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How to Get a Refund If Your Cottage Holiday Is Cancelled

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Unfortunately, the best-laid travel plans of holidaymakers who book self-catering cottages can be ruined when owners cancel at short notice – leaving them with few rights of redress.

The holiday cottage has been sold, double booked or due to reasons outside their control; there are many reasons an owner or agent might cancel a holiday booking.

Here are some tips for recovering your money if your holiday is cancelled.

Check the cancellation terms in the booking contract

Lets be realistic, when you have found the perfect holiday property your priority is to get it booked before someone else does, not read through the booking terms and conditions. However, you may well be relying on the finer details of the cancellation terms if your booking is cancelled or if you believe the contract has been breached. So before booking a holiday let, check the cancellation terms in the booking contract.

There should be a clause which outlines what happens if the owner cancels a booking. Ideally, they should be refunding in full. If not, their cancellation terms should be fair and not breach consumer law.

If you booked the holiday rental via an agency or on a listing site such as HomeAway or Airbnb, check their terms and conditions with regards to cancelled bookings. The owner can be removed from the site or charged fees for cancelling bookings.

Coronavirus cancellations

Unfortunately, the ongoing coronavirus lockdown restrictions are affecting cottage holidays. As per the Guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority, guests are either amending their holiday dates, receiving a credit or refund. Once restrictions are lifted, it’s likely that the owners (or booking agents) normal terms and conditions will apply to booking cancellations.

Why has the booking been cancelled?

Is the property for sale?

The holiday rental may be for sale or available for long-term rental at the same time as being a short term holiday let. Selling a holiday home can take many months so owners capitalise on rental income by continuing with rentals until a sale or tenant is confirmed.

Once you have a short-list of properties do a little detective work, a quick Google search on the property name or address to see what comes up. If you don’t have these details you can use Google image search by uploading an image of the property or url. You might be surprised where you find the property advertised for rental or sale.

If you do find the property advertised for sale, insist that before you make the booking you want a written guarantee from the owner that a full refund will be given if the accommodation is cancelled due to a sale. If the property is being booked through a letting agent, then ask if they can guarantee placement in a comparable holiday home if your booking is cancelled.

If your booking is cancelled due to the property being sold, it would be fair to get a full refund and be notified asap so you can turn to Plan B.

Is it double booked?

Thankfully, most owners and agents are professionals and want to maintain a good reputation. They will refund any money paid, try to accommodate you on alternative dates or try to find an alternative rental if they double book.

With the advancement of booking management systems and synchronised calendars, double bookings should be a problem of the past – but everyone makes mistakes.

Double bookings can happen when more than one person advertises the property i.e. the owner and an agent.

You’ve been scammed

Guests must stay vigilant when booking any form of accommodation online. Unless you take certain steps to protect your payment, it’s unlikely you will recover your money if scammed. Speak directly with the owner or agent before paying, use a secure payment method such as credit/debit and always pay via the listing site portal. Do not send any money without first receiving the booking terms and conditions, from which you can check the owners’ details.

What if the owner or agent refuses to refund?

If you find you are in a situation where an owner or agent refuses to refund a payment for a booking they have cancelled, what are your legal consumer rights?

If you paid by credit card, you may get your money back under Section 74 of the Consumer Credit Act.

Citizens Advice can also give you practical and impartial advice on how to resolve your problem. If you decide the only option is to take court action then here is some useful advice from the Citizens Advice and Which. The threat of legal action may be enough to recoup your money, especially if the owner or agent knows they are likely to lose and face legal cost that outweighs the money owed.

If justified, write a review of your unpleasant experience on the site where you booked the property (note some sites don’t let you review if you haven’t stayed in the accommodation) and other review sites where the property is listed.

For more advice read our article on how to make a complaint about a self-catering cottage.

Advice for owners who cancel bookings

As an owner, if you find yourself in a situation which results in the cancellation of a booking there are rules of etiquette to follow to ensure an amicable outcome. Apologise for the inconvenience and tell them the reason behind the cancellation.

Firstly, if you believe you may need to cancel future bookings, for example, if you have your property for sale, it’s only fair to advise guests booking the accommodation upfront. Although you may not want to lose bookings, you should let guests know in advance there is a possibility that you can’t fulfil their stay. Ideally, you would agree with any buyer that confirmed bookings are honoured.

No one wants to have their travel plans cancelled at the last minute and find themselves without accommodation. Inform the guest that the booking is cancelled as soon as possible so that they can try and find an alternative place to stay.

