With more and more countries closing their borders and some in total lockdown, many airlines, tour operators and hotels are cancelling their bookings. It’s all extremely frustrating, particularly if you’ve already made a down payment. So what exactly are your rights if this happens to you?
Have you booked a flight or a package holiday?
The first thing you need to know is whether the holiday you have booked is classified as a package holiday or whether you have made separate bookings, for example for a flight and accommodation. We take the term ‘accommodation’ to also cover many different types of accommodation in addition to hotels, such as Airbnb rentals, holiday homes, guesthouses, caravans, chalets in holiday resorts, houseboats, etc. The point is that the law makes a distinction between package holidays and separate bookings of flights and accommodation, with package holidays being subject to their own rules on cancellation.
You are regarded as having booked a package holiday if you have booked a combination of at least two of the following items, if the booking covers a period of more than 24 hours and if it includes an overnight stay:
- rental of a car or another type of motor vehicle, and/o
- other tourist services (such as tickets for an event, an excursion or an attraction).
Are you entitled to get your money back if the tour operator cancels your holiday?
The tour operator is entitled to cancel your package holiday if the holiday is no longer practicable due to what are known as ‘weighty circumstances’, i.e. important reasons. Examples of such ‘weighty circumstances’ would be a red weather warning, government advice against travel and the closure of borders, airports and/or hotels. In these cases, you are entitled to a refund of your holiday booking. However, because the circumstances are assumed to be beyond the tour operator’s control (‘force majeure’), it is not obliged to reimburse you for any other expenses and consequential losses you may have incurred, such as the cost of obtaining a visa and the necessary vaccinations.
On the other hand, if your tour operator is able to offer you the holiday you have booked subject to a number of changes, it may offer you an adjusted package. You are entitled to reject the offer if the changes in question are far-reaching or have a significant adverse impact on the holiday. In that case, your tour operator may decide to cancel the holiday, at which point you are entitled to a refund of the cost of your booking.
Flight and/or accommodation booked separately
You are also entitled to a refund if your airline cancels your flight or if your hotel cancels your booking. Here too, the circumstances are assumed to be beyond the airline’s or hotel’s control, which means that they are not obliged to reimburse you for any other expenses and consequential losses you may have incurred.
Please note that, if the airline or hotel cancels your booking and offers you a voucher instead, you are not obliged to accept it. It remains the case that you are entitled to a refund of the cost of your booking. In certain situations, though, it may be a good idea to accept a voucher, for example if you are planning to travel at a later date instead. It is common knowledge that airlines and hotels are facing mounting financial problems at the moment, and this may be another reason for you to accept a voucher. What you don’t want to happen is for the airline or hotel to go bankrupt: as an ordinary creditor, you stand hardly any chance of getting your money back.
Are you entitled to get your money back if you cancel yourself?
You are entitled to cancel your holiday free of charge if the situation at your destination is both unavoidable and exceptional and is bound to have a major impact on your holiday or on the journey to your destination. As you are the one cancelling the holiday, you must be able to prove that the situation at your destination is so serious as to rule out the possibility of travelling there. Such a situation may be, for example, an increased risk of infection with the coronavirus, which could have a serious effect on your state of health.
If the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues either a red or an amber travel warning about your destination, this constitutes ‘negative travel advice’, which means that the Ministry advises against travelling to the destination in question. You can then use the negative travel advice as evidence to show that it is unsafe to travel to your destination.
If you have already made a down payment and you then cancel your package holiday with good reason, you are entitled to a full refund of the down payment. Again, as the circumstances are assumed to be beyond the tour operator’s control, it is not obliged to reimburse you for any other expenses and consequential losses you may have incurred.
Flight and/or accommodation booked separately
As with a package holiday, you can also cancel a separately booked flight or accommodation free of charge. However, you must be able to prove that the situation at your destination is unsafe.
What if you wish to cancel your flight and/or hotel booking, but the airline and/or hotel takes the view that the situation at your destination is not unsafe and your flight goes ahead as normal and/or your hotel remains open for business? In that case, the best thing to do is to ask the airline and/or hotel whether you are entitled to cancel free of charge and/or to a refund of the cost of your booking.
In many cases, the terms and conditions adopted by the airline and/or hotel clearly define the situations in which you are entitled to cancel your booking free of charge. If it is clear from the terms and conditions that you are no longer entitled to cancel your booking, this means that, in principle, you are not entitled to a refund. You should bear in mind, though, that a large number of airlines and hotels are showing leniency in the current situation and allowing customers to either cancel or defer their bookings.
Can you get your money back if you have taken out travel cancellation insurance?
If you cancel a trip and are unable to get your money back from your airline or hotel, you should check your travel cancellation insurance policy. Unfortunately, the vast majority of such policies do not cover cancellation on the grounds of a pandemic caused by an infectious virus. If you have taken out supplementary cover, however, you may find that this situation is covered. We advise you to get in touch with your insurance company.
Who pays for the extra costs if you can’t leave your holiday destination?
What if you’re on holiday and your return flight is cancelled? Worse still, what if you have to remain in your holiday accommodation because you’ve been quarantined? In principle, if you’re on a package holiday and your return journey is cancelled, the tour operator is obliged to pay for a maximum of three additional nights at your destination. This three-night maximum does not apply to the disabled and their companions, pregnant women, unaccompanied minors and those needing medical attention of a specific nature.
You lose your entitlement to three additional nights free of charge if you need to stay on for longer at your holiday accommodation because the whole hotel has been placed in quarantine, for example.
In principle, you yourself are liable for all other additional costs, such as meals, airport transfers, any further nights in excess of the first three, internet charges and telephone charges. In some cases, your travel insurance policy may cover such unforeseen costs. If you want to find out whether these costs are covered by your travel insurance policy, you should read the terms and conditions of your policy and/or get in touch with your insurance company.
Any queries about the effects of coronavirus on your holiday plans?
Has your holiday been cancelled, or do you want to cancel your holiday yourself? Are you keen to find out whether you are entitled to a refund? Or have you been affected in another way by the coronavirus outbreak? Feel free to get in touch either with me or with our special Coronavirus Help Desk. We’ll be only too pleased to help.
Originally this article was written by Zoë van den Aardweg (no longer employed at RWV Advocaten)