Thomas Cook travel advice: Essential tips for holidaymakers as travel giant collapses

‘Operation Matterhorn’ airlift will bring back most travellers who are currently abroad, but no further flights or holidays will take place

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 23 September 2019 09:38 BST
Thomas Cook fails – Simon Calder at Manchester airport

Thomas Cook, the original package holiday company, has collapsed.

The struggling travel firm is believed to have appointed administrators after failing to secure refinancing.

It appears likely that no further flights or holidays will take place, though travellers abroad can continue with their trips.

These are the key issues for holidaymakers with a booking involving Thomas Cook – and its other brands, including Airtours, Manos and Thomas Cook Signature.


I am on a Thomas Cook package holiday. What happens now?

Your trip will continue as normal, with hotel bills paid and new flights provided by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) under the terms of the Air Transport Organiser’s Licence (Atol).

The CAA has brought in a wide range of airlines to provide flights for Thomas Cook customers. The airlift, codenamed Operation Matterhorn, aims to replicate as closely as possible the original schedule, though with larger-than-usual aircraft being deployed it may be that – for example – flights to Bristol and Cardiff are combined. In such cases, coaches will be laid on to complete the journey.

You will be told when your replacement flight will be departing. The CAA says that in the Monarch airlift in 2017, 98 per cent of customers returned on the date they were originally scheduled to fly. No-one was asked to return home any earlier than originally planned, so no holidays were cut short.

Note that if your Thomas Cook holiday involved easyJet scheduled flights, as many do, then the return leg should operate as originally planned.

If you are in the US, Mexico or the Caribbean, it may be that you will be flown home on a scheduled airline.

Do I need to pay again for my accommodation?

No. The CAA is contacting hoteliers and apartment owners to tell them that they will cover the payments that would be due from Thomas Cook.

I am abroad with a flight-only Thomas Cook ticket and no Atol protection. What happens to me?

If you are booked on a short-haul flight to the Mediterranean, Portugal or Atlantic islands, you will be offered a seat in the airlift operation. The government has taken the view that there is insufficient capacity among scheduled airlines and the foreign secretary said that no British holidaymakers will be stranded.

This assurance may not apply for long-haul flights. But “rescue” fares will be provided by other airlines, such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Norwegian, United, American Airlines and Delta.

Each airline normally announces its policy within 24 hours of any collapse. Fares are likely to be £150-£200 one-way, on production of proof of a Thomas Cook booking.

You can then claim back the cost of the original flight from the credit-card provider or travel insurance.

I am abroad on a package holiday from another tour operator, but which uses Thomas Cook Airlines flights. What happens?

Your tour operator (the holiday company that put the trip together) has primary responsibility to find an alternative flight for you. If you are in Europe, you are likely to be booked on one of the Operation Matterhorn airlift flights. From long-haul destinations your tour operator should come up with an alternative. This should be at no cost to yourself.


I have a Thomas Cook package holiday booked. Will it go ahead?

Almost certainly not. The Civil Aviation Authority says: “In some cases we will appoint a fulfilment partner to provide the holiday.” But that would be a rare event, and it is much more usual that your holiday will be cancelled.

While dozens of flights are departing from UK airports to collect Thomas Cook passengers, they will not be carrying passengers outbound.

Will I get my money back?

Yes. All package holidays sold in the UK are protected by the Atol scheme, administered by the CAA.

Current customers who paid for some or all of the trip by credit card will be told to apply to their card issuer for a full refund, whether for a package holiday (flights and accommodation bought in the same transaction) or a flight-only ticket.

A woman waves as a Thomas Cook aircraft departs from Terminal 1 at Manchester Airport

People who paid for a package holiday with a debit card should make a claim under the Atol scheme. However, because of the scale of the collapse, obtaining a refund could take months.

The Civil Aviation Authority says: "The CAA will be launching a service to manage all refunds on Monday 30 September, once the flying operation has progressed.

"This refund service will seek to process all refunds within two months of receipt of a fully completed claims form. This is due to the poor quality of the Thomas Cook passenger data provided to the UK CAA."

Flight-only customers who paid with a debit card can ask the bank for reimbursement under the “chargeback” scheme. Although there is no legal requirement for debit card issuers to pay out if the supplier collapses, this voluntary scheme is likely to provide cover.

If, for some reason, your bank does not refund you, travel insurance may help.

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I am paying Thomas Cook for a holiday next year by direct debit. Should I cancel it?

Cancel your direct debit (though I doubt it would be collected anyway) and then begin the tedious business of getting your money back through the Atol process.

I have flight-only tickets with Thomas Cook. Who refunds me?

These are unlikely to be Atol protected. If you paid with a credit card, you should be able to get a refund under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act – as long as the purchase is over £100. If it is less than that, or you paid with a debit card, go for “chargeback”.

If you handed over cash to pay for the flights, your best hope is travel insurance.

I booked Thomas Cook flights, but arranged accommodation and car rental separately. Who do I claim from?

You have no automatic right of refund. Ask the providers of they room and rental car if they will allow you to cancel without penalty. If they do not offer a refund, you then have the option to go ahead with the trip using replacement flights (which could well be more expensive) or abandon the holiday and try to claim for “consequential losses” from your insurer.

My trip is a package holiday from a different firm, but with Thomas Cook flights. Will it go ahead if Thomas Cook fails?

Probably. The tour operator who put the trip together will need to try to find alternative flights. It may be that these will cost substantially more, and you may be asked to pay the difference. Were this to happen, you should be able to ask for a full refund of the cost of the holiday instead.

I booked a holiday through a Thomas Cook travel agent with a different tour operator. Will my trip still go ahead?

Almost certainly, although you will need to contact the tour operator to check the status of your booking.

I really need to travel. Will fares on other airlines increase?

Yes, prices have soared in response to the sudden surge of demand from desperate holidaymakers. But if you can bide your time it is possible that other airlines will offer special low fares to travellers who can show they were originally booked on Thomas Cook.

Thomas Cook: Simon Calder advises passengers as company faces possible closure


My Thomas Cook flight has been cancelled with less than two weeks’ notice. Do I get compensation?

No. The compensation stipulated by European air passengers’ rights rules for cancellations with less than 14 days’ warning is payable by the airline. Thomas Cook will not be paying out.

I am owed hundreds of pounds by Thomas Cook following a heavily delayed flight earlier this summer. What are my rights?

Unfortunately, you are an unsecured creditor and are unlikely to see a significant proportion of the cash.

I have a travel insurance policy issued by Thomas Cook. Is it still valid?

Yes. Thomas Cook will have sold you the policy on behalf of a separate travel insurer.

I was given a Thomas Cook gift card, and it still has money on it. Can I claim it back?

Not from the company. But there is a chance that whoever bought you the card may be able to recoup the original cost from their credit-card firm or bank.

If they paid cash, it is most unlikely any money will come back.

I have a Thomas Cook Cash Passport prepaid card. Is the money on it safe?

Yes. The cards are issued by Wirecard Card Solutions Ltd and operated separately from Thomas Cook. Wirecard is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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