Coronavirus travel advice: our consumer champion explains your rights

People with holidays booked could well have their travel plans disrupted, as the Government has struck a number of countries off its list of those you can visit without having to quarantine for two weeks afterwards. 

Popular holiday destinations including France, Spain and the Spanish islands, Croatia and Portugal have been removed after fresh spikes of coronavirus cases. 

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for holidays to go ahead this summer, this decision was dependent on the coronavirus infection rate in other countries remaining low. 

The Foreign Office (FCO) is now advising against all non-essential travel to these destinations, however many airlines are still choosing to run flights. This means that holidaymakers who do not wish to quarantine for two weeks on their return may have to cancel at their own cost.

Many people have already had holidays cancelled and are struggling to get a refund. But fear not, I'm here to help. To give you an overview of your rights, I've put together this guide on what to do if you've got a trip coming up or are thinking of booking one.

The Money team and I are here to answer your questions and tackle any injustices you come up against. Please email [email protected] or [email protected] with specific questions or to have your case solved. 

*Please note all information is correct at the time of writing, but information relating to the spread of coronavirus will change, so please check the Foreign Office's specific page, which is regularly updated, and speak to your insurer and travel providers.*

Health workers in Malaysia inspect young evacuees from Wuhan Credit: REX

You're booking a holiday now

Since early July Britons have been able to go on domestic stays, however this is dependent on new virus cases remaining low. They are also able to visit a number of other countries without having to quarantine for two weeks on their return. These are published here

Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and many other countries have now been removed from this list, as new coronavirus cases mount. If your travel firm cancels on you, you should be entitled to your money back. However, tens of thousands of customers are still waiting to get a refund for holidays already cancelled, meaning you may find yourself at the back of a very long queue.

If the firm hasn't yet cancelled, you should hold off doing so yourself and hope that it does. If you voluntarily cancel, you are unlikely to get any money back. 

If it still does not cancel and you no longer wish to travel, you will have to cancel yourself and are unlikely to get a refund. 

Before booking any overseas or domestic holiday, make sure you know what your insurance covers you for and what the terms of any refunds are if official advice stops you from travelling, as has happened in Spain.

You may also find that, although you do not have to quarantine on returning from another country on the Government's permitted list, that place may still impose restrictions on you when you arrive. 

Those booking British getaways may not be covered by their insurer if the trip has to be cancelled as most standard policies do not include domestic travel. 

One of the safest ways of booking a holiday is to go for a package option, as you should always be entitled to a cash refund if the holiday is cancelled due to FCO guidelines or because the company has gone bust under the Atol protection scheme. 

If you are paying for flights and accommodation separately, check if they allow you to change your travel dates without a fee. If not, ask your credit or debit card provider what protection they’d offer you in case you have to cancel or the travel operator fails. 

For bookings costing more than £100, your credit card provider will usually refund you for any services not provided under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Card Act. Some debit card providers also offer chargeback, where you can claim a refund for costs under £100. However this is not a legal protection and companies offer it at their own discretion.

While the Government's advice remains not to travel to your destination

Despite the Government permitting holidays to some overseas destinations, there are still around 200 countries that Britons are being told not to visit, including America and Russia.   

Airlines will most likely cancel flights to these destinations rather than flying empty planes. If this is the case you should receive your money back. Some flight operators have been offering flexible bookings instead, allowing people to change their departure to a later date. 

If you have booked your whole holiday as one package through a travel agent or tour operator, you should also have a right to a full refund. Sadly those who booked different parts of the holiday separately will be subject to the terms and conditions of each individual company. Check with each one to see what you're entitled to. 

Some travel companies are offering customers credit to put towards a future booking with them rather than a refund. However this may not have the same protection as a booked holiday and if the travel operator later goes bust, your credit note could be worth nothing.

If you booked using a credit card, you may be able to recoup the money from your provider. 

You can travel but are worried you won't get the experience you paid for 

Many of the countries that have been exempt from the two-week quarantine still have restrictions in place on British arrivals. 

New Zealand, for example, could remain closed to foreign tourists until next year and in Austria, you must present a medical certificate at the border with microbiological test results no more than four days old or face self-isolating for 14 days. 

I'm afraid that for both flights booked yourself and package holidays, unless your tickets already state otherwise, you have no automatic right to a refund if you no longer want to travel because of coronavirus. That is unless the destination is officially classed as a "no-go zone" by the FCO before your date of departure, or an "all but essential travel" zone for package holidays.

However, it is down to the discretion of airlines and holiday companies to refund your travel, so there's no harm in asking the question. You can also contact your travel insurer to see if you're covered under your policy.

Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and British Airways (BA) have both said they will try to accommodate customers wanting to change their plans. 

Your airline goes bust 

Flight operators are struggling to cope as they have to cancel more and more flights and people hold off booking holidays. One, Flybe, which was already experiencing difficulties, has even collapsed. 

All Flybe flights are now grounded and refunds are highly unlikely unless you booked as part of a package holiday. You may be able to reclaim the money via your credit or debit card provider or claim on your travel insurance. Some insurers, however, will only cover you for airline failure if you purchased an optional add-on with this included. 

You or a member of your family is especially worried due to age and/or health concerns 

Some passengers may fear that travelling to other countries where coronavirus has been found could put them at increased risk due to their age or pre-existing health complications. In general, coronavirus has proved far deadlier to older patients with underlying health issues, so I can appreciate these concerns. 

Even so, unless your tickets already state otherwise, unfortunately you have no absolute right to a refund for directly booked flights or package holidays. It is therefore down to the discretion of airlines and holiday companies to refund your travel if you no longer want to go.

If your airline or holiday company are unwilling to refund or let you postpone, you should ask your travel insurer if you're covered. Make sure you fully put them in the picture about your health concerns, providing a doctor's note if appropriate. This could really help your case. 

A woman with a protective facemask walks across the Piazza del Duomo, in front of the Duomo, in central Milan Credit:  AFP

You're quarantined or asked to self-quarantine while on holiday 

Holidaymakers who find themselves in quarantine are bound to feel their trip has been spoiled. Yet I asked Abta, the trade association that represents travel agents and tour operations, whether these people would be entitled to a refund, and I'm afraid it said they would not. 

In such a situation, holiday companies would be obliged to provide assistance and information to travellers, which may involve arranging and paying for new flights to bring them home. 

The good news is that travel insurance would be far more likely to pay out in a situation like this, so if this does happen to you, contact your insurer and provide all the evidence you have. 

Katie Morley's top travel tips 

  • Think very carefully about whether you should travel abroad over the next few weeks.  Apply a common sense approach and weigh up all the possible risks. 
  • Many insurers have withdrawn sale of new policies or restricted what they cover. I'd strongly advise against non essential abroad if you and your family are not going to be fully insured. 
  • Buy good quality year-round travel insurance to ensure you're covered before your trip, as well as when you're on holiday. Carefully read the key terms and conditions to check it is the right policy for you before buying. If you have specific concerns, phone your insurer and speak to them in person.
  • If you've got imminent travel plans, keep an eye on the Foreign Office's specific page, which is regularly updated with information about coronavirus. 
  • If you are affected by coronavirus while abroad, keep your travel provider(s) and insurer updated and follow all local health advice. 
  • If you've specific health or age concerns and are worried about coronavirus impacting an upcoming trip, bear in mind you may need a doctor's note in order to get a refund. Leave plenty of time before your trip to get a GP appointment.
  • Discuss any concerns with your travel provider and insurer well ahead of your trip.

Has your holiday been ruined by coronavirus or are you worried about future travel plans? Email: [email protected]