Coronavirus travel advice: our consumer champion explains your rights

As coronavirus continues to spread around the world, it is a worrying and confusing time for everyone. Thousands of flights have already been cancelled and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced that Britons will now be advised against any foreign travel for next 30 days (from March 17). 

Those with holidays booked are likely to be seeking a refund yet many feel they are being treated unfairly by companies, which is concerning to hear. But fear not, I'm here to help. To give you an overview of your rights, I've put together this guide on what to do if you've got a trip coming up.

The Money team and I are here to answer your questions and tackle any injustices you come up against. Please email [email protected] or [email protected] with specific questions or to have your case solved. 

*Please note all information is correct at the time of writing, but information relating to the spread of coronavirus will change, so please check the Foreign Office's specific page, which is regularly updated, and speak to your insurer and travel providers.*

How Coronavirus could affect your travel plans

Health workers in Malaysia inspect young evacuees from Wuhan Credit: REX

We've put together this table so you can see what your insurer or travel provider's policies are on coronavirus. We are updating it with information as it comes through, so if you don't see your provider in the table, it may not yet have responded to our request for information.  Policies may change over time so always double check with your insurer. We will update as we learn more: 

If you've booked to travel in the next 30 days  

Mr Raab's advice came into effect immediately, meaning that anyone due to go on holiday in the next 30 days will see their holiday plans disrupted.

Airlines will most likely cancel flights rather than flying empty planes. If this is the case you should receive your money back. Some flight operators have been offering flexible bookings instead, allowing people to change their departure to a later date. 

If you have booked your whole holiday as one package through a travel agent or tour operator, you should also have a right to a full refund. Sadly those who booked different parts of the holiday separately will be subject to the terms and conditions of each individual company. Check with each one to see what you're entitled to. 

Some travel companies are offering customers credit to put towards a future booking with them rather than a refund. However this may not have the same protection as a booked holiday and if the travel operator later goes bust, your credit note could be worth nothing.

If you booked using a credit card, you may be able to recoup the money from your provider. 

But what if you have a holiday booked for after the 30-day travel ban ends and are concerned about travelling? 

You've booked travel to an area that's now an official "no go" zone

If you've booked to go to a country which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all travel to, this is the most serious warning it can issue, and your holiday will not be going ahead.

Flights to these areas will be cancelled, and the good news is that all affected passengers should be entitled to a full refund. If you aren't, I'd recommend raising an official complaint. And feel free to let me know too.

As is the case if you're travelling in the next 30 days, if you have booked a package holiday through a travel agent or tour operator, the company should get in touch and advise you of your options. In most cases you will get your money back or you may be offered an alternative trip to a "safe" location, but you don't have to accept this if you feel it's unsuitable. 

You've booked travel to an area that's now an official "all but essential travel" zone

At the time of writing, the FCO advises against "all but essential travel" to a growing list of countries due to coronavirus. This means it has identified a significantly increased risk from the disease, and quite understandably, many holidaymakers will decide they want to delay or cancel their trips to "all but essential travel" locations. 

But I'm afraid this is where your rights start to get a bit more wobbly. If you've booked flights yourself, unless your tickets already state otherwise, you have no automatic right to a refund to an "all but essential travel zone". It is therefore down to the discretion of airlines and holiday companies to refund your travel if you no longer want to go. Contact your travel insurer to see if you're covered under your policy. That said, many flights are being cancelled voluntarily and fares refunded. 

I have better news for those who've booked a package holiday through a travel agent or tour operator. You have a right to a refund if your holiday is in an "all but essential travel" zone. The company should contact you to see if it can arrange a suitable alternative trip to a "safe" place. If you're happy with this, great, but if not, you don't have to accept. You can have a refund instead.

If your destination bans arrivals

President Donald Trump has placed a ban on travel from all European countries, including Britain, to America in an effort to slow down the spread of coronavirus. If your flight is cancelled by the airline then you should be repaid the full cost of your trip. 

