The German Federal Foreign Office’s worldwide travel warning has just been extended until at least June 14. This leads to a lot of uncertainty and open questions for consumers who have booked or planned trips. What about my booked summer vacation? Can I cancel free of charge? Do I have to accept a voucher instead of money for my cancelled trip? We inform you about the most important questions concerning travel law and the corona crisis.
Can I cancel my booked trip for free?
Good news: According to the consumer advice center (Verbraucherzentrale), the worldwide travel warning makes it possible to cancel package tours and individual travel services abroad free of charge and to withdraw from the entire trip if it takes place soon. Other reasons are the entry restrictions and entry bans that exist in many countries due to the corona virus. In addition, the German Federal Ministry of Health now advises against all trips, nationally as well as internationally.
Stiftung Warentest also believes that customers can cancel upcoming package tours free of charge if “unavoidable and exceptional circumstances” occur at the holiday destination or in its immediate vicinity that impede the implementation of the package tour or significantly affect the transportation of people to the destination. A travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office is a clear indication of exceptional circumstances, according to the Stiftung Warentest. It is important to refer to these exceptional circumstances when resigning from the holiday.
More reasons for a free cancellation of the travel contract
Some tour operators refuse to accept a free cancellation of the contract. But don’t give up. According to the Stiftung Warentest, there are even more important reasons for a free cancellation: Round trips and important sights, for example, are often not feasible as planned because entire cities are closed off now. More importantly, since many countries have closed their borders, entry is often no longer possible. Of course, there is also a considerable health risk: the risk of infection. All of these are further circumstances that entitle you to withdraw from the travel contract free of charge. Also interesting: The organizer must refund the travel price within 14 days after the cancellation.
Do I have to accept a voucher as a replacement for my booked trip?
There has been a lot of debate about this point recently. At the moment, the following applies: You are entitled to reimbursement of the travel price and do not have to be paid off with a voucher.
The consumer advice center says: If you cannot reach your travel destination because you are not allowed to leave Germany for an important reason or you are no longer to travel within Germany and should no longer use accommodation for tourism, you do not need to pay, also for individually booked services such as hotels. It is important here that German law applies. If you have booked directly with the provider abroad, the local law may apply and things may look different. But the EU Commission also sees the voucher solution as a breach of EU law. So your chances are good.
What to do if there are still payments due?
Of course, nobody likes to transfer payments for a trip that might not take place because of the Corona crisis. There is also always a possible insolvency risk of the tour operator due to the current situation. So what to do if you still have to pay an instalment for a trip? The consumer advice center advises that if you do not want to cancel the trip free of charge, or maybe still hope to be able to travel, you do not have to pay the remaining price that is currently due for an upcoming package tour or an individually booked accommodation.
Because it is still unclear whether trips can be carried out as agreed in the next few weeks or whether accommodations can be reached and used for a holiday. Again, there is the worldwide travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office, entry bans in many countries and the recommendation not to travel within Germany, as well as the ban on using accommodation for tourism. It is not foreseeable whether and when these restrictions will be lifted again. The consumer advice center advises; At least trips that are to take place in the next few weeks (around mid-May) are so much at risk that you can refuse to pay the remaining price. The current extension of the worldwide travel warning confirms this again.
No collection costs or cancellation fees
The consumer advice center continues: Against this background, tour operators and holiday home owners have no right to withdraw from the contract, although many reserve this in the event that the agreed price is not paid or is not paid in full on the dates mentioned. Even if not all providers adhere to it: The providers are not actually allowed to charge any reminder or collection costs or cancellation fees provided in the event of withdrawal.
Further advice from the consumer advice center: If you want to start the trip after all, and the provider insists on the payments, it might be better if you pay the remaining payments after receiving a reminder from the tour operator in order to avoid cancellation (which, according to the consumer advice center, is unjustified) by the organizer.
In case of doubt, it is best to seek independent advice, especially on expensive trips, for example at the consumer advice center. Here very competent and very inexpensive individual travel law advice is offered.
What if the tour operator refuses to refund my money?
You don’t have to accept that.
Stiftung Warentest says clearly: You do not have to accept a voucher or a new travel date. Section 651 h of the German Civil Code is important. There it says in paragraph 1 sentence 1: “Before the start of the trip, the traveler can withdraw from the contract at any time. If the traveler withdraws from the contract, the tour operator loses the right to the agreed travel price.” You will also find more important paragraphs there. Even if there was a lot of discussion about it: the EU Commission has not yet approved the voucher proposal from the German government (as of May 2020). So you can insist on a refund.
Possibilities to have your money booked back by the bank
If you have canceled the trip and the organizer has still not refunded the travel price within the statutory period of 14 days and you paid by credit card, you have the following option:
In this case you could get the money back using the chargeback method, This is what the regulations of Mastercard and Visa provide for. Even if some banks want to reject the chargeback procedure: Stick with it and rely on the chargeback regulations of Mastercard and Visa, which provide for a chargeback option, advises Stiftung Warentest.
If you paid by direct debit, you can get your money back if the charge was not longer than eight weeks ago.
To do this, you have to instruct the bank in writing to book the amount back. With online banking, this can often be done simply using the online account statement (function: return direct debit).
Again, as a reminder: According to the Stiftung Warentest, the tour operator has 14 days to give you the money back.
The current status is changing very quickly.
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