How to book a holiday during the Covid pandemic

Read the small print, particularly about cancellations

Check cancellation policies

It is essential to check what will happen if you need to cancel transport or accommodation, whether you are booking the different elements yourself or opting for a package. Many may offer free cancellation but read the small print carefully – there will be a deadline for this, and it could be several weeks before your holiday is set to start.

Read flexible policies carefully. Qin Xie from Hey Money Talk says flexible booking should mean not paying an admin fee or losing your deposit if plans change. “What’s included in flexible booking obviously depends on who you book with but amends are usually for travel dates and/or destinations.”

If you are booking a holiday let only, book through a third-party site that has has a clear refund policy and which takes secure payments by credit card. Your contract is always with the company or person to which you paid the money. For example, if you book through Airbnb you need to contact the company for a refund, whereas with Vrbo you would need to contact the property owner.

Tracey McLaughlin, a blogger at Mind Over Money Matters, is a member of the Air Miles scheme and has beenusing it to book her holidays – it offers more flexibility than paying for the flights with a credit card, she says. “Air Miles gives us the option to cancel our booking 24 hours before travel for only a £35 charge,” she says. “All accommodation, etc is also booked with free cancellation up to 24 hours before.”

Protect your payments

Put your holiday on a credit card, if possible – under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act this gives you protection on purchases of more than £100, and will cover your costs if a holiday firm you have booked with goes bust. To benefit from the cover make sure that you book and pay directly with the holiday company, rather than using a third-party payment company such as PayPal.

Sailboat seen through palm trees, Mamanuca Group islands, Fiji
Paying for a holiday on a credit card gives you certain protections. Photograph: 7Michael/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Atol (Air Travel Organisers’ Licence) financial protection scheme covers flight-based holidays and is operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Under the scheme, if your travel company fails you will be entitled to a refund or replacement holiday if you are yet to travel, or provided with accommodation and flights home if you are abroad. Flights booked directly with airlines are not protected under the Atol scheme. Keep the certificate you are given when booking safe.

If you buy a coach, rail or cruise holiday from an Abta member your money will be protected by the association’s financial protection scheme. If your travel company fails and your holiday can no longer go ahead, you will be entitled to a refund if you are yet to travel or hotel costs and transport home if you are abroad.

Consider a package holiday

Travel agents have access to the latest up-to-date information, airline and holiday offers and are very knowledgable about amending holidays and alternative destinations, giving you extra peace of mind.

Silhouette of a landing aircraft with a cloudy background after the sunset.
It can be cheaper to buy a flight and accommodation separately. Photograph: Nicolas Economou/ NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock Photograph: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

It can be cheaper to buy a flight and accommodation separately. However, if you book a package you have more protection from the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018. The travel organiser or operator must inform you of any alterations to the package clearly and without undue delay. You then have the option to cancel with no penalty if the holiday changes significantly.

Linda Reynolds of Personal Travel Agent says: “DIY holidays can be problematic at this time. I’ve heard of people turning up at hotels in Canada and the hotel was shut and locally there were no alternatives in their price range. Check your hotel is open. A quick look on their website or email to confirm your arrival should help.”

Buy insurance

You should always take out insurance at the time of making your booking. Check with the supplier that it covers your needs – if you know you want to go jetskiing, for example, does it include it? Make sure you look for details of Covid cancellation, medical fees and repatriation.

Check the quarantine rules for the country you are travelling to – some, for example, will make you move hotel if you test positive. Ask your insurer what it will pay for if you have to extend your stay because you are quarantined and unable to travel hoe.

Parasols on a beach of the Adriatic Sea in Durres
Take out insurance when you book a holiday. Photograph: Gent Shkullaku/AFP/Getty Images

If you are due to travel after your annual insurance expires, make sure you renew it before you travel.

If the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) puts a warning in place for your destination during any gap in your policy, you won’t be covered.

Keep up to date with latest news

Regularly check the FCDO website for entry requirements to the country you plan to visit, and keep an eye on the UK entry requirements. The government website will state which Covid test is required and the timescales before leaving and returning.

Emma Savage of Travel Counsellors emphasises the importance of complying with the entry requirements of your destination. “They all vary, so make sure you/your agent is fully briefed on what you need to do”

The FCDO continuously reviews its travel advice for each country or territory to ensure it includes up-to-date information and advice on the most relevant issues for British people visiting or living there. You can also sign up for email alerts to get updates as they happen.

Have all your paperwork ready

When the time comes round for your break, make sure you have booked any Covid tests that you need – and shop around before you do. Rory Boland, the travel editor of Which?, said “The Covid testing system for travel has been operating for a year now, and travellers are still being exposed to providers that fail to deliver tests on time or advertise prices that are not available.” Check reviews on sites such as Trustpilot, or try the comparison website

Reynolds advises that you make physical copies of everything. “As well as your booking documents, print a copy of health forms, attestation if applicable, passenger locator form and confirmed test results,” she says. Don’t rely on the airport’s wifi to download your vital documents.

Helen Dewdney

The GuardianTramp

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