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.
Updated: 13 January 2022
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 documentation, testing and/or quarantine requirements for your trip, visit our webpage Travel requirements to check before travelling abroad.
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.
The Government has introduced a simpler system for international travel to replace the traffic light system of green, amber and red list countries. There is now just one ‘red list’ of countries and territories and the previous green and amber lists have been merged into the ‘rest of the world’ or the ‘non-red list’.
The testing and quarantine requirements when you return from non-red list countries will depend on your COVID-19 vaccination status, so check what you need to do before you go away so you’re prepared for your return journey.
You can find further guidance on the new system on our webpage Travel requirements to check before travelling abroad or by speaking to your travel provider.
This system determines what you need to do when you come back to the UK, so to find out what you need to do before you leave the UK, you’ll need to read the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advice page for the country you are visiting at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Many countries require visitors to show they have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus as part of their entry requirements, they may also accept it in place of other measures such as testing. You should check gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice to find out if this applies to the country you’re visiting, what proof they will accept (e.g. you can’t use the NHS appointment card from your vaccination centre), and their definition of fully vaccinated.
How you show proof depends on where you live in the UK:
If you’re using an app, it’s a good idea to download a pdf copy to your phone so you can access it easily when travelling. If you’re requesting a paper certificate, make sure you allow plenty of time for them to be sent to you as they may take up to 10 working days to arrive. Showing proof of vaccination for travel is becoming increasingly available for children as the vaccination programme progresses, so follow the links above to find out what’s possible. 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, so check if they will accept 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.
The exact testing requirements for going on a foreign holiday will depend on which destination you are visiting and your vaccination status. All tests for travel must meet the testing requirements for your destination and/or the UK Government for your return to the UK and come from a private testing provider listed on Gov.uk, so you can’t use any of the tests that are currently being offered for free by the NHS.
Departing the UK
Each country has set out their own entry requirements for international arrivals, 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.
Coming back to the UK from non-red list countries
If you are fully vaccinated or under 18 and returning to the UK from a non-red list country, you no longer need to take a pre-departure test before you return to the UK. You also no longer need to self-isolate on arrival and can take a day two lateral flow test instead of a PCR test. If your lateral flow test is positive, you will need to self-isolate immediately and order a free NHS PCR test from Gov.uk to help monitor variants. If you’re travelling with children, you’ll find more detail on our travel requirements page.
If you are unvaccinated and returning to the UK from a non-red list country, you still need to show a negative pre-departure test result (lateral flow or PCR) taken in the two days before you return to the UK, as well as take a PCR test on or before day two of your return and another PCR test on day eight of your return. You’ll also need to quarantine at home for 10 days on your return. If you’re returning to England, you’ll have the option of a “test to release” on day five to end self-isolation early.
Coming back to the UK from red list countries
Regardless of your vaccination status, if you’re returning to the UK from a red list country, you will need to show a negative pre-departure test result (lateral flow or PCR) taken in the two days before you return to the UK and pre-book a mandatory 11-night quarantine hotel package, which will include two PCR tests, taken on day two and day eight.
If you would like more detailed guidance, visit our blog: Which COVID-19 tests do I need for my holiday and how do I get one?
If you test positive for Coronavirus before you return to the UK, 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
When determining your rights to a refund, there are a number of issues to consider, such as destinations allowing visitors in, and what are the rules on quarantining upon arrival at your destination or on your return to the UK.
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):
Examples of changes which are not significant enough to affect the main characteristics of your holiday and therefore do NOT entitle you to a refund (not an exhaustive list):
If you can’t go on the holiday due to quarantine requirements when you return to the UK or you no longer wish to go on your holiday but it can go ahead as planned or with only minor changes, 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 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.
However, there are certain situations which mean you do not need to self-isolate. Find out more information from the NHS website and speak to your travel provider for guidance about your holiday.
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 a refund by your package organiser. There may be other options available, such as rebooking, and 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 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. 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 travel company couldn’t provide your package holiday as planned and you didn’t choose to rebook, you are entitled to a refund. This is also the case if you previously accepted an ABTA-protected Refund Credit Note (RCN).
If you need help getting a refund from an ABTA Member, you can register a complaint on our website and an adviser will be in touch with you.
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, 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.
RCNs were issued by travel companies as a temporary measure during the pandemic, when it wasn’t possible to provide refunds to all customers at the same time.
It is proof of a refund due to you, that retains the protection of your money that came with your original booking with the tour operator (e.g. ATOL, or bonding with ABTA) and allows you to rebook a holiday or receive a refund at a later date. RCNs have an expiry date, which is the date to which your money is protected, and by which the travel company is to refund you if you haven’t used the RCN to rebook.
RCNs can no longer be issued. If you have an RCN, you should use it to rebook or claim a refund. If the ABTA Member that has given you the RCN goes out of business (financially fails) before you’ve been able to use the RCN, ABTA can help you recover your money if the RCN is still in date and has been correctly issued by the travel company. For more information see ‘What is covered under ABTA’s financial protection scheme?’ Please note that if you made your original booking through an ABTA travel agent Member, you may need to claim part of your money back directly from the travel agent. We can provide further information if this is the case.
If you have any concerns that your ABTA Member isn’t following the rules for RCNs or you need help with getting a refund, you can register a complaint on our website and an adviser will be in touch.
If the travel company is not an ABTA Member you may wish to contact Citizens Advice, Trading Standards or the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA). The Government has an online complaint form to report a business behaving unfairly during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
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.