Where bookings are cancelled last minute and unavoidable, any refund is discretionary but you must not breach consumer law regardless of what your T & C’s say. If you want to maintain a good reputation, receive positive reviews and sleep at night, then it’s recommended that you offer a full refund to your guests if alternative dates aren’t an option. Maybe offer a goodwill gesture to ease the distress caused, e.g. a discount for other dates.

If your property is being promoted both directly by you and through an agent, then it’s important to make sure that your calendars are synchronized to avoid double bookings, and that an agreement in place as to how you determine who keeps or cancels a double booking.

If your property is unusable for a long period (e.g. after a flood) then a comprehensive holiday letting insurance policy should cover loss or rental income so you can reimburse bookings.

If you’ve double booked

It’s every owners’ worst nightmare – the dreaded double booking! If you are in the situation where you have inadvertently double-booked, you have to do everything in your power to make it right. You made a mistake and it’s your responsibility to refund or find alternative accommodation, even if it costs you.

Call the guest (don’t email) explain what you have done with a sincere apology. Most guests will understand and co-operate if your apology is genuine.

If you manage to find them alternative accommodation, don’t leave it there. Check-in with your guests during their holiday and send some flowers or a gift with a handwritten note.

Not all guests will be understanding but it’s your responsibility to find a solution that they are happy with.

Cancellations by owners are rare

You have limited protection when booking a cottage holiday direct, but paying by credit card provides added security should you fail to get a refund or if the provider ceases to operate.

However, nearly all owners and agents will provide a refund in the unlikely event that they cancel your holiday. In the rare instance they refuse to refund and it’s justified, then there is the option of the small claims court.

You may be worrying unnecessarily. Holiday cottage owners are honest individuals who will do everything in their power to ensure a holiday they regretfully have to cancel is refunded.


  • Barb |

    How soon does the owner need to have produced a full refund?

    • Philip |

      I would have thought within 1-2 weeks is acceptable.

  • Mike Thomas |

    See https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47949915
    where it says:
    “A lack of awareness over how much can be retained when a traveller cancels a booking is widespread, according to the Competition and Markets Authority.

    A company cannot automatically keep a large deposit if the customer cancels owing to unforeseen circumstances.

    Such a contract may be unfair, even if written into terms and conditions.

    For example, somebody may cancel a booking owing to illness or a family bereavement. If the travel company has plenty of time to re-sell the room or holiday, or if it becomes available at a peak time, then the company should refund the payment or a hefty deposit.

    Any amount it charges should reflect its costs. If the company includes a blanket “non-refundable deposit” demand or cancellation fee in its terms and conditions then this could be an unfair contract, not legally binding, and unenforceable – even if the customer has signed it.”

  • Lesley Stanley |

    We paid a deposit last year for an apartment in Mallorca in June this year. The remainder to be paid on 14th April. Two weeks prior to that date the apartment owner cancelled our accommodation but expected us to pay the full amount. Our insurance company advised us not to pay it as although we could claim the deposit back they would not pay any refund for monies paid after 18th March.

    We advised the apartment owner of this and he understood. However he now appears to have changed his mind and is still expecting us to pay. Obviously we aren’t going to as it is dead money.

  • Thomas Hood |

    Just a question from the other side of the table, I have booked a holiday apartment in Spain for early June and the flights have now been cancelled due to the virus. We have only paid a deposit which the company is refusing to refund, although they have said we can reschedule the booking. Obviously the situation is difficult for both sides and I understand their reluctance to pay out but do you believe I have any grounds for a refund considering their policy says ‘The prepayment will not be refunded in the event of cancellation’.

    Any help you can give would be great.


    • Philip |

      The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) is to investigate concerns about cancellation policies. If it finds evidence that companies are failing to comply with the law, the CMA will take appropriate enforcement action, which could include taking a firm to court if it does not address its concerns. See the press release here. Is the owner based in the UK or Spain? This post may help how to make a complaint about a holiday let.

  • Karen anderson |

    Again another question from renter. I booked for June and paid just under £500 deposit. Rental company actually sent me request for balance on 9th May knowing they were shut. I asked for refund of deposit as they have no summer dates next year and shows unavailable on their calendar . They have informed me that to keep my deposit is the fairest way to ensure financial security foe owner. Their terms and conditions clearly state that if the property should be unavailable for my dates due to unforeseen circumstances then all monies and deposits paid will be refunded in full. Are they legally able to do this? N
    Do t&c apply to them?

