Alex’s blog: The amber list for travel – here we go again

4 min read
May 25, 2021

You’d have been hard-pushed to escape the response to the government’s roll-call of where you can (and allegedly can’t) travel to. The ‘green’, ‘amber’ and ‘red’ lists have been the hottest topic up and down the country.

The ‘amber list’ has of course particularly come under fire here. But of course, those that were unlucky enough to have their holidays hit by the second lockdown last November will know this is nothing new – and is in fact the same dilemma the Government put upon consumers back then.

And to add insult to injury, if you rewind a year and a bit back and travel providers were either pleading with us (or in fact coercing us) to accept vouchers, to rebook cancelled plans or move their holiday dates to avoid the payment of millions of pounds in refunds that may well have meant most firms would not have survived. In fact, at the time this was genuine advice.

But now it would appear, this latest set of announcements are basically doubly unfair to those travellers trying to do the right thing a year ago, as they are now in an even worse position than before.

More than 50 stories of amber list complaints

I’ve seen more than 50 cases from distressed, confused and quite frankly, let-down customers who have booked travel plans to an amber-list destination, often back in 2019 and having accepted ‘alternative’ options to a refund, which we know was a struggle. More than 50 individual stories from real people who were acting in good faith, booking travel plans thinking they could do so securely.

We have seen flat refusals from providers to offer refunds for or re-bookings with those vouchers. One highlighted that they accepted a voucher and rebooked flights – “big mistake” – when their original flight was cancelled, and when they found they couldn’t travel were told that because they’d paid with a voucher they couldn’t make any changes to their booking.

We’ve also seen offers of alternative bookings where of course the consumer was “asked to pay for the privilege”, and others were bumping into “ridiculous additional fees” despite being told at the time about a “no change fee policy”.

There were examples of personal circumstances unsurprisingly changing over the past two years but with no consideration of this. I know I often complain about a lack of personal touch when dealing with customers, but this is one area where I feel it needs to be first and foremost.

And what about those that simply won’t be able to quarantine when they arrive back in the UK? We’ve heard from key workers, including NHS workers, those with care responsibilities and those that will simply lose money from not being able to work. Some were simply asking for a refund or even an “undated travel voucher as we are unsure when we will be able to travel abroad again safely”. Add to this the mandatory extra cost of Covid-19 tests if you go anywhere and it’s clear that these holidays are simply unaffordable for many who booked in good faith in the pre-Covid era.

This latest wave of pandemic perils puts all the burden of a moral dilemma on consumers – again. Travel – and face quarantine, significant financial loss and hiking extra costs – but also no insurance cover and the knowledge that you are going against stated government ‘advice’. Don’t travel – and you lose all your money, in some cases in the thousands, or pay through the nose to accept an alternative for something which is still far from certain.

The tricky details

Those that have been paying close attention will immediately know the ‘loophole’ (I say this ironically because it shouldn’t be one) that travel firms and airlines are using to deny their customers a refund. Put simply: the government is telling people not to go ‘on holiday’ to an amber-list country, but also making it clear that it is ‘not illegal’ to do so. Indeed, one was told that because it is stated they can technically still travel they “cannot have a refund”.

And then we come to the travel firms. Consumers have told us that at the time of re-booking they were assured they could cancel or reschedule at no cost if the situation changed. Well, it has changed, and in the tricky detailed terms of those companies, this ‘promise’ would have been for destinations that people are completely blocked from travelling to. But because amber-list (and red-list, for that matter) countries are not ‘illegal’ to travel to, companies are using this to state their position that people can technically still go.

What should be done?

It’s no good Boris Johnson asking people to use ‘their common sense’ when considering whether to travel. It is clear from our case files that when holiday-makers are trying to cancel, or move holidays that the travel firms are blocking any ‘common sense’ outcome.

So I would suggest the Government and the travel industry need to put their heads together and take some of their own advice and apply a little ‘common sense’. The only fair solution is to let those that booked in good faith before the pandemic and accepted the vouchers or alternative dates have their money back, or if they want to, allow them to move their holiday at no extra cost.

They need to all stop hiding behind the letter of law or carefully crafted T&Cs to do what is only fair for consumers.

Have you been hit by the amber list restrictions and your travel firm isn’t playing ball? Resolver can help raise your issue for free.

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