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Coronavirus: Your rights in the event of a trip cancellation and holiday withdrawal

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Trip cancellation

Trip cancellation, withdrawal, high-risk area: what does the corona virus mean for travelers? 

Trip cancellation: What rights do you have if the holiday is canceled due to Corona? When does insurance pay and what applies in the event of quarantine or a positive corona test?

  • Corona high-risk area, 2G rule: cancellation options for vacationers
  • Travel cancellation insurance does not pay in the event of cancellation due to a travel warning
  • Travel vouchers that expire at the end of 2021: think carefully about extending them

Due to the corona pandemic, there are some special rules when traveling at home and abroad. A travel warning for non-essential tourist trips currently applies to countries that the federal government has classified as a high-risk area or as a virus variant area. For all other trips , special caution  is still advised.

High-risk area and trip cancellation options

Among other things, package holidaymakers have the option of canceling their trip free of charge if extraordinary circumstances at the holiday destination significantly affect the implementation of the package tour. Before the corona pandemic, a travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office was a clear indication of the existence of extraordinary circumstances and package tours could usually be canceled free of charge in this case. It has not yet been judicially clarified

whether, after a pandemic of more than a year , there is still an extraordinary circumstance if a country/area becomes a high-risk or virus variant area after booking. Due to this unclear legal situation, travelers should first try to contact their tour operatorto seek an amicable agreement . In some cases, tour operators still offer holidaymakers the option of rebooking free of charge. The extent to which the organizers also allow free cancellations is at their discretion.

It is more difficult for individual travelers to withdraw from the contract: The only decisive factor here is whether the provider can provide the booked service (e.g. the flight or the overnight stay). If this is the case and the classification of the area does not have a direct effect on the contractually owed service, the individual traveler can cancel the trip, but usually has to pay cancellation costs. A free withdrawal would only be considered if this was contractually agreed with the provider in advance.

Cancellation in the event of a ban on accommodation and lockdown

Tourist overnight stays can be banned in Germany. The Corona regulations of the federal states apply. Here you will find information on the situation when traveling in Germany. Travelers should inquire about the exact regulations on-site and take into account that these can change quickly depending on the incidence.

If tourist overnight stays are prohibited in Germany, a hotelier or landlord must cancel on his initiative because he is no longer allowed to offer his service due to the official ban. Then the hotel guest does not have to pay the room rate. The regulations of the individual federal states may contain exceptions for business trips. If the hotel guest has already arrived and the hotelier demands early departure due to a ban on accommodation, he can only charge the hotel costs proportionately for the stay spent.

If a lockdown for everyone is decided at a travel destination, holidaymakers could have the opportunity to withdraw free of charge, according to the ADAC lawyers. This is possible, at least under German law, if the booked services can no longer be provided as contractually agreed due to the lockdown. If accommodation is still allowed at the travel destination despite the lockdown, an amicable agreement with the hotelier or landlord is recommended if the travelers do not want to start their vacation.

2G rule and cancellation

If the 2G rule applies at a travel destination, i.e. only vaccinated and recovered people are allowed to stay in hotels and holiday apartments, many legal questions arise in connection with cancellation options that cannot be answered in general. Each individual case must be considered here, as many factors play a role – for example whether German or foreign law applies, when the booking was made, what was foreseeable at that time, etc. Travelers should therefore first try to reach an amicable agreement with the tour operator, hotelier or landlord . If that doesn’t work, they should contact a lawyer.

Corona: When does travel cancellation insurance pay?

Travel cancellation insurance only applies if you cannot go on the booked trip for an insured reason, eg if you have a serious, unexpected illness  (medical certificate). In this case, the contractually owed cancellation costs will be borne. The prerequisite is, of course, that you took out the insurance before the illness and in compliance with the deadlines.

If you have to interrupt your trip due to a serious, unexpected illness or if you are therefore unable to return  on time, travel cancellation insurance will reimburse  the additional costs incurred ( e.g. rebooking ) and the necessary additional return journey and accommodation costs.

Even if the corona test is positive , there may be an illness that causes an inability to travel – regardless of whether there is a health impairment. Then, under certain circumstances, travel cancellation insurance may pay, unless it explicitly excludes the pandemic case.