  • John Craig |

    We paid for a holiday – 2 weeks in Outer Hebrides 6 – 20 June. We are unable to have the holiday due to Covid-19. They refuse to return our money which was almost £2000. This amount covered end of holiday cleaning, use of utilities and wear & tear – shocking!

  • Claire |

    We’ve just had to cancel a booking with a U.K. holiday cottage company for May 2021. The original booking was for May 2020, but obviously due to the lockdown we couldn’t go so we offered to move it rather than ask for our deposit back. Since then we’ve realised that we can’t go next May.

    The company say we are liable for full payment if they can’t relet, even though we’ve only paid the deposit and they have almost a year’s notice! Is this a fair contract term? I’ve never seen this before. I would assume we’d be liable to lose our deposit only?

    • Philip |

      What does your contract say. Typically it’s the deposit only is non-refundable so far in advance.

  • Harriet Walsh |

    I had a villa in Tenerife booked 21 March. Flights were cancelled and borders closed. Initially we were only offered a 50% refund and were pressured to re book. By the time we confirmed re booking was not possible the refund was withdrawn. We have got nowhere with the listing site or property manager. £1877.02 out of pocket. Have reported to CMA. Any further advice?

    • Philip |

      You’ve done the right thing reporting to CMA – their investigation is still ongoing and the company may be forced to refund. Have you contacted your credit card company to do a chargeback or citizens advice?

  • Paul |

    My parents booked a private apartment in Spain to leave on the 17th of July. Due to the covid outbreak, easyjet cancelled their flight and although they tried to rebook the day after, they could only get on the flight the week later. They were paying £400 a week – £1200 total.
    The owners (supposed friends) have refused to refund the £400, one week cost and offered £100 as they couldn’t go. Nobody else could have gone either so can they do this? Seems ridiculously immoral

    • Philip |

      The flight should be refunded. With regards to the Villa – did your parents take out insurance?

  • Liz |

    We were due to stay in a holiday cottage during lockdown. The owners have refused to communicate. We have since discovered that many people have experienced the same with holidays at their properties in East Devon. The owners owe over £80,000 to people but have shut down their website and put a notice alluding to insolvency. They are not a company and all bankruptcy registers have been checked. People are still coming forward on a group on Facebook, only just finding out that their holidays as far as May 2021 are not going to be honoured or refunded.
    What would you suggest?

    • Philip |

      If you paid by credit card contact them to dispute the charge.

  • Dawn Hartley |

    We booked a house in Scarborough for the prime Easter weekend but due to lockdown this was cancelled.
    To be fair with the company we changed the weekend to a non prime weekend in September that was £160 cheaper we expected a refund but have been informed that as we changed the date this will be a credit of £160 and not a cash refund. We only changed the date as we thought we were helping keep companies open

  • Simon Armstrong |

    Agency cancelled holiday apartment in Newquay just 10 days before we were due to arrive .
    They didn’t even pick up the phone and call us, they simply sent an email.

    “We are contacting you on behalf of the owner who have informed us that the accommodation you booked is no longer available for your chosen dates. Unfortunately this means that your holiday will not be able to go ahead and has been cancelled.
    You do not need to do anything; we are refunding you the amount you have paid on your booking to the card(s), and in the same number of instalments, that you paid with. This will be with you in 3-5 days.
    We appreciate that this is extremely frustrating and thank you for your understanding”

    At such short notice we could not get another accommodation, our summer holiday is completely ruined.

    If I cancelled the holiday, I would still have to pay, how can they cancel without any explanation or compensation.

  • Dianne |

    We booked a hen party package last year for June 2020. Unfortunately the country went into lockdown due to covid and the company cancelled our package offering us our stay later in the year or to pay another £600+ on top of the £4300 we have already paid,to stay at their accommodation next year. We will not pay anymore for an already very expensive weekend and as the re-arranged wedding is not until the middle of next year we don’t want to celebrate 6 months before the wedding. They are now ignoring all communication but have threatened our bad reviews on Google with litigation.

  • Richard Townsend |

    Hi, I am hoping you can offer some guidance. We booked a holiday cottage in the UK with one of the largest holiday cottage companies. We also bought the travel insurance policy they promote. Unfortunately my wife had a fall a week before we were due to travel and needed 4 hours emergency surgery to rebuild her elbow joint. We therefore had to cancel the holiday as the consultant advised she would not be well enough to go. We did try to claim on the insurance but were advised much to our dismay that cancellation cover was not included for UK holidays! However the cottage owner has advised us that she was able to re-let the cottage for the whole period we were originally booked for and it was her intention to fully refund us as she did not want to be paid twice for the same period. However the holiday company have not given her the money we paid, over £1,100. I have approached the holiday company and asked for our money to now be refunded but they are not responding. What should I expect from them?

