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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Why Europe’s latest lockdowns shouldn’t put you off booking a holiday

On the one hand we are being encouraged to book a holiday for next year. Remember to spend your credit vouchers, said the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) this week. On the other, the pandemic is rearing its ugly head again and – according to Ryanair – dissuading people from doing exactly that. 

“Up until last weekend, things were going great,” said Michael O’Leary, the airline’s CEO, on Tuesday. “Volumes were back running at about 100 percent of our pre-Covid price volumes. It has been disrupted by the Austrian lockdown and there is a renewed concern across Europe about a fourth or fifth wave of Covid.”

He is clearly worried – not surprisingly given the airline’s recent bullish investment in new routes. “We’re in for a fraught period between now and Christmas where it looks like Europe is going to get very nervous again at the worst time of the year when people are making their Christmas travel plans.” And this nervousness can only have worsened over the rest of the week. Since O’Leary’s comments, the situation in France, Italy and Germany has also continued to deteriorate. Even in the UK, where hospitalisations are falling and things feel relatively calm, the infection rate has actually been drifting upwards in recent days.

Meanwhile, the CAA’s point is that there are over £131m in unspent refund credit notes (RCN). These were issued as an alternative to cash to many consumers whose holidays had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. They were designed to help travel companies’ cash flows, while protecting consumers’ money so that if the tour operator which had issued the RCN went out of business before the next holiday had been booked, the value would be repaid by the CAA’s Atol fund.  

The scheme allowing the issuing of such notes ends on December 19, 2021, but travellers must redeem their existing RCNs before the end of September 2022. If you think it is unlikely you will want to do that, you can, as the CAA points out, request a cash refund at any point. But if you want to use the voucher, you would do well to start looking into what incentives your operator might be offering. 

So what should the rest of us do about next year’s holidays? The traditional summer booking season kicks off just after Christmas. Should we jump in or stick it out and wait until the winter is over and see how things look then? 

The danger is that by waiting too long, you miss out. Whatever the general nervousness, I think that there will always be plenty of optimists out there who will be snapping up the best deals and enjoy the first pick of the hotels, villas and most convenient flights – especially for the school holiday weeks.

Obviously, we all have to make our own judgments about risk – about whether or not the pandemic is in its death throes, or whether we may have to live with it forever. My feeling is that life is going to remain somewhat uncertain for a long time to come, but that the risk of booking has been heavily mitigated by the flexibility which most travel companies are still giving us to change our future travel arrangements without penalty. Frankly, we might as well get on with it.

I haven’t yet made commitments for next summer yet. But I’m certainly thinking about it. And this week I put my money where my mouth is and spent half of the £650 worth of BA vouchers which I accumulated because of cancelled flights over the last 18 months. I booked return tickets to Milan for a ski trip in February and I have to say that the BA system worked seamlessly. I just tapped in the code, the flights were authorised and the change was issued as another voucher. Who knows what the reality will be in three months’ time. But I’m one of the optimists and I want something to look forward to.

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