Should I book a holiday on the amber list?

·6-min read
Limone sul Garda on the shores of Lake Garda - Francesco Riccardo Iacomino/Moment RF
Limone sul Garda on the shores of Lake Garda - Francesco Riccardo Iacomino/Moment RF

The traffic light system has been activated by the Government, and now the state of overseas holidays from May 17 is as clear as mud.

We know that from Monday, British holidaymakers will be able to return from countries on the green list without the need to quarantine.

However, we do not yet know that all of those nations will let us in; that Portugal has not yet confirmed when it will reopen to UK travellers is of the most concern.

But of more interest is the list on which most of our favourite destinations reside, the amber list; currently home to Spain, France, Italy et al. And whether you can actually go on holiday to these countries.

We try to answer all the key questions below.

What are the amber list rules?

Any travellers arriving in the UK from “amber” countries will be required to self-isolate at home for 10 days (potentially reduced with a paid-for “test to release” on day five) and to take PCR tests on (or before) day two and on day eight of isolation, as well as taking a test before returning to the UK (proof of a negative result can be a printed document or an email or text shown on your phone) and completing a Passenger Locator Form.

The Government currently requires each of these tests to be a PCR test, which can be costly. Prices are slowly being reduced, with one government-approved provider now charging £45 and Tui offering test packages for "green" destinations from £20.

Am I allowed to go on holiday to an amber list country?

Here is where it gets a little confusing.

The Department for Transport advice says: “You should not travel to amber list countries or territories for leisure purposes.”

Similarly, Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, who has been in charge of implementing the traffic light system, said of amber list countries: “As with red list countries, you should not be travelling to these places right now.”

This, however, is not written into law, but is instead advisory.

Greek Island of Lindos with beach and Acropolis - Jorg Greuel/Stone RF
Greek Island of Lindos with beach and Acropolis - Jorg Greuel/Stone RF

Will airlines still fly to amber list countries?

Yes, airlines manage their schedule according to demand.

For example, carriers including British Airways and Ryanair have kept skeleton services running throughout the pandemic for essential trips. BA is flying daily to Madrid, Spain’s capital, on the amber list.

Some holiday hubs, such as Greek islands airports, may not be reachable until a destination turns green and demand picks up. This is especially true for those served by tour operator airlines, such as Tui or Jet2.

Remember, too, that Jet2, as the second largest tour operator in the UK, has cancelled all flights up until June 23.

Will tour operators still offer holidays to amber list countries?

This is not clear.

Tui, the biggest tour operator in the UK and Europe, is offering holidays on its website to countries on the amber list, from Malta to Antigua, but departure dates are later in the year.

The tour operator does have a policy on holidays with quarantine consequences that suggests a trip would still run even if the destination was amber.

“If a destination is on the red list meaning you'll need to quarantine in a hotel on your return, we simply won’t go there,” the operator says.

“If – before you depart – we know you’ll have to quarantine at home on your return home, you’ll have the option to change your holiday, as we don’t expect you to do this, but your booking won’t be cancelled.”

Others, including British Airways Holidays and EasyJet Holidays, are also offering trips to amber destinations.

So, it’s up to you.

Boat sailing off the Antigua coast - Roberto Moiola / Sysaworld/Moment RF
Boat sailing off the Antigua coast - Roberto Moiola / Sysaworld/Moment RF

A spokesperson for Tui said: "We want offer our customers flexibility and choice this summer, so where borders are open and FCDO advice allows travel, we will operate to those destinations. We know some customers may be unsure about travelling this summer, so we’ve offered free changes 14 days before travel for anyone due to travel before the end of August."

A spokesperson for easyJet holidays said it recognised the discrepancy between the Foreign Office and Department for Transport but would follow the advice of the FCDO. A spokesperson for Tui said: “We want to offer our customers flexibility and choice this summer, so where borders are open and FCDO advice allows travel, we will operate to those destinations.”

British Airways Holidays said: “Customers who are unable to travel, or choose not to, can continue to change their holiday without a change fee, or request a voucher for future use.” ​

Will I get a refund if I do not want to go on my amber list holiday?

If you book a package holiday with a tour operator and that holiday is cancelled, you are legally obliged to a refund. If the holiday is not cancelled, as Tui’s terms and conditions suggest would be the case for amber holidays, then you would not be entitled to a refund.

If you book independently, that is, flights and accommodation separately, you would only be offered a refund for your flight if it were cancelled, and your grievance with the accommodation provider would be dependent on their terms and conditions.

Airlines and tour operators have introduced generous flexibility into their bookings that mean should a green country turn amber after booking you are unlikely, but not certain, to be left out of pocket.

High angle view of the boats at Marsaxlokk harbour in Malta - Felix Cesare/Moment RF
High angle view of the boats at Marsaxlokk harbour in Malta - Felix Cesare/Moment RF

Can I get travel insurance for an amber list holiday?

Yes, there are policies that will offer cover, even to red list countries, but they are outliers. Battleface is one such provider.

Traditionally, travelling against Foreign Office advice invalidates travel insurance policies. If the FCDO retains advice against travelling to amber list countries, it seems tour operators would not run trips.

However, for those destinations on the amber list, but not subject to FCDO advice, operators will still travel and insurance may remain valid. Check with your provider.

A spokesperson for Association of British Insurers (ABI) said: “As the restrictions on overseas travel are eased, it is important for travellers to take out travel insurance, primarily to cover potentially very expensive overseas emergency medical treatment bills.

“Travellers should always be aware of and follow government advice. If you travel against FCDO advice, then your travel policy will likely be invalidated. Make sure to read your policy so you are aware of the scope of cover, as policies bought after the pandemic was declared are unlikely to cover cancellation as a result of coronavirus as it is a known risk.”

So, the answer is yes, but you will have to do your research and ensure you read the terms and conditions closely.

Will I be shamed for going on an amber list holiday?

Not like last year, when travel shaming became a particularly nasty pastime of some curtain-twitchers.

With infection rates falling, vaccine progress continuing and the European Union set to reopen fully to British tourists in June, the amber list could start to look very silly if tour operators and airlines run full flights of Britons desperate for sun.

Of course, you will have to be able to quarantine on return.

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