Tokyo Olympics: How to get flight refunds and cancel your tickets

Simon Calder
Happier days: the Olympic flag arrives in Tokyo: IOC

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games have been postponed until 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Many who have booked travels to Japan just for the event this summer may well be wondering what their options are and whether they can cancel.

These are the key travel questions and answers.

Please note that where “Olympics” or “Games” is mentioned, the same advice applies equally to the Paralympics.

What is happening to the Olympic and Paralympic Games?

The second Tokyo Olympics was due to start on 24 July and end on 9 August 2020. The Paralympics were scheduled for 25 August to 6 September 2020.

But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced: “The IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.

“It was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

I have booked a package through a sports specialist operator that includes event tickets. What are my rights?

Many people have booked through Team GB Live, which is "Team GB’s official travel company” and “the only Authorised Ticket Reseller for Tokyo 2020 in Great Britain”.

All of its packages appear to be Olympics-specific, which means you are now entitled to a full refund of the trip within 14 days of the postponement being made – which I calculate takes us to 7 April 2020.

The sports travel firm may offer you an alternative trip – typically a guarantee that you can get exactly the same deal for whenever the Games are rearranged – but it is your choice whether to accept this or take a refund (in cash, not vouchers).

I have booked what amounts to a city-break in Tokyo, which includes flights and accommodation during the Olympics but not event tickets. Can I get a refund?

Legally, if the travel provider can still offer the trip, then it is free to impose its normal terms and conditions – which are likely to mean you lose some or all of your money.

Many would-be participants in the Tokyo Marathon earlier this month were in this position.

There are four main options open to you.

  1. Plan to go ahead with a city break in Tokyo anyway; while it is not what you intended, the Japanese capital is enthralling and will provide a great experience. And you could build in trips beyond the city, using the formidable rail network and the superb-value Japan Rail Pass even to visit the imperial city of Kyoto in a day (nearly 300 miles away but only 2h40m each way on a bullet train).
  2. See if you can persuade the travel company to offer either postponement or a credit note/travel voucher to the value of your trip.
  3. Wait to see if your flights end up being cancelled as a consequence of the coronavirus crisis, in which case you get a full refund.
  4. Cancel your trip now and see what can be recouped after cancellation charges.

But I recommend either of the first two options.

I have booked flights and accommodation separately. My rights?

Much the same advice applies as for a package, though it is made more complicated by having two separate bookings, with organisations possibly having separate policies.

Option 1 above is still my recommendation – and if (say) the hotel allows free cancellation but the airline does not, then you could plan a great two-week trip around Japan.

What about extra costs, eg airport parking and hotels in the UK, and additional trips booked separately in Japan?

All you can do is ask the providers nicely and hope they will at least offer the chance to rebook.

I really want to go to the Olympics whenever they are rescheduled. What is your advice on the best deal?

Whenever new dates are announced, I confidently predict there will be a huge surge in bookings for flights, accommodation and packages, with resulting prices far higher than normal for whatever season it happens to be (for which my less-confident prediction is May/June 2021).

Do not get caught up in this wave of demand. Instead, wait until around six weeks before the Opening Ceremony and check out air fares for trips that arrive just after the start and leave either just before the end or a week or two beyond it.

While you will not get a ticket for the Men’s 100m final, you are sure to have great experience and can enjoy events such as the Women’s and Men’s marathons – and quite possibly pick up tickets for other events. I have tracked the patterns of prices and availability from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney onwards and on every occasion (except the 2008 Games in Beijing, which had complicated visa requirements), the late booker has always been able to find a great deal.

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