You've booked travel to an area with a high volume of coronavirus cases

Many destinations around the world are reporting rising numbers of coronavirus cases.

Although at the time of writing, the FCO has not yet placed an outright warning against travel to many of these countries, those with holidays booked may find their trip disrupted. 

Travellers may arrive at destinations to find a range of measures in place, such as temperature tests at airports to check passengers don't have a fever. They may also be asked to self-isolate. There are also reports of holidaymakers being quarantined in their rooms.

I'm afraid that for both flights booked yourself and package holidays, unless your tickets already state otherwise, you have no automatic right to a refund if you no longer want to travel because of coronavirus. That is unless the destination is officially classed as a "no-go zone" by the FCO before your date of departure, or an "all but essential travel" zone for package holidays.

However, it is down to the discretion of airlines and holiday companies to refund your travel, so there's no harm in asking the question. You can also contact your travel insurer to see if you're covered under your policy.

Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and British Airways (BA) have both said they will try to accommodate customers wanting to change their plans. 

Your airline goes bust 

Flight operators are struggling to cope as they have to cancel more and more flights and people hold off booking holidays. One, Flybe, which was already experiencing difficulties, has even collapsed. 

All Flybe flights are now grounded and refunds are highly unlikely unless you booked as part of a package holiday. You may be able to reclaim the money via your credit or debit card provider or claim on your travel insurance. Some insurers, however, will only cover you for airline failure if you purchased an optional add-on with this included. 

You or a member of your family is especially worried due to age and/or health concerns 

Some passengers may fear that travelling to other countries where coronavirus has been found could put them at increased risk due to their age or pre-existing health complications. In general, coronavirus has proved far deadlier to older patients with underlying health issues, so I can appreciate these concerns. 

Even so, unless your tickets already state otherwise, unfortunately you have no absolute right to a refund for directly booked flights or package holidays. It is therefore down to the discretion of airlines and holiday companies to refund your travel if you no longer want to go.

If your airline or holiday company are unwilling to refund or let you postpone, you should ask your travel insurer if you're covered. Make sure you fully put them in the picture about your health concerns, providing a doctor's note if appropriate. This could really help your case. 

A woman with a protective facemask walks across the Piazza del Duomo, in front of the Duomo, in central Milan Credit:  AFP

You're quarantined or asked to self-quarantine while on holiday 

Holidaymakers who find themselves in quarantine are bound to feel their trip has been spoiled. Yet I asked Abta, the trade association that represents travel agents and tour operations, whether these people would be entitled to a refund, and I'm afraid it said they would not. 

In such a situation, holiday companies would be obliged to provide assistance and information to travellers, which may involve arranging and paying for new flights to bring them home. 

The good news is that travel insurance would be far more likely to pay out in a situation like this, so if this does happen to you, contact your insurer and provide all the evidence you have. 

Katie Morley's top travel tips 

  • Think very carefully about whether you should travel abroad over the next few weeks.  Apply a common sense approach and weigh up all the possible risks. 
  • Many insurers have withdrawn sale of new policies or restricted what they cover. I'd strongly advise against non essential abroad if you and your family are not going to be fully insured. 
  • Buy good quality year-round travel insurance to ensure you're covered before your trip, as well as when you're on holiday. Carefully read the key terms and conditions to check it is the right policy for you before buying. If you have specific concerns, phone your insurer and speak to them in person.
  • If you've got imminent travel plans, keep an eye on the Foreign Office's specific page, which is regularly updated with information about coronavirus. 
  • If you are affected by coronavirus while abroad, keep your travel provider(s) and insurer updated and follow all local health advice. 
  • If you've specific health or age concerns and are worried about coronavirus impacting an upcoming trip, bear in mind you may need a doctor's note in order to get a refund. Leave plenty of time before your trip to get a GP appointment.
  • Discuss any concerns with your travel provider and insurer well ahead of your trip.

Has your holiday been ruined by coronavirus or are you worried about future travel plans? Email: [email protected]