Your right to a refund when you can’t travel because of coronavirus restrictions

Millions of travellers have had their journey plans wrecked by the consequences of a mutant strain of coronavirus that the health secretary, Matt Hancock, says is “out of control”.

The governments of the UK nations have imposed restrictions on travel, while dozens of foreign countries have announced temporary bans on arrivals from the UK.

As a result, many people are left holding tickets they cannot use. These are the key questions and answers about refunds – starting with travel within the UK.

Rail and coach

“I bought tickets to travel during the Christmas window from 23-27  December. I can no longer use them because of the new travel restrictions. What are my rights?”

Rail and coach passengers who booked tickets for journeys in that five-day spell, beginning in England from 24 November onwards, when the break was announced, are able to claim a full cash refund.

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Travellers should apply to the operator if they booked direct, or to the intermediary if they booked through an agent or app such as Trainline (which has a webpage on which you can make your claim). Given the very high numbers of people seeking refunds, you should be patient.

The governments in Wales and Scotland have not yet set out what they will do, but appear likely to adopt the same policy.

“I have woken up in Tier 4 so am unable to use an Advance ticket for January (which I booked when we were in Tier 2). Can I get a refund?”

No. The presumption on Advance tickets is that they are non-refundable. The best you can hope for is a rail travel voucher, valid for a year, to the same value as the original ticket. Avanti West Coast and other operators have put details on their websites.

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For bookings made after the announcement of the new Tier 4 in England – and severe restrictions in Scotland and Wales – normal terms apply, which generally mean a £10 fee to postpone the journey; no voucher, no refund, and you must arrange all of this before the train you are booked on departs.

Domestic flights

“I booked a domestic flight after the government’s announcement about the Christmas travel window, which I now can’t use. Do I get an automatic refund?”

No. Airline passengers are not being given taxpayer-funded refunds. If your chosen flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund within seven days in line with European air passengers’ rights rules.

But it appears likely that domestic flights will operate as planned to fly those with essential reasons to travel, and therefore the best you are likely to get at this stage is a voucher.

British Airways is allowing passengers on all flights to cancel for a voucher at any time before departure.

Ryanair allows travellers to rebook for a later flight on payment of any fare difference.

The best option is, perhaps strangely, for passengers who booked on easyJet and find themselves in England’s Tier 4; the airline is offering unconditional refunds for trips between 20 and 30 December.

For those in other circumstances, easyJet will offer a voucher.

It is important to mention that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) believes that if a passenger is unable to travel because of government restrictions then they should be entitled to a full cash refund, but that has not been tested in law.


“I have a hotel/Airbnb booking over Christmas in what is now a tier 4 area. Can I use it?””

No. “People should not enter or leave tier 4 areas, and tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home,” says the government.

The key question is: what are your rights now that you are obliged to cancel? As the contract has been “frustrated” in legal terms, the CMA says that you should expect a full refund. Some providers, including Airbnb, say normal terms apply – but this policy may be challenged in the courts.

“I booked overseas accommodation directly and independently and now can’t reach the destination. Should I claim on my credit card?”

You could try to make a “chargeback” through your card issuer for the cost, but don’t hold your breath. I imagine the conversation goes something like this:

You: “I want my money back.”

Bank: “Didn’t they provide what you ordered?”

You: “They did, but I couldn’t take it up.”

Bank: “If they didn’t fail to deliver, you can’t have your money back.”

International flights

“I am in Tier 4/Wales/Scotland and therefore can’t use the international flight I have booked. What are my rights?””

If your flight goes ahead, then the voucher option above is the best you can hope for – unless you live in Tier 4 and are flying on easyJet. But at present, given the vast number of flight cancellations, there is a very strong likelihood that the trip will be grounded by the government of the destination country.

In that case, you can ask your airline for a full refund within a week.

Package holidays

“My flight has been cancelled, and with it my holiday. Do I have to accept a ‘refund credit note’ or can I demand cash?”

“My flight has been cancelled, and with it my holiday. The travel firm wants me to take a ‘refund credit note’ but I would prefer cash.”

The big two tour operators, Tui and Jet2, are being scrupulous about offering full refunds – and usually providing them within the stipulated 14 days. But smaller holiday firms which do not have such robust financial foundations have been keen to provide refund credit notes instead. These are “supervouchers” or IOUs – they can be used to book another holiday with the same company at a later date, or redeemed for cash by a certain date.

The government has confirmed that they are Atol protected – so even if the firm goes out of business, you will get your money back (eventually).

If you like your travel firm, and are quite likely to book with them for 2021, then a refund credit note may suit you. But otherwise you should just notify the company that you are expecting a full cash refund.

“My package holiday to Spain has just been cancelled at 24 hours’ notice. I have already spent £600 on Covid-19 tests. Can I claim that back as well as the cost of the holiday?”

Not from the travel company. They will refer you to their terms and conditions which say that every holidaymaker must comply with the arrivals rules for the destination country. And, just as they would not refund the cost of a passport if you got one specially for the holiday, they will not refund the mandatory coronavirus test.

You can try your travel insurance company, but I sense you will have little chance.

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