It’s a nervous time for holidaymakers headed for Spain, with localised lockdowns in Catalonia and Aragon and nearly 1,000 new cases reported in the country yesterday, including a rise in infections in Malaga. France is considering closing its border with Spain and there have been rumours of further restrictions and a possible reintroduction of quarantine measures for British travellers returning from the country.
The good news is that the FCO has just announced (on Friday) that – for the time being at least – there will be no change to its advice and people who have trips booked can continue to travel.
The situation remains under review however, and Tui – the biggest tour operator – has already said that it will suspend its programme to Spain if quarantine rules are re-imposed. It is likely that it would be followed by most other tour operators, though airlines are likely to continue to operate at least some flights.
Those who have trips booked would do well to keep an eye on the situation. Here is a guide to navigating the uncertainty over the next few weeks. Bear in mind that Spain is a big country and restrictions which might be announced for the mainland for example, might not apply to the Balearic islands, nor to the Canaries. And vice versa.
Should I avoid booking a holiday to Spain?
If you were planning to book, it’s probably wise to hold off for a day or two, until the situation becomes a bit clearer and we know whether or not the country is suffering from a second wave of the virus. If you do decide to go ahead, check how flexible the operator’s cancellation and postponement policy is. Some will allow you to make changes cheaply, or at no cost, in case something happens which means you want to postpone your trip or abandon it altogether. For example, both BA Holidays and Tui have introduced more flexible policies for summer departures.
Think hard before you make independent arrangements. You might find a flight so cheap that it wouldn’t matter very much if you had to abandon it. But make sure you can cancel your hotel or villa without paying a high penalty.
What if I want to cancel?
If you have a holiday booked which departs in the next few days and you don’t want to go, be wary of cancelling your flight or holiday unilaterally for a reason which is not covered by your travel insurance (most policies do not cover Covid-19). You would most likely lose all the money you have paid towards it. Always wait until the operator or airline does the cancelling then they are liable to refund you (see below).
If like many people, you have booked your accommodation independently of your travel arrangements, you may well not be entitled to a refund. Some online agents, such as Expedia and Booking.com, are allowing refunds in some circumstances, but otherwise, legally speaking, you have entered a contract with the accommodation and if you don’t show up, you still have to pay. The same is true if you have already paid for such as car rental and rail tickets. You will have to contact each company directly to see if they are willing to offer a refund or for you to re-book for a later date as a goodwill gesture.
What if my holiday is cancelled?
Under the EU Package Travel Directive, if an operator cancels your holiday, you have the right to a full refund within 14 days. Meanwhile, EU Regulation 261/2004 requires airlines to refund cancelled flights within seven days. Given the sheer number of cancellations and the stress companies have been under during the pandemic, these time limits are impracticable in most cases and many people are waiting months for their money or are being fobbed off with vouchers. The good news last week was that the government finally confirmed that the specially designed Refund Credit Notes (RCN) which can be offered by operators which are Atol-bonded and Abta would be legally protected if the company went out of business. These RCNs entitle you to rebook a holiday at a future date or receive a cash refund at the expiry date of the note. If you are happy to accept one of these then it will normally be issued far more quickly than a cash refund. There is more information on this at abta.com/coronavirus.
Will my money be safe?
These are extremely tough times for the travel industry and you need to be sure that your money will be protected if your operator goes out of business before you travel, or while you are away. So, before you book, check that it is a member of the official Atol bonding scheme (or a similar approved scheme).