Abta has confirmed members must offer full refunds on package holidays when the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to a destination

The association issued a statement confirming its stance following an Abta board meeting, setting up a potential confrontation with the UK’s two largest online travel agents On the Beach and Love Holidays.

Abta said: “The board agreed unanimously that Abta members should offer refunds to their package holiday customers where the Foreign Office advises against travel at the time the customer is due to travel.”

The confirmation comes as Abta members On the Beach and Love Holidays continue to refuse full refunds to customers choosing not to travel to Spain against Foreign Office (FCO) advice.

The OTAs are telling clients booked for Spain they won’t refund the money for flights unless the airlines cancel and provide refunds.

On the Beach argues: “FCO advice against all but essential travel has previously meant there is a clear and present threat to life resulting in a total shutdown of that destination.” But it says: “If this were the case currently, flights from the UK would not remain operational.”

Love Holidays tells clients: “Airlines are currently not providing a cash refund if the flight is going ahead.”

Abta has previously confirmed it is carrying out “preliminary investigations” under its Code of Conduct.

Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, welcomed the clarification, saying: “It will reassure customers who book with Abta members that the protections of the package holiday still apply, notwithstanding the challenges of the current Covid-19 situation.

“Members may well be able to offer affected customers alternative destinations or travel dates, but Abta has maintained since the beginning of the crisis that it expects its members to recognise refund obligations where they arise, and to work with customers to settle these obligations at the earliest opportunity.”

Tanzer added: “While we fully recognise the pressures faced by many members, the Abta board’s position on this refund issue is in the best interest of customers, of the Abta membership as a whole, and of the package travel industry.”

When Travel Weekly reported on the refusal to refund by On the Beach, a spokesperson for the company said: “This is an unprecedented situation and not one the Package Travel Regulations was intended to cover.

“Even with the FCO advice in place . . . Flights are operating, airports are open, hotels (or suitable alternatives) are available so the circumstances do not significantly affect the carriage of passengers or the performance of the package.

“If customers choose to cancel their holidays, we’ll offer a full refund on accommodation and transfer costs and waive any administration fees and we’ll refund the flight cost if the flight is cancelled and refunded by the airline.”

Love Holidays is telling customers with package holiday bookings to Spain: “Airlines are currently not providing customers with a cash refund option if the flight is going ahead, even if understandably you do not wish to travel due to UK government advice.”

It argues: “Despite the new UK government advice regarding Spain, if flights operate and hotels are open, this advice doesn’t affect the terms and conditions of package holidays which would still be capable of being delivered under the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs).”

However, the PTRs state a traveller can terminate a package booking “in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination” and is entitled to a full refund.

The EU Package Travel Directive on which the PTRs are based specifies “significant risks to human health such as the outbreak of a serious disease at the destination” as unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances.

The FCO advice to Spain was changed because of the rate of Covid-19 infection in the country.

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