In recent days, I’ve been flooded by requests for help from people concerned about new Covid restrictions and the impact on their plans for Christmas.
So let’s take a look at one of the things that are affected – travel. You can find much more information in my guide to all things Omicron here. Don’t forget that the rules vary depending on whether you live (or visit) in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
If you’ve not booked yet, pay on a credit card
If you’re going to pay for goods – and you’re disciplined with money – then pay on a credit card. If you spend over £100 and buy direct from the provider of goods or services, then you might be able to claim a refund from the card provider if things go wrong. There are, of course, catches, so check out Resolver’s guide here.
Airlines and holiday firms have tightened the rules considerably since the first lockdown, so don’t automatically assume you’ll be able to get a refund. Some airlines are being much more aggressive about ‘chargeback’ too – so you may not be able to to get your cash back through your bank if you can’t travel.
A bit of advance planning could save you much heartache if the rules suddenly change. Make sure you read the cancelation T&Cs on an airline or travel agent website before you book. If anything isn’t clear, email or message the firm and ask them to confirm in writing what your rights are. Don’t assume you’ll get vouchers or be able to move the holiday forward without charge either.
If you’re traveling out of the UK it’s essential you read the travel advice on the Gov.uk website for the country you are travelling to. This varies but it’s fair to assume you will need to provide proof of vaccination and usually a negative test (not an NHS/free lateral flow test) taken a few days before travel.
If you are abroad and the country you are in goes on to a ‘red list’ you may discover to your cost that the quarantine hotels are back. In fact, many are already booked up, meaning people in these countries have to delay their flights. The costs are just as high as before. Find out more here.
If you’re arriving from a non-red list country, and you are fully vaccinated, then you will need to take a PCR test (not a lateral flow) on arrival or in the first two days. You must self-isolate on arrival too till you get the results. You’ll also need to fill out the standard passenger location form too. Watch out for fake ones – this is a free service so never pay for it.
If you arrive and are unvaccinated, then it’s two tests for you (day 2 and 8) and you’ll need to self-isolate for ten days.
You can book a PCR test at the airport but expect high demand and high prices. Alternatively, you can book a test online. Don’t just pick the first, go online and see what people are saying about delays, missing test results and poor service.
Getting around the UK
Many people will be turning to public transport for Christmas family visits. Trains in particular have been badly affected by financial losses since the pandemic– and there’s not much in the way of bargain tickets to be had.
Get online now and book if you want the best deals – but check out the cancelation rules if you can’t travel. You might want to see if you can transfer tickets to other people or move the travel dates forward, which broadens your options if you can’t travel. Expect to pay a moderate fee for this.
Think about what you are comfortable with when traveling. It’s going to be busy over Christmas so try to travel off peak, take disinfectant wipes and order your free lateral flow tests now if you’re worried about visiting more vulnerable relatives.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.