What should students do with their long summer?


How feasible are interrail trips, city breaks abroad, or days of partying on an eastern European beach this summer?

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Image by Juno Kwon

By Barney Andrews

Students need something to look forward to this summer, whether it be the exciting yet intimidating transition from first to second year, optimistic move from second to final year or planning how you want to start your twenties in final year. Holidays may have the power to punctuate all these decisions. To truly unleash it, it is important to weigh up the financial risk of booking a holiday against its enormous potential.

What has the government said?

Trying to decipher government guidelines during the pandemic is a constant struggle – unfortunately, it becomes no easier when planning a holiday.

Most recently, on 11 February, presenters on BBC Breakfast asked the Health Secretary Matt Hancock whether the situation was that people should book a holiday or not book one, he said “It’s neither.” Sadly, Mr Hancock gave no third option to that question. Transport secretary Grant Shapps was more forthright on the matter, he advised on the 10th February that “people shouldn’t be booking holidays right now – not domestically or internationally.” That appears to be concrete, however, on the same day the Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press conference it was “too early for people to be certain about what we’ll be able to do this summer.” Certainty in the pandemic is a luxury good though optimism can be a healthy substitute.

CMA Advice

For most consumer contracts, the Competition and Markets Authority would expect a consumer to be offered a full refund where a business has cancelled a contract without providing any of the promised goods or services. Consumers can also expect a full refund if lockdown laws have prevented the business in question from providing goods or services. It is difficult to foresee the situation in the summer, however, the government remains on track to vaccinate all nine vulnerable groups by April. It would not be irrational to assume we will be out of lockdown and there will be greater movement of people this summer. Therefore, the likelihood of travel companies cancelling holidays because of a lockdown is unlikely.

Travel abroad?

Lockdown is of course not the only risk to consumers’ wallets. The actual cost of all the Covid-19 tests necessary could exceed the cost of the holiday itself. Currently, those heading to Europe on business are required to have a PCR test 72 hours before departure which costs £100–£180 and a fast 30-minute Covid-19 test costing a further £50–£75 at the airport, before even leaving the country. Of course, the cost doubles if you need a negative test to re-enter the UK. Not even the maintenance loan or part-time work wages you have been saving for this summer would want to take a hit exceeding £500 on Covid-19 tests.

Travel abroad is risky, though if you are desperate to fly to a far-flung destination to soak up the sun (or cheap exotic alcohol) a package holiday minimises the likelihood of not being refunded if your holiday is cancelled. According to Which?, a non-profit organisation, you are entitled to a full refund within 14 days if the holiday is cancelled within 14 days. Importantly, however, if you book in the current lockdown travel insurance is unlikely to refund you for cancellations caused by a lockdown, so you really are beholden to the travel company.

Student staycation?

For the risk averse amongst the student population, this is undoubtedly the safest option, and is no poor alternative! The tyranny of confusion may return with a tiered system while the nation exits the lockdown though the government does have a template to work from this time. It's reasonable to hope that by the summer, the UK’s rapid vaccination programme will have put millions more jabs in arms; according to the government’s coronavirus data, 17,247,442 people have been given their first dose in the UK. Coupled with potentially lower tiers for more parts of the nation, the options open for a domestic vacation widen. Paul Charles, head of the travel consultancy the PC agency shares this optimism: “My feeling is that we will be able to take staycations from 1 April onwards.”

If staying in York this summer, students can take advantage of the county’s famous beaches at Whitby or Scarborough. They offer the potential for an extended break in Airbnb cottages or, if feeling adventurous, braving the coastal winds and camping nearby. Once your tenancy ends, visit your friends’ family homes and explore different parts of the country! York is lucky to attract people to study there from all over the country. Taking advantage of the university’s diversity by trying to see your university friends this summer in or outside of York, cannot be a bad thing.