a stack of coins on top of a stack of money

Why not add a side dish to your travel?

Travel is a bit of a minefield right now, and travel brands haven’t helped themselves when it comes to customer service. Many are still awaiting refunds hundreds of days later, and many many more are stuck with vouchers, when they’d really just love their money back.

But what if there was a simple way to improve your chances of grabbing a refund, rather than a voucher if travel plans go array, particularly as covid-19 uncertainty throws more and more travel plans into disarray?

There is. You’ll just need to add a side dish to your booking.

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Packages Change Everything

Even if you only need to rent a car for one hour, or a hotel for a night, adding a hotel or car to a flight booking can make all the difference in being entitled to a refund, or stuck with a voucher, if anything.

The exciting part? Sometimes it can actually make the whole entire trip cheaper too. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not Why? Well, two reasons, really.

First: packages, aka two or more parts of travel, offer ATOL protection. Rules for cancelled package holidays, or what happens if the government changes travel advice are different for packages than for flights, hotels or can rentals booked on their own.

Second: airlines are so desperate to grab all your travel bookings, rather than just your flights, they regularly offer special discounts and greater availability of lower prices when you do. When that happens, it becomes an ATOL protected package.

In short: ATOL equals good. It means your precious money is protected if your ATOL protected holiday company goes bust before you travel, or while you’re away.

a stack of coins on top of a stack of money

Refunds For Travel Warnings

When you book a flight, hotel or car rental on their own, or in separate payments, you have very few protections unless any of the above are actually cancelled by the airline, hotel, etc – and not by you, just because you don’t want to go.

When you book a package in one purchase, where you paid for at least two parts of a trip, like a car rental and a flight, or hotel, car rental and flight, even if just for part of the trip, you have a much greater chance of being eligible for a refund, and or legally entitled to one.

And yes, even if you just don’t want to go, rather than it actually being cancelled.

That’s because if the UK Foreign Travel Office (FCO) advises against travel to a destination after you’ve booked a package holiday (when it wasn’t against advice), you’re eligible for a full refund, or a voucher of the full amount, even if the trip goes ahead. It’s no longer the package you purchased as intended, so it’s only fair.

There’s no penalties if you no longer wish to go, due to the changing circumstance. Yep, if a package holiday is cancelled you must be offered a refund, not just a credit voucher. The same doesn’t apply for airline tickets, hotels, or car rentals booked separately, sadly.

In a fantastic recent move during the covid-19 crisis, the UK CAA’s ATOL protections gained even more help. A new government backed program offers protection for any traveler who took, or was forced to take a credit for a package trip, rather than refund.

If the company goes out of business, your credit could then be converted into a cash refund by making a claim with the CAA, for bookings made through September 30th, 2020, for claims up until September 30th, 2021.

GSTP Note: particularly in the UK, airlines, hotels and package travel companies are facing unprecedented struggles. If you can afford to leave your booking as a future credit with the company, you’re doing them a huge favour.

The new additional CAA ATOL scheme protects your refund right, even if the company goes bust, up to September 30th, 2021. Just keep in mind that you could end up paying a higher price next year if you accept a credit.

Potential Trip Savings Too…

Because airlines are so desperate to book your hotel or car rental for you, they can often bend the rules on pricing, particularly for last minute getaways. Whereas if you were going to book a flight only, you might find expensive flights drawing from a high fare class, holiday bookings are allowed to draw from a cheaper airfare bracket.

Savings are by no means guaranteed, but if you were going to book a car rental or hotel, it’s worth the price comparison at the very least, since a negligible amount of money may

If you want to see examples of this in action, here’s a great explainer.

Example: Spain

Unless you’re living under a rock, which isn’t actually such an awful idea this year, you’ve likely seen that the UK made the stunning move to initiate a mandatory 14 day quarantine for all arrivals from Spain, with just a few hours notice.

The move has made upcoming trips impossible for many, since travel insurance wouldn’t automatically be valid, and because few travellers can afford time for 14 days of quarantine upon return to the UK.

So what happens to those with holidays booked?

Since its peak summer, and many will still go, those who booked flights alone will likely find that flights are still going, and will be stuck with whatever cancellation policies their airline or hotel has in place.

Some covid-19 related flexibility policies are more generous than others, and it’s vital to research in advance of any flight or hotel only bookings.

As unfair as it is, you’re technically “choosing” not to go, so any vouchers or potential refunds would be down to the airline, hotel or car rental, and not a right, if you booked it individually.

BUT, if you booked a package, even if its just adding a day of car rental to a flight you were booking and you book it at the same time with one payment, you’re technically on a package holiday. As such, if government advice changes a destination to essential travel only, you’re in the clear to claim a refund, even if the flight was to go ahead.

Good to know, right?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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