Ahead of confirmation of the “green” list of countries that travellers can visit without needing to quarantine on their return, consumer champion Which? said it “mystery shopped” six of the UK’s biggest package travel operators to find out if aspiring holidaymakers making new bookings would get their money back if lockdowns or quarantine stopped them travelling.
Which? spoke to three agents each from Love Holidays, On the Beach, Teletext Holidays, Trailfinders TravelUp and Tui – and said that only Trailfinders and Tui consistently answered its questions “in line with" both the law and the relevant company’s official policy.
The body said agents at the rest either suggested they were willing to break the law over refunds, or misled them about how their holiday would or wouldn’t be protected.
Which? is consequently urging those considering a package holiday this summer to examine in detail a company’s flexible booking policy before reaching for their wallet. “Consumers should avoid companies that cannot guarantee to offer a full refund in the event of further disruption,” it said.
The organisation is also campaigning for major travel industry reform “to ensure greater protection of travellers’ money and enforcement of their existing consumer rights when they book a holiday or a flight”.
When the six operators were asked about a government ban on travel before they were due to leave, only Trailfinders, TravelUp and Tui “repeatedly gave assurances that they would be entitled to a refund”.
Love Holidays, On the Beach and Teletext “were all inconsistent in their responses”, Which? also said.
It explained that legally, customers may not be entitled to a refund if they cannot travel because of a national or regional lockdown, and Which? only recommends booking with companies that have committed to paying out in this scenario.
Additionally, it said that by law, customers whose package holiday is cancelled by their provider should be entitled to a full refund within 14 days, whether the airline cancels the flight or not.
Which? said that when it investigated, only Trailfinders and Tui committed to reimbursing both flights and hotels within 14 days.
Love Holidays said it would wait to be reimbursed by suppliers before passing the money onto customers, and one of Teletext’s agents told Which?’s undercover researcher that customers could expect to wait up to two months for their money back.
While TravelUp said it was refunding within 14 days “wherever possible”, agents told the undercover researcher that it relied on receiving refunds from suppliers, and charges customers an admin fee to chase their refunds for them.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Holiday companies are quick to offer promises that you can book with confidence this summer, but unfortunately many of them won’t be so quick to refund your money if coronavirus prevents you from travelling – and that’s if they refund you at all.
“Travellers considering a holiday this year should only book with companies that guarantee in their flexible booking terms that they will be able to get all of your money back if lockdowns, quarantine and other disruption should strike.”