Coronavirus: Can I get money back if my trip to a match has been cancelled?

The world of sport has stopped but fans do have options if their trip is no longer on

The US Masters will not take place in the second week of April for the first time since 1945. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The US Masters will not take place in the second week of April for the first time since 1945. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

 

Cancellations, postponements and a whole lot of uncertainty. These are the new buzzwords around sport in the coronavirus-dominated world in which we now live.

With the vast majority of sport across Europe and much of the world now wiped out in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic, travel plans for many fans have been thrown up in the air at a time when the sporting landscape was set to be quite busy to say the least. For soccer fans the culmination of the Premier League, Champions League and Europa League were on the horizon while Euro 2020 is just around the corner; in rugby plenty of Leinster fans would have been planning for the Champions Cup final while Six Nations trips were booked and then missed; some golf followers may have had the trip of a lifetime to the US Masters at Augusta planned for the second week in April.

All of those plans are now very much up in the air. Nobody really knows where we stand. However, there are some steps that can be taken to ensure you don’t lose out completely on your planned trip.

Flights

In terms of flights it can be a bit tricky as passengers who have booked will not be guaranteed a refund unless the flight is cancelled. As of now, Ryanair say they will ground the majority of their flights over the next 10 days, while also reducing their scheduled flights by up to 80 per cent in April and May. That will mean a whole lot of cancellations and a whole lot of refunds.

Over the past seven days, Italy, Malta, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Greece, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, Norway and Cyprus have all imposed flight bans of varying degrees, from all flights to/from the country, or banned flights to/from countries with high risk of Covid-19 infection. This has, naturally, resulted in a lot of cancellations and refunds.

If your flight is cancelled you will receive an email from your airline informing you and directing you to a link through which you can claim a refund. Some people have been pointing out that they have not actually received an email confirming their flight cancellation, perhaps due simply to the volume of such emails being sent, so it is worth logging on to the website of the airline you are due to fly with, keying in the booking reference and checking what the current status of the flight is.

For instance, some Ireland fans due to fly from Dublin to Vienna for the Euro 2020 playoff against Slovakia later this month did not receive an email saying the flight had been cancelled but, once they logged on and checked their booking, were given the option to receive a refund or reschedule.

Another option now being offered by both Ryanair and Aer Lingus is to change your flight with no fee. Both airlines would usually charge a change fee on top of whatever the difference in the fare is but Ryanair have said that for all flights scheduled to take off during the month of March, passengers will have until March 31st to change their flights while Aer Lingus have given passengers until March 25th to change any bookings scheduled for March, April or May.

So, for example, this column had a flight booked with Aer Lingus to Munich on March 25th but by logging on and clicking into the ‘My Travel’ section, it was possible to change the flight to a date later in the year with no change fee and a charge of only €22 to cover the difference in the fare.

A shut down Emirates Stadium as Premier League action has been suspended until at least April 4th due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA
A shut down Emirates Stadium as Premier League action has been suspended until at least April 4th due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Accommodation

The free cancellation option on booking.com has always been a lifesaver, particularly for those planning a trip around a match which they’re not sure their team will actually play in or not.

For instance, plenty of Ireland fans would already have had accommodation booked in Zenica for Ireland’s potential Euro 2020 playoff final against Bosnia & Herzegovina, while lots of Leinster fans would have places booked in Marseille in anticipation of them reaching the Champions Cup final.

With the free cancellation option these bookings can be made well in advance of fans’ respective teams actually getting there and then, in the event that they don’t, can be cancelled for free, often up to just a few days before they’re due to arrive. In this current situation where matches are being called off and postponed, the free cancellation option can also save fans.

Tickets

Tickets are definitely the easiest part of all of this as event organisers will always offer a refund or a ticket to the rescheduled match. For instance, Ireland fans due to travel to Slovakia started to receive their refunds last Friday while rugby fans who had booked to go to Paris for Ireland’s Six Nations finale against France last Saturday will have the option to either receive a refund or a ticket for the rescheduled match, whenever that is played.

The same applies for matches played behind closed doors although, at this stage, even that option is off the table as the world of sport grinds to a complete halt. Some clubs may go the extra distance to help fans as well, for instance Manchester United gave all fans who had purchased a ticket for their away Europa League last 16 tie with Lask last week £350 to cover the costs of their trip to Austria for a match which was played behind closed doors.

Travel insurance

It goes without saying that you should always have travel insurance, whether it be for a single trip or annual cover. In most policies sporting events aren’t specifically mentioned but, when contacted by The Irish Times, VHI said that, for any match or sporting event cancelled or played behind closed doors, claims for cover would be considered under the cancellation section of a customer’s policy as long as the customers in question could prove that the match or event was a “central part” of their trip by showing a match ticket.

Other policies won’t cover sporting events in such a way but a spokesperson for Insurance Ireland told The Irish Times that, once all other avenues have been exhausted such as contacting the airline, travel agent and accommodation provider, then a claim might be worth making if the relevant policy covered disruption or cancellation.

“Very often what people will have is they’ll have an annual policy, so they go on one or two trips a year,” the spokesperson said.

