Can you book a holiday now? How to navigate the latest travel rules

9 min read
May 18, 2021

Don’t you just hate mixed messages? If you’ve been looking longingly at international holidays and wondering if you should take a risk, you’re not alone. 

But even Government messages on the subject are often cagey or conflicting. All of this – despite the latest announcements determining which countries are now on ‘green’, ‘amber’ and ‘red’ lists, for now – has led to mass confusion and I’m afraid there are no definitive answers. My three top tips would be:

  • Play it safe – look at the news and go with countries on the green list with a good vaccination programme;
  • Aim towards the later part of the year if you must book, but buy insurance; and
  • Make sure you’ve got enough cash to cover emergencies and quarantine stays.

Check quick changes to travel rules and the moving lists

Wherever you are looking to book, bear in mind that regardless of which list a country is on, that country may still be blocking entry from UK travellers, or have their own entry requirements, such as proof of a negative Covid-19 test result, so check before you decide to take the plunge. The devil is in the detail – the individual rules, timings and guidelines for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – so check what you need to do in terms of where you live.

Countries can move between our own green, amber and red lists quickly – and like last year you could find yourself in a country that goes on to a list where quarantine is required. Make sure you are regularly checking the Government’s website for the latest updates and changes if you are considering travel plans. While the Government has said the green list will be reviewed every three weeks, it’s clear that if a situation changes quickly overseas, then there’s every chance that a country may be moved between lists sooner. 

What’s the cover on travel insurance?

All of this makes travel insurance vital. But travel insurance varies considerably, so check policies carefully before you buy. Most policies offer Covid cancellations now, but not necessarily being turned away at the airport gate. Check everything before you travel. 

As a (very) general rule, insurance covers you for unexpected events or things out of your control, not for changing your mind. So if you want to leave a holiday because it looks like the country you are in is going on the red list, you are unlikely to be able to claim any costs, including for a hotel.

Remember there’s a big difference between a holiday cancellation and simply not being able to go. A huge grey area in travel became apparent during the last lockdown, where travel was banned but some planes still took off. Even though we couldn’t travel, the flights still operated, removing the legal right to refund. However, realistically, as you can’t travel, the travel firm should allow you to change the date you travel, get vouchers or even get a full refund.

Some holiday firms have been very difficult about allowing people to cash in vouchers if their circumstances change and they can’t travel. I think this is totally unfair but assume that they’ll be difficult and ask them to confirm in writing that you can cash in vouchers before you agree to take them out.

The competition regulator, the Competition & Market Authority has now issued a warning to package travel operators to respect travellers’ refund rights, including reminding them that customers are entitled to a refund if their holiday is cancelled within 14 days of the cancellation date, and that they need to make refund options clear and accessible. 

It has also issued an open letter to the 100 most complained-about operators setting out that they are expected to: 

  • Refund holidays cancelled by the operator within 14 days;
  • Allow an option of a refund alongside any offer of a credit note or voucher – customers should be able to exchange vouchers or credit note for a refund at any time; and
  • Give customers a refund if they decide to cancel their package holiday because of unavoidable or extraordinary circumstances at the destination, including if the government travel advice to the destination changes. 

If the company refuses a refund, it should explain in full why it disagrees the travel is significantly affected.

Check all terms – and requirements – before you book a holiday

Despite travel opening up more to us, it’s still a far cry from just being able to jet off with no more than a passport and the vaccinations you need if you’re heading to far flung destinations.

Before you leave you still need to:

  • Check entry requirements for the country you’re visiting – you may need to have taken a Covid-19 test prior to arrival, or be able to demonstrate that you have had two doses of the vaccine.
  • Check the restrictions on what you can and can’t do when you are at your destination – many will still have restrictions around where you can visit and social distancing rules in place, while some may currently be or quickly enter into a lockdown. 

If you spot a holiday you like the look of, you need to check with the business before you book. As a minimum, make sure you can actually contact them if something goes wrong.

Look for a phone number or email address – and if they only have an online form, send them a message and see how quickly they respond.

Ask the provider what will happen if you can’t travel because of:

  • Changing Government advice;
  • Travel advice in the country you’re going to; or
  • Lockdown restrictions.

Check whether you’ll get a refund, if you can move the holiday forward or if you will get vouchers, along with how long vouchers last for and whether you can cash them in. I know this seems like a hassle, but these are the main problems that people have encountered with refunds in the last year – and a good holiday firm or airline should have clear and fair solutions and answers.

Pay by card wherever you can

If you paid for goods or services that you couldn’t use due to a lockdown on a plastic card, you’ll have thanked your lucky stars in 2020. It’s easier to get refunds if things go wrong with payments made this way – but there are catches. 

You’re best off paying by debit or credit card, but credit cards provide you with the most protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act – which states that if you cannot get a refund from a provider for goods or services costing more than £100, you can make a claim against your credit card company for the amount. 

Some card providers are actively promoting Section 75 as a benefit of using them, so they’re likely to be more receptive if you have a genuine claim, and your provider is not playing ball.

If you’re having a travel trauma, Resolver can help you sort it out for free .

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