Which? is warning urgent action is needed to protect consumers who face losing large sums of money amid a breakdown of the system of travel protections.
The consumer champion has been inundated with messages and requests for help from people who face losing large sums – with some airlines and package travel providers refusing to meet their legal obligations to issue refunds for cancelled flights and holidays.
Although travel expert Simon Calder spoke earlier today on Talk Radio and explained that many airlines had `gone from being quite healthy, making good profits, to being on life support within the space of a few weeks,’ consumers have understandly little sympathy for the woes of Easyjet, Ryanair, BA, KLM and many more. There is a wider issue here for insurers and brokers, as they too will be faced with a growing tidal wave of claims as the year goes by, and more holidays are inevitably cancelled.
While Which? supports the government exploring options to help the travel industry, it is demanding that the crisis not be used as an excuse to undermine consumer protections. Reports of some package providers refusing refunds running into thousands of pounds in expectation of changes to the law are unacceptable.
Which? has heard from a family who were meant to be travelling to a wedding in Italy and whose flights have not been cancelled, despite Foreign Office (FCO) guidance against going to the country hardest hit by the virus. Instead, the airline is offering to switch their flights to more expensive ones in the future. In some cases this can cost as much as £100 more per person.
Insurance Edge can confirm this is the same tactic being used by Ryanair, as we have seen evidence that one customer was emailed instructions to check-in online for a trip to Tenerife last week, even though many aircraft had been diverted mid-air flying towards Tenerife, just five days previously. Events like weddings, or landmark family birthday celebrations can’t be pushed back by three months, especially when people face losing much of their income for those three months too.
The consumer champion has also been contacted by unhappy airline customers who are being offered vouchers instead of being refunded, with many complaining that they have received no clear guidance from their airline about what the next steps will be.
All flights on EU carriers in or into the EU and all flights leaving from an EU airport are protected by the EU’s Denied Boarding Regulation, which requires refunds or rerouting when flights are cancelled.
People have also been in touch reporting that their travel agents are refusing to offer refunds for cancelled holidays, despite travel regulations. Dozens of holidaymakers due to travel to France in the coming weeks have told Which? that their travel agent is refusing to issue a refund.
IE note; This level of shambles, and it must be said, downright evasiveness is something that travel insurers must not use a template for business going forward, it would be a total PR disaster for every insurance brand.
One customer was refused a refund for his holiday with a well-known beach holiday specialist. The customer faces losing £2,300 and the only options being offered are a credit note or rebooking. And, that if he decided to cancel instead, he would have to try to claim on his travel insurance.
The law says you are entitled to a full refund if your package holiday is cancelled because of extraordinary circumstances at the destination – so you do not have to accept a credit note.
Faced with these difficulties, many people are finding themselves pushed from pillar to post between airlines, tour operators and insurance companies – whose policies are not set up for providers failing to fulfill their duties in this way.
Which? has also heard from holidaymakers who have fallen foul of little-known exclusions in insurance policies – meaning they were not covered for cancelling an upcoming trip, even after the FCO advised against travel to their destination.
Many more people are concerned that they will be uninsured for upcoming trips booked well before the coronavirus outbreak as insurers make sudden changes to their policy terms and conditions.
Taken together, these issues represent a serious breakdown of the current system of travel protections, which is vital to ensuring millions of consumers have the confidence to book expensive holidays and flights abroad.
Urgent action is needed to protect consumers amid the crisis in the travel industry. It is vital that any emergency measures under discussion, such as credit notes replacing refunds for package holidays, include strong guarantees or protections so consumers know they are not at risk of losing their money if a travel firm fails.
And while consumers with holidays booked under the current regulations may choose to accept a credit note, their right to claim a refund must not be taken away retrospectively by any changes to the law. The hard-earned money of thousands of holidaymakers – who may be facing difficulty themselves – must not be used as a backdoor bailout of the travel industry, when direct government support is being used in other sectors.
While the current uncertainty continues, airlines must respond swiftly to this fast-moving situation by informing passengers about what is happening with future flights, and show flexibility with rebooking options if a flight has not been cancelled.
Insurers must also heed last week’s warning from the FCA about treating customers fairly and work with the government and travel industry on solutions to tackle the coronavirus crisis, as the public must have confidence that they will be covered when they travel.
ARE TRAVEL INSURANCE COMPANIES PAYING CLAIMS ON CORONA CANCELLATIONS?
The well known travel insurance specialist will not pay on any Coronavirus related claims on travel policies taken out after 13th March 2020. Incredibly, Staysure are encouraging people to buy insurance for future holidays to destinations where the FCO currently advises against travel – just in case the restrictions are lifted.
It could be wiser to perhaps publically waive £25 admin fees for the duration of the Corona emergency, as this causes a great deal of resentment amongst consumers, when a simple email or short phone call is the only admin involved.
Insure & Go
Cover on Corona was withdrawn on 11th March 2020, so all policies after that do not cover COVID-19 claims.
Insure and Go added on their website; “Wherever we say that we will ‘consider’ claims, be aware that this will be done in line with prevailing terms and conditions, taking into account our customers’ individual circumstances. This does not guarantee that your claim will be paid.
In circumstances where customers are provided with coupons (by hotels/airlines/tour operators etc) for the purposes of re-booking trips at a later date, be aware that this constitutes a monetary refund. So if you accept a voucher – you cannot claim on your insurance.
Admiral has suspended the sale of all travel insurance, and is making assistance to older and vulnerable customers overseas their top priority. They’re asking customers making a claim to be patient and operating a triage system within travel claims. More here.
The insurance giant issued the following comment and reassured customers that it is solvent by stating it has over £12 billion in cash.
“We appreciate this is an unsettling time for everyone and we’re doing everything we can to support you.
In light of the ongoing global situation with coronavirus, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) now advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. Travel insurance covers you for non-refundable costs. Your first step should be to contact your travel or accommodation provider and ask for a refund.”
Aviva also note that if your holiday is booked for AFTER April 17th 2020, then it may go ahead, unlikely as that seems right now. If you choose to cancel and a travel ban is lifted then you create problems in regards to making a claim.