Advice on travelling
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently advises against all non-essential overseas travel for British nationals. However, this travel restriction can be removed at any time, so travel companies are doing their best to manage arrangements for customers.
British people who decide that they still need to travel abroad should be fully aware of the increased risks of doing so. That includes the risk that they may not be able to get home, if travel restrictions are in place.
For the latest updates please visit the Government’s dedicated Coronavirus travel advice page.
Those currently in destination are advised by the Government to return to the UK now and should contact their travel company. They should also be aware that many destination authorities have introduced enhanced health measures including self-isolation procedures, and it is very important that travellers follow the public health advice relating to their local destination. Travellers should comply with these processes and take relevant preventative measures to reduce the risk of exposure. Travellers should also keep up to date on local advice.
From 8th June, there will be new rules in place for entering the UK because of coronavirus. The rules are for both residents and visitors.
When these rules are in place, you will:
· need to provide your journey and contact details when you travel to the UK
· not be allowed to leave the place you’re staying for the first 14 days you’re in the UK except in very limited situations (known as ‘self-isolation)
You should also download the NHS contact tracing app. You’ll be able to find the app on the Gov.UK website.
If you develop coronavirus symptoms when you’re travelling to the UK, tell the crew or driver on your plane, ferry, train or bus. They’ll let staff in the airport, port or station know, so they can tell you what you should do next when you arrive.
Self-isolate for your first 14 days in the UK
When you arrive in the UK, you must go straight to the place where you will self-isolate. Your friends or family can collect you from the airport, port or station. Only use public transport if you have no other option. If you do use public transport, wear something that covers your nose and mouth and stay 2 metres apart from other people. You must not leave the place you’re staying for 14 days.
You can only leave if:
· you need urgent medical treatment
· you need support from social services
· you need food and medicine and cannot get them delivered or get a friend or family member to bring them
· you’re going to the funeral of a close relative, or for other compassionate reasons
· there’s an emergency, for example there’s a fire at the place you’re staying
You cannot have visitors, including friends and family, unless they are providing essential care. If you’re at home or staying with friends or family, avoid contact with the people you’re staying with and minimise the time you spend in shared areas.
You will not need to fill in the form or self-isolate for 14 days if you’re travelling to the UK from:
· the Channel Islands
· the Isle of Man
The rules about who does not need to fill in the form or self-isolate will remain under review and may change in the future.
Advice to customers whose bookings have been affected
International travel has been brought to a complete standstill by government measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and this has led to hundreds of thousands of holidays being affected.
As your Personal Travel Agent, I would strongly encourage you to discuss alternative travel arrangements with me. Travel companies are doing all they can to ensure that holidays can go ahead where and when it is safe to do so and will be keen to offer you a range of options so that you can get the holiday you want.
Where no suitable alternative is possible, your travel company may offer a refund of the money you paid depending on the terms and conditions of your booking and depending on whether or not you booked a package holiday. I will be able to provide advice on the current situation.
If you have booked a package holiday, you are entitled to a refund. We completely understand that for those of you that would prefer a refund to rebooking, you may feel frustrated and concerned by the amount of time it is taking. In normal circumstances, a refund should be paid within 14 days. But these are not normal circumstances and the 14 day rule is simply impossible for many companies to adhere to.
If you have travel insurance you might find it quicker to apply for a refund under your policy.
What does the current travel advice mean for future travel, i.e. my summer holiday?
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice against ‘all but essential’ travel could be in place for the foreseeable future, however this travel restriction can be removed at any time, so travel companies are doing their best to manage arrangements for customers.
Each operator has their own process for managing future departures. I am receiving regular updates and whilst there is no legal definition of ‘imminent travel’, it is generally considered to be within the next few days. Rest assured that I will be in contact with you should your booking be affected by the travel restrictions.
My advice to customers with future bookings is to be patient and wait to be contacted. Travel companies are extremely busy, given the pressures of the current crisis, and will be looking at imminent departures first and deciding how far in advance they will offer alternative arrangements or refunds.
I'm abroad already, should I return home immediately?
All British tourists and short-stay travellers (this does not include permanent residents overseas) currently abroad should return to the UK as soon as possible where and while commercial flight options are still available.
This update reflects the pace at which international travel is becoming more difficult with the closure of borders, airlines suspending flights, airports closing, exit bans and further restrictions being introduced daily.
I have a package holiday booked within the UK not overseas. Is my holiday affected?
Even though UK holidays don’t come under the FCO’s advice against travel, they are very unlikely to be able to go ahead as planned, certainly not during the period of restricted movement/lockdown. Accommodation may be unavailable; activities and bars and restaurants are closed. I will contact you to discuss the options available to amend your booking.
I have asked for a refund but I am still waiting for it, is there a time limit on this?
Currently, there is no hard and fast rule. If we have secured a cash refund for you, please be patient. Operators and Midcounties Co-operative are dealing with a huge number of customers, and with offices closed and staff working from home, it’s a real challenge. ABTA will keep an eye on the situation and encourage ABTA Members to do all they can, but it’s not unreasonable at the moment to expect the process to take upwards of a month.
