James Walker: Pause before cancelling holiday over coronavirus

As the impact of the coronavirus has dominated headlines this year, and despite a fair bit of fake news, there are some very real reasons to be concerned about the potential pandemic.

Should you pack a facemask? Picture: AP
Should you pack a facemask? Picture: AP

That leaves people booked to travel on holiday understandably confused about their rights and whether they should cancel their trips.

Here’s our guide to the current situation, although it’s vital to keep an eye on the news and the updates on government websites.

I’ve booked a holiday but I want to cancel

Even if you’re not travelling in the next few weeks, this will become an issue when you do come to take a holiday, depending on how the virus spreads.

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You have a few main options to look at:

 Your travel insurance policy

 Your holiday booking company

 Your airline

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 Your hotel

Travel insurance

Travel insurance companies do have clauses relating to not being able to travel due to pandemics and other events where there’s a significant risk. However, the vast majority tend to rely on the advice on the Foreign Office website: www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus

If the FCO advises against “all but essential travel” to where you’re going, you should be able to claim a full refund, though your insurer may want you to explore the refund options through the holiday company and airline.

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But this is where things get tricky. If there are outbreaks or places have been “locked down”, unless the FCO specifically advises against travel, you may not be able to claim (though you should always try). This includes advice for returning travellers. So if you’ve been asked to “self-isolate” after a holiday, this doesn’t count as being told not to travel to the country or destination.

So does that mean I’ll lose my cash?

Not necessarily. Travel insurance includes clauses for cancellation. So if your doctor says you can’t travel due to illness, for example, you can usually claim. Now is the time to dig out the policy and look through it to see what you’re covered for. Speak to the insurer too so you can find out your options.

What else can I do?

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Be flexible. If you don’t want to go and the terms aren’t in your favour, why not come up with an alternative solution?

You may be able to transfer your flight to another destination or date further in the future, so you don’t lose your money completely. There will usually be a fee for this, however. Some airlines are already allowing people to rebook for a later date, so don’t hesitate, contact them and find out what you’re entitled to do.

Ask the holiday company what their plans are if something does occur closer to the time. Do they have alternative hotels or accommodation in other areas, for example?

The big gamble

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A number of people who I’ve spoken to have told me that they’ve cancelled their holidays outright and lost all their cash. Don’t do this unless you have to.

As long as the firm has your money, you have its attention and may be able to negotiate. So ask them what your options are and get a written response.

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