Package holiday companies with the best flexible booking policies
Foreign travel is back on the agenda but Covid-19 hasn’t gone away. Whether you test positive before departure or the country you’re visiting introduces new rules or restrictions, there are still lots of reasons why your holiday might not go ahead.
It’s also important to safeguard your trip against new variants should the UK government introduce further lockdowns or travel bans. If that wasn’t enough, the recent flight cancellations due to staff shortages could also derail your plans.
Your safest bet is to book a package holiday with a provider that offers a good flexible booking policy. That way you’ll get your money back, or be able to rebook for a new date or destination without paying a fee.
Just be wary that not all flexible booking policies were created equal. Which? has examined hundreds of policies and found some have restrictions or gaps that will leave you out of pocket if things go wrong. Some won’t offer refunds or rebooking even if your destination requires travellers to quarantine on arrival.
Plenty will bump you to your travel insurance if you, or a member of your party, test positive before departure.
Below we have detailed the policies of providers rated most highly by customers in our annual holiday company survey, along with the 10 biggest package providers (according to the Civil Aviation Authority) that you may be considering booking a trip with.
First: a note on cancellations
All travellers have a legal right to a refund within 14 days if their package holiday is cancelled by the tour operator, or if their flights are cancelled by the airline. However, your package holiday provider may not cover you if you cancel the trip – say, if the FCDO has advised against travel to your destination and you aren’t comfortable travelling, or because of local lockdowns.
That’s why it’s crucial that you opt for a company which offers flexibility. Be aware that different terms and conditions will apply if you book your flights and hotels separately. The information in the table applies to package holidays only – booked with one company in one transaction.
Some flexible policies have been dropped
Many holiday companies are reassessing their flexible terms and conditions now that travel restrictions have eased.
In June, British Airways scrapped its ‘Book with Confidence’ policy. The guarantee was introduced back in March 2020 to encourage new bookings, allowing passengers to change their travel plans for any reason fee-free.
Now those who booked before 8 June and are due to travel before 30 September can still change their date or destination for free or cancel in exchange for a credit voucher.
For bookings after 8 June (and travel after 1 October), customers will be charged a £100 fee if they make changes up to 14 days before departure. After this a £500 fee will apply.
Kuoni has also dropped its flex plus policy in favour of its less generous flex policy. This allows fee-free changes for any reason up to 30 days before departure (as opposed to 10 days for long-haul and 21 days for European travel).
Tui’s flex policy ended on 30 April. Anyone wishing to make changes for non-Covid reasons will be subject to the normal fees.
Which holiday companies offer the greatest flexibility?
When you book with a Which? Recommended Provider (WRP) you can be sure that your money is safe amid Covid-19 uncertainty. That’s because we only allow holiday companies with a fair level of flexibility built into their booking policies to hold WRP status.
Exodus, Explore and Inntravel will offer refunds for all of the Covid-related scenarios in the above table – and all within 14 days. WRP Trailfinders will process your refund within one day of it being granted.
Some providers will even allow free changes if you simply get cold feet about travelling. Inntravel grants this flexibility up until eight days before departure, while for some trips with Riviera Travel it’s seven days.
Just be aware that you may lose money on some unrecoverable elements of the package. As WRPs you can also expect a high level of customer service, meaning someone is there to help if your holiday is disrupted.
Why package holidays offer better protection
We recommend booking a package to protect yourself against changing travel restrictions. It also means other elements of your holiday are protected if you are caught up in the current travel disruption caused by staff shortages.
Your holiday is likely to be a package if you book more than one part of your getaway, such as flights and accommodation, from one company with one payment.
It is always the tour operator that is responsible for your refund or amendment. If you booked a flight as part of the package you will be issued with an Atol certificate, and this will list the tour operator.
If you didn’t book a flight or can’t find your Atol certificate, ask the agent or website you booked through who is responsible for the holiday. If there is any doubt, check with your agent before booking.
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