Chickenpox before a holiday: Can I cancel and get a refund?

My family and I were supposed to fly out to Menorca for our first holiday abroad in five years, booked as a hotel and flight package with Jet2.

It was a particularly special trip as my three-year-old son was born with a complex heart condition and has undergone two open heart surgeries. Thankfully he is now all fixed, enabling us to travel for the first time.

But a few days before, he came down with chickenpox which meant he potentially wouldn’t be allowed on the plane. We didn’t want to cancel the holiday straightaway, as once the spots begin to clear up a child can get a doctor’s note saying they are fit to fly. 

We were desperate to go on the holiday, but two days before we accepted that we would have to reschedule.

Travel nightmare: My son came down with chickenpox just before our holiday (stock image, posed by model)

Travel nightmare: My son came down with chickenpox just before our holiday (stock image, posed by model)

We called the airline 49 hours before we were due to take off. The timing of this is important because, as we later found out, the deadline to change the date without losing all our money – totalling £2,132 – was 48 hours before the flight.

We expected to be charged a fee for rescheduling the dates, and have since found out that charge would have been around £600 which we could have claimed back on travel insurance.

But we waited on hold for almost an hour, and by the time we spoke to someone they told us we had missed this 48 hour window by 10 minutes. Jet2 said it wouldn’t give us any of our money back in cash or vouchers, and if we wanted to reschedule we would have to pay for a new holiday.

We were able to claim some of the money back on insurance, but are still £796 out of pocket. If Jet2 had enough staff to answer calls in a reasonable time frame, this wouldn’t have happened. L.S, Bedfordshire

Helen Crane of This is Money replies: I was very sorry to learn of your son’s health problems – but am pleased to hear he is now doing well.

It makes it all the more unfortunate that your well-deserved holiday was put on hold due to a simple case of the chickenpox.

After five years, you were itching to get away – but small children do have a habit of picking up illnesses at the worst possible times.

With the school holidays in full swing I am sure plenty of parents reading this will be wrapping their little ones up in cotton wool ahead of their own trips.

Holiday halted: Our reader was set for a family trip to Menorca, but sadly his son caught chicken pox and they needed to postpone

Holiday halted: Our reader was set for a family trip to Menorca, but sadly his son caught chicken pox and they needed to postpone

Unfortunately, if illness forces you to make a holiday cancellation, there’s no legal obligation for the package holiday operator, airline or hotel to refund you.

That is why it’s important to take out a good travel insurance policy as soon as you book your holiday. Travellers should look for one with a decent amount of cancellation cover, ideally covering the whole cost of the trip.

You did take out insurance, which was fortunate as if you hadn’t you would have lost the entire £2,132.

But you are still nearly £800 down – a hefty sum to lose, especially as you will now need to pay for another holiday in full.

CRANE ON THE CASE 

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Jet2 didn’t even offer to refund the air passenger duty, which – as I have written before – almost anyone who cancels a flight for any reason and at any time should be able to get back.

It is especially galling that, had Jet2 answered the phone to you in good time, you would have met that crucial 48 hour deadline and been able to reschedule.

Holiday firms are under great pressure at the moment, with the recent airport chaos and a backlog of cancelled trips due to Covid meaning that their phone lines are crammed with customers seeking reschedules and refunds.

But there is an easy fix for that, in the form of hiring more call centre staff. It’s unacceptable that you were forced to wait on the phone for almost an hour just to speak to someone.

I spoke to Jet2 to ask it whether it would return some of the outstanding £800 to you, given that it left you hanging on the phone for so long and forced you to miss the window to reschedule. 

I’m glad to say it has now sent you a £796 voucher. You’ve told me that you plan to book a new trip after the summer holidays, as your son isn’t in school yet.

A Jet2 spokesperson said: ‘We are pleased to confirm that we have been in touch with L.S and the matter is now resolved. We look forward to welcoming her and her family on a sunshine getaway with us in the future.’

I hope your son is feeling better and that your holiday – when you finally get there – is everything you hoped for.

Hit and miss: This week’s naughty and nice list

Every week, I look at the companies who have fallen short when it comes to customer service, and those who have gone above and beyond.

Hit: It is not often we at This is Money praise departments of Her Majesty’s Government.

Whether it is readers struggling to claim the state pension they are entitled to, or locked in tax battles with HMRC, we are more likely to be found holding departments’ feet to the fire.

But we like to give credit where credit is due, and reader Jeff wrote in this week to say he was impressed by the DVLA.

Rapid refund: Reader Jeff got his unused vehicle tax repaid quickly when he scrapped his car

Rapid refund: Reader Jeff got his unused vehicle tax repaid quickly when he scrapped his car

He said: ‘Recently I scrapped a car, and all went smoothly – until I realised the garage that I took it to had kept hold of the log book.

‘So when I went to claim back the unused vehicle tax on the gov.uk website, I could only get got so far along in the online process. It said I needed the 11 digit code from the log book which had gone with the car.

‘I checked my old tax receipts thinking there might be a reference number on there, but there was nothing. I assumed I’d have a battle on my hands to get the money back.

‘But lo and behold, five days later I had the full refund into my bank account without having to do a thing. A nice surprise.’

It seems the DVLA has remarkably quick reaction times when it comes to refunds, and I’m glad to hear that, in your case, tax really didn’t have to be taxing.

Savings saga: A couple in Australia have been waiting two years to claim the prizes they won via their NS&I Premium Bonds account

Savings saga: A couple in Australia have been waiting two years to claim the prizes they won via their NS&I Premium Bonds account

Miss: A few weeks ago, I reported on an expat husband and wife in Australia, who got in touch with me to appeal for help in their long-running saga to get hold of prize money from their NS&I Premium Bonds.

They found an old bond holder’s card in storage which had since won £175 in unclaimed prizes.

They weren’t able to get the money through the NS&I website as the system won’t work for those based abroad. For two years they had written and phoned (when the 10-hour time difference and hefty call charges allowed) but NS&I had failed to pay up.

After I first intervened, NS&I sent them cheques for the £175 prize money – but the cheques were in sterling, which weren’t accepted by their Australian bank. 

Having closed their UK account as they didn’t plan to return, the couple began to think they may never see their money.

But I contacted NS&I again and it now appears to have found a solution. It turns out there is an alternative, indemnity route that NS&I can offer to help those based abroad get their money. It means they must select a person with a UK bank account to receive the funds on their behalf. 

NS&I was clear that this is a one-off solution and cannot be used to manage accounts on an ongoing basis, so the couple will need to close their Premium Bonds account afterwards, which they are happy to do. 

They have now received the relevant forms and have nominated the wife’s cousin, who lives in France but still has a UK bank account, to receive the money.

Frustratingly, the forms must be signed in ink and posted back to the UK, so it will take some time – but hopefully they are on the way to getting their cash. 

‘Who knew it would take Australia, UK and a French connection to end this,’ the couple said. ‘We could make a film.’

I’m not sure if the UK public is quite ready for a Premium Bonds blockbuster – but I’m glad you are on the way to a happy ending. 

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