Top tips for getting away this summer
A year of COVID restrictions and lockdowns has left many of us feeling in much need of a holiday!
With the vaccine rollout and falling COVID infection rates in the UK, there is hope that travel will be possible this summer. However, government messaging has been mixed on when the travel ban might be lifted (and many may still be reeling from last year’s issues securing refunds for cancelled trips!).
If you do decide to take the plunge and book, remember these top travel tips to protect yourself if your holiday plans fall through. Bon voyage!
Playing it safe: When can you travel within the UK?
Travelling for leisure, both in the UK and abroad, is currently illegal. But things are looking up for UK trips, and very soon domestic holidays will again be possible.
Here’s a refresh of the key dates relating to UK getaways - these rules remain subject to ongoing review:
No earlier than 2 – 5 April (In Wales only):
- Trips to self-contained accommodation allowed but limited to one household
No earlier than 12 April (England):
- Trips to self-contained accommodation allowed but limited to one household
- Likely to include second homes, holiday homes, campsites, and caravan parks with no shared indoor facilities
- Holiday parks are also hoping to open (but with restrictions)
No earlier than 26 April (Scotland):
- Travel within mainland Scotland is expected to resume
- Tourist accommodation is likely to open with restrictions enforced
No earlier than 17 May (England):
- More mainstream travel industry is expected to open
- Includes hotels, hostels, and, B&B’s
- No more than six people or two households will be able to stay together indoors
No earlier than 21 June (England):
- Hoped all legal limits lifted
So, whilst you can’t always depend on UK weather, you might be able to more confidently rely on a domestic trip going ahead in the near future. With no flights and no mandatory quarantine to worry about, it probably is the safest option - although there is always the risk of the above dates changing.
Is international travel out of the question this year?
Trips abroad might be trickier this year - but they shouldn’t be ruled out just yet!
Under the Coronavirus Act, currently UK residents are only allowed to travel abroad for :
- Work that cannot be done from home
- Medical or compassionate reasons
If you travel abroad without good reason you could face a hefty fine of £5000!
When are things opening up?
Under the UK government’s original roadmap, the travel ban for overseas holidays was set to lift no earlier than 17 May 2021.
However new legislation voted in by MPs this week allows the government to delay the lifting of the ban until the end of June 2021. Booking holidays abroad in May and June therefore looks a whole lot riskier - particularly in the context of rising infections in Europe.
It remains to be seen whether the travel ban will in fact extend beyond 17 May - expect further updates from 12 April when the Global Travel Taskforce submits their review to the government.
I’m determined to go abroad! How can I protect myself?
If you’re keen to get away at any cost, there are some things you can do to reduce the chance of things going wrong or being out of pocket.
- Choose your destination wisely!
- In choosing your holiday destination, check the UK Foreign Office advice carefully at the time of booking (as well as in the weeks leading up to your trip!)
- There are travel bans on countries where new COVID variants have been found – this is known as the “red list”.
- UK residents arriving in England from red list countries will be required to quarantine for 10 days in selected hotels - at their own cost. This could be an expensive end to your trip!
- Note: Even if you are diligent in your research, the government has indicated that countries could be added to the red list with just a few hours’ notice.
- Look for holiday providers who have flexible booking and refund policies:
- Use a holiday provider that makes it as simple as possible to recover your money if things go wrong.
- Make sure you understand how close to the trip you can cancel or change your booking - the closer the better!
- Be wary that many holiday providers will only refund you in vouchers rather than cash if your trip is cancelled. Always check the small print.
- Find holiday companies committed to providing refunds in a reasonable time e.g. 14 days.
- Check if your holiday is ‘ATOL-protected’:
- If your holiday is ATOL protected, you’ll be entitled to your money back if an operator goes bust and you’ll get help if you are stranded abroad.
- ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) is a scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority that offers protection for holiday packages via a travel company where a flight is involved.
- Every UK travel company selling overseas holidays and flights is required to hold an ATOL licence.
- Always ask a travel company if they have an ATOL licence and insist on an ATOL certificate from them. You can also use ATOL’s online checker.
- Consider package holidays over separate bookings
- You may be better protected if you get a package holiday rather than booking flights and accommodation separately.
- This is because the ATOL scheme ensures you have a safety net if the travel company fails. There is no similar scheme to protect you if you book flights and accommodation separately.
- Warning: Be wary of online travel agents. The pandemic has demonstrated that online travel agents are not able to offer the same level of protection and customer service as traditional travel companies. Some agents like Lastminute.com, Teletext Holidays, and LoveHolidays are being investigated or facing legal action over holiday refunds.
- Pay for your holiday with a credit card and you may get extra protection under the law:
- If you book a trip with your credit card, you’ll benefit from protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
- S.75 applies to transactions between £100 and £30,000 and makes your card issuer equally as responsible as the airline or travel company if your holiday is cancelled.
- This right is useful if the airline or travel company goes bust or if they do not respond to your attempts to contact them.
- Note: Section 75 doesn’t apply if you pay by debit card. Instead, it may be possible to use the chargeback scheme to recover your money. Click here for more information.
- Shop around for travel insurance:
- While there are no fully comprehensive policies, travel insurance can go a long way in ensuring that you’ll be protected in the event of illness or disruption.
- Check that a policy provides adequate cover for any pre-existing medical conditions and if you’re planning on doing activities or sports. In particular, look for protection against coronavirus-related disruptions (eg. cancelled/delayed flights or if you need to self-isolate).
- Warning: it is unlikely that you’ll find a policy that covers changing guidance from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCO). If you’ve booked a package holiday with ATOL cover, this will not be an issue. But those who book flights and accommodation separately won’t be able to make an insurance claim if they don’t travel due to a change in FCO guidance.
- Know your consumer rights if things go wrong:
If there’s an issue with your booking, don’t be afraid to complain if you think your consumer rights are being infringed!
- In particular, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority suggests that:
- If a holiday company cancels a contract because of government guidance without providing any services, you should be entitled to all your money back
- If you cancel a contract in response to government guidance, you should not face disproportionately high charges for doing so. Vouchers or postponement can be offered to you, but you are not obliged to accept these in place of a cash refund.
- If your flights are cancelled, you have the legal right to either a full refund or a replacement flight. You might also be eligible for compensation if it’s the airlines fault.
Will I need a ‘vaccine passport’ before I travel abroad?
A very good question!
A vaccine passport is simply a vaccination card you receive when you get the COVID jab. At the time of writing, no final decisions have been made by the UK government about whether these will be required or even issued. A review is expected in April this year.
These are however plans to introduce vaccine passports for other destinations and even on certain airlines:
- The European Union: Indicated plans for an EU-wide “Green Digital Certificate” to allow any vaccinated person or anyone who has tested negative or recently recovered from the virus to travel within the region.
- Denmark and Sweden: Announced they are developing vaccine passports
- Cyprus: Said Britons who have had two jabs can visit from 1 May without a negative test or needing to quarantine (but this won’t be permitted until lifting of UK travel ban)
- British Airways: Plan to allow people to register their vaccination status on an app - other airlines look set to follow.
Should you stay or should you go?
Wherever you decide to go this year, it’s more important than ever to check the rules and guidance relevant to your destination as often as possible - including on the day of travel. The impact of the pandemic is incredibly fast moving and unpredictable but fingers crossed you’ll still get that well deserved break!
With thanks to Sharon Gomez for this post.