In the wake of last Friday’s Government announcement and with just a few days to go until travel restarts on May 17, there has been a lot of excited talk about whether holidays might sell out this summer, or prices might soar. If you haven’t booked already, don’t let this worry you. Of course there has been a surge in booking. Of course, some key dates in the summer are in high demand and some types of holiday, such as villa stays have sold well. But it is – and always has been – a standard ploy among tour operators and airlines to push people into booking by suggesting that holidays are selling fast and prices are rising.
The point to remember is that even though there is clearly plenty of pent up demand, it is nevertheless inevitable that far fewer people will be travelling this summer compared with a normal year. First, there are plenty who are simply too nervous to go abroad yet. Second, many of us have already committed to having our summer holidays in the UK – and few, especially in the wake of the pandemic, are likely to be able to afford the time or money to book another break abroad.
What is more, as several major operators assured me earlier in the year, even if there is some pressure on availability because there are fewer holidays and flights on sale at the moment, that can quickly change. The one thing which travel companies are good at is adding capacity when demand increases. Let’s face it – there are going to be millions of empty hotel rooms in Europe this summer. All we need is to be able to get there. Ryanair has just proved how flexible airlines can be. Within an hour of the news that Portugal was on the green list, it announced that it was adding 175,000 extra seats to the country.
If you fancy a weekend break in Lisbon, and you are flexible about the days you can travel, you can currently pick up a return from Stansted with Ryanair for £41 – in early June. Yes – that’s a green-listed destination and an absolute bargain price. There are seats to Faro, on the Algarve, for not much more than that, and you won’t have any trouble at all in finding hotel availability in either destination.
So don’t panic buy, just be sure to book cannily. And, to help you, here are some key questions answered.
Which destinations are on the green list?
Currently, the only green list destinations which make for feasible sun and sand and city break holidays are Portugal, Israel and Gibraltar. Iceland is also on the list and is a wonderful place for a holiday, but not if you are looking for guaranteed beach weather.
How is the rest of the summer looking?
Unless you can find a break to Portugal, which will probably be tricky, you can give up hope of a spring half-term break abroad this year. However, the prospects of other European countries being moved onto the green list after a few weeks are looking pretty positive. Hopefully by the early July, most of the key Mediterranean destinations will be green. It may take longer for Cyprus and Croatia, which still have high infection rates, and Turkey is also likely to be a late-comer since it is now on the red list.
When will destinations change their listings?
The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said last Friday that the listings would be reviewed every three weeks after travel restarts on May 17. That means the first three reviews will be on June 7 and 28, and July 19. He didn’t say how soon after the review the listing would be amended however, though it seems likely that if restrictions are being eased then it will happen within a week or so of the announcement. The Government has also indicated that it will try to give at least a week’s notice of a downgrading.
Which countries are likely to go green next?
This is incredibly hard to call because the government may use data which isn’t publicly available and because infection rates and other indicators can change so rapidly. Many people thought that Malta would get a green listing straight away, but it didn’t. And not many expected the UAE to be given a red listing. Some of the Spanish holiday islands in the Balearics or Canaries may have a good chance of an early upgrade to green, but it’s probably not a good idea to gamble unless you are booking with a travel company which offers a no-fuss cash refund if you want to cancel. Instead, wait until the change is officially announced – keep an eye on our live blog on our home page for the latest news and insights.
What if I have already booked a holiday and it is in the amber zone?
Strictly speaking Government advice is to avoid travelling to amber zone destinations, but this is not being enforced and most travel companies and airlines have said that they intend to keep operating to them. This is assuming, of course, that the country is open to UK tourists – which is the case for Greece and Italy and, probably from June 9, for France and Spain.
This is fine if you want to travel, but what if you don’t? It may be feasible to switch to Portugal or another green-listed destinations as an alternative, but you probably aren’t entitled to a cash refund. The legal position is not completely clear, but most tour operators won’t be offering this option. It is also highly unlikely that you would be able to claim the cost of cancelling – which is usually the whole cost of the holiday – from your travel insurer. All policies that I know of which have been issued in the last year have excluded such claims. The good news is that most operators and airlines are remaining flexible about this. All Tui customers booked to travel before the end of August can change to a later date for free, up to 14 days before departure. Customers travelling in May can change up to seven days before. Loveholidays is also offering free amendments.
Should I consider booking a holiday in an amber zone?
There is no reason why you shouldn’t book – as long as you bear the above points in mind. But there is relatively little to be gained from it. The best opportunities are for those who can remain flexible and spontaneous. You have a great chance over the next six or seven weeks to pick up some cheap deals and make the most of your opportunities before things get a bit busier in the summer. Holidays won’t be quite so cheap in July and August but, as we explained in the introduction, you will surely still be able to find some availability.
I have a tight budget – how do I keep costs down?
A key consideration to bear in mind is the cost of testing. Even if you travel to a green-list destination you may have to have a test before you depart, and you will certainly have to have one on your return. If you travel to an amber zone, you will have to have two additional tests during your self-isolation, which could add hundreds of pounds to a family holiday.
Anything else that I should consider?
It was noticeable that, during his latest announcement, Grant Shapps put a lot of emphasis on the potential for significant delays for people arriving at UK airports. This is because of the extra time needed to check the documentation and status of every passenger and it may mean hold ups of several hours on your return. The best way to mitigate this is to try to book a flight arriving in the middle of the day – normally the time when airports are at their quietest. It may also be that smaller airports which deal with fewer flights may not suffer the same back-logs which might be a risk at the big-city hubs.