/ Travel & Leisure

Coronavirus: your travel and consumer rights questions

The coronavirus outbreak is causing disruption to international travel. Has it affected your plans? We explain your rights.

Last updated: 3 April – 16:00 GMT

Which? continues to cover what impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on travel, consumer rights, and other parts of consumers’ lives. We’re continuing to listen and respond to your questions below, and have updated our guidance below based on what you’re asking.

Jump ahead to the questions

See all of Which?’s coverage in the Which? Coronavirus Hub

Previous update from 24 March

The UK Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel abroad as COVID-19 spreads across the world.

Flight, holiday and event cancellations are affecting travellers visiting outbreak hotspots and other popular tourist destinations.

We’ve been getting lots of questions about what this means for your travel plans, so we’ve put together this Q&A to respond to your concerns.

If you’re worried about whether you’re still safe to travel, you can check the UK Foreign office advice for the latest updates on the country you’re planning to visit.

Airlines including British Airways, Ryanair, Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic, have cancelled many flights until further notice, and are refunding passengers.

Some airlines operating internally within Asia, Europe and the US are also running reduced services.

It’s worth checking your flight is still going ahead if you’re due to return home, fly internationally, or have a connecting flight.

Delays can be expected at airports as passengers are screened for the virus.

If you have any other questions, ask them in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Your travel questions

I’m stuck abroad because my flights, and all other flights home, have been cancelled. What do I do?

The airline you booked with has a duty to rebook you on another flight or a ‘rescue’ flight, or help you organise travel home. But it doesn’t seem like many are sticking to this commitment.

If your airline is ignoring the rules, don’t claim a refund. Instead, come home on any airline you can as soon as possible and bill the original airline for the new ticket.

Pay with a credit card if you can.

If your airline just isn’t helping you, or you can’t get in touch with them, there are a few things you can also do:

  • If you’re on a package holiday, or you booked through a travel agent, get in touch with them. They should be able to advise you further and possibly book alternative travel for you.
  • Check to see if your travel insurance will cover alternative travel costs and any extra accommodation you might need.

You can also try and get in touch with the British consulate in the country you’re visiting for advice.

Read more on what to do if you’re a UK passenger stranded abroad

My connecting flight was cancelled due to the coronavirus, am I entitled to a refund?

If your flight starts or ends in the UK, or an EU country, your airline should reroute you or refund your full fare.

If your flight is outside of the UK or an EU country, it will depend on the airline’s policy, but you should be refunded if a flight has been cancelled.

Check the airline’s policy on how they deal with delays – not all of them have the same protections as flights departing or returning to the UK or EU.

See all of our guidance for travellers during the Coronavirus pandemic

My airline is offering a voucher for a cancelled flight, not a refund. Is that allowed?

No. If  your flight is cancelled you’re due a refund. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Many people are telling us the airline website isn’t working for refunds. Wait a few days and it will become easier.

Read more about what each airline is doing with flight cancellations

If my package holiday firm goes bust, will I get my money back?

If the firm is ATOL protected, yes. This government run scheme – operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – safeguards your money if your provider stops trading and your trip is unable to go ahead.

Almost all package holidays booked in the UK are Atol protected. To find out if you’re covered, check your trip paperwork for an Atol certificate and logo with a four or five-digit number.

You can verify this by going to the ‘Check an Atol’ section of the CAA’s website, caa.co.uk.  

My airline says my flights aren’t cancelled and won’t refund me, despite the government travel warning. Can I get my money back?

Airlines are now routinely ignoring FCO warnings. Best practical advice is to rebook and rebook again until one of the rebookings get cancelled – which is likely, as airlines reduce schedules.

Your airline might not refund the cost of your fares if your flight is still going ahead as planned, despite the advice not to travel. In this case, you’d have to see if you can claim your money back from your travel insurance.

Read more about whether airlines are issuing refunds due to Coronavirus

My package holiday has been cancelled, and my package provider is only offering a voucher or a chance to reschedule. Am I entitled to a refund?

If your flight or package holiday was scheduled before 16 April and it’s now cancelled, you don’t have to accept a voucher or credit note, nor do you have to rebook. You are legally entitled to a refund.

More details about what to do when your package holiday is cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak

I’ve booked to go on a cruise, can I cancel and get a refund?

