Easter kicked off the holiday season this year, marking perhaps the first time since the pandemic that there’s been a rush at the airport.
But it’s not all because of the surge in demand.
Throughout the pandemic, queues at airports have been longer than usual because of the additional paperwork that airline staff must now wade through before they check you in.
And both airlines and airports have blamed recent cancellations and queues on Covid-related issues, including staff sickness. I actually wrote about this for The Times last week.
Despite all this, going on holiday now is so much easier and more affordable, and no longer quite such a roulette.
Still, it’s worth being prepared.
So this week it’s all about the things you should do before you go on holiday this year.
Check before you book
Although the UK has completely relaxed its rules, and many European destinations have followed suit, it’s certainly not the case everywhere.
So before you book your trip, check the entry requirements and restrictions for the destination you’re planning on travelling to.
The Foreign Office has traditionally been the best source of information, and you can sign up for email alerts for the country you’re travelling to, but it hasn’t always been great at keeping up with the ever changing list of restrictions for every destination.
Because of that, I’d always advise checking the government website for the destination you’re going to first – this could be the health department, the embassy or the tourist board.
Book a package holiday
If you already have a destination in mind, consider booking a package holiday, where your travel and accommodation are booked together as part of a package.
These types of holidays must be legally protected in the UK – unlike when you book your hotel and flights separately – and are generally done so through either ABTA (no-fly breaks) or ATOL (flight-inclusive trips).
This gives you certain rights when things go wrong.
For example, if the package holiday organiser cancels your holiday, you would be due a refund within 14 days.
Similarly, if they go bust before you travel, you should get your money back if nothing has been booked – or, get to go on your holiday as normal if your holiday has already been booked.
This wasn’t always possible during the early days of the pandemic, but most travel firms have managed to get things back on track.
And if your travel firm isn’t complying with their legal obligations, you can report them to the Competition and Markets Authority or one of the industry regulators.
But beware: travel firms are legally allowed to apply a holiday surcharge if the cost of providing your holiday has gone up significantly due to things like fuel costs, taxes and exchange rate fluctuations.
Yes, this means they can ask you for more money after you’ve already paid in full – but they can’t apply the surcharge within 20 days of travel.
Plus, they’re only allowed to ask for a maximum of an extra 8% of the total cost of your holiday – any more than this then they must offer you the option of cancelling and getting your money back.
Theoretically they must also refund you the difference if their costs go down significantly, although I’ve yet to hear of that actually happening…
Go with a reputable travel company
Years ago there were dodgy holiday firms that pretended to hold ABTA or ATOL certificates, and would even use the numbers from legitimate companies.
In some cases they were scams and in others it just meant that your holiday wasn’t actually protected.
Look for flexibility
One of the good things to come out of pandemic travel is that many firms are now offering flexible booking policies as standard.
It means you can switch or cancel your trip without losing your deposit.
Keep in mind though that there’s always a cut off for when you can do so without a penalty – it’s usually 30 days but can sometimes be less.
They’ll also generally keep your deposit for a future trip and in some cases you may have to pay for services already booked in your name, such as a permit to enter a national park.
Read the small print
Lots of travel firms updated their policies as a result of the pandemic so it’s worth taking the extra time to read the small print when you book.
It’ll detail things like whether you can switch to another destination if travel restrictions change, or how to get your money back.
If there’s a dispute, you may need to fall back on the T&Cs.
Pay with a credit card
Using your credit card to pay for your holiday can offer you an extra level of protection.
This is thanks to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which makes the credit card provider and the seller jointly liable when things go wrong.
Although you should still go to your travel provider to start with, if they’ve gone bust or if they’re simply ignoring you, you can also go to your credit card provider.
And if you have a reward or cashback credit card, you’ll obviously benefit there as well.
But if you’re using your card with a travel firm that applies the charges in another currency – like Booking.com* does with hotels in other countries – make sure your credit card doesn’t charge a fee for this as otherwise it could cost you more than you expect.
Get travel insurance
Travel insurance is always advisable for covering the unexpected, whether it’s a flight cancellation or delayed luggage.
But some countries are explicitly asking holidaymakers to have travel insurance that covers them for Covid-related expenses.
Here’s another time when you should read the fine print, because there are two types of Covid-related coverage.
One is for medical expenses, which most providers will cover. The second is for cancellations related to Covid, which not every provider covers.
Make sure the cover you take out matches your requirements.
If you are cruising or going on sporting holidays such as skiing, you’ll need specialist cover. You’ll also probably want to take out extra cover if you plan to travel with gadgets such as cameras and laptops.
I’ll do a more detailed guide to choosing travel insurance soon.
Know your rights
Last but not least, know your rights.
And it’s worth familiarising yourself with these before you travel so you can collect any evidence if needed for any compensation claims after you return.
For example, if your flight from the UK was delayed, you could be entitled to up to £520 in compensation – but only if the delay was the airline’s fault.
The amount you get will also depend on how long you were held up and how far you were travelling.
But even if you’re not entitled to compensation, you may be entitled to claim certain expenses so it’s worth knowing what you can and can’t claim and keep any receipts.
I find Which? has the most comprehensive guides to travel consumer rights.