James Walker: When best laid plans of holidaymakers go awry

Easter sunshine may have whetted your appetite for booking a holiday further afield. But before you jump in you should find out what to do if you can’t travel because of a family emergency – or if there’s a problem with the travel firm. Here’s my guide to cancelling without costs, and what to do if they cancel on you.
Seek help over cancelled flights. Picture: Getty/iStockphotoSeek help over cancelled flights. Picture: Getty/iStockphoto
Seek help over cancelled flights. Picture: Getty/iStockphoto

If you want to cancel a holiday

If you book through a travel agent, tour operator, online website or direct, the business will have terms and conditions covering your right to cancel. If there are costs attached then these should be up front and clear. Under consumer law, businesses can ask you to pay a cancellation fee to cover their losses, but this must be “in proportion” to what they are losing. If a holiday is non-refundable, we’d expect to see a ton of clear warnings before you click.

Many booking sites give you free cancellation as an option, which you should always choose if it’s available – while popping something in your diary for a few weeks before the free cancellation ends.

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The Competitions and Markets Authority have guidance on unfair terms and costs at www.fairterms.campaign.gov.uk.

If you cancel a packaged holiday

The Packaged Travel and Linked Travel Regulations 2018 mean that it you booked two or more different parts of a holiday (flights and hotel, for example) from the same firm, it’s likely to be a “packaged holiday”. This is also likely to be the case if you’ve booked through a tour operator. This means you might be entitled to cancel without a fee if the holiday company makes significant changes to your holiday or it puts prices up after you book. This also covers exceptional reasons for cancellation.

What if I can’t travel?

It’s important to get a good travel insurance policy that covers you from the point you book the holiday, not the day you go away. This should cover you for things such as cancellation or curtailment if you:

◆ Can’t travel due to illness

◆ Can’t travel due to sickness or death of an immediate family member.

There are other scenarios that may be covered depending on the policy. If the firm won’t pay a claim, the free Financial Ombudsman can look at travel insurance disputes.

What if the firm cancels my trip or goes bust?

If a firm cancels and you’re worried it’s going out of business, contact the airlines, hotels and other companies who you were booked with to see if they have your money and are able to reopen or honour the booking.

If it’s not looking positive, then don’t delay. Contact your card provider and ask them to “charge back” the money. Explain that the travel operator has told you they are cancelling the holiday or indications are they’re going bust. If you’ve paid on a credit card (over £100 and under £30,000) you may be able to claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act for a full refund from the card provider – even if you only paid a deposit on the card.

Other protection

If you’ve booked a package holiday with a flight, then ATOL can help with disputes and cancellations. If it’s without a flight or a cruise, ABTA can potentially help. Airlines also have dispute resolution schemes.

James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution service Resolver.co.uk