uk/HolidayChecker.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said:
“Between changing travel restrictions, both in the UK and abroad, and the ongoing risk of being told to self-isolate, booking a foreign trip still comes with some uncertainty and things can go wrong if you’ve chosen the wrong provider. The best companies won’t leave you high and dry though, so it’s vital to do your research before booking.
“Anyone thinking about a holiday abroad can use the Which? Holiday Checker to check before they book, to make sure they don’t choose a company that could leave them out of pocket. The difference between choosing a Red company over a Green company could be losing the entire cost of your holiday if circumstances change and you have to amend or cancel your plans.”
Notes to editors:
- Which? assessed package holiday providers on the following refund policies for the Which? Holiday Checker tool:
- Whether refunds would be processed within 14 days if the package holiday was cancelled by the operator
- If it would refund if there was another government travel ban/lockdown that prevented the customer from travelling
- If it would refund if the FCDO advised against travel to the customer’s destination or the country was added to the government’s red list
- If it would refund if quarantine was required on arrival at the customer’s destination
- If it would refund or offer rebooking with no amendment fee if either quarantine at home was required on the customer’s return to the UK i.e. if the country was added to the government’s amber list
- If it would refund or offer rebooking with no amendment fee if the customer was told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace
- Those that did not respond to Which?’s repeated requests for information on their policies were rated Red for lack of transparency.
- Full list of Red companies at the time of issuing (* – Companies that have been rated Red for lack of transparency after they did not respond to Which?’s repeated requests for information on their policies):
- Best At Travel*
- Brightsun Travel*
- Broadway Travel*
- Your Co-op Travel
- Holiday Gems Limited*
- Love Holidays
- Mountain Kingdoms
- On the Beach
- Skylord Travel*
- Teletext Holidays*
- Voyage Prive UK*
- The full Holiday Checker tool will go live at 00:01 Wednesday 4th August at: http://which.co.uk/HolidayChecker
- Which?’s calls on the Global Travel Taskforce ahead of the restart of international travel
Right of replies:
A Lastminute.com spokesperson said:
“The entire travel industry remains committed to ensuring the safe travels of British holidaymakers, having had to operate for the last 18 months in pandemic conditions. Even now uncertainty remains very much in place and rules are being updated frequently, with the government giving very mixed messages just this week. Alongside our customers we have had to work together with changes that take place with the shortest possible notice period and causing significant disruption for customers already on holiday and still to depart alike having policies that are clear, from the moment of booking, is the fairest way of protecting the consumers from the confusion caused by the flip flopping on decision making – which has been totally out of the travel industry’s hands.
“As the whole travel industry, we are following all the applicable laws & regulations and these are there to protect consumers. Where the regulations don’t stipulate that the customer is automatically entitled to a full refund as outlined in our feedback to Which?, we are following our general standard Terms & Conditions.
“Unfortunately the confusion is also created when all situations are listed only under one single topic : Covid. Regulations are different if you test positive for Covid before flying than if your holiday is being cancelled by the OTA/Tour operator or if there’s a government imposed travel ban. We evaluate every situation carefully and provide the options to our customers according to any applicable regulations or subject to our standard T&Cs. Our aim is always to help customers in case their travel plans are disrupted due to Covid related issues, however not all scenarios entitle the customer to cancel or change their holiday free of charge, and customers should also take out appropriate travel insurance when booking their holidays to add extra level of protection where needed.”
An On the Beach spokesperson said:
“We know it’s difficult to make a decision about going on holiday at the moment – it’s part of the reason that we stopped taking new bookings for this summer back in May and we continue to provide customers with as much flexibility as possible. If the FCDO advises against travel to a destination, our customers can change their holiday destination or dates free of charge, and we will waive any of our admin fees. If they wish to cancel their holiday, we will fully refund hotel and transfer costs, and our regulated, ring-fenced trust account means that we are able to do this quickly and always in cash rather than credit notes or vouchers.
“Prior to the pandemic, when the FCDO advised against non-essential travel to a destination, this triggered the closure of airspace and the cancellation of all non-essential flights. During the pandemic this has often not been the case, with airlines continuing to fly to affected destinations and many consumers still wanting to go on the holiday they have booked.
“Our holidays include flights from multiple third party airlines and the decision on whether to operate those flights lies with each airline. If the airline cancels the flight, then we will, of course, pass the refund straight on to our customers in full. If a customer wishes to cancel their holiday due to FCDO advice, but the flight operates as planned, the airline retains the monies paid for the flight, and in those instances this leaves us unable to pass a refund onto our customers.”
Love Holidays and Teletext did not provide comment
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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