  • Happy Camper |

    Covid cancellation or normal cancellation terms? Guests due to stay at my holiday cottage in 8 weeks time want a refund due to the Rule of Six. During the national lockdown most agents seemed to apply a rolling four week cancellation period which would be rolled forward once a week. What is the situation regarding how far into the future should I treat a cancellation as normal versus due to covid restrictions?

    • Philip |

      At present, there is currently no official end date to the “rule of 6”. This means that this ‘rule of 6’ may be relaxed by the government within a few weeks. It appears that the large letting agents are applying the four week cancellation period which would be rolled forward once a week.

  • Adam Williams |

    Hi my family ( 11 of us ) from different households were meant to be going to a large holiday house for a week long get together, but due to the rule of six this will not be able to happen. The owner of the holiday house is refusing to give us our money back, trying to say we are cancelling. But like we explained it is the Government that has imposed the law not us. It looks like we are going to end up with legal proceedings.

  • Molly Doyle |

    Hello! I booked a holiday cottage in Norfolk as a surprise for my husband. When we arrived the oven was filthy, the windows were rotten and the beds were unmade. We called the owners, told them we were leaving and followed up with an email demanding a refund – they offered to send their cleaner around which we reused because by that point we had already decided to leave. They refused to refund us our money. We then called them and offered to accept a 50% refund. Again, they refused to pay us back. We then read some of their reviews online which were awful. We are now looking to take the owners to the small claims court for a full refund. We paid by BACS and the total cost was £750. You have given lots of examples of the OWNERS cancelling the holiday but this is us – the TRAVELLERS – cancelling the holiday so we are keen for some guidance. Please help!

  • Joseph Hill |

    Hello,we booked an apartment in South Africa through a letting agent over there for this March.
    Since then we have had to cancel because of Covid and they have agreed to a full refund of our deposit,but they are telling me they have got to wait until the owner of the property refunds them.
    Am I right in thinking that as I paid the agency not the owner that they should refund me?
    Many thanks.

    • Philip |

      What does your booking contract say?

  • Meghan Ingram |

    My dad booked my family a self-catering cottage for 1 week in July. He booked it on the 1st of December, directly with the owner. There is email correspondence of this booking, with the owner confirming availability on the chosen dates. 7 months later, the owner contacts my dad, via email, stating that she had made an error and the cottage was no longer available to us for those dates as she has double booked.

    She is providing a full refund, apparently. However, with only a month before we were supposed to go there is no available accommodation in the area anymore. Making it impossible for us to book somewhere else.

    We therefore are not getting to go in the holiday which is very frustrating. The owner has been very unhelpful.

    What can we do in this circumstance. Many thanks.

    • Philip |

      It’s unfortunate and likely to be a genuine mistake by the owner. It’s good to hear you have been fully refunded. There are several websites that advertise last minute breaks (e.g. snaptrip) and hopefully you can find something – however, as you know demand exceeds supply this year.

  • Mark |

    Hi ..we were supposed to be going on holiday on 30th July but got a call today 15th stating due to water contamination they will have to cancel our booking and offered full refund (i wasnt in the wife accepted this) but when i found out later i was furious .. now rebooking anywhere within the next 14days is gonna be unachievable..but she wasn’t offered any other options / goodwill gesture or anything .. my kids willl be crushed after having being in isolation for nearly 2 years because of covid and trying to explain it to your autistic son is gonna be really tough ..

  • Jackie Fox |

    I own a caravan for rent and the guests have just cancelled 1 week before their holiday as the 2 adults have covid. Do I have to give them a full refund.

    • Philip |

      What do your terms and conditions say?

  • Eraine Kozel |

    There seems to be very little protection for people who book accommodation when the owner decides to cancel at short notice. Our son got married last October on the Isle of Wight and the house we had booked 12 months before was cancelled with 4 weeks notice. We must be very unlucky as it has happened again. We booked a house last November for the wedding blessing this October and again with 4 weeks to go , the booking is cancelled as the owner has sold the house. Legislation needs to to be in place to offer some protection and compensation as we are now stressfully trying to find accommodation for 8 adults. Yes we will get our money back but we can not change the dates we need to travel.

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