With millions of holidays curtailed this year due to coronavirus, many Scots are desperate to get away for some sunshine and relaxation. But the travel landscape has changed dramatically in the wake of Covid-19 and travelling abroad now carries a large level of risk.
While some degree of normality is returning, circumstances can change suddenly – as happened with the reintroduction of quarantine restrictions for travellers from Spain. As the First Minister herself has made clear, no trip abroad can be considered risk-free.
During lockdown, our advisers at Scotland’s national consumer advice service, consumeradvice.scot, were busy providing support to thousands of Scots seeking refunds for cancelled holidays. This remains one of the most popular requests for advice, not least given some airlines have cancelled flights to and from Spain.
For those who have booked flexible, refundable hotels and flights, this process can be relatively easy. But given such deals usually cost more, many Scots are often stuck having paid non-refundable rates. We have heard about positive proactive action by some companies such as Premier Inn to help customers, but many businesses have unfortunately expected their customers to share their pain.
If you are considering travelling, booking refundable rates is therefore highly advisable. However, regardless of Covid-19, consumer rights do remain in place – and the legislation has to be adhered to by travel providers.
That means if a contract is not performed as agreed, consumer protection law will generally allow consumers to obtain a refund. But it is also vital to remember that consumers are not automatically entitled to refunds if they choose not to travel themselves, which is becoming more pertinent as flights resume – often half-full. We advise holidaymakers to check travel agreements, particularly the small print, to ensure they know their cancellation rights. We also strongly advise booking holidays on a credit card – should the unexpected happen and a travel provider goes into administration, consumers can claim back through Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
DIY holidays will always carry more risk than bookings which are ABTA or ATOL protected – these bodies help to ensure that consumers get what they pay for and help in situations such as when travel providers go into administration. And it’s vital to have travel insurance. This landscape has also changed considerably since the start of the outbreak.
While many policies taken out after March of 2020 will simply not cover cancellations for ‘force majeure’, or unexpected cancellation due to large-scale events such as pandemics, that doesn’t mean travel insurance is not worth it – far from it. It’s important to have adequate travel insurance to cover medical bills before jetting overseas, and this could become even more pertinent as a result of Brexit and uncertainty regarding the current European Health Insurance Card scheme.
Finally, as the Spain situation has demonstrated, a major consideration is whether your job makes self-isolating for 14 days impossible if this was suddenly introduced while you were away. There is therefore a lot to think about when booking a holiday for next year.
In the haste to get a break in the sun, consumers should ensure they have done everything they can to protect themselves and their money.
Andrew Bartlett is chief executive of consumeradvice.scot
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