Attention : Many travel cancellation insurance policies contain clauses that exclude diseases that the WHO classifies as a pandemic from insurance cover. On March 11, 2020, Covid-19 was declared a pandemic . If you fall ill with the coronavirus after this date, insurance policies that contain such a clause therefore no longer have an insured reason for cancellation.

Individual fears or concerns about infection, on the other hand, are not reasons for which an insurance company will step in.

(partial) travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office is not considered an insured event in the travel cancellation insurance. Travel cancellation insurance usually does not apply.

Even in the case of an entry ban for certain nationalities , the travel cancellation insurance often does not cover the costs incurred.

As a rule, travel cancellation insurance only covers cases of personal impediment, for example if the insured person falls ill himself . In the course of the Corona crisis, however, many insurance companies have started to also cover cancellations in connection with the pandemic . It is worth taking a closer look at the insurance conditions. The same applies to the insured persons, as sometimes only fellow travelers from the same household are insured, but not friends traveling with them from other households.

Package tour: When can you cancel because of Corona?

Travelers can cancel their package tour (e.g. flight and hotel) at any time. However, the organizer can then demand a cancellation fee. Cancellation free of charge is only possible if the arrival or execution of a trip is significantly impaired by unavoidable, extraordinary circumstances (e.g. because there is a general entry ban for the booked location or trains are no longer running).

For each trip, however, it must be checked specifically whether at the time of cancellation it is foreseeable with sufficient probability that such circumstances exist. The traveler must provide proof of this. For trips that are not imminent , it is advisable to wait and see how the situation develops .

According to case law, a travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office* for trips abroad has so far been considered a strong indication of the existence of extraordinary circumstances. Whether this applies to travel warnings for high-risk and virus variant areas has not yet been judicially clarified in many cases. The main problem here are current bookings , where the classification of the travel destination changes between the time of booking and the start of the trip.

If you want to cancel a package tour, you should contact your tour operator and first ask for an amicable solution (e.g. a free rebooking).

Cancellation free of charge is also always possible if the organizer makes significant changes to the service or the trip has significant defects . So if a significant part of the package travel service does not take place (e.g. central sights are closed or if the beach cannot be used on a booked bathing holiday due to the corona restrictions), the traveler can withdraw free of charge.

What constitutes significant changes/defects must be assessed on a case-by-case basis based on the specific content of the contract. There are still no court rulings on many corona measures in this context. Holidaymakers should therefore inquire with their tour operator in advance whether the trip will go ahead as planned and what restrictions and conditions are to be expected.  

If package tours are canceled by the organizer , the holidaymaker will be reimbursed the price. Claims for damages against the tour operator due to loss of holiday enjoyment are out of the question if there are unavoidable, extraordinary circumstances for which the organizer is not responsible.

For cruises , the rules for package tours apply. 

Individual travel: When can you cancel because of Corona?

If the provider cancels the service (e.g. the flight or the overnight stay), the holidaymaker can reclaim any (down) payments already made. Information on what to do if the airline does not refund the ticket price can be found here.

If German law applies, the traveler can only cancel free of charge if the individual service cannot be fulfilled. This would be conceivable, for example, if the airport cannot be flown to or the hotelier is not allowed to offer you an overnight stay. Then he cannot charge the room rate. If tourist overnight stays are not permitted in Germany due to the corona pandemic, the hotelier/landlord of holiday apartments may not offer any rooms for this purpose. He can not demand any cancellation costs.

Whether corona requirements mean serious deficiencies must be clarified in each case. For example, if a wellness holiday has been booked but the pool, sauna, and spa remain closed, it may be possible to reduce the price or cancel free of charge. The same applies if the hotelier only offers a shorter stay or a different travel date because he is not allowed to fully occupy his hotel. Due to the many legal uncertainties, it is advisable to seek an agreement with the hotelier/landlord.

