The outbreak of swine flu continues to cause concern for thousands of holidaymakers, with the Foreign and Commonweath office advising against trips to Mexico and Thomson cancelling trips to Cancun.
The respiratory disease, which has already resulted in more than 150 deaths, is believed to have started in Mexico - a country visited by more than 315,000 Brits each year.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now advising travellers against all but essential trips to Mexico. And Thomson says that, in light of the advice, it is cancelling today's outbound flights to Cancun, which were due to depart from Manchester and Gatwick Airports. Customers will be “repatriated”, with the choice to either fly to another destination or on an alternative date.
They can also cancel their holiday with a full refund and no cancellation charge. In a statement, Thomson says: “While we do appreciate that this news may be a great disappointment to customers, we hope they will also understand that their health and safety is of paramount importance to Thomson.”
It adds that it is currently making arrangements for the repatriation flights, which are expected to start today. Customers can call its helpline 0871 231 5704 between 8am and 10pm to amend or cancel their holiday. Flights due to operate from 29 April onwards are currently under discussion and decisions will be made later today.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) recommends anyone about to travel overseas should contact their tour operator or airline to find out how the swine flu pandemic may, or may not, impact their plans. You can also find out the specific advice for visiting a country on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website.
Nick Starling, director of general insurance and health at the ABI, says most travel insurance policies will cover people forced to change their holiday plans.
“Travel insurance will normally cover the cost of cancelling a trip for a number of specified reasons, including illness, and redundancy,” he explains. “If the government advises against travelling to a particular country or region, check your travel policy, as some may cover cancellation costs in these circumstances, although policies vary.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is co-ordinating the global response to human cases of swine flu and also has up-to-date information on its website.
If you decide to travel to Mexico, against official advice, then there is a risk your insurance policy could be declared void.
Maxine Baker, travel insurance manager at moneysupermarket.com, says: "Should holidaymakers continue with their travel plans to Mexico against official advice and fall ill, their insurance policy is unlikely to cover them and they would have to foot the bill for any treatment or repatriation costs.”
She adds: “While insurers and travel companies are not obliged to pay out in this circumstance it is worth contacting the individual travel insurer as well as the tour operator to find out exactly where they stand.
"It is worth noting that some airlines and package holiday providers may be flexible with waiving fees and penalties, I would advise holidaymakers to check to see if your flight or holiday can be rearranged at no additional cost.”
Cancelling a holiday to other countries hit by swine flu, including the US, Canada and Spain, could also leave you out of pocket, says Baker: “Any cautious Brits cancelling their holidays to these areas [because of swine flu] are unlikely to be covered by their insurer or compensated by the airline or travel firm they have booked with.”
M&S Money, meanwhile, is offering to refund customers who have purchased Mexican Pesos or US Dollars in order to travel to Mexico but have since opted to cancel their trips.
You have until 8 May to take your unwanted money into an M&S bureau de change and exchange it for the full amount of sterling paid.
Customers must provide proof of foreign currency purchase from M&S and proof of intended travel to Mexico. The offer is also open to customers who purchased currency from M&S via the internet or telephone.
James Yerkess, travel money manager at M&S, says: "We sympathise with all those who have been left disappointed by the loss of their holiday. By offering to refund the foreign currency in full at the same rate to which they bought it, we are hopefully taking away some of the disappointment caused to M&S customers."