The balance of my forthcoming holiday is due, what are my options?
If your holiday has not been cancelled and the balance of your holiday is now due then this will need to be paid. In line with the FCO latest advice your holiday is due to go ahead as planned. If you did want to amend or cancel your holiday, normal Tour Operator terms and conditions will apply. If anything did change before your travel date then I will be in touch with you to advise and discuss your options.
I have a holiday booked for later in the year, when will I get an update on my holiday and if it's cancelled? When will I know?
Initially the FCO had advised against all but essential travel to imminent departures with suspended flights and sailing up until 16th April 2020, this was altered to ‘indefinitely' and each Tour Operator will determine what this means to their holidays. This is being reviewed daily and if the FCO or the Tour Operator extends these dates and it affects your booking, I will get in touch with you to advise and discuss your options.
I’m due to travel in May, but as a vulnerable person will be in 12 week isolation, what are the cancellation options?
Cancellation and amendment charges vary with each Tour Operator. Please give me a call so we discuss your options.
How long will it take for me to get a refund?
Refunds have become delayed from Tour Operators, partly due to the sheer volume. Refunds would usually be provided by the organiser of the holiday (The Tour Operator) within 14 days and once we receive that, we would pass it to you. Because of the extraordinary circumstances, there is a call for action to relax the refund time frame for organisers. Refunds may be issued instead by way of a Refund Credit Note so that it may be redeemed later in the year or in 2021 for another holiday. I will discuss this with you in more detail as each Tour Operator has different terms and conditions associated with them.
If I pay my balance now for a holiday travelling later in the year and then have to cancel will it be a refund credit note or cash refund?
It is difficult to be sure, the rules are for a refund within 14 days however the extraordinary circumstances recently (and for the first time ever) have seen the regulation generally relaxed and the option now exists to issue a Refund Credit Note in the interim. The Refund Credit Note is however fully protected for a period of time so in the event of a financial failure your money remains safe.
The impact that Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had on the travel industry and the suppliers who provide services to create a package holiday is extensive.
There have been necessary changes to how refunds are issued to customers for their cancelled holiday arrangements. During this time refunds are taking longer than usual, and I and the wider business thank you for your patience.
If you have booked a package including an element of transport, such as a flight, train, cruise, ferry, it is important that you know that your money is safe and you are financially protected from the financial failure of any of the suppliers, or indeed ourselves as your Travel Agent, or Organiser.
If your booking is cancelled because the FCO advises against travel, you are entitled to a refund, but you will need to be patient with the unfolding refund process. It is dependent upon the tour operator with whom you were due to travel with.
When I am acting as a Travel Agent (you’ve booked your holiday through The Personal Travel Agents at Co-op Travel and we sell you a holiday that is fulfilled by another supplier or tour operator. i.e. Jet2 Holidays or TUI for example), we sell these companies’ holidays in the capacity of an agent. This means we can offer to you, the consumer, a wide range of travel arrangements rather than being limited to just offering one company in the main. When we collect money from you, it is paid over to the travel organiser. If the arrangements are cancelled and a refund is applicable, we must receive the money back from the supplier in order to hand it back to you.
What is a Refund Credit Note (RCN)?
A Refund Credit Note entitles you to rebook a holiday at a future date or receive a cash refund at the expiry date of the note. It also retains the financial protection that you had with your original booking.
If your original booking, for example a package holiday with flights, came with ATOL financial protection, the RCN will still provide this protection. If your original booking came with ABTA financial protection, for example a cruise holiday or other package holiday including rail or coach travel, the RCN will still provide this protection.
Refund Credit Notes may look different depending on your travel provider, but they should all comprise the following:
● An expiry date, which is the date to which your money is protected, and is based on your travel company’s financial protection arrangements. You are entitled to re-book or have a cash refund by this date at the latest (if your original booking was for a package holiday).
● The value of the Refund Credit Note must be equal in value to the amount you paid for the original booking (or less the amount your travel provider has offered you as a part cash refund).
● The Refund Credit Note must include the original booking details and reference.
● The Refund Credit Note must not include any other amount offered as a rebooking incentive or other offer. Any such offers must be documented separately and are not covered by any scheme of financial protection.
● You should retain all previous booking documentation including booking confirmations, ATOL Certificates where appropriate and proofs of payment.
I have been offered a Refund Credit Note instead of a cash refund. Should I accept this?
Many customers have already amended and rebooked their holiday or will be receiving a Refund Credit Note from their travel provider. If your original holiday was covered by a financial protection scheme (e.g. ATOL or ABTA), your Refund Credit Note is financially protected by ATOL or ABTA (whichever covered your original booking) in the event the Tour Operator fails. If you are uncertain about accepting a Refund Credit Note, please speak to me about your options. ABTA can also provide information on these.
As a long term member of ABTA, Co-op Travel follows the rules for Refund Credit Notes.
If I accept a Refund Credit Note, will I lose my right to a cash refund?
No. A Refund Credit Note preserves your right to a cash refund, which can be redeemed at the latest at the expiry date of the note.
Why is my refund being delayed?