The government has advised to not go on a cruise if you’re aged 70 or over, or have an underlying health condition. If this applies to you, you should get a full refund from your travel company.

We’d recommend pushing for a refund rather than postponing or getting a credit note because of the current uncertainty.

Most of the major cruise companies are provisionally planning to restart sailing in either April or May. Keep your booking for now, but contact your provider to find out more about their cancellation and postponement policies.

More advice on coronavirus and upcoming cruises in Summer 2020

An event I’ve bought tickets for has been postponed or cancelled because of the virus outbreak. Can I get my money back?

If you bought tickets directly from the event organiser or an official ticket seller, they should offer you a refund or hold your tickets if the event will be rescheduled.

If your event is rescheduled in the future, but you can’t make the new date, you can still ask for your money back.

If transport or hotel bookings are affected by your event being cancelled, get in touch with the companies you’ve booked with and explain the situation. They might be able to refund you or rebook your plans for a later date.

Find out more about your rights if an event is cancelled due to the outbreak.

Your UK travel questions

What if my train, coach ferry or flight within the UK gets cancelled? Or if I choose not to travel?

It depends on what type of transport you’ve booked, and the type of ticket you have.

See our guide on whether you can get a refund if your UK travel is affected.

Can I still drive during the UK Lockdown?

The Government has said you can for specific, essential reasons:

  • Medical reasons, to provide care, or to help vulnerable people
  • Travelling to and from work (only when it is essential to do so and you cannot work from home
  • To shop for basic necessities as food. The government advises to do this as infrequently as you can, and to use delivery services where possible.

Find out more about when you can and cannot drive during the Coronavirus lockdown

Future travel plans

Will my Easter and Summer holidays go ahead?

Easter holidays are off, and it is too early to say whether summer holidays will still go ahead.

Read more on what may happen for future holidays

I’m due to go on holiday abroad after 14 April, but want to cancel now in case travel warnings are still in place. Am I entitled to a refund?

Unless the Foreign Office warns against travel closer to the time, you probably won’t be able to get a full refund if you decide to cancel now. You’ll probably have to pay a cancellation fee.

There’s no harm in contacting your airline or travel company to ask though – some are being more flexible at the moment.

If you decide to cancel your flights, you can claim back the Air Passenger Duty part of your fare from the airline. It’s usually £13 for flights to Europe, and £79 for long haul flights.

Take a look at our guide on when you can cancel your holiday.

Will I be able to claim back the cost of my bookings I made on my credit or debit card if I have to cancel my trip?

If any of your travel plans are cancelled by an airline or travel company due to the outbreak, you should be refunded directly by the company you paid.

But if you have problems getting a refund, and you paid using a credit or debit card, you could ask your card provider if you can make a claim.

When you pay by card, your bank is partly responsible for what you purchase. It should be able to refund your money if you didn’t get what you paid for.

However, if you decide to cancel your trip yourself, you won’t be able to claim for a refund using this protection.

I was hoping to book a trip soon. How can I protect my travel if the outbreak gets worse and I can’t go, or decide not to go?

Take out travel insurance as soon as you’ve booked your trip, and check the policy will cover you if you decide to cancel due to the outbreak risk.

Find out more on whether Coronavirus is covered by your travel insurance

In response to the uncertainty around travel, some airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are now waiving cancellation fees on new bookings. If you decide to cancel, you’ll get a full refund without having to pay any fees.

Some travel agents, tour operators and cruise lines have also relaxed their cancellation policies. Check with the travel company before you book to find out how easily you’d be able to cancel.

If the FCO advises against travel to the country you’re planning to visit, you should be entitled to a refund from your airline, travel agent and/or tour operator.

More on when you might be able to cancel a holiday

More advice from Which?

You’ll find more guidance from Which? around the website, including:

See all of our guidance of the Coronavirus pandemic in the Which? Coronavirus Hub

Which? members can also speak to a dedicated legal or money adviser with Which? Legal or Which? Money Helpline. Not a member? Join here.

When your package holiday was cancelled due to coronavirus, did you package provider offer you a refund?
Loading ... Loading ...

We’re here, and will be updating this discussion regularly as the situation evolves.

