Companies in France must now give refund for cancelled trips
A measure that allowed travel companies to offer packages of equal value to travellers whose trips were cancelled due to Covid-19 - instead of a refund - is set to end on September 15.
The measure came into force on March 25, by government decree.
It applied to “package” holidays with more than one service included - such as flights and accommodation - and allowed companies to offer customers a future trip of the same value instead of a refund, if their trip was forced to be cancelled due to the coronavirus epidemic.
This future trip “voucher” could be redeemed at any time in the 18 months from the date of cancellation, whether the cancellation was initiated by the customer or by the company. If the voucher is not used within this time, the client would then receive a refund.
Yet, from Tuesday September 15, this measure is set to end. Tourism association les Entreprises du Voyage and tour operator union Seto (Syndicat des entreprises du tour-operating) have published a list of frequently-asked-questions about what this will mean in practice.
The main points to remember are:
The end of the measure applies to the date of cancellation, regardless of when your trip is booked for.
This means that even if your trip is set to take place at the end of the year, if it is cancelled before September 15, it will come under the current protections.
After that date, the company may still offer you a trip of equal value instead of a refund, but you are not legally required to accept.
Guillaume Linton, director of travel agency Voyages Asia, told newspaper Le Figaro: “What matters is not the date of departure, but the date of cancellation.”
If you wish to cancel after the September 15 date, the usual “tourism code” will apply.
Raphaël Bartlomé, legal director at consumer association UFC-Que Choisir, said: “The tourism code allows all travellers to cancel a trip even the day before leaving, if exceptional circumstances apply in the destination country, or that will have an impact on the smooth running of the holiday.
“The Covid-19 epidemic is considered as such a circumstance, especially if the virus spread is not under control.”
This rule has applied in previous circumstances, such as during the SARS outbreak, or an earthquake hitting the destination country.
What if my trip is cancelled after September 15?
Travellers will be entitled to fee-free refunds after this date, if their trip has been cancelled by the travel company due to Covid-19.
Mr Linton at Voyages Asia said: “The end of this rule may have a positive effect. Travellers are taking no risks, because trips booked from September 16 will be refunded without fees if they have to be cancelled due to a cause linked to Covid-19 (such as closed borders or mandatory quarantines).”
What about if I cancel my trip?
The refund measures will only apply if the company itself has cancelled your trip, if it has been judged unable to go ahead due to Covid-19-related issues.
If your trip has been deemed viable by the company, but you still wish to cancel, the normal cancellation fees and penalties will apply.
In March, tourism agency le Médiateur du tourisme confirmed: “A subjective feeling of fear, even if justified, will not be enough [to get a refund on cancellation].”
It will depend on your individual travel insurance whether you may be able to claim for any fees or charges.
What about flight refunds?
This measure only ever applied to holidays with more than one service included, so did not apply to flight-only bookings. This will not change after September 15.
However, many airline companies voluntarily chose to offer a similar system, giving passengers with cancelled bookings a voucher for a flight of “equal value” in future, instead of a refund.
The European Commission states that this is allowed, and that the voucher must be valid for at least 12 months.
Passengers can refuse this and ask for a refund instead, which by law the airline must pay.