Traveling in the time of Covid-19: how booking refunds work

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To book or not to book, this is the dilemma. After months of restrictions, the disappearance of some restrictions on travel in Italy and abroad has definitively rekindled the desire to pack up and leave for a regenerating holiday, or at least a weekend away. But the health situation and the trend of infections, at the moment, make it difficult to plan a trip with absolute certainty. We could book a flight, a hotel stay, maybe a cruise, and then have to take a step back because we are in quarantine or because new and more stringent restrictions are introduced.

How to protect yourself from these eventualities without giving up the pleasure of planning your next trip? When and how can i be entitled to a refund? Let’s clarify with the help of the experts of the SOS Turista desk of Federconsumatori.

What to watch out for when booking?
The priority is to understand which destination it is possible to travel to: some countries do not allow tourists to enter, others require a tampon or a quarantine period. The Voyage Safe website (www.viaggiaresicuri.it) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation provides all the updates on the matter. Secondly, explains the president of Federconsumatori di Modena, Marzio Govoni, “never before is it necessary to carefully read the tourist contract in all its conditions”. When you book a stay, a flight, a holiday package or other tourist product, in fact, you also accept the clauses relating to any cancellations and refunds. It is essential to check these travel conditions and to request that it is specified what could happen in the event of cancellation due to a medical emergency. The reliability and seriousness of the service where you make the reservation make the difference. Looking at the experience of 2020 – in which the SOS Turista desk saw requests for assistance for canceled trips quadruple compared to 2019 – we can say “that online tourism services, albeit with notable exceptions, have not been able to provide the traveler with a sufficient level of assistance and information – continues Govoni – Frequently customers have been left without communications. The advice, therefore, is not to buy on online portals that do not offer guarantees and on which it is not possible to check the identity of the private individual who rents a holiday home or similar. There are those who, online, have created very strong protection systems for tourists: for example, Booking.com and Airbnb are subjects who, according to our observatory, have built consumer protection rules that allow for clarity and cancellations. facilitated. It is always better to do a research on the reliability of the tour operator or the portal through which you book “.

I have booked a flight and I cannot leave because I am in quarantine: what can I do?
Many things can change from the moment you book a flight, but also a transport by train, bus or ship, until the day of departure. Unfortunately, this includes an unexpected period of quarantine or fiduciary isolation. “We recommend sending a registered letter with acknowledgment of receipt to the counterparty (the transport company, ed) in which the situation is explained, the medical certificate attesting the illness or quarantine is attached and a refund of the ticket is requested – explains Gabriella Guidetti , operator of the SOS Turista desk – If the counterparty denies, we can open a case at our desk and try to get a refund in this way ». It may be that the transport company, instead of the refund, legitimately opts for a voucher or for the change of travel date. «As defined by the various dpcm starting from March 2020, this is a choice that is up to the counterpart – confirms Guidetti – The voucher has a duration of 18 months and can be renewable or not: it always depends on the counterpart. At the end of the 18 months, a refund of the unused voucher can be requested ».

I prefer not to leave because I don’t feel safe: am I entitled to a refund?
The holiday is booked, but the closer the date gets, the more we have second thoughts: so we decide that, even if it is allowed to leave and there are no particular restrictions in place, we feel safer to stay at home. In these cases it is clearly possible to waive the departure, but the counterparty (whether it is a transport company, a tour operator, a hotel or other) is not required to recognize any refunds, vouchers or other types of compensation.

What if the transport company cancels the trip?
The transport company by air, water or land may be forced to cancel the trip we have booked and paid for due to new national travel restrictions or the possible decision of other countries to deny entry to tourists. In these cases «the tourist is entitled to a voucher or a refund – continues Guidetti – If only the outward journey is canceled and not the return journey or vice versa, and the routes are operated by the same company, it is possible to request a refund of both. If, on the other hand, the routes are managed by different companies, it is practically impossible to have the refund of the one not canceled ». It is therefore better to book both the outward and return journeys with the same travel operator.

Tourist packages, tour operators and stays in structures: when is the possibility of a refund?
The mechanism that regulates any refunds of flights and other transport also applies to stays in hotels or other accommodation facilities, for tourist packages and bookings through tour operators. If it is the counterparty (the accommodation facility or the package organizer, for example) that is forced to cancel the booking due to the ongoing health emergency, the traveler is entitled to a refund, a voucher, an equal replacement package. value or they will be given the option to move the date of their stay. If the tourist chooses to give up the trip because he prefers not to leave anymore, but without any prohibitions imposed by the health authorities in place, there is normally no refund or other compensatory measure. If the tourist cannot take advantage of the reservation because he is in quarantine or fiduciary isolation, he can notify the situation to the counterpart, documenting it, with registered letter with return receipt, and request a refund. Alternatively, the organizer could offer a voucher or package of equal value.

I have already paid the deposit: can I get it back or postpone the balance date?
In many cases, when booking stays or holiday packages, a deposit is required to cover part of the total cost. If in the period following the payment of the deposit, conditions related to the health emergency occur that make the trip impossible, the counterparty “can return the deposit or can withhold it and recognize a voucher for the remainder”, explains Guidetti. When the counterparty asks for the payment of the balance, if at that moment the trip is allowed, in theory it is not possible to evade the payment. However, it is possible to contact the counterparty and verify the opportunity to postpone the date of the balance.

How does the refund for cruises work?
The refund request for a cruise works just like the one for package tours. In 2020 there were cases of cruises that departed and then returned earlier than expected due to the worsening of the health emergency: “In some cases the counterpart refunded part of the missed stay, in many others it recognized a voucher that could be used in 2021”, he says. Guidetti.

The accommodation facility where I booked has gone bankrupt: what do I do?
It may happen to be in possession of a voucher to take advantage of a stay at an accommodation which, however, in the meantime, has gone bankrupt. This is not an absurd hypothesis, unfortunately, given that the pandemic has brought the tourism sector to its knees. In these cases, getting a refund is very difficult. “If the counterpart goes bankrupt, that is, submits a bankruptcy request to the court, and you have a receivable due, you can try to request it: it is a long procedure, but it is a way forward – explain SOS Turista – If instead the activity is simply has closed and will not reopen, it is almost impossible to get a refund. If this happens abroad, it is even more complicated ».

Does taking out an insurance policy guarantee me reimbursement in the event of a health emergency?
Surely taking out an insurance policy before a trip is convenient, but beware: not all of them cover any health emergencies related to Covid-19, just as they usually do not cover wars, attacks, natural disasters and problems related to previous illnesses. However, insurance coverage may be provided in the event of cancellation of the trip due to job loss or layoffs. As Simone Vellani, legal consultant of Federconsumatori’s SOS Turista desk, reminds us, however, the conditions of the policy must be carefully read and, in the event of a trip cancellation request, provide the insurance company with all the necessary documentation depending on the case (from medical certificates to the letter of dismissal) and promptly follow the instructions to open the claim.

Who to contact to clarify any doubts?
The Federconsumatori SOS Turista desk is active for free consultations from Monday to Friday from 8.30 to 12.30 and can be contacted at 059251108 or at the email info@sosvacanze.it.

Chiara Beretta

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