We (Tour Operators, Midcounties Co-operative and myself) are doing all we can to help, but many operators don’t have the funds to pay customers a cash refund in a 14 day period, as they have not yet received money back from hotels, airlines and other suppliers affected by the crisis. Forcing them to do so would put many of them out of business, which would mean customers would not get their money back for many more months as the Government-backed ATOL scheme of financial protection could not cope with the sheer volume of refunds. It would also result in significant long-term damage to the UK travel industry.
In many other countries, governments have taken action to temporarily amend their travel regulations and provide additional guidance to allow refunds to be paid over a longer period or to allow refunds to be paid in the form of a refund credit note. You can find out more about what other countries are doing here.
The European Commission, which is responsible for the relevant regulations, has advised Member states to find “flexible solutions” to demands for refunds on cancelled holidays during the Covid-19 crisis.
We have sought urgent Government help to ensure the rules around refunds are fit for purpose in the current situation and to help ABTA to provide practical and workable guidance to its Members and customers.
In the absence of this Government intervention, and to provide some order to a chaotic situation brought about by the current crisis, ABTA has developed a regulatory framework for refunds for its Members and their customers, based on a system of financially-protected Refund Credit Notes (RCNs) where the customer’s fundamental rights are preserved, as set out by law (the Package Travel Regulations).
This type of system is similar to those introduced in many other countries and is the framework under which ABTA will guide its Members and hold them to account.
Your refund and the Package Travel Regulations (PTR)
The complication with the scale of the current refund position is that the travel organisers are also waiting for the funds back from airlines, hotels, transfers and tour providers. If the amount of refunds that are due were all paid over, within the 14 days as set out in the Package Travel Regulations (PTR), there wouldn’t have been enough time for the funds to have moved around from company to company.
Ultimately someone would fail in the chain and there would likely be a domino effect leaving customers without refunds and having to make a claim against the protection schemes that are in place.
Is a holiday voucher the same as a Refund Credit Note?
No. A holiday voucher is different to a Refund Credit Note. Holiday vouchers, gift vouchers and other discount vouchers are not protected by the schemes of financial protection.
When can I redeem my Refund Credit Note for another holiday or a cash refund?
Your Refund Credit Note should include an expiry date which is based on your travel company’s financial protection arrangements, or a date sooner than this.
The reason the dates will vary by provider is because some companies will have financial protection in place for their holidays for a longer period than others. The majority of holiday bookings are covered by ATOL. ABTA does not have the authority to set dates for when ATOL protection applies, this is set by the Civil Aviation Authority.
How is my money protected and why is it important?
The majority of package travel arrangements provided by ABTA Members are protected by either the CAA’s ATOL scheme or by the ABTA Bond of the Member company. Both the ATOL and ABTA schemes protect a refund that was due for a holiday that has not taken place if a travel company fails. You can check this for yourself on the ATOL Air Travel Trust Payment Policy, section 4.2 on page 28.
ABTA is an independent organisation, recognised by the UK Department for Business (BEIS) as an Approved Body under the 2018 Package Travel Regulations. Some of our Members provide bonds through one of the other two Approved Bodies – ABTOT or the CPT Bonded Coach Holidays schemes. ABTA accepts the use of both of these schemes for our Members. Some Members also use financial failure insurance products rather than Bonds. These are also permitted under the 2018 Package Travel Regulations. ABTA checks that all these are in place and monitors them, so that customers do not have to do so when booking with an ABTA Member. Further information on the ATOL scheme can be found on the Civil Aviation Authority website.
What are The Personal Travel Agents and Midcounties Co-op doing about this?
We are keeping in touch with all of the travel organisers we work with to make sure refunds are received as quickly as possible although there has been a call to government to permit that refunds should be made in the form of a Refund Credit Note, effectively delaying the refund to allow the companies involved to work through the administrative tasks to get funds back to the customer.
The Refund Credit Note would be redeemable against a future booking and there may be an option to exchange for cash at a later point (on or before 31st March 2021 is likely).
It is important to note that the value would remain protected against the original booking to keep consumer financial protection in place, so your investment remains protected.
Due to the changes to businesses around the world from reduced staffing levels, offices being unavailable and the additional loss of new sales whilst consumers are coming to terms with the changes on their own circumstances, there is inevitable disruption and we would ask for your understanding of these facts.
When Midcounties Co-operative Travel is the Organiser
Sometimes when I sell travel arrangements to my customers, we (Midcounties Co-operative) become the organiser as dictated by the Package Travel Regulations (PTR), and so the responsibilities and obligations fall to us.
We will do our very best to ensure that refunds are provided, but we rely on our third-party travel partners to make that possible. This may mean you are provided with a Refund Credit Note until cash is received back from airlines, hoteliers etc. The Refund Credit Note may be redeemed for a cash refund at a later date if you are unable to use the Refund Credit Note in the meantime on rebooking for later this year or for 2021.
The information from many of the travel suppliers involved in the holidays we sell is changing from day to day, which in turn means it is difficult for us to be able to give clear and absolute guidance to our customers and I thank you for your patience as the refund process evolves.