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Image Coronavirus (Covid-19): 6 tips to follow when booking a holiday this year
Image Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

If you're unsure about whether to book a holiday in light of the coronavirus (Covid-19) then follow these six tips to ensure you’re not left out of pocket or high and dry should things get worse. 

Early spring is usually when people’s thoughts turn to planning an Easter getaway or their annual two-week summer holiday. However this year planning a trip abroad is fraught with difficulty due to the spread of the coronavirus. Already places like China and Northern Italy are off-limits for most travellers and other destinations are likely to be added to the list as the virus continues to spread throughout the globe. 

So what should you do? Should you go ahead and book somewhere yet risk seeing it all fall through should the situation worsen?

To help you we’ve come up with a list of six simple recommendations so that you’re not left out of pocket should your holiday have to be cancelled. 

1. Only book places that accept last-minute cancellations

Some hotels and Air BnBs will let you cancel last minute for free or within a few days of your scheduled arrival at least so it’s advisable you only consider booking these places for the time being. This means that if the situation gets worse and you have to cancel your holiday plans, or postpone them, you won’t lose out on your accommodation costs.

Sites like booking.com have made searching for accommodation easier than ever and will clearly outline the payment and cancellation terms of each accommodation option. Often the cheapest fares will have a ‘pay now/no refund’ clause but if you’re prepared to pay an extra 5% or 10%, you’ll usually have the comfort of a fully refundable room. What’s more, with these bookings payment is often only taken when you actually arrive meaning money may never have to leave your account in the first place. 

2. Don’t take out any foreign currency

Despite a move towards an increasingly cashless society it’s almost a rite of passage to go to your local bank or post office to get some local currency before you head off on your trip. However the last thing you want is to be left with a fistful of dollars or a stack of sterling and no place to spend it!

Simply get yourself a Revolut or N26 card instead and ditch the need for cash altogether. 

As well as free day-to-day banking, the lack of foreign exchange fees makes both these accounts extremely attractive for anyone who is travelling.

All the traditional banks will charge you a 1.75% to 3% foreign exchange or ‘processing fee’ for purchases made with your debit card outside the Eurozone, which can really add up.

But N26 will charge you nothing while Revolut will charge you nothing on all major currencies up to a limit of €6,000 a month - after that there’s a small 0.5% fee.

What’s more, when converting your spend back into euro, N26 applies the Mastercard exchange rate at all times while Revolut applies the Interbank exchange rate with a 0.5% mark-up at weekends on major currencies and a 1% mark-up on less common currencies. Both these rates are likely to be better than the rate you’d get with one of the main banks, meaning you'll save on the double. 

3. Choose your airline carefully

If the virus continues to spread, more flights are likely to be cancelled by airlines due to health and safety concerns or a lack of demand, meaning you could be left high and dry at the last minute.  

That’s why you should consider the customer service of the airline you travel with more carefully. Cheapest isn’t always best anymore! 

We’re not going to name any names (Hi Mr O'Leary!) but some airlines are far worse than others when it comes to customer service, refunds and compensation in the event of flight cancellations so this is something you should bear in mind when booking your next Easter getaway or summer holiday. 

So what are your rights if your flight is cancelled?

Under EU rules, if your flight is cancelled you have the right to ONE of the following:

  1. A full refund of your flight's cost within seven days by the original method of payment
  2. Being placed on another flight to your destination at the earliest opportunity or, 
  3. A re-routing at a later date at your convenience subject to the availability of seats

As well as the above you may ALSO be entitled to compensation. 

If you choose to have your flight cost reimbursed then the compensation will depend on the type of flight.

If you choose option two or three your compensation will depend on the distance of your flight and the delay you experienced in reaching your final destination. If you ask to be placed on another flight that takes off and lands within just a few hours of your original flight then no compensation at all or reduced compensation will be due. 

In all cases, however, you're not entitled to any compensation if you’re informed of the cancellation more than 14 days in advance of your flight’s departure (but you'll still get either a refund or a re-routing of course). 

Distance of flight 

Max compensation if placed on another flight 

1,500km or less

€250

More than 1,500 km within the EU and all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km

€400

More than 3,500 km

€600

4. Consider upgrading to flexible fares

Many airlines, even budget airlines, offer the option of flexible fares which, as the name suggests, give you more flexibility in the event of you wanting to cancel (if the airline itself cancels then the rules above will apply). 

Aer Lingus, for example, currently has four pricing tiers on European flights: Saver, Plus, Advantage and Aer Space fares. For transatlantic flights it has: Saver, Smart and Flex fares. 

Its cheapest fares, the Saver, Smart and Plus fares offer no refund whatsoever if you decide to cancel your flight. 

However its Advantage, Aer Space and Flex fares allow you to cancel and receive a full refund of the flight fare up to two hours before the flight's scheduled departure time. However booking fees and credit or debit card charges, seat fees, baggage and meal fees are non-refundable. 

These fares also come with added extras such as priority boarding, a 20kg - 23kg checked in baggage allowance depending on destination, fast-track security at Dublin airport and lounge access. They also allow you to change your booking to a later date for no fee (you just pay the difference in flight fare if there is one). 

You will, of course, pay significantly more for these fares compared to the standard cheap fares (from c. 40 - 80% more) but when you include the extras above the difference isn’t as stark and they’ll also give you peace of mind that if you have to change your flight or cancel it entirely then all won’t be lost. 

5. Only book travel to countries within the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) Switzerland or the UK

A nightmare scenario for most people is to get sick on holiday, away from family and support. That nightmare scenario is heightened given the real threat of coming down sick with the coronavirus while abroad. Healthcare ain’t cheap and it sure as hell ain’t cheap in some places like the US.   

However if you travel within the EU, European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland or the UK, not only will you be closer to home to begin with, you’ll also be covered by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme that lets you get healthcare in one of these countries for FREE, or at a hugely reduced cost, should you get struck down with the virus. One of the many benefits of being an EU citizen!

The care will cover you if you are on holiday, or a short-term stay, which is usually regarded as a period of less than three months. The exception to this is a student who may be considered a visitor on a short-term stay up to a full academic year.

The EHIC replaced the old E111 form from a few years ago. It's free to apply for it and will ensure that should the worst happen while you’re away, your bank balance won’t take a greater hit than your health! 

You can apply for the card by post or in person at your local health office and it should be considered as essential for travelling as your passport.  

And of course you could go one step further and just have a staycation on the Emerald Isle this summer instead. 

6. Read your insurance terms and conditions carefully

Just because you have travel insurance you shouldn’t presume you’ll be covered if your plans go awry due to the coronavirus. 

Many insurance policies have what’s called a ‘force majeure’ clause, which essentially frees the insurer from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond its control occurs. Usually it refers to acts of war, riots, or ‘acts of God’ such as earthquakes and hurricanes. But it could also apply to the coronavirus. 

While your travel insurance policy terms and conditions isn't the most rivetting piece of literature you're ever likely to read, it's really important that you do so now more than ever.

If in doubt, ring your insurer and ask them to explain exactly how you'd be covered should your holiday get cancelled or disrupted due to the virus.