Comments

Lauren: for interest, it now seems the favoured name for this virus is the Wuhan novel coronavirus.

My son is in Koh Samui & will be travelling home vía Bangkok with BA. Will he be screened for the virus at the airport?

Lauren: WHO has now renamed the virus as Covid-19.

I wonder why they changed the name?

This is what is on the WHO website https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
On this website you can find information and guidance from WHO regarding the current outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that was first reported from Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019.

Their website does not seem to have yet been updated as Covid-19 did not get a match. “The name of the disease is linked with the virus that causes it: it starts with “co” and “vi” for “coronavirus.” The “d” stands for disease, while “19” indicates the year that it was first discovered. What the name doesn’t have is an association with Wuhan or China.

A distinct name is essential because different coronaviruses can cause anything from fairly mild respiratory infections like a cold to serious ones like SARS and the present outbreak.

They were slow in naming this one, I thought. ‘Wuhan’ is probably the name that will stick. SARS got all the bad press, but MERS had a higher death rate.

Rosemary B says:
11 February 2020

I’ve got a flight booked on China Southern to New Zealand. I want to cancel it & get a refund but try as I will it’s impossible to get through to China Southern by telephone. I’m concerned if I take the online cancellation option I won’t get a full refund.

Unless China Southern have to cancel the flights, it is unlikely you will get a (full) refund.

We may not travel to and from China/the Far East, but we may come into contact with people who have, or come into contact with people who have come into contact with people who have, etc, etc, etc, (funny, but not trying to me funny), so I think it’s worth posting this here:
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/wuhan-novel-coronavirus/

The price of surgical face masks has become excessively high. A pack of five disposable masks is £5.99 at my local pharmacy, or £1.20 for a single use, as one is not supposed to reuse them. On Amazon, a similarly looking pack of 50 is £69.89. Surely this is far overpriced? Can Which? investigate this, please?

Hi Inessa, that sounds like a simple case of unregulated capitalism (and free market forces) at work to me – what do you imagine Which? should do about it?

Yes, it’s basic supply and demand economics at work.

There’s always a business that wants to exploit a panic. I am confident that the health authorities will advise us as and when we need to routinely wear masks and will ensure that they are available at a sensible price.

It is possible that advance stocking is creating a shortage. The current screening and isolation policy and measures seem to be effective so far in protecting the population.

Excessive pricing is prohibited under competition law in the EU and most other jurisdictions. Which? could investigate the situation with the face masks and request the appropriate authorities to enforce the excessive pricing regulations with respect to the face masks.

Inessa, thanks for your reply.

If you are thinking of Article 102 of the TFEU here, I’m not sure that would be easy to apply in this case. As shown in your first post, suppliers are responding to current market conditions but they are not in any way responsible for the sudden surge in demand.

Price-rigging and collusion are anti-competitive practices, and therefore illegal here, but in an open competitive market such as the UK I do not see that as applying in relation to face masks. I would not know what a fair price for such an article is. I have noticed that very few hospital staff, excluding those in operating theatres and other controlled environments, wear face masks so I question their value for general infection control. Isolation appears to be the best safeguard.

The main benefit of the masks is probably to prevent touching the face.

So something cheap, washable and reusable would be satisfactory perhaps.

Yes, and they are available.

Wow, I haven’t tried to purchase surgical masks before but the pack of 50 cost does seem very pricey to me! I wonder as well if we could research prices, I’d be interested to know as well.

For basic protection people probably do not need surgical-grade masks.

Frequent hand-washing and generally keeping clean at all times are satisfactory controls.

I noticed a half-page government advert in the papers today. Reassurance that the NHS is adequately prepared and preventing over-reaction seem to be the priorities.

Quarantining thousands of people in an air-conditioned ship certainly does not seem to work as a preventative.

Excessive yes, but hardly illegal. If there is someone happy to pay that price, then they are happy to sell it at that price. Does anyone know if builders masks are suitable; I’ve a some at home?

Suitable for what? You need to ask the question why people are wearing surgical masks in the first place.

Medical staff wear surgical masks primarily to prevent them becoming infected via *splashing* of blood, body fluids, secretions, etc., when caring for a patient. These masks need to be fluid resistant and changed regularly when contaminated. Whilst they can help prevent the transmission of droplet-born microorganisms, they do not help with air-born bacteria and viruses, as they leak around the face.

