On The Beach 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 (FCO) 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’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’ 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.”
Cooper said: “The blanket approach within the current FCO advice on Spain is highly unusual. Many in the industry, including Abta, have called for a more nuanced approach.
“The advice has not triggered airspace closures or widespread flight cancellations. Large volumes of flights continue to go ahead to Spain and its islands every day and hotels and tourist attractions remain open.
“In accordance with the PTRs, we are still able to fulfil our obligation as a package organiser – the carriage of passengers is unaffected and the holiday is still able to be delivered.”
He added that, in the event that the airline cancels the flight part of its package holidays, On The Beach will pass the refund along to the customer in full.
On The Beach claims it is “not proposing to take a rigid approach. Before making this assessment, we review the circumstances at the relevant destination(s) to establish carefully whether the package would be significantly affected. We will also clearly consider individual circumstances.”