What happens if you need to cancel your holiday?

Man with broken leg in a wheelchair

We look forward to our holiday for most of the year, but sadly for thousands of Brits every summer, things don't go to plan. When illness, an accident or bereavement strikes, trying to work out what it's going to cost us - and whether we can get any of the money we spent on the holiday back - can add another level of misery.


If you find yourself in this position, the first question to ask is whether you have travel insurance. Some people don't get round to arranging cover until just before they travel, but to be on the safe side, you need insurance in place from the day you book. That way, if something happens between the booking and the date of travel, you will be covered.

If you break your leg a week before you are supposed to fly, and you haven't got round to arranging insurance, you won't be covered for cancellation. According to research by Saga, the average cancellation is 17 days before you travel, so it's worth getting cover as early as possible.

If you have insurance in place, you'll need to check that the reason you are not travelling is covered by the policy, then get proof of the unexpected illness, injury or death that stopped you travelling - and submit a claim.

Policies vary, but you may be able to claim for all sorts of costs, from the holiday itself to pre-booked excursions, rental cars and even kennel and cattery fees. Of course, all policies have their limits, so before you buy travel insurance, you need to check if you are covered for the full expense of your break.


If you don't have insurance cover, anyone who has booked a package holiday needs to check the small print of their holiday documents. Sometimes you can cancel the break - although you'll have to pay a cancellation fee. If you cancel well in advance that fee may not be too astronomical, but if you are cancelling at the last minute, you can often expect to pay a 'fee' of 100% of the price of your holiday.
Alternatively, you should be able to transfer your booking to someone else - providing you have given enough notice. Check your paperwork to see if they charge a transfer fee, and if so, just how much you will have to pay for this.


If you have booked independently, you are far less likely to be able to get your money back if you have already paid for flights and hotels - or left a non-refundable deposit. You'll need to check the terms and conditions of your tickets, and check the deal with each of the providers you have booked with.

It may also be worth calling the airline or hotel in person as they may be able to use their discretion and refund some of your money. Unfortunately, every case is different. However, when disaster strikes and you have to cancel a holiday, you shouldn't completely write off the human decency of the travel company concerned.

For every tale of a heartless company that charged a cancellation fee despite the fact that the prospective tourist themselves had passed away, there are hundreds of stories of generous firms that waived cancellation fees and offered their sincere condolences.

So while every situation is different, you shouldn't assume that yours is ever completely hopeless.

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What happens if you need to cancel your holiday?

If you are a victim of a strike, or any other event beyond the airline's control (including ash clouds!), they must offer you a refund (in which case it's up to you to find a way home) or an alternative flight. While you are waiting for the flight you have the right to food and refreshment and accommodation.

If you are on a package holiday, your tour operator is entirely responsible for looking after you until you get back to the UK.

This is more likely to happen due to the financial crisis, but in some situations you are covered. 

If you pay by credit card and it's over £100, you'll get a refund from the card company. 

Your travel insurance may well cover you too, but check before you go.  

Talk to the airline, and if it is temporarily misplaced they should arrange for it to be sent to your accommodation, and you should be either given cash to cover the essentials in the interim.

If it's completely lost you must wait 21 days and then make a claim for compensation. If you are travelling as part of a package you can claim costs from your operator.

If you are travelling within the EU you need an EHIC card, which gives you access to public healthcare. However, this won't necessarily be free, and if you need extra services such as accommodation for a carer, a helicopter home or a delayed flight, you could end up seriously out of pocket.

The only protection that will guarantee you will be looked after without running up a horrendous debt is by having travel insurance - which often covers up to £10 million of costs.

The most common form of theft is pick-pocketing, followed by theft from a car and bag snatching. Meanwhile, 752,000 of those surveyed had items stolen from their hotel room or villa.

If you have anything stolen, your only protection is insurance. You need to tell the local police immediately and get a crime reference for your travel insurer.


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