On the Beach says traffic lights ‘removed FCDO advice ambiguity’

On the Beach says the introduction of the traffic light system has removed the ambiguity around FCDO advice and international travel that came about at the start of the pandemic.

The online travel agent resigned its membership of Abta last year after it clashed with the association over their legal interpretations of how Foreign Office (FCDO) advice affects the right to a refund.

Abta’s longstanding policy is that customers should receive a full refund on package holidays if the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to a destination.

But On the Beach argues “industry practice is not law” and last year opted to refund elements of the package that were refunded to it from suppliers. So in instances where flights continued despite FCDO advice warning against all non-essential travel to destinations such as Spain, customers only received their money back for other elements of the package.

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When On the Beach went back on sale last week, it said customers will receive a refund for the full cash value of cancelled holidays under its ‘New Normal Booking Pledge’ which was announced alongside a pledge to offer free Covid tests with holidays booked this month to select destinations.

The company’s New Normal Booking Pledge notes that On the Beach will refund customers “as required by consumer law”.

Asked about the issue on a Travel Weekly webcast, chief customer officer Zoe Harris said issuing full cash refunds “is consumer law, so it’s what we should all be doing”.

She added: “At the start of the pandemic, it was difficult for any holiday company to deal with the logistics of refunding customers.”

Harris said On the Beach favoured issuing full refunds over refund credit notes (RCNs), adding: “We haven’t tried to entice customers to take refund credit notes. We are very confident they would prefer to have the cash.”

She said that policy “makes it clear that On the Beach has their operational house in order”.

An On the Beach spokeswoman separately confirmed refunds will be issued in full for all cancelled holidays, noting this means holidays cancelled due to a ‘significant change to the package’. A flight cancellation is an example of a significant change.

The spokeswoman stressed “FCDO advising against travel to a destination wouldn’t necessarily automatically trigger a cancellation” and said assesments are made “on a case by case basis”, with FCDO advice a consideration among “a number of other factors”.

So even if a flight continues to a destination the FCDO advises against, that doesn’t necessarily trigger a package holiday refund from On the Beach, which offers amendments without charge in such instances.

The spokeswoman also clarified: “Even if performance of the package or transport to the destination isn’t significantly affected, if the customer wishes to cancel in these circumstances then we will fully refund hotel and transfer costs, and our regulated, ring-fenced trust account means that we are able to do this quickly and always in cash rather than credit notes or vouchers.”

On the webcast, Harris suggested the removal of the Abta logo from the company’s website – as a result of the OTA leaving the association – had made little impact.

She said: “We know the Atol protection we offer with our holidays is really important to the customers and something we talk about a lot.

“There’s a bit of consumer confusion about the difference between the two, so it’s difficult to unpick.”

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