So, unless you are in very close proximity to someone coughing, sneezing, spitting, etc., a surgical mask is not going to save you from a virus infection.

Builders were PPE masks to guard against particulate matter (e.g. plaster, cement, wood, paint dust, fibreglass) and/or organic droplets and fumes resulting from solvent-based paints and varnishes, particularly when applied with a spray gun. There are all kinds; the cheapest paper masks are only designed to protect you against “nuisance” dusts.

So a builder’s mask may be better than nothing, if you need to look after a sick relative and it fits well, but otherwise there isn’t much point. Anyway, all the suppliers are sold out, which is bit of a pain if you are in the building trade and need to provide your workers with PPE to meet H&S requirements.

Fortunately, face masks are of very limited benefit so no need to get them. If you really want one try a decorators merchant as the public have not caught on. I bought some for sanding I was doing to the woodwork in the hall prior to painting 5 days ago whilst there were non in DIY stores and trade outlets..

I have been a little surprised by peoples behaviour today. Nobody seems to be keeping their distance. It is much more of a fight in the local supermarket. The corner shop was actually better stocked and restricting purchases. The local Tesco extra has reduced staff due to the being off for isolation or taking holiday to avoid contact with locals. The manager could not get staff to come in. Ordering online is a nightmare as the web site is almost always down and deliverty slots non existent.

Michelle Smyth says:
15 February 2020

Family are traveling home for a wedding in April they are in New Zealand will this have an effect on their travel arrangements

The Introduction to the Conversation does not mention any current restrictions on flights to or from New Zealand but, obviously, things could change between now and their travel dates.

I would imagine the most likely effect on travel arrangements will be as a result of people changing their planned travel dates or destinations leading to a fall in demand for air travel and cruises and a consequent adjustment of schedules.

Hi, I am going in Pakistan on 13th of april. I am worried that I’ve to go or canceled my flight? Plz help me.

I think it would be impossible to predict the situation in the middle of April as it depends on how the virus spreads and how different states react. Check with your airline whether or not your fares would be refunded if you cancelled your flight of your own volition rather than in response to Foreign Office advice or a restriction imposed by the Pakistan government.

Roger Black says:
17 February 2020

I am going to Hong Kong on 5th March for 3 weeks on business/liesure. I also booked and paid for a flight from HK to KL with Air Asia. This flight has been cancelled in the past two days and I am attempting to get a refund but Our Asia is stalling as they say I booked the flight through an agent and should contact them. I booked the flight online myself so I don’t know where they got this from. They are not replying to me correspondence. As well as all that I booked a 5* hotel in KL and have cancelled the booking but they will not refund my money.
Anything I can do?

Hi Roger

Thank you for your post. Did you book the flight directly through Air Asia’s website or was it via a third party website? If the latter, and you paid the third party which then booked the flight on your behalf, then from a contractual perspective you may need to recover this from the third party, who would then recover this from Air Asia.

If you booked the flight directly with Air Asia and they either delay or refuse to process a refund, then direct enforcement against the airline may be difficult from a practical perspective as they are based in Malaysia.

If you booked using a UK registered credit card then you could make a claim directly against the credit card company under s.75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, as they would be jointly and severally liable for breaches of contract committed by Air Asia. This would probably not assist you if you booked through a third party, as the credit card company will allege that there has been a “break in the chain” of the transaction and therefore they would have no liability to you.

As an alternative (e.g. if you paid on a debit card) you could request your bank process a ‘chargeback’ to try and recover the money directly from the recipient bank account. This is an internal process that is operated by the banks and is not an enshrined legal right. There is a general time limit of 120 days from the original transaction in order to process the chargeback.

The above advice applies similarly to the booking with the hotel.

Best wishes,

James

(This information is provided by Which? Legal. To join call 01174 054 854 or visit Which? Legal to find out more.)

I have a return flight booked with Emirates to fly from London to Asmara in Eritrea, via Dubai in April. I am unable to obtain the necessary visa for Eritrea as the Eritrean authorities are currently not issuing any visas.. If this situation continues into April, would I be correct in assuming that Emirates would not permit me to fly as I do not have the necessary paperwork (visa) to travel to Eritrea. And if that is the case would they be obliged to refund the cost of my return flight. Alternatively as I used a credit card to purchase the flight ticket how successful do you think I might be in pursuing the card company for a refund ?

