Don't let volcanic ash disrupt your travel plans
We look at ways to reduce the risks and costs to travellers of future volcanic-ash or similar events.
Airlines must compensate you if your outbound or return flights have been delayed or cancelled.
This applies to:
- All flights within Europe.
- Flights departing from airports within Europe.
- For flights using European airlines only, you're also covered when your flight is coming from outside that area but arriving at an airport within it.
When I say 'Europe' or 'European' above, I mean all 27 European Union countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
According to the Air Transport Users Council (AUC), which is the airline passengers' complaints body, compensation includes:
- A flight-ticket refund or a new flight, as you prefer. The flight can be whenever you want it – there's no time limit – and you don't have to pay extra if the new ticket costs more than the original.
- Reasonable accommodation costs when you're trapped abroad, provided you agree to take a return flight at the earliest opportunity.
- Meals and refreshments, when appropriate.
- Reasonable transport costs between the hotel and airport.
- The airline should offer you two telephone calls or emails.
- If the airline didn't offer these things and you arranged them yourself, you should be reimbursed for reasonable costs.
When a flight is cancelled, if you take a refund (as opposed to changing flights) and then decide to re-book, you have to pay the full cost of that new flight, and you also give up your rights to any further assistance from the airline.
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The AUC warns that if you make alternative arrangements to come home yourself, you might not get compensation. Hence, it's best to agree it with the airline first and to keep all your travel receipts.
Disabled passengers and those making connecting flights should look to the AUC's website for extra information on their rights.
To get compensation, write to your airline with the evidence of your costs, keeping copies of it for yourself. If you're unsatisfied with the response, contact the AUC for advice on 020 7240 6061.
Credit cards offer extra protection when we make purchases, but this usually applies to goods only. Reading the legal definition of goods, I can't squeeze plane tickets into it, unfortunately.
However, regardless of the size of your purchase (from 1p upwards), and regardless of whether you used a debit or credit card, you might be able to get your money back from your card provider if the airline is being stubborn. Ask the card provider within 120 days if it will refund you using its chargeback scheme. This would automatically take the money back from the airline and pay it to you. This is not a legal right of yours, however.
Some credit cards come with extra insurances, but none of these are likely to help you. They're usually pretty useless.
Find out how to cut the cost of your flights, get discounts, tip correctly, spend wisely, get cashback and most importantly, cut the cost of your holiday.Do this goal
Since the volcanic ash grounded flights, many card providers have offered goodwill gestures, which they may do if it happens again. In April, MBNA, HSBC, First Direct, Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest, Co-operative Bank and Smile all announced that they would refund the overseas ATM fees and charges for credit- and debit-card transactions. Some offered a refund of charges for purchases made using debit cards overseas too. Each of them, plus Barclays and Barclaycard, offered their customers other relief, such as increased credit limits.
This won't solve all your problems. You'd still pay interest on cash withdrawals at horrendous rates of 20% APR+, for example, and this from day one (i.e. you get no interest-free period).
Even so, it's sensible to have a credit card when overseas for emergencies, particularly if the card providers decide to offer you better terms after such disasters.
Any credit card could be useful in an emergency, but if you're overseas there are a few cards that work out somewhat cheaper. With the Nationwide credit (or debit) card, the Post Office card, the SAGA card (for over 50s) and the Santander Zero card (which recently became available in branches and by telephone to new Santander customers, as well as online to Santander current account customers), you'll often get about as good a foreign-currency deal as you can get through any other means. Read their terms and conditions before buying.
Before going on holiday, have a plan in place to pay any credit-card (or other) bills in case you get stuck somewhere, so as to avoid getting fined or bad marks on your credit report.
In April, many travel insurers released statements effectively admitting they don't usually cover this, but will do so as a matter of goodwill. The Post Office and Fortis Insurance considered claims for delayed departure or abandonment by classifying the ash as 'bad weather' under its policy terms, for example, and many insurers offered a free extension to existing travel insurance for those stuck abroad.
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Most travel policies don't pay a great deal of compensation when you have delays. The Post Office, for example, pays just £20 after an eight-hour delay, then £20 for each further 12-hour delay up to a £300 limit (although it'll pay up to £5,000 for flight and accommodation costs in the event of a claimable cancellation). Insurance payments for delays are generally paid on top of whatever the airline pays.
In the event of claimable incidents, save and print off the evidence from the airline's website, and wherever else, as evidence for your insurer. Often, the terms and conditions state that you must have checked in to claim the benefits of your insurance, so try to do so if you possibly can.
If you're not happy with how the insurer deals with your claim and believe it is unfair and against the terms and conditions, write a letter of complaint. If you're not happy with the result, complain to the FOS.
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