Who should I contact first?
Since travel insurance is generally intended as a last resort, you're expected to seek refunds before making a claim.
Airlines, travel agents and hotels (if closed) should reimburse customers for cancelled or curtailed holidays.
But as we found, many travellers impacted by the pandemic were only offered vouchers or credit notes instead.
You can find out which holiday firms have the best Covid-19 booking policies, which will impact whether they will refund you, using the Which? Holiday Checker tool.
Given this complicated situation, call your insurer for advice before making a claim or accepting any vouchers.
Ask what evidence you'll need to substantiate a claim, how you should approach cancelling future trips and whether there is a deadline for claiming.
- Find out more: your rights when travel goes wrong
When should I claim?
As soon as possible.
Many providers insist that you check with them before you get medical treatment, for instance.
However, use your discretion if you're seriously injured. Don’t delay a trip to the emergency room because you're trying to find out if your insurance covers you.
Some travel insurers require you to make a claim by a particular deadline, although at busy times if insurers' helplines are overwhelmed, they should be reasonable with extending any deadlines.
Many insurers now enable you to begin a claim online.
You can find links and phone numbers in our insurer reviews.
What can I claim for?
Calling your insurer should clarify what your policy covers, but you should also check your policy documentation.
You will have been sent an Insurance Product Information Document (IPID) that summarises your cover, as well as a longer 'policy wording' document, which will list the reasons your insurer might decline your claim.
Most documents will have a 'cancellation' section - details on 'abandonment' and 'travel disruption' (which may have been an optional extra) will also be helpful.
You should also read your insurer's 'Covid cover' section carefully if it has one, as it may still have exclusions around the pandemic that you don't anticipate.
What if I cancelled on official advice?
Holiday providers should cancel and refund your trip if the government advises against travel, so insurers don't necessarily need to come into the equation. Sadly, this doesn't always happen.
Before the pandemic, many travel insurance policies let customers claim for cancellation if the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advised against visiting a destination after they had booked their trip. Now, many insurers will not allow claims if government advice has changed due to Covid-19.
It all depends on what level of coronavirus cover your policy has. Check your policy or contact your insurer if you're unsure.
- Find out more: latest news on insurance and coronavirus
Is a positive Covid-19 test or self-isolation covered?
If you’ve received a positive Covid-19 test or medical advice not to travel, some insurers, but by no means all of them, will count this as grounds for cancellation claims.
Again, this will depend on what level of Covid-19 cover you have.
Policies that we've rated as having Low, Superior or Complete covid cover will cover cancellation claims caused by a positive test.
But only those with Superior or Complete covid cover will cover cancellation due to self-isolation.
- Find out more: our holiday checklist for travel during the pandemic
How can I dispute an insurer's decision?
If the insurer rejects your claim, ensure that you get a clear explanation in writing. If you disagree with the reasons, you can complain, prompting it to review its decision.
If after eight weeks you’re not satisfied with the outcome, you can escalate your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
What if my insurer goes bust?
If your insurer is authorised to sell in the UK, your policy is protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), guaranteeing 90% of outstanding claims if your insurer goes bust.
Four top tips for insurance claims
Although the pandemic has severely disrupted travel, it's worth keeping these tips in mind for future trips.
1. Report crimes as soon as possible
Speed is also of the essence if you're a victim of crime. If any of your belongings are stolen, make sure you tell the local police immediately.
Your insurer will want a crime reference number before you can pursue a claim, and the conditions of some policies mean that you must report it within 24 hours.
If it's not possible to get to a police station, tell your holiday rep or hotel manager and ask them to help you put together a written report.
2. Keep all your receipts if you're delayed
Severe delays at the airport are incredibly frustrating, especially if you're counting down the seconds until you can sun yourself on the beach.
Many insurers will reimburse you for food and drink, and sometimes even accommodation if you're delayed, so remember to keep all your receipts to show your provider as proof.
You usually also need proof of delay from your flight or tour operator. It's much easier to do at the time of the delay, so find a representative and ask them for written confirmation.
The same goes for lost luggage. If you arrive on your holiday but your bags haven’t made the trip, you can also claim back expenses for essential items.
However, make sure you check your claim limits. Your insurer will not pay out if you buy a range of fancy expensive goods to tide you over until your luggage turns up.
3. Don’t lose out if your airline goes bust
Travel insurance may also help if your airline goes bust, especially if you have bought flights and hotels separately, rather than a traditional package holiday.
Scheduled airline failure cover helps you get a refund or an alternative flight if your airline goes bust.
If you have bought a package holiday, your operator should arrange alternative flights under the Atol scheme.
You should also check to see if your cover includes Financial Failure Protection – cover for if you have a non-package holiday to protect you against hotels, villas and campsites becoming insolvent.
Know your rights: what to do if your airline goes bust – take action with the help of our consumer rights guide.
4. Speak up if you have a claim rejected
If an insurer rejects your claim, it doesn’t mean the end of the road. Raise a formal complaint with the insurer and, if your claim is denied for a second time, or it hasn’t been resolved within eight weeks, take it up with the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Raising a complaint is free, and the Ombudsman will adjudicate and provide a ruling.