I do not know whether your enquiry is related to the coronavirus or other factors affecting Eritrea, Hugh. For an authoritative response, I suggest you contact the airline. Your assumption appears reasonable but it would be best to obtain assurance.

Liam Ward says:
25 February 2020

You say, I think, that if the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against travel a full refund on a booked trip should be forthcoming
However when I look at my Staysure Annual Travel Policy under “Cancellation” cover seems to be restricted to FCO directives in respect of earthquake,fire flood or hurricane only. So who pays for e.g., a cruise booked without flights

In your advice relating to the coronavirus you quote the ABI statement to the effect that cancellation or travel disruption will activate when the FCO advises against all travel or all but essential travel to an area. I have just been advised by my insurers that in the event of such a cancellation their policy (CSIS) would not cover that eventuality and that I would have to seek compensation, refund or alternative arrangements from the holiday provider or flight provider. Is this normal? They do not provide any extension of the policy to cover that eventuality.

Didsy says:
26 February 2020

No one is mentioning Vietnam with regard to the corona virus! Could you please advise me on how many cases have been confirmed and what are the Vietnamese government doing about containing the virus?
I am travelling there with a friend in March and I have bronchiectasis!

You might find the following website helpful and answers some of your questions –
https://vietnam.travel/things-to-do/information-travellers-novel-coronavirus-vietnam

Darren says:
29 February 2020

By UK law can I raise a chargeback claim with my credit card issuer, if for example the travel or airline company refuse to refund my money or make an arrangement because of the corona virus travel ban? Will I be covered?

I think you will need to ask your own credit card company.

I could be mistaken, but I do not believe the chargeback facility derives from any entitlement in law [unlike breach of contract protection under S.75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974] but is a discretionary benefit exercised by the company in accordance with its own terms and conditions and subject exclusively to its own interpretation of liability. I doubt there is a universal scheme with standard arrangements. There have occasionally been cases detailed in Which? Conversation where chargeback has been denied in what seemed to be eligible circumstances.

We are due to go on a 14 day cruise from 20/6/20 – 4/7/20 with P&O. We are due to visit Italy, France and Spain. £2000 is due to be paid by 23/3/20.
If I pay by my Nationwide credit card would I be entitled to a refund in the event the cruise was cancelled.

Thanks
Michael

My child’s school has cancelled a trip to Japan against FCO advice, so it’s unlikely that losses will be covered by insurance. Is school liable to refund parents?

I booked to Lisbon in order to attend an annual conference in Sintra to present a paper. The conference is cancelled due to corona virus. but can take place next year at the same time.I want to cancel my easyjet flights or rebook them for next year. Can’t get to speak to anyone in my travel insurance (Nationwide Flex) or easyjet.

Robert Mitchell says:
4 March 2020

I have booked flights from Inverness to London for a family break in London at the end of March. We plan to stay in a hotel for a few days before our return home. Are we heading into a ‘Hot spot’ for the virus?

Morning Robert. I live in London (as do most Which? staff) and, like other UK cities, London isn’t a hotspot at the moment – a few people are taking precautions and working from home if they wish to, but otherwise it’s business as usual. I believe the two more cases confirmed in Scotland has brought the UK-wide total to 53 at the time of writing.

As with travel to anywhere at the moment it’s best to keep an eye on the latest news and see if cases escalate. If government advice changes then we’ll update this page on what your rights may be.

Air China have granted a refund on the flights I booked for myself and my two sons to the Philippines (via Beijing) on 29th March. However the third party agent that I booked the flights through have said they are keeping £150 admin fee?!? Do I have any rights here? Many thanks

I booked with Travel Up. I telephoned Air China myself as I was not getting any response from Travel Up. Air China said that they would put a note on my account but Id have to get my refund from Travel Up. Are they allowed to keep an admin fee?

My flights were not cancelled but I am eligible for a refund.

Should I be concerned about staying in a UK hotel outside London?

It is impossible to predict the risk since it will depend largely on who else is staying or working there and whether they are infected.

I would hope that hotels have upgraded their hygiene procedures in the light of the outbreak.