Customers of major holiday firms could be left out of pocket by thousands of pounds if told not to travel by the NHS ‘test and track’ service, according to new Which? research.
The consumer champion asked 23 travel operators and airlines to confirm their policy for customers who have holidays booked but are then told to self-isolate by the NHS coronavirus tracking system, and found that only a handful said that they would let the customer reschedule.
Currently, the government is advising against all but essential travel. When this rule is relaxed the NHS’s ‘test and trace’ system is regarded as vital in allowing the country to get back to normal and avoiding a second wave of the disease.
It will mean that anyone who has been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 may be asked to self-isolate for 14 days – leaving those with holiday plans no longer able to travel.
However, when Which? asked major holidays firms whether customers would be able to receive a refund or rebook at a later date for no extra cost, not all operators were forthcoming.
Some major firms, including Lastminute.com and easyJet holidays, did not respond to Which?’s inquiry.
Travel Republic and Loveholidays said that customers should check their insurance policies and would be subject to their usual cancellation terms, which would only provide free amendments if their partnering suppliers allow.
Expedia also suggested that rebooking would only be available if this is already part of the hotel or airline’s policy but added that they ‘would do their best to help’.
On the Beach and Kuoni did not confirm their policies but told the consumer champion that they would continue to support customers where possible.
Which? found that 10 airlines and holiday providers would allow customers who were told to self isolate to rebook. These are: Air France / KLM, British Airways, Emirates, Explore, Jet2 and Jet2 Holidays, Riviera, Tui, Ryanair, Saga and Virgin Atlantic.
Explore said they would also offer at least a partial refund in some circumstances.
Many of the operators unable to guarantee customers the option to reschedule, including Travel Republic and Loveholidays, said that customers would need to check their travel insurance, but when Which? spoke to the Association of British Insurers, it said that ‘Self-isolation may not be covered if there are Covid-19 exclusions in policies’ which almost all travel insurance policies sold since the lockdown began now have.
The Department of Health and Social Care, which is responsible for track and trace, warned that travellers could also be asked to delay their return home if they have potentially been exposed to someone infected with Covid-19.
If somebody on a plane is later discovered to have had Covid-19, those sitting within two metres will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days. However, flight crew and passengers sitting further away on the plane will not.
Which? is concerned that as self-isolation for those contacted by the test and trace system is voluntary, there is the risk that customers who have paid large amounts and can not rebook a trip might decide to travel anyway. This could potentially put everyone they come into contact with, including fellow passengers, cabin crew and people at their destination, at risk.
Which? believes that holiday firms must show flexibility to customers if they want to regain consumer confidence and get holidaymakers booking again, safe in the knowledge that they can amend or reschedule if and when they need to.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said:
“For trust in the travel industry to be restored, firms must be willing to show their customers more flexibility. It is not good enough to state that usual terms apply and deny people the chance to rebook if they are told to self-isolate.
“It is important that anyone told to stay home by the NHS follows these instructions, and those with travel plans will need to speak to their travel operator and work out what their options are. People looking to book soon will also need to pay attention to terms and conditions or choose an operator that will let them reschedule their holiday if they need to, without leaving them out of pocket.”
Notes to editors:
Which? asked 23 holiday firms and airlines to confirm whether they would refund customers or let them rebook. It chose the 10 biggest holiday companies by Atol license and the airlines and companies most used by Which? members. Air France / KLM, Audley Travel, British Airways, Easyjet Holidays, Emirates, Expedia, Explore, Exodus, HF Holidays, Inntravel, Jet2 and Jet2 Holidays, Lastminute.com, LoveHolidays, Kuoni, InnTravel, On the Beach, Riviera, Ryanair, Saga, Trailfinders, Travel republic, Tui and Virgin Atlantic.
The Department of Health told Which? – “We will provide more detail on overseas travel at the appropriate time.” It also said that if you receive a message telling you to self-isolate while on holiday you’d be expected to extend your holiday and stay where you are – and you might be eligible for an emergency loan to cover essential living expenses. And that only those within 2-metres of a passenger on a plane who tests positive for COVID-19 would be asked to self-isolate – not the rest of the passengers or crew.”
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said: “Self-isolation may not be covered going forward if there are Covid-19 exclusions in policies but we would expect insurers to pay out for when Covid-19 isn’t excluded.”
Expedia said: “With the introduction of the new test and trace service, any customer who has been told to self-isolate should contact our customer service team and we’ll work with our partners to see what options may be available to the customer in respect of the planned travel.”
Explore said: “If you are travelling on one of our escorted group or self-guided trips and cannot travel because you or your travelling companion is diagnosed with COVID 19, or because you are requested to self-isolate, we will refund the tour cost (excluding flights) in full plus any recoverable costs for international flights if those have been booked with us, or offer a voucher in full for the overseas tour and international flights booked with us for use against a future trip.
Jet2 said: “If a customer has been advised to self-isolate as a result of testing positive for Covid-19 or being contacted by Test & Trace, they can rebook their flight or holiday without having to pay an amendment fee. As always, we advise customers to make sure they purchase appropriate travel insurance before they travel.”
Loveholidays said: “As an online travel agent, LoveHolidays provides a booking platform working with a number of independent hotels, hotel suppliers and airlines. Any affected customers would need to be reviewed on a case by case basis. Where airlines and hotel suppliers offer free amendments, we would assist the customer in amending their holiday booking to a later date (waiving any LoveHolidays amendment fee which may apply). In the circumstances that these suppliers do not offer free amendments for the customer, their normal cancellation terms will apply, and the customer would be advised to check if they can recover these amounts from their travel insurance provider.”
Kuoni said – “We don’t have a definitive answer just yet, but are looking at ways we can support anyone in this position.”
On the Beach said: “We’re continuing to adapt our policies and practices in line with the evolving government advice to ensure we are supporting our customers as much as possible and allowing them to get back to the beach safely.”
Travel Republic said: “Travel insurance is there to protect our customers in circumstances such as these where they are unable to travel due to personal reasons. If a customer does unfortunately need to self-isolate, and therefore need to amend or cancel their holiday with us, the customer’s booking will be subject to our standard cancellation terms and conditions.”
Six companies did not respond to Which?’s inquiry (easyJet Holidays, HF Holidays, Exodus, Audley Travel, Inntravel, Lastminute.com)
Ryanair did not respond either but it has a new policy, which would allow passengers to move their flight to a later date this year.
Eight travel companies and airlines said passengers would be able to amend bookings – Air France / KLM, BA, Emirates, Explore, Riviera, Tui, Saga, Virgin Atlantic.