On The Beach defends decision not to refund flights to Spain after Foreign Office travel warning

On The Beach[1] is refusing to back down on its decision not to refund flights if customers cancel holidays to Spain as a result of a change in the Foreign Office[2] (FCO[3]) advice.

The online holiday company has said that it will refund travellers’ accommodation and transfer costs but not their air fare if the flight goes ahead as scheduled.

Most tour operators, such as Tui and Jet2 Holidays, have been automatically cancelling package holidays to destinations where the FCO advises against all international travel, and refunding customers in full.

However, On The Beach CEO Simon Cooper said in a statement that: “Industry practice, mainly driven by Abta[4]’s historic guidance, has been to treat the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) as a trigger for full cancellation and refund rights for customers.

“Industry practice is, by its definition, ‘the usual thing that is done in a particular situation’, but it is not law, and it is something which can and should change and evolve over time and should certainly change in response to this highly unusual situation.”

Travel industry body Abta, of which On The Beach is a member, stated last week that its members “should offer refunds to package holiday customers where the Foreign Office advises against travel”.

Abta has said it is carrying out “preliminary investigations” into On The Beach and fellow online travel agent Love Holidays[5]’ refund policies under its Code of Conduct.

But Cooper responded: “Contrary to common misconceptions, Abta is an industry body, of which membership for travel businesses is not mandatory. It is not a regulator or a lawmaker.”

The Package Travel Regulations (PTRs) make no mention of the FCO advice, and in fact merely stipulate that the passenger is entitled to a refund “in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity and which significantly affect a) the performance of the package, or b) the carriage of passengers to the destination.”

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