As of May 7th, the new traffic light system was officially announced by the government, but what exactly does that mean?
The government has confirmed that from the 17th of May, travel from England will be allowed again for leisure , but strict border control measures remain in place.
Holiday destinations are being split into three groups (🚦a traffic light system if you will), depending on the threat of COVID infection.
Travellers are being guided on where they can safely travel without worrying about the need to quarantine on their return. However, even if your holiday destination features on the green list you’ll still need to take a pre-departure test and a single PCR test on or before day two of arrival into England – these tests can be booked through private providers (but do cost so remember to check that out).
The 12 countries that have been added to the green list currently include Portugal (including the Azores and Madeira), Australia, Singapore, Iceland, and Gibraltar – along with a few others. However, you still need to check local requirements before you travel as a number of these continue to place restrictions on UK travellers including quarantine.
Right now we are still waiting for other popular destinations to make their way out of the Amber group (the next announcement is due around the 1st-4th of June and then every three weeks thereafter) including Spain, France, Greece, and the USA.
So, what does the traffic light system really mean?
Essentially it outlines the testing and quarantine requirements that need to be followed based on the government advice around level of infections, vaccinations, variants of concern, and quality of genetic sequencing in those countries. The government advises not to travel to amber and red locations for leisure, but if you decide to go ahead quarantine at home, and stringent testing will be required for those returning from ‘amber’ locations, and those returning from ‘red’ locations will be placed in a 10-day managed hotel quarantine, which could amount to a sizeable additional cost to your holiday (starting at £1750 for a single traveller).
So, Is it safe to book a holiday?
With more locations expected to be added to the green list by mid-summer, yes it’s safe to book, but if you’re looking to travel as soon as possible stick to the green list to be safe. However, booking another location may not be as risky as you think. There are still some great deals to be had at locations on the amber list when looking to travel later on in the year. To ensure that you keep booking, airlines and hotels are becoming more flexible to keep your mind at ease and encourage booking.
It is important, however, to protect yourself against all eventualities.
1. Check the refund policy on flights or accommodation before you book
What you want to look out for is how the company will refund you. Ideally, this will be in cash rather than a voucher. If you are happy with receiving a voucher make sure it’s from a reputable company and a provider you regularly use, if the company goes bankrupt getting your money back will be challenging.
2. Avoid putting down a deposit
If possible, stay away from paying a deposit. If you do pay a deposit, make sure it’s very low and only required close to the time of the trip in case there are any last-minute changes to your travel plans.
Check the T&C’s when booking Package Holidays
Given the general uncertainty at the moment, we’d recommend taking extra caution when booking package holidays. Booking everything separately means you can review the T&Cs of each company to ensure they all offer good refund policies. It also makes it easier to move booking dates and you won’t have to deal with any middlemen who make communicating directly with the company particularly tricky. The pandemic has put a lot of pressure on travel providers to ensure they offer flexible cancellation and rebooking policies, just make sure you do your research first.
Your advice came too late! I’ve already got a holiday booked – what do I do?
If you have a holiday booked before May the 17th, it’s unlikely to go ahead due to travel still being illegal until the 17th. However, if you have booked after May 17th and your holiday destination is ‘green’ you’re in luck, if it’s on either of the other tiers be sure to check with your provider before you travel and beware of the testing requirements.
If you can’t travel, and this may sound crazy, don’t cancel your trip. Instead, move your flight, hotel, etc. to a later date when travel might be possible. This could save you a lot of cash if you booked your original flights in the last few months when they were good value due to the uncertainty of the current situation. In all likelihood, costs will sharply increase when travel becomes safe again as everyone will be rushing to book, so postponing will ensure you can still take advantage of your savings.
…Ok, but I’ve also got a bunch of foreign currency in cash, what can I do there?
If this is the case, then the safest and wisest option would be to keep it at home. Unfortunately, the exchange rate is extremely volatile at the moment so if you travel later in the year, you could be hit again converting your money back into the currency you need. This means you could lose between 10-20% of the value due to fees incurred every time you exchange.
OK – I’ve booked my Summer holiday! But we’re all trying to save a bit of money right now, are there any easy ways to save when abroad?
It’s a big change from ten or even five years ago, but the days of using the bureau de change in the airport and being hit by 10-20% fees are over! Moving forward we’d recommend minimising the amount of cash currency you take out before travelling. While having a little bit of cash on you just in case is always useful, using a travel card means you’ll get the benefit of lower fees and better exchange rates. If you can, try to pay with a card directly as much as possible (i.e. when at a restaurant or a shop and try to use contactless also for the smaller transactions avoiding having to use the terminal to enter your pin each time), as this means you’ll also avoid the significant charges that come with using an ATM abroad.
A travel card is the safer option, too. Not only is it more hygenic – particularly important in the COVID era – but it means you won’t have to worry about hiding large amounts of money when you’re out and about. You’ll also have the benefit of spending with the consumer protection of your card. For example, Currensea, the UK’s first Direct Debit Travel card, saves you money, gives you extra security, and makes your bank work that bit harder for you, as Currensea acts as a layer in front of your existing bank account – travel spend done differently.
Then, when you get home you also don’t have to worry about exchanging back leftover cash, and being hit with another set of fees. Currensea also provides an eco-conscious scheme that allows you to donate some of your savings to plant trees or recover ocean-bound plastic, meaning you can save the planet while you travel!
In summary: Stick to the guidelines
Even in the wake of COVID, your dreams of a summer holiday can continue, just be sure to check local guidelines. If you dream of travelling outside of the countries that are currently listed on the green list, we’d recommend booking towards the end of the summer. Read the terms and conditions so that there’s minimum disruption to your finances in the wake of restrictions not changing.
And, when you get there, switch to a direct debit travel card. You’ll get the best rates, save on any unwanted FX fees, and travel with peace of mind that you don’t have wads of cash on your person – not to mention the cleanliness of card payments versus cash to boot!