I’ve booked a package holiday to France but now The Foreign Office says I can’t go
Thousands of holidaymakers have just been caught out by the last minute Foreign Office decision to advise against all non-essential travel to France. Some will choose to still go but others will cancel, but in either case there are complicated legal issues depending on the kind of travel arrangements they made. This Bulletin is confined to discussing the position of those who have booked a package holiday but are yet to travel.
If I cancel will I get a refund?
If it is you that decides to cancel then you should get a refund. Certainly if your tour operator is a member of ABTA you will, thanks to a decision to that effect made recently by their Board. There is a view however that there is no legal requirement for them to do so. See this Bulletin for further details of that argument.
If you are travelling with a non-ABTA member and they take a hard line then you will have to rely upon your travel insurance, if you have any. Whether you can claim will depend upon the wording of the policy and the risks that it covers. If you took out the insurance before Covid struck your policy may cover you for taking government advice not to travel but the immediate reaction by the insurance industry after the pandemic broke out was to either withdraw from the market altogether or to change the policy to remove the possibility of Covid related claims. More recently however a few policies have reinstated such cover. But the advice has to be that it depends on individual policies as to whether the insurance company will entertain a claim.
If my tour operator cancels what will I get?
However if it is your tour operator that decides to cancel then you should also get a refund, and, potentially compensation as well
On the face of it a cancellation by your tour operator is a breach of contract – you booked and paid for a holiday and now they are not providing it. However they may pray in aid Reg. 13 of the Package Travel Regulations 2018 which provides that if your tour operator decides to terminate because they are ‘prevented from performing the contract because of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances’ you are entitled to a refund – but not to any further compensation. This raises the question of whether Covid-19 is actually preventing the performance of the contract. If the flights are still going and the accommodation is still open then performance is still possible in which case Reg. 13 does not apply so if your tour operator cancels this is a breach of contract for which a refund and compensation is payable.
But what compensation might you get? If you decide to rebook the holiday and it costs more, then the extra you had to pay is recoverable so long as you took reasonable steps to book a comparable holiday. Booking a luxury resort in the Maldives as a substitute for a three star hotel in Majorca is not a reasonable replacement
If you decided to stay at home then you would be eligible for damages for the distress and disappointment caused by not having a holiday.
But at this point it is necessary to take a reality check. This argument is highly technical and has not been tested in court; you would get strong resistance from your tour operator, not least because they don’t have the money to pay; and it would be months, if not years before you got your money. Common sense dictates that you should be satisfied with a refund.
What if I decide to go?
As the Foreign Office advice is only that, advisory, not mandatory, you are free to go if the package is still on offer but you may find that your travel insurance is invalidated. Many policies provide that travelling against government advice invalidates the policy, either the whole policy or just the medical cover. Of course if you have an EHIC then you will have access to the French health service on the same terms as French nationals which may not be such a bad thing.
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