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Holiday firms demand cash for trips that look set to be cancelled

Anxious holidaymakers are being ‘bullied’ into handing over thousands of pounds for trips that are unlikely to go ahead.

Countless holidays have been cancelled since the Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel in March. With no end date in sight, and the Government now looking to enforce a 14-day quarantine period for travellers returning to Britain by air, it is highly likely that many families will be unable to go abroad for the foreseeable future. 

Despite this, scores of readers have told Money Mail they are still being asked to pay more money for trips they are certain they won’t be able to take.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday it was ‘just a reality of life’ that breaks abroad would be off limits after the Government announced a 14-day quarantine for all international arrivals into Britain.

Asked whether ‘summer was cancelled’, Mr Hancock told ITV’s This Morning: ‘I think that’s likely to be the case. I think social distancing of some kind is going to continue and I think the conclusion from that is that it’s unlikely big, lavish international holidays are going to be possible for this summer. I think that’s just a reality of life.’

He added the Government was seeking ‘to reopen some hospitality’ for staycations from early July, but that there were no guarantees.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, criticised the Government’s handling of the situation, saying the restrictions were ‘incredibly confusing for UK travellers’.

‘The 14-day quarantine for people returning into the UK makes it impractical for people to take holidays as the quarantine period is longer than most holidays themselves,’ he said.

‘I don’t think people will be going to Greece this summer even if they don’t have to quarantine when they get there, it’s just not practical. We need clear guidance.’ 

Many travel firms take a deposit upfront and then ask for the remaining balance nearer departure dates.

If customers choose to cancel and not pay the balance, they stand to lose their deposit. It means that disappointed holidaymakers, including many who have lost their jobs or who are vulnerable to the virus, are now faced with a difficult decision.

They can refuse to pay and sacrifice their deposit, plus fork out to cover a cancellation fee. Or they can pay the balance and hope they can get a refund when the trip is cancelled. 

However, as Money Mail exposed last month, customers are routinely being refused a cash refund and instead forced to accept vouchers or credit notes for cancelled holidays.

Off limits: Hopes of traditional family breaks have been dashed for thousands of sunseekers and adventurers. Here are the restrictions the top destinations have put in place

But Avril, 71, a former office administrator, says she is unable to reach Richard Branson's Virgin Holidays as the customer service helpline will deal only with customers travelling within the next 72 hours

But Avril, 71, a former office administrator, says she is unable to reach Richard Branson’s Virgin Holidays as the customer service helpline will deal only with customers travelling within the next 72 hours

Grounded: Pensioners Avril and Peter Brewer, from Chelmsford, Essex, had planned to treat their son, his wife and their two young children to a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Florida

Health Secretary Matt Hancock poured cold water over some Britons' plans to fly abroad this summer, calling the cancellations of summer plans 'just a reality of life'

Grounded: Pensioners Avril and Peter Brewer, from Chelmsford, Essex, had planned to treat their son, his wife and their two young children to a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Florida

The disclosures came on another tumultuous day in the coronavirus crisis:

  • The UK announced 425 more coronavirus victims in hospitals, taking the official death toll to 32,490 – but separate statistics suggest the true number of fatalities could be closer to 45,000
  • Chancellor Rishi Sunalk announced an extension of the furlough scheme until October but it emerged that strapped firms will have to stump up as much as half the 80per cent salaries
  • The Chancellor also conceded the UK was already in a recession 
  • Britain’s plan to exempt France from 14-day travel quarantine must be applied to every EU member state, the European Commission warned 
  • Shadow chancellor Annaliese Dodds has indicated she might not send son Freddie, six, back to school next month, claiming the Government has not produced enough evidence it is safe
  • Commuters have been urged to walk the last mile of their journeys, wear a mask and face away from each other, as the government mounts a push to get more workers back in action 
  • The property market will reopen today… but Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick advises estate agents to stick to online viewings
  • Three in four care homes say GPs won’t visit residents with coronavirus and only a third of nursing centres are accepting infected patients from hospital as the full horrifying scandal blighting the nation’s elderly is revealed 
The Foreign Office first advised against all but essential travel in March, and the Government has now announced a 14-day quarantine for all international arrivals into Britain

The Foreign Office first advised against all but essential travel in March, and the Government has now announced a 14-day quarantine for all international arrivals into Britain

Pensioners Avril and Peter Brewer, from Chelmsford, Essex, had planned to treat their son, his wife and their two young children to a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Orlando, Florida, in August. 

