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How to keep your money safe when you book travel in 2021

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Right now, London and the rest of England are under national lockdown with stay-at-home restrictions in place. Holidays within the UK and abroad are not currently allowed.

Indeed, if you want to travel abroad, you need to be able to demonstrate a legally permitted reason for doing so, and complete an official declaration.

But the announcement of England’s proposed roadmap out of lockdown and positive news about the ongoing vaccination programme has given hope that travel for leisure may be on the cards again in the near future.

According to England’s four-step roadmap, the earliest travel within England could begin to open up is 12 April, when self-contained accommodation, such as holiday lets, could be allowed to operate for one household only. 

International travel will not resume until 17 May at the earliest, but the situation should become clearer after a report and recommendations by The Global Travel Taskforce on 12 April.

As there are still a number of uncertainties around both domestic and international travel in 2021, from dates not being set in stone to further lockdowns causing cancellation, Londoners looking to book travel should consider protecting their money in the following ways.

1.  Book a package holiday

Booking a package holiday is a wise choice for travel in 2021 as it will come with more financial protection than booking each element of your trip separately.

Most tour operators will cancel a holiday if the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) changes its advice to warn against all but essential travel to a destination.

Kuoni, as an example, says:“You can book a Kuoni holiday with confidence knowing that it’s ABTA and ATOL protected, that we stringently follow the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s advice and that we have the backing of REWE, a financially strong international business.”

While TUI says:“If government advice is against travelling overseas on holiday, we will cancel your holiday and you will be able to receive a full refund, or you can change your holiday to another date for free. If local area restrictions change, but the government does not advise against travel overseas, you will be able to change your holiday, without change fees.”

If a package holiday is cancelled, you are legally entitled to a refund under the Package Travel Regulations. You may also be offered to change your holiday to another date if you are happy with this option.

Make sure you book a package holiday that is ATOL-protected. ATOL stands for the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence and it’s a financial protection scheme in the UK that will protect your money if the company you book with ceases to trade.

If this happens before a trip, you will be refunded. If it happens while you’re away, you’ll be given help to continue your holiday and then helped to get home. Find out more about the scheme here

If your package holiday does not include a flight – for example a rail holiday – book with an ABTA member to receive similar financial protection in the event of a company entering administration. (This applies to package holidays sold to you by a company within the European Economic Area.) 

2. Take advantage of flexible booking policies

Travel companies are aware of the uncertainty around travel at the moment and so many now offer flexible policies to give customers the confidence to book.

Many holiday companies will allow you to cancel or amend your trip without paying a change-fee if you no longer wish to travel – but always check any time limitations.

British Airways Holidays, as an example, will allow you to change a booking for free or cancel it in exchange for a voucher credit that can be used for a future booking up to 30 April 2023. You must give it three weeks’ notice to qualify, though.

If you don’t book a package holiday, look for flexible policies for each separate element. For flights, as an example, easyJet has a “Freedom to Change” promise. This allows you to transfer a flight without a fee up to 14 days before departure. You will have to pay any difference if the new fare is higher, though.

With accommodation, some hotel companies, such as Travelodge offer flexible terms around changing dates and cancellations. Through its Flexible Rate, you can amend or cancel a booking for free up to midday on the date of your arrival.

It is also temporarily waiving its usual change fee for Saver Rate bookings, meaning you can amend your date for a stay for free on a like-for-like basis (the same rate type at the same hotel for the same duration) up to midday on your date of arrival. You will need to pay any difference in fees, though.

3. Pay attention to terms and conditions

When booking any travel, look carefully at the terms and conditions around cancellation due to a change in government advice or illness, as these will outline your options would be if your accommodation had to be cancelled.

These might include transferring your booking to a later date, taking a voucher for the full amount you have paid, or to cancelling your booking for a free refund.

With Airbnb, though, your rights will depend on the cancellation policy of the host you book with unless you can’t travel due to testing positive for Covid-19. It says:“Guests who book a new reservation after March 14 won’t be refunded under the extenuating circumstances policy if they cancel due to Covid-19 unless they are sick. So, please make sure the host’s cancellation policy provides enough flexibility.”

4. Buy travel insurance as soon as you book a holiday

Travel insurance will be extremely important for trips in 2021 and comprehensive policies can cover you for a number of things that could go wrong both as a result of the coronavirus pandemic as well as other unexpected situations.

But not all policies will offer the same amount of cover for medical expenses or cancellation, and policies will have a number of exclusions relating to Covid-19. Find out what to look for in a policy in 2021 here.

It’s important to take a policy out as soon as you book too so you’re protected should you need to cancel in the run up to a trip for any reason such as testing positive for Covid-19, having to quarantine or redundancy.

Always read the terms and conditions of a policy carefully to ensure you’re comfortable with your cancellation cover.

5. Pay with plastic

If you can, book your travel using a credit card to benefit from protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This will cover you for purchases of over £100 and up to £30,000, even if you just pay for the deposit by card.

This protection makes your card provider equally responsible alongside the retailer if something goes wrong. So, if your travel company goes out of business or there’s a problem with your holiday, you should be able to claim.

However, there must be a direct transactional relationship between you and the seller for Section 75 to work so you may not be protected if you book through a third-party booking site such as Expedia and Booking.com – although the third-party site may have its own protection policy that you could take out.

If you pay by debit card you may, similarly, be able to make a claim through the voluntary chargeback scheme with Visa, MasterCard and Amex.

Other elements to consider when booking travel in 2021

  • At the moment, everyone who arrives into England must quarantine for 10 days from arrival and take two coronavirus tests while in quarantine. There is also a “red list” of countries. If you have visited or passed through one of these countries 10 days before arriving in England, you’ll have to quarantine for 10 days in a managed quarantine hotel on arrival. This costs £1,750 for one adult, with package prices set to be reviewed by the end of March. Find out more here. There are no guarantees over when this will end, although this may become clearer on 12 April.
  • Entry, quarantine and testing requirements vary around the world and can change at short notice so bear in mind that you may need to pay extra for tests before you go away and when you return. There may also be requirements regarding vaccination.
  • It may also be wise to think about whether you could realistically afford to quarantine on return should advice change while you are away. If you couldn’t work remotely, talk to your employer about its stance should you have to quarantine before you book a trip.

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