Do I Need Travel Insurance to Protect Me If My Package Holiday is Cancelled?

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Weeks of headlines about disruption and flight cancellations at UK airports have put would-be holidaymakers on edge as we enter the summer holiday season. 

The problems – caused by a combination of huge post-COVID demand to get away and staff shortages at airlines and airports – have seen people waiting in airports for up to 24 hours, being stranded abroad when their flights home have been cancelled, and having their holidays cancelled last minute.

The companies involved include some of the biggest names in the UK’s travel industry – British Airways, EasyJet and TUI, Europe’s biggest holiday company. Specialising in package holidays, staffing issues with TUI’s self-owned airline have led to people having not just their flights cancelled but their entire holiday

Because package holidays link your flight directly to your accommodation, if one gets cancelled for any reason, then so does the other. So with recent chaos at UK airports expected to stretch into the summer, is your package holiday at risk? And what are your rights if something does go wrong? How do you get your money back?

Package holidays often don’t come cheap, as in many ways you are paying for the convenience of having your travel, accommodation, airport transfers etc all taken care of for you. But that just increases the financial risk if there’s any danger of something going wrong.

Package holiday protections

On the other hand, package holidays are covered by strict consumer protection laws, a throwback to the days before easy online flight and accommodation booking when the vast majority of overseas tourists bought package holidays. 

If your package holiday is cancelled by your travel company, the law says you are entitled to a full refund within 14 days. Not only that, but you can insist on a cash refund, rather than accept any offer of a credit or rebooking.

If the cancellation happens within 14 days of departure, you could also be entitled to compensation. Although the amounts vary depending on where you are travelling and have to be independently verified.

So far, so good. It sounds as if the worst does happen with your package holiday, you will get your money back and more. And that is the case – most of the time.

What you also have to consider is costs you incur on top of the price of your package holiday. Have you paid for airport parking, for example? Or for travel to the airport? Perhaps you are staying in a hotel overnight locally for an early flight, or you have paid upfront for tours and excursions. Unless these are bought in direct association with your holiday booking – what are known as linked travel arrangements – you are not entitled to get the cost of these back as part of your refund.

That is in part what the compensation payments are intended to cover – literally to compensate you for additional losses. But travel companies need only offer compensation for cancellations within 14 days of departure. At present, cancellations are being made up to a month in advance as operators try to slim down flight schedules according to what present staffing levels are likely to be able to handle.

Travel insurance is widely recommended as an essential protection against cancellations for independent flight bookings. This is because airlines are not under the same legal obligations to offer refunds, and none at all to pay out compensation.

However, buying travel insurance with a good level of cancellation cover also makes a lot of sense if you are going on a package holiday. For one, you should take out travel insurance anyway. It provides essential protection for medical costs if anyone in your party falls ill or has an accident. You also get cover for things like lost luggage, theft of money and personal items, missed departure payouts and so on.

The cancellation portion of a travel insurance policy will cover the price of your package holiday if you have to cancel because of illness, for example – or if you happen to test positive for COVID-19 just before you travel. It will also give you that extra peace of mind that all costs associated with your holiday are covered should you get caught up in the current problems at airports, regardless of whether you are entitled to compensation or not.  

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