Booked a hotel or holiday home abroad

If you have booked the hotel or holiday home directly abroad or via an online hotel broker and the booking conditions do not contain any provisions on applicable law, foreign law will apply. In many EU member states, the hotel operators themselves determine whether the room can be canceled free of charge, whether cancellation fees are due or whether the full amount has to be paid. Therefore, the general terms and conditions of the landlord/hotelier have priority. Vacationers should therefore try to clarify the situation directly with them – in the event of a dispute through a lawyer.

According to our current information, free cancellation is possible in the following countries if the provider is unable to perform and there is some kind of force majeure: Austria, Finland, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland. However, in some countries, there is a voucher solution instead of repayment (e.g. France, Italy, Spain, Greece). Changes can occur here at any time.

Attention: If individual services (e.g. flight, train journey, or hotel room) can be provided without restrictions, but holidaymakers no longer want to start their trip for fear of infection, the respective service provider (e.g. airline, train, or hotelier) can cancel if the traveler cancels request the flight ticket costs or the costs of accommodation less saved expenses. Some general terms and conditions provide for flat-rate cancellation costs.

This applies to flights and train journeys

In principle, the passenger is free to cancel a booked flight at any time. The airline can then demand cancellation costs, which are specified in the General Conditions of Carriage. Some tariffs cannot be canceled free of charge at all.

It has not been legally clarified whether the passenger has the right to withdraw free of charge in the event of an impending quarantine. It is therefore advisable to seek an amicable solution with the airline. Many airlines offer free rebookings or vouchers as a gesture of goodwill.

Deviations from the German legal situation may apply to the applicability of foreign law: in Italy and Spain, for example, flights can be canceled free of charge in the event of force majeure. To clarify which law applies to the specific flight, you should read the conditions of carriage carefully.

If flights are canceled by the airline due to extraordinary circumstances , passengers can only request a refund of the ticket price . There are no claims to the flat-rate compensation payment. Information on what to do if the airline does not refund the ticket price can be found here.

Railway companies, on the other hand, can not invoke “force majeure”. Passenger rights, which provide for compensation in the event of a delay of more than 60 minutes or a train cancellation, also apply if the delay is due to extraordinary circumstances. However, only until the change comes into force, which the EU has already agreed on. After that, only the ticket price will be returned, no more compensation.

With Deutsche Bahn, the possibility of flexible use of tickets has expired; the tariff cancellation conditions* apply. A new feature here is the option of immediate cancellation: passengers can cancel tickets booked online at bahn.de* or in the DB Navigator app free of charge within twelve hours of the booking before the first day of validity. You will get the full payment amount back. According to Bahn, this also applies to super saver prices and saver prices.

Corona test positive: what applies?

If a vacationer is not allowed to travel because of a positive corona test or an official quarantine order, package tour operators, as well as the airline or hotel, can demand cancellation costs. Travel cancellation insurance offers protection against this risk; the respective insurance conditions apply here.

If the test at the holiday destination is positive and the traveler is therefore not allowed to travel home, he must pay any additional costs during the quarantine himself. In the event of an officially ordered quarantine, regulations in the holiday country may provide for reimbursement of costs. However, details must be clarified in the travel country. Travelers can protect themselves against the cost risk of a corona disease by taking out travel interruption or travel cancellation insurance.

In private transport (e.g. when traveling in your car) there is no general entry ban for people who have tested positive. If someone enters Germany with a positive test result, their data will be recorded during any border controls and forwarded to the responsible authorities.

Do I have to accept a travel voucher?

If the trip is canceled by the organizer or if travelers are entitled to a free right of withdrawal, they can demand the return of (down) payments already made. Although travelers can voluntarily accept a voucher from the organizer, there is no obligation to do so.

What happens to vouchers that expire in 2021?

For package tours booked before March 8, 2020, and not carried out due to the corona pandemic, tour operators could offer their customers a voucher with additional state protection for a later trip instead of immediate reimbursement. Customers who have opted for this voluntary voucher solution but do not redeem the voucher by the end of 2021 at the latest will receive their money back within 14 days.

Some organizers offer an extension of the voucher beyond 2021. In such cases, travelers should think carefully about whether they want to accept a voucher or insist on a refund. Anyone who decides to accept a voucher should note that they should no longer be covered by state insurance in the event of the tour operator becoming insolvent. In addition, due to the pandemic

Who pays for events canceled due to Corona?

