A unexpected 'extra' when I cancelled a flexible holiday booking

Your problems, with Anna TimsMoney

I also had cancellation cover but Holiday Extra has still refused the refund I am due

Holiday Extras advertises 'better' travel ... but not according to some of its customers.Photograph: PR

I made a flexible booking with cancellation cover from Holiday Extras for an airport hotel and parking and, on 11 March, I cancelled it. I was promised a full refund. Two weeks later they offered a voucher, instead.

A statement appeared on its website announcing that all customers who cancelled bookings after 17March would receive a voucher, not a refund, which was irrelevant to my case. I again requested the refund and received another confirmation that I would get my money back within 30 days. A further month went by and I was informed it was changing its terms and conditions because Covid-19 was a force majeure and I had to accept a voucher.

My cancellation wasn't related to Covid-19. It has now removed the 17 March statement from its website. I don't understand how, having written to me on three occasions confirming it was processing my refund, it is able to change its terms and conditions.

KM, Sheffield Holiday Extras claims that there was a mistake and it refunded you the day I got in touch. "The huge number of cancellations being processed during the corona crisis have inevitably thrown up a handful of errors," it says. "We are going back through those now to check that all of our cancellations have been dealt with correctly." Two other readers who bought flexible bookings have contacted me after the company reneged on initial promises to refund.

A Facebook page of over 500 customers is campaigning for refunds and the largely laudatory rating it had on Trustpilot pre-Covid has degenerated into howls of outrage from scores of people who had paid for cancellation cover and are being fobbed off with a voucher, despite initial promises of their money back. Appeals directly to the service providers have failed as hotels and car parks claim not to have received the money from the company. In an email to customers, Holiday Extras claims that "the circumstances are so exceptional that we have had to opt for an exceptional solution which means we are only able to issue a voucher".

It insists that a force majeure clause, which specifies pandemics, was added to its terms and conditions last autumn and exempts it from liability. However, customers can't check which terms applied when they booked, as booking confirmation links to the evolving online page. On my second approach to the company, it implied it might relax its stance. "At this point, customers up to 16 March are receiving cash refunds and we will look to extend this date in the coming days and weeks as we work through a significant volume of contacts and requests from customers," it says. "In recognition of the uncertainty around future travel bookings, the validity of vouchers has been stretched to three years after the date of issue."

It declined to confirm whether hotels and providers have already been paid. Legally, a company can't retrospectively change its terms and conditions, however exceptional the circumstances, although some are doing so, but it would require action through the Small Claims Court to enforce this unless the regulator intervenes. The Competition and Markets Authority has confirmed that refunds are due if lockdown forces the cancellation of a contract.

Some customers report successful claims from their credit card issuer via Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, but this only applies to bookings worth ?100 or more. Other customers are being left out of pocket because of anomalies in terms and conditions. RB of Tiverton, Devon bought home insurance from NFU Mutual, which included cover for loss of income should he be unable to let his holiday cottage. "The policy provided cover of up to ?500,000 for loss of profits following 'restricted access outside your control'," he writes. "When we tried to claim for bookings cancelled due to the pandemic we were told we were not covered, even though the schedule of cover specifically includes infectious disease." It so happens that the day I contacted NFU it performed a U-turn, stating a newly discovered "discrepancy" between the wording of its policy document and the Insurance Product Information Document (IPID) and Schedule.

The main policy wording specifies cover for a list of defined diseases, not including Covid-19, within 25 miles of the holiday home. The supporting IPID and Schedule documents merely specify cover for "infectious disease", which is not defined. "We have made the decision to accept the more favourable of the two wordings for the benefit of these customers," it says. "This means we will be considering claims under 'infectious diseases' in the Home and Lifestyle holiday accommodation policy schedule.

In addition, we have decided that it would be unreasonable to ask customers to prove the existence of Covid-19 within a 25-mile radius. We have been proactively contacting around 60 policyholders to progress their claim." If you need help email Anna Tims at [email protected]

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