As more people look to book holidays and head abroad in the coming months, a list of the best firms to travel with has been compiled by Which?
Exodus, Explore and Discover Egypt were the only three firms given the top rating of green+ as they were the only ones able to guarantee refunds in the event a customer was told to self-isolate prior to travel, according to its new holiday checker tool.
The consumer group compared the booking policies of more than 80 of the UK’s package holiday providers and rated each as red, amber, green or green+, depending on how they perform against criteria set by experts.
Aside from the three ‘best’ travel firms, British Airways Holidays, First Choice, Hays Travel, Jet2 Holidays, Trailfinders and Tui were put in Which?’s green list, based on their refund policies.
Only three companies were found to have the highest rating of Green+ on Which?’s new tool
The tool has been created in response to the travel industry’s reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.
Holidaymakers are likely to have long memories after last year with thousands complaining their provider was taking months to refund them – or they couldn’t get through to their travel firm at all.
As a result, the tool looks to help point customers in the direction of the companies with the best flexible booking options so they can book with greater confidence and know they’re less likely to be left out of pocket should something go wrong.
The research considered each firms policies on coronavirus-related disruption.
This included whether firms would refund customers in the event of a lockdown, if FCDO advice changes, if the customer is told to self-isolate before travelling and if customers are forced to quarantine in a hotel on their return.
Following a rise in concerns about people being contacted by NHS Test and Trace before they are due to travel, the experts also asked companies if they would provide full refunds in the event someone is told to self-isolate.
Only three firms including Exodus, Explore and Discover Egypt guaranteed refunds in this situation, as well as every other situation put to them by Which? and were rated green+ as a result.
Meanwhile, companies that committed to offering refunds in most scenarios put to them by Which? include British Airways Holidays, First Choice, Hays Travel, Jet2 Holidays, Trailfinders and Tui which were rated green.
This will likely provide some reassurance to customers who have already booked with these firms as well as encouraging others to book with them in the future.
Meanwhile, there were several companies placed on the red list with holidaymakers advised not to book with these providers.
Lastminute.com, Love Holidays, On the Beach and Teletext were all on the list after they were found to be putting customers at risk of being out of pocket if they are unable to travel as planned.
The research found these firms faced many shortcomings with their booking terms and commitments including not refunding customers in the event of coronavirus-related disruption with a lack of transparency about their policies.
In response, an On the Beach spokesperson said: ‘Prior to the pandemic, when the FCDO advised against non-essential travel to a destination, this triggered the closure of airspace and the cancellation of all non-essential flights.
A number of holiday providers were put on the Red list including Lastminute.com & Teletext
‘During the pandemic this has often not been the case, with airlines continuing to fly to affected destinations and many consumers still wanting to go on the holiday they have booked.
‘Our holidays include flights from multiple third party airlines and the decision on whether to operate those flights lies with each airline. If the airline cancels the flight, then we will, of course, pass the refund straight on to our customers in full.’
It added that if a customer wishes to cancel their holiday due to FCDO advice but the flight operates as planned, the airline retains the monies paid for the flight and in those instances this leaves it unable to pass a refund onto its customers.
However, Lastminute.com, Love Holidays and Teletext did not provide comment.
Companies that did not provide clear information on their booking policies were also rated as red for a lack of transparency.
While red companies’ policies were not necessarily in breach of consumer law, some have faced investigations from the Competition and Markets Authority in the past year over failure to refund their customers including Love Holidays and Teletext.
Therefore, Which? is advising consumers against booking with a red company and to check before they book to ensure their holiday provider offers a good flexible booking policy.
Companies’ ratings will be regularly evaluated to keep up to date with any changes to their policies as well as any changes to rules around international travel.
However, the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) has hit back at Which? over the new tool claiming it is unfair to list firms as Red when the travel industry has been one of the worst hit.
Chris Rowles, Chairman of AITO, said: ‘In a pandemic when no travel company has been able to trade for 17 months and all have had to dig deep into their own pockets to refund customers as quickly as they could, one expects better of our so-called consumer champion, Which?
‘It may have escaped the attention of the team at Which? that, during the pandemic, travel companies have earnt no income whatsoever – they are paid only when clients depart on holiday, and our Government has not permitted any outbound travel from the UK except, mostly, for truck drivers.
‘This is clearly not normal business practice and one would hope that those who run Which? might perhaps have been a tad more understanding than normal in recognition of these key facts and the struggle to survive that the travel industry has faced over the past year and a half.’
Several holiday firms have been ordered to refund customers by the CMA after taking too long
It is perhaps unsurprising that some of the firms are in the red list with This is Money previously reporting that Teletext could face legal action after failing to return more than £7million in refunds to customers.
The CMA said in May that the holiday firm had failed to address complaints from hundreds of customers who had not received refunds on cancelled trips within 14 days as required by law.
In response, hundreds of customers told us they had been waiting months, if not over a year, for a refund from the firm.
Many were waiting for thousands of pounds back but found it impossible to get through to the company by either phone or email.
Love Holidays was also investigated by the CMA in December of last year and was forced to refund 44,000 customers more than £18million for trips cancelled during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Lastminute.com also agreed to pay over £7million in refunds to customers for cancelled holidays in the same month after many customers complained they had to wait longer than the legal requirement to be compensated within a fortnight of cancellation.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? travel, said: ‘Between changing travel restrictions, both in the UK and abroad, and the ongoing risk of being told to self-isolate, booking a foreign trip still comes with some uncertainty and things can go wrong if you’ve chosen the wrong provider.
‘The best companies won’t leave you high and dry though, so it’s vital to do your research before booking.
‘The difference between choosing a red company over a green company could be losing the entire cost of your holiday if circumstances change and you have to amend or cancel your plans.’