If events are canceled due to Corona , according to the current legal situation, there is a right to a refund of the ticket price, but not the costs of the hotel booked separately or the journey to the event.

The voucher solution applies to tickets purchased before March 8th, 2020: In the event of cancellation due to Corona, organizers may issue vouchers to the ticket holders in the amount of the original admission price (including advance booking fees). These can either be redeemed for the catch-up date or an equivalent offer. Unredeemed vouchers must be refunded from the end of 2021.

Entry ban due to Corona: reimbursement of costs?

It has not been finally clarified whether individual holidaymakers can withdraw from a trip free of charge in the event of an entry ban for certain nationalities or whether they have to bear the cancellation costs. So far, there is no clear case law on this.

Before you arrive, find out about the national regulations in your holiday destination and contact your respective provider to find a (goodwill) arrangement for your booking.

If the implementation of a package tour is significantly affected by so-called extraordinary circumstances, a free cancellation is possible. This can be the case with an entry ban. Affected travelers should contact their tour operator to find an amicable (goodwill) solution.

Quarantine in the travel country: free cancellation?

A free withdrawal is possible for a package tour if there are significant service changes. This can also apply if travelers have to go into quarantine upon entry.

This is to be distinguished from the case where you have to go into quarantine at home after the trip because your travel country is classified as a high-risk or virus variant area: The organizer can provide the trip by the contract so that a free cancellation should not be possible here.

Border closure: Cancellation of the package tour possible

If a destination country closes its borders, you can withdraw from a package tour free of charge because the trip or arrival will be significantly affected by so-called extraordinary circumstances. If the border is closed, the organizer can no longer carry out the package tour. Contact your tour operator to find an amicable (goodwill) solution.

If you are traveling individually, you must also contact your provider if the border is closed. If the booked service cannot be provided due to the border closure, the provider cannot demand any cancellation fees. However, if the service is provided and the holidaymaker wishes to cancel, he may incur cancellation fees.

What can you do now if a trip is imminent?

Anyone who has booked a package tour should ask the organizer whether the trip can be carried out. If the conditions for free cancellation are not met, it is best to look for an amicable, accommodating solution (e.g. rebooking).

If the trip is only several weeks or months away, you should first wait and see how the situation in the destination country develops. Withdrawing from a travel contract should always be a last resort when it is clear that there is a significant likelihood that the trip will be affected by the effects of a coronavirus pandemic.

Even those who have booked individually, for example, a flight or hotel, should first contact the respective contractual partner to find out whether the service can be provided. If you do not want to travel, although free cancellation is not possible, you should look for an amicable goodwill solution.

What if travelers are already on their way?

If you do not want to continue your trip because you are afraid of being infected, you may have to bear the costs of cancellation or accommodation less saved expenses yourself.

Anyone who is already on the road can cancel their package tour if it can no longer be carried out at the holiday destination due to extraordinary circumstances, e.g. hotels are closed due to official orders. Even after the cancellation by the traveler, the tour operator remains obliged to arrange for the return transport and must assume any additional costs incurred. It is therefore advisable to first consult the organizer.

If a package tour is canceled prematurely, travelers can request a pro-rata refund of the costs for the vacation days that did not take place. The traveler can also reclaim additional costs, for example for excursions that were booked through the organizer but did not take place. Claims for damages, for example for useless vacation time, can only be considered if the tour operator is at fault. This is not the case if the trip had to be cut short due to exceptional circumstances.

You can demand a price reduction from the organizer if there are deficiencies in the execution of the trip , for example because individual program items cannot be carried out – even if the organizer is not at fault.

Return journey postponed: who will pay for the costs?

If the return journey does not take place as planned, e.g. because the flight is canceled due to the coronavirus, the tour operator must bear the additional costs for the extended stay for up to three days. Anything beyond that, travelers have to pay for themselves, unless the costs are covered by another institution (e.g. authorities). This comes into consideration, for example, when travelers are quarantined at the holiday destination. The law applicable at the holiday destination is always decisive.

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