They paid £1,075 for a package holiday with Richard Branson’s Virgin Holidays last April, which included flights, a hotel, car hire and tickets to Disney World.

The remaining £13,091 balance is due on May 20, but the family wants to rebook for August next year instead.

However, Avril, 71, a former office administrator, says she is unable to reach Virgin as the customer service helpline will deal only with customers travelling within the next 72 hours.

And, according to the firm’s terms and conditions, if the balance is not paid in full and on time, it reserves the right to treat the booking as cancelled, which means charges apply and the deposit will be withheld.

Avril says: ‘We just don’t know what to do. We do not want to pay the £13,091 balance as we don’t know what will happen to Virgin or our money. But we cannot get through to anyone. 

‘Virgin is letting its customers down and we are disgusted.’ 

Dianne McLaren and her partner Phil Hudson are also struggling to get hold of Virgin Holidays. The couple, from Harrogate, had paid a £985 deposit in November towards a coach trip around the U.S. and Canada, planned for August.

The remaining £4,037 is due on May 23. Dianne, 62, wants to postpone, but the firm will not answer her calls or emails

She says: ‘We are in a dilemma. We do not want to pay the balance because I am worried we stand to lose £5,000.

‘But if we do not pay, we lose the deposit plus cancellation fees. And we are not getting any help from Virgin.’

The Competition and Markets Authority launched an investigation into unfair cancellation policies last month. 

As part of this it said it would be considering complaints about holiday providers which fail to give refunds to customers who are forced to cancel trips due to the restrictions that apply during lockdown.

However, this won’t help people who are being asked for money now.

Virgin Atlantic announces 2021 flight programme following Gatwick closure

Virgin Atlantic has announced its programme for summer 2021 following the closure of its Gatwick base.

The airline will operate flights from Heathrow, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast.

It expects to ‘steadily increase’ flights in the second half of this year, before a ‘further, gradual recovery’ in 2021.

Virgin Atlantic will fly to 24 destinations next summer, using only twin-engine aircraft.

The Heathrow to Tel Aviv service will increase to twice per day.

The airline announced last week that it will not resume Gatwick flights, will reduce its workforce by 3,150 people and will not return to using its seven Boeing 747-400 aircraft, which have four engines. 

Whether or not you are entitled to a refund of your deposit if you cancel will come down to the terms and conditions of your contract.

Martyn James, of online dispute service Resolver, says: ‘It’s clear that some holidaymakers are being bullied into paying in full for holidays that might not even go ahead. 

This is concerning in light of the statement from the Competition and Markets Authority about refunds and cancellations.’

He adds that the best thing holidaymakers can do is to ask for a delay to the date by which you need to make your final payment. 

Or find out if the firm will consider allowing you to rebook for later. If it says you will lose your deposit if you do not pay the balance in full, ask for this in writing.

Independent travel expert Frank Brehany says that if you have booked a package holiday you have additional rights under the UK Package Travel Regulations.

You should be able to claim your money back if the holiday is cancelled due to unavoidable or extraordinary circumstances, including ‘significant risk to human health, such as the outbreak of a serious disease at the travel destination’, explains Mr Brehany.

Virgin Holidays has confirmed that those travelling between June 1 and September 30 may now rebook holidays for free until December 31, deferring the balance payment due date.

Those with upcoming balances to settle will be contacted directly.

A spokesman says Virgin is doing its best to support customers, but that it must work through requests in order of departure date.

EU set to reveal ‘road map’ to reopening the continent with Greece resorts welcoming tourists from mid-June

By David Churchill and Harriet Sime

Today in Brussels, EU ministers are set to reveal their ‘road map’ for reopening Europe. Ahead of that meeting, a leaked document made clear Athens wants to apply ‘fair treatment’ to all European holidaymakers, including Britons.

