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 coronavirus pandemic were only offered vouchers or credit notes instