COVID-19: Your holiday questions answered
As the pandemic continues to affect how and where we travel, the following Q&A will help answer any questions you have about future travel plans or a cancelled booking.
As the pandemic continues to affect how and where we travel, the following Q&A will help answer any questions you have about future travel plans or a cancelled booking.
Update: 17 September 2021
From Monday 4 October, a simplified system for international travel and relaxed measures for fully vaccinated travellers and children will make it easier to go on an overseas holiday. Read more on our webpage: What you need to know about foreign travel from October.
As the pandemic continues to affect how and where we travel, we know that holidaymakers will have a range of questions about their forthcoming holidays and/or cancelled bookings. As such, this page is designed to answer the most Frequently Asked Questions about:
1. Future holidays
2. Past bookings
This page is updated as quickly as possible following important announcements or developments relating to the pandemic, so you should be able to find the information you’re looking for in the below FAQs. If you need further assistance related to a booking with an ABTA Member, you can find out how we can help at abta.com/help-and-complaints.
Airlines are not Members of ABTA and neither are all travel agents and tour operators. You can find out if your travel company is an ABTA Member using our search tool. If you have any questions or need information about a specific booking with an airline or a company that is not a member of ABTA, you will need to contact them directly or contact Citizens Advice for further help and guidance.
For more information about the latest travel advice from the Government, including the traffic light system, visit our webpage Government requirements for travel.
If you’re heading off on holiday and would like some advice about how to prepare, please visit our webpage: Get ready for travel: your essential guide.
For additional information on passenger rights, responsibilities, and reasonable expectations regarding international travel whilst COVID-19 measures are in place, please read the Government’s Passenger COVID-19 Charter.
In response to the pandemic, travel companies are doing all they can to ensure that you and your fellow travellers can look forward to a safe and enjoyable break. This includes introducing new health and safety measures in line with the latest scientific and medical advice and offering flexible booking conditions, such as allowing free changes to travel arrangements if needed, so you can book with confidence.
The below Q&A is designed to guide you through some of the main questions you’ll have about a forthcoming trip, including helping you to understand the new requirements for your journey, how your holiday is likely to be different from previous experiences and explaining your rights to a refund.
Travel companies will be sharing important information and/or updates about future bookings by departure date. So, if you’re waiting for information about your holiday and you’re not due to travel imminently, our advice is to check your travel company’s website first for more information about your specific trip and how they will be communicating with their customers.
There is no longer any legal reason why you can’t book and/or travel overseas for holidays, business trips and to visit family and friends.
The Government’s traffic light system lists countries as green, amber or red, with different testing and quarantine requirements for travellers returning to the UK depending on which list the country is on and your vaccination status. As this system only covers what you need to do when you come back to the UK, so you’ll also need to read the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advice page for the country you are visiting at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice to find out what you need to do before you leave the UK.
You can find further guidance on the testing and quarantine requirements for each list on our webpage Government requirements for travel or by speaking to your travel provider. For more information on how the traffic light system affects refunds, please read ‘What are my rights to a refund?’
The Government’s traffic light system lists countries as green, amber or red, with different testing and quarantine requirements for travellers returning to the UK depending on which list the country is on. To help travellers plan ahead, there is also a ‘green watchlist’ to identify which countries are more likely to move from the green list to the amber list, taking into account coronavirus infection rates, the progress of the vaccination programme and the presence of any variants of concern.
The same requirements apply to green watchlist destinations as to green destinations, so if you’re returning to the UK from a green watchlist destination, you won’t need to self-isolate on your return, but you will need to take two COVID-19 tests via private test providers; one pre-departure test (antigen test or PCR) before you return to the UK and then an additional PCR test on or before day two of your return.
For more information on the traffic light system, please visit our webpage: Government requirements for travel.
If your destination moves from the green list to the amber list whilst you are on holiday, you will need to follow the requirements for amber list countries when returning to the UK.
If you have received the full course of an approved COVID-19 vaccination in the UK, Europe or the US at least 14 days before entering the UK from an amber list country, you will no longer need to quarantine or take a test on day eight, so the requirements for green list and amber list countries are the same for you.
If you haven’t yet been fully vaccinated, you will need to self-isolate at home for 10 days when you return and, before you arrive back in the UK, you will also need to book and pay for a COVID-19 PCR test to be taken on day eight of your return. When completing your Passenger Locator Form, make sure you include the booking reference number for your additional COVID-19 test and submit the form online before you arrive in the UK.
The additional test and need to self-isolate on your return are not classed as a significant change to your holiday, so you will not be entitled to a refund or a price reduction. If you would like to return home earlier than planned, then your travel company should assist you but they are not required to cover your associated transport costs.
More details on the Government’s traffic light system can be found on our Government Requirements for Travel page, including links to the green, amber and red country lists for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These lists are updated following Government announcements, so it’s a good idea to check these regularly while you are away. Your travel company may also inform you if there are changes.
Some destinations require visitors to show proof that they have received the full course of an approved vaccine in order to be allowed to enter. You can find out if this applies to the country you’re visiting by checking the advice pages at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
You can show proof that you’ve been fully vaccinated against coronavirus through the NHS COVID Pass if you’re in England or Wales, by getting a record of your COVID-19 vaccination status if you’re in Scotland or through the NI COVID certification service if you’re in Northern Ireland. These records are available in paper and digital formats, but be aware that it may take up to 10 working days for paper certifications to be sent to you. If you’re a resident in England and registered with a GP, you can also download the NHS COVID Pass through the free NHS App, but do check the foreign office advice pages to see if your destination will accept the app before choosing this option. You can’t use the NHS appointment card from your vaccination centre to demonstrate your vaccination status. Visit the Government’s website for more information on demonstrating your COVID-19 vaccination status when travelling abroad.
If you're not fully vaccinated, check if your destination will accept a negative COVID-19 test result instead. You might also be able to complete your vaccinations, perhaps by visiting a walk-in centre, just make sure that the date of your second dose meets your destination’s entry requirements and you’ll be able to show proof that you’ve been fully vaccinated in time for your trip. See here for more information: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/
Some destinations will also accept proof of natural immunity against COVID-19 for entry, and you can show proof of having recently recovered from the virus through the NHS COVID Pass.
If these options aren't possible, and you're unable to enter the country because of its rules on vaccinations for arriving passengers, speak to your travel provider to see if they are able to offer any help or flexibility to change your holiday destination or the dates of your booking. If you have a package holiday, you can see if you can transfer your holiday to another person as you have the right to do that and you should also check with your travel insurance as to whether you have any cover for this.
If you’re returning to the UK from an amber list country and have been fully vaccinated, you will no longer need to self-isolate on your return or take an additional test on day eight. In the UK, ‘fully vaccinated’ means it’s been at least 14 days since you’ve had either two doses of an approved two dose vaccine (such as Pfizer or AstraZeneca) or one dose of an approved single dose vaccine (such as Janssen) and you need to have received your full course in the UK, Europe or the US. For more information, visit our webpage: Government requirements for travel.
The exact testing requirements for your holiday will depend on which destination you are visiting and your travel provider should be able to advise you. It’s important to note though that any tests you need for travel need to meet the UK Government’s testing requirements and come from a private testing provider, so you can’t use any of the tests that are currently being offered for free by the NHS.
Each destination has set out their own entry requirements for travellers arriving from other countries, which may or may not include a requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test. You’ll find information about the testing requirements for the country you are visiting at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office travel advice pages: gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The exact testing requirements for your return to the UK will vary depending on whether your country is on the green, amber or red list and whether or not you have been fully vaccinated.
All travellers returning from green list countries will need to take two COVID-19 tests; one pre-departure test (antigen test, LAMP test or PCR test) before they return to the UK and then an additional PCR test on or before day two of their return. These testing requirements also apply to fully vaccinated travellers returning from amber list countries and those aged under 18.
Travellers returning from amber list countries who haven’t been fully vaccinated will need to take three COVID-19 tests; one pre-departure test (antigen test, LAMP test or PCR test) before they return to the UK, an additional PCR test on or before day two of their return and another PCR test on day eight of their return. You will also need to take these three tests if you are returning from or have transited through a red list country in the 10 days before you arrive in the UK, as well as pre-booking a mandatory 11-night quarantine hotel package.
Pre-departure tests can either be arranged via a private testing provider in the UK or by getting a test in destination that meets the UK Government’s testing requirements.
Find more guidance about the traffic light system on our webpage Government requirements for travel which also has links to further advice on testing on the Government websites for England, Wales, Scotland and NI.
Some travel companies are offering their own testing packages, so it’s a good idea to speak to your travel provider for further information and advice.
If you need further guidance, please discuss your travel plans with your GP, pharmacist or a travel clinic to get the latest advice regarding Coronavirus tests. NaTHNaC have some general advice for travellers on the TravelHealthPro website, so please click here for more information.
If your pre-departure test is positive, you’ll need to follow the advice of the local authorities and you should advise your tour operator, who will offer support and advice. You’ll also need to contact your travel insurance provider to see what your policy entitles you to regarding covering any additional costs, such as extending your stay to cover the quarantine period, accommodation, further testing, rearranging your return journey and any medical treatment that might be required. Where insurance does not cover these costs then you will be required to over these costs yourself.
Many insurance policies include different types of cover for Coronavirus, including cover for medical expenses while on holiday, so make sure you read the policy details carefully when you take out travel insurance for your trip to ensure it has the level of cover you want. If you’re on holiday in the EU, make sure you have an in-date European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you or a new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) as these will allow you to access public health care services, but they don’t cover costs for extending your stay to cover any quarantine period, tests, accommodation or rearranging your return journey. More details here.
Where tests are positive, travel companies may be able to help you make arrangements for extending your stay until you have a negative test result. However, while they should provide you with advice and support, they are not required to cover the costs associated with extending your stay. These costs should be covered by you, or your insurance company if it is included in your policy.
Yes, booking a package holiday provides the greatest level of protection for your travel plans, including the right to a refund if your holiday is significantly affected by a change in the situation at your destination. Any type of holiday – such as a city break, a beach holiday, a ski trip or a cruise – can be a package holiday, it just means that a travel company has put more than one element of your trip together for you, such as your flights and accommodation. You can read more about the benefits of booking a package holiday at our webpage: abta.com/packageholidaybenefits
Lockdowns and rules that you must only travel in your local area have now lifted, so there is no legal reason you can’t go on holiday.
There are still other issues to consider, such as destinations allowing visitors in, and what are the rules on quarantining.
Generally, you will be entitled to a refund from your tour operator if:
Examples of significant changes, meaning refunds are generally due (not an exhaustive list):
The new traffic light system, where countries are on red, amber and green lists, is not a significant change to a holiday. The colour tells you whether or not you have to quarantine when you arrive back in the UK. As such, it doesn’t affect your actual time on holiday. No refund is due from your tour operator if your destination is amber (as long as none of the above bullet points on refunds apply and your holiday can go ahead as planned). If your destination is on the red list, we understand that it will also have FCDO advice against travel, so a refund would be due to you for that reason, if the FCDO advice was in place when you were due to depart.
If you can’t go on the holiday due to the amber and red quarantine requirements in the UK or you no longer wish to go on your holiday but it can go ahead as planned, your travel company will have the right to charge you the normal cancellation charges. You can see if you can transfer your package holiday to another person, as you have the right to do that and you should also check with your travel insurance as to whether you have any cover for this.
Some companies do have flexible policies regarding self-isolation requirements in the UK which will enable you to rebook for a later date, so you should speak to your travel provider to see what your options are.
To keep you and your fellow travellers safe during the pandemic, there are likely to be some minor changes to your holiday, both on the journey and once you arrive in destination.
Whatever your mode of transport, you’ll notice a range of new policies to ensure the health and safety of passengers and staff. These will include social distancing measures, protective screens, the use of face coverings, additional cleaning procedures, extra hand sanitising stations, and encouraging contactless payments or storing tickets and boarding passes on an app.
While you’re on holiday, it’s important that you follow the local rules that are in place to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, and remember that these may be different to the rules in the UK. For example, while a hidden disability lanyard, such as the sunflower lanyard, indicates in the UK that the wearer is exempt from using a face covering on medical grounds, some countries may not acknowledge medical exemptions and you may be asked to wear a face covering in line with local requirements.
Further changes to your usual holiday experience may include the offer of a waiter service instead of a buffet, restrictions on the number of people at the beach or in public areas to aid social distancing, more options for alfresco dining and socialising, extended opening times, and enhanced cleaning procedures at your accommodation. Make sure you follow the advice of the local and public health authority in destination, noting that any new measures are in place to keep you and others safe and shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying your holiday.
You can find further guidance from ABTA on this topic at Get ready for travel: your essential guide or by speaking to your travel company. If you find there are considerable changes to the main characteristics of your holiday that mean a significant change to the holiday as whole, then your travel company should offer you the choice of an alternative holiday if available or a refund of your holiday cost.
As ever, it’s really important to take out comprehensive travel insurance as soon as your book your holiday, making sure it covers your specific needs. Many insurance policies now include different types of cover for Coronavirus, such as cover for cancellation if you’re unable to travel or medical expenses while on holiday. Read the policy details carefully to ensure it has the level of cover you want.
As with any illness that means you have to cancel your holiday; cancellation charges will apply and your travel insurer will be able to tell you what cover your policy provides. You can find more advice on travel insurance at abta.com/travelinsurance.
Your holiday company might be able to change the date of your holiday, but if not and you can’t travel, cancellation charges will apply. These might be recoverable under your travel insurance policy. You can see if you can transfer your package holiday to another person, as you have the right to do that.
If you are booked on a package holiday to a country which is not permitting entry to people from the UK and you are due to travel imminently, then you should be offered the choice of a refund or a rebooking. You should speak to your travel provider to discuss your options.
If you are booked on a flight and the flight is cancelled, you should also be offered the choice of a refund or rebooking. If you have other travel services booked, such as trains or ferry crossings, and or accommodation, you should check the terms and conditions of your bookings.
If travel restrictions are introduced while you are overseas, you should check in with your travel provider to discuss your options. It’s important that you continue to closely monitor the situation and check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
If you decide to travel abroad against FCDO advice, you should be fully aware of the increased risks of doing so, including that you may not be able to get home if travel restrictions are in place. You must check with your insurance company as to whether your travel insurance will still be valid, as travelling against FCDO advice is likely to mean it will be invalidated. If you are still considering travel you need to be realistic about the level of disruption you are willing and able to endure.
Before you travel, you’ll need to read the FCDO travel advice for the country you are visiting to find details of entry requirements, to confirm that the country is granting access to UK travellers and to sign up to email alerts which will help you to keep across any changes in advice. The FCDO advice page will also include a link through to the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) TravelHealthPro website that provides specific travel health advice for each country.
You do not have to pay the remaining balance for your holiday if you do not want to go. However, if you decide not to pay the final balance of your holiday, before it has been officially cancelled by the company, then you will need to pay the cancellation charges attributed to your booking. This could mean loss of deposit and/or any monies paid thus far.
Each company will have their own process for managing future departures and will be contacting customers due to travel imminently. Some travel companies are experiencing operational delays with collecting payments that are due, as a result of their staff working remotely or being furloughed or made redundant. If you’re unable to get through to pay your balance then please email the travel company and wait for their response – it is unlikely they will cancel the holiday if you have made attempts to pay.
Remember for package holidays that are eventually cancelled by the company, then you will only be due a full refund, if you have an active booking at the time of cancellation. So, if you fail to pay the final balance of your holiday you will voiding your right to a refund at a later stage.
Many travel companies are doing all they can to offer more flexible booking policies at this time, such as giving customers the option to change their travel date should they wish to postpone their holiday. You should speak to your travel provider to discuss what your options may be.
In certain circumstances, this may not be possible and travel companies are not legally required to offer a postponement if the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is not advising against all but essential travel to your destination.
No, as the reason for the holiday not continuing is outside the control of the tour operator.
The pandemic is causing operational and financial challenges for UK travel agents and tour operators and we also recognise the concern and financial distress that customers may be experiencing.
ABTA Members are doing their best to manage arrangements for customers whose holiday bookings have been affected and are dealing with enquiries and processing refunds as quickly as possible.
The below Q&A will guide you through some of the main questions related to past bookings, including how ABTA can help, why your refund may be delayed and answering any questions you might have about Refund Credit Notes. If you have specific questions about your booking, please speak to the travel company you booked with as they will be best placed to help you.
Many customers will have booked travel arrangements through a travel agent. Your travel agent will have made your booking with a company such as a tour operator or airline, and this is who you have a contract with and who any refund will be due back from.
Your travel agent will pass on any refund they receive from these companies as soon as they receive it.
As with other Members, travel agents are working very hard behind the scenes pursuing refunds on your behalf as well as taking calls from customers who may be finding it difficult to contact their travel supplier.
Travel businesses are operating in very difficult circumstances, with higher volumes of enquiries and often with fewer staff due to redundancies and/or furlough. This means it may take them longer to process refunds, which is understandably frustrating for customers.
In addition, some delays are because tour operators have not yet received money back from hotels, airlines and other suppliers affected by the crisis, and therefore aren’t able to pay customers a cash refund for a package holiday in a 14-day period. 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.
If your package holiday cannot go ahead as planned and you do not wish to rebook, you are entitled to a refund. Your travel provider might offer you a Refund Credit Note (RCN) (see FAQ on Refund Credit Notes), which can either be used to rebook at a future date or be redeemed for a cash refund. If neither of these options are offered we will be able to contact the Member for you.
If you would like a refund sooner than the expiry date of the RCN, or you do not want an RCN, you should let your travel provider know. You should ask the company for a timeframe for when you should expect to receive the refund. ABTA can contact the company if they do not respond to you or if they refuse a refund entirely.
If you need help getting a refund from an ABTA Member for your package holiday, you can register a complaint on our website and an adviser will be in touch within 28 days.
Unfortunately, we are not able to help customers who have booked with a company that is not a Member of ABTA. You can find out if your tour operator or travel company is an ABTA Member using our search tool.
If you have an enquiry about a company that is not a member of ABTA please contact Citizens Advice.
As travel businesses are operating in very difficult circumstances, with higher volumes of enquiries and often with fewer staff due to redundancies and/or furlough, it may take them longer than normal to respond to your query. Please check their website for specific help and guidance on how they are responding to queries at this time.
If you are still waiting to hear back from your travel company and your query has become urgent, please contact ABTA and we will do what we can to assist.
A Refund Credit Note (RCN) retains any financial protection that you had with your original booking and entitles you to rebook a holiday or receive a cash refund at any time up until the expiry date of the RCN.
For example, if your original booking was a package holiday with flights and had 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.
If your travel company offers you an RCN but you would prefer a cash refund, then this should be processed as soon as the company is able to do so. You should ask the company for a timeframe for when you should receive the refund.
RCNs may look different depending on your travel provider, but they should all include the following:
The RCN shouldn’t 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.
If your RCN is nearing its expiration date, you can use it to book a holiday, or you can exchange it for a cash refund. If you need more time to decide on a new booking, then you can also opt for a new RCN with a new expiry date. You and your travel company would need to agree to the RCN being reissued with a new expiry date and you do not have to accept a new RCN if you don’t want to.
As of 30 June 2021, no new ABTA protected RCNs can be issued. Existing ABTA RCNs will remain valid until their expiry date, which should be no later than the date already agreed in each case, and no later than 31 January 2022 overall. ATOL protected RCNs can still be issued.
If you have any concerns that your ABTA Member travel provider isn’t following the above rules for RCNs or if you need help with getting a refund, you can register a complaint on our website and an adviser will be in touch within 28 days.
If your travel provider is not an ABTA Member you may wish to contact Citizens Advice or Trading Standards or the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) using their online form.
No. Holiday vouchers, future cruise credits or gift vouchers are not the same as Refund Credit Notes and do not come with the financial protection of ATOL or ABTA. RCNs only cover package holiday bookings. If an airline offers you a voucher for a cancelled flight, check the terms and conditions with the airline, it’s not the same as an RCN.
No, if you choose to cancel the holiday before the tour operator cancels it then you will be liable to pay cancellation charges.
Travel companies will be managing future departures and sharing important information with customers about cancellations, alternative arrangements or refunds by departure date. So, if you’re waiting for information about your holiday and you’re not due to travel imminently, our advice is to check your travel company’s website first for more information about your specific trip and how they will be communicating with their customers before making a decision about whether or not you wish to cancel.
We recognise the urgency of the situation and financial distress that customers may be experiencing. If you are experiencing particular hardship – for example, if you have been made redundant during the Coronavirus crisis and your travel insurance policy does not cover you for that risk, you can ask your travel company if they can prioritise your case.
A number of our Members have put in place special arrangements for such circumstances. If you find yourself in that situation, do ask your travel company how to apply for exceptional assistance and the evidence that would be required to help them to prioritise your case.
If you have proof that the specific supplier has refunded your travel company you should provide this to the company as part of your request for a refund.
Accommodation-only or flight-only bookings are not covered by the Package Travel Regulations. This means that you may not be entitled to a refund, so you should read the terms and conditions to establish your rights.
Many companies that make accommodation-only or flight-only bookings are acting as an agent for the flight or accommodation provider. You might be able to contact the provider directly to obtain a refund, as this is ultimately who you have the contract with.
If you are not happy with the situation, you should contact your travel company to establish if and, if so, when they will pay a refund. If you feel that you are being treated unfairly in respect of cancellation terms in the wake of Coronavirus, your legal and statutory rights remain and you can report the matter to the Competition & Markets Authority using this online form.
Many airlines are offering different options for cancelled flights such as amendments or future booking discounts which you might wish to accept. That will then form part of your refund for your package holiday.
If you do not wish to accept those options the airline must give you a cash refund.
If you encounter difficulties in getting the refund from the airline your travel company will be able to help you. If the booking is for a package holiday, you are entitled to a full refund for the monies you have paid for the package.