“There’s a thing called the insurance product information document (the IPID) and the first question that’s in the document is ‘what is insured?’ and outlined in that is a list of the material damages covered under the policy. So the first thing we would be saying to people is have a look at that.

“Let’s take the example of someone who was booked and had paid to go to Paris for the weekend [for France v Ireland last Saturday]. You have a couple of options – you can go to Paris, you can decide to make a claim that the key element of your trip was the match, therefore you believe that you have the cover and your trip is disrupted. We would advise people to keep all their records, for instance if you have bought a ticket you need to be able to prove that you’ve paid the money.”

Manchester United beat Lask in front of an empty stadium in Austria last week. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images
Manchester United beat Lask in front of an empty stadium in Austria last week. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

A closer look at some upcoming matches

Soccer

Slovakia v Ireland: Around 3,000 Ireland fans had planned to go to Bratislava at the end of this month for the Euro 2020 semi-final playoff against Slovakia. While that match is still yet to be officially postponed (it will be quite soon), it was announced last week that it would be played behind closed doors, meaning fans were given a full refund on tickets. A few days later Ryanair started cancelling flights to and from Bratislava which meant that many supporters received refunds. However, as is always the case with such trips, the direct route is rarely the most favoured route for a lot of travelling fans, with cheaper options generally preferred.

A large number of supporters had planned to fly to Vienna and then take a train journey of just over an hour over the border to the Slovakian capital but, due to new Austrian restrictions, those flights have now also been cancelled.

If you were due to travel via a different route and your flights have not yet been cancelled then the best advice is to sit tight and wait. New restrictions are being brought in by countries every day so there is a good chance your flight probably will be cancelled. If not it might be best to wait until the day before you can re-book with no change fee (March 25th for Aer Lingus and March 31st for Ryanair) and if the flight still has not been cancelled then you could reschedule or change to a new destination altogether.

For instance, fans who had booked to travel with Ryanair could log on to their bookings and change the flights to go to Sofia instead for Ireland’s Nations League match against Bulgaria on September 3rd and they will only pay the difference in the fares.

Euro 2020: Uefa are due to hold a meeting on Tuesday when it is expected that they will postpone Euro 2020 for a year. What this means for fan who have bought tickets is not clear yet but it would be expected that refunds or tickets to the rescheduled matches would be offered.

Champions League and Europa League finals: General sale ticket applications for the Champions League final (May 30th in Istanbul) and Europa League final (May 27th in Gdansk) closed last week with 6,000 tickets offered to fans for the Champions League final (a further 40,000 tickets are split between the two finalists) and 10,000 for the Europa League final with a further 20,000 split between the two finalists.

When contacted, Uefa would not say how many applications there had been but, with the current uncertainty and with both competitions suspended indefinitely, the number of applicants may well have been down on previous years.

If you were planning to go to either match and had booked with Aer Lingus you have the option of switching your flight with no change fee as the airline will cover all travel up until the end of May.

Premier League matches: As it stands the Premier League is suspended until April 4th meaning a number of matches will have to be rescheduled – if they are played at all. Policies on refunds vary from club-to-club and the best advice is to check the ticketing terms and conditions at the relevant club.

For instance, if you had a ticket for an upcoming Liverpool match which is now postponed, you can use the ticket for the rescheduled game or you can receive a refund if the ticket is returned to the box office at least 14 days prior to the match.

Manchester United’s policy states fans can use their ticket at the rescheduled match or, in the event of cancellation, receive a refund while season-ticket holders will also be entitled to some money back.

The Champions Cup final is due to take place in the Stade Velodrome in Marseille in May. Photograph: Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images
The Champions Cup final is due to take place in the Stade Velodrome in Marseille in May. Photograph: Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Rugby

Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals: The ECPR told The Irish Times on Monday that both the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup finals, scheduled to take place in Marseille on May 22nd and 23rd, are going ahead as planned.

Tickets for both matches are currently on sale on the ECPR website and just short of 50,000 of the 54,000 on sale for the Champions Cup have been sold while almost 27,000 tickets have been sold for the Challenge Cup final.

Some Leinster fans may have already booked flights to Marseille in anticipation of their team reaching the final and, if they had booked with Aer Lingus and are now looking to change, they can do so without paying a change fee as the flights will be during the month of May. On a side note, if you fancied taking the chance and booking your flights now, you’ll still pay €897.97 for return flights with Aer Lingus on the weekend of the match.

Golf

US Masters: The first Major of the golfing year has been postponed indefinitely and will not take place on the second weekend of April for the first time since 1945. Augusta National have not said anything yet about tickets and whether they will be valid for the re-scheduled event or how it will run. If you had been planning to travel then you may be entitled to some recourse from your airline as the US travel ban will include Ireland from 4am on Tuesday morning and is due to continue indefinitely. If you had booked with a travel company then the best advice is to contact them.

This article is part of a series of consumer-based sports stories. If you have any queries, stories or issues regarding travel, tickets, sport on television or anything else you can email rcroke@irishtimes.com or via Twitter @Ruaidhri_Croke.

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