Travel to resorts would be subject to testing negative for the virus three days before flying or tourists proving they had recovered from it.

A travel blueprint drawn up by the Greek government signalled the country was ready to start reopening resorts again from June 15.

But while Greece said it would welcome back travellers, Spanish tourism bosses said the international holiday market was ‘effectively dead’ after Spain followed Britain’s lead and introduced its own 14-day quarantine measures for all arrivals.

Today in Brussels, EU ministers are set to reveal their ‘road map’ for reopening Europe. Pictured: Passengers wear face masks as they walk through London Heathrow

Today in Brussels, EU ministers are set to reveal their ‘road map’ for reopening Europe. Pictured: Passengers wear face masks as they walk through London Heathrow

It will come into effect on Friday and last until May 24 when the country’s state of emergency expires, but it is likely to be extended.

Andalucia’s Regional Tourism Minister said it meant he has given up on the idea of attracting Britons to the Costa del Sol this year. Juan Marin said: ‘Nobody’s going to come here if they have to spend their holidays stuck in a room for 14 days.’

The European Commission map will say travel bans and quarantine measures introduced to battle the virus should be gradually lifted if ‘developments across Europe continue their current positive trend’.

A leaked version states: ‘Handled correctly, safely, and in a coordinated manner, the months to come could offer Europeans the chance to get some well-needed rest, relaxation and free air, and to catch up with friends and family, in their own Member States or across borders.’

EU officials said banning Britons but allowing Germans to visit resorts in countries was allowed under the rules. It comes after Boris Johnson announced passengers entering the UK from most countries will have to self-isolate for two weeks, meaning travellers would have to take a whole month off work for a two-week holiday.

Only tourists returning from Ireland and France would be exempt. Yesterday critics said the PM’s plan could ‘create a backdoor’ into the country.

Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, wrote to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, to describe the policy as ‘inexplicable’.

She said: ‘This raises the very real possibility of people travelling via France to circumvent quarantine measures and in effect creates a backdoor which undermines the quarantine measures other British citizens arriving home will be asked to endure.’

New Ryanair flights ‘a refund ruse’

Ryanair was last night accused of cynically avoiding a multi-million pound bill for refunds by announcing plans to operate 1,000 flights a day this summer.

The budget carrier plans to restore 40 per cent of its flights from July 1, despite indefinite travel restrictions and warnings that summer holidays are effectively cancelled.

Chief executive Eddie Wilson boasted the flights would ‘restart Europe’s tourism industry’. Ryanair said passengers will have to ask permission to use the lavatory under strict new social distancing rules on flights this summer.

Ryanair has announced that 40 per cent of its normal flight schedules will be restored from July 1 (stock photo)

Ryanair has announced that 40 per cent of its normal flight schedules will be restored from July 1 (stock photo)

Travellers will also have to pass temperature checks before boarding and wear face masks or coverings.

The airline will not leave middle seats empty after boss Michael O’Leary described the proposal as ‘idiotic’ and ‘hopelessly ineffective’.

But consumer groups said the move would deny passengers their right to a refund – while allowing Ryanair to keep millions of pounds it would otherwise have to pay out.

Under EU laws, passengers can only get a refund if their flight is cancelled. Otherwise, they face losing money or settling for a time-limited voucher towards a future flight. Airlines face a £7billion bill for refunds, and Ryanair alone faces a backlog of 25million claims since March.

The announcement by Ryanair caused surprise a day after the Government confirmed plans for a 14-day quarantine of all UK arrivals. Even if flights do run this summer, the Foreign Office is advising against all but essential global travel.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘Expanding flight schedules now is likely to leave many families, who booked summer holidays months ago, with expensive flights they can’t take and no way to get their money back.

‘Even if these flights are cancelled, customers face a fight for their money from an airline that has already been breaking the law by delaying refunds for customers.

‘The aviation regulator and Government must stand up for passengers’ rights and start taking action against any airlines that are flouting the law around refunds.’

Ryanair declined to comment.

Skeleton schedule: The routes available with Ryanair up until May 28

Skeleton schedule: The routes available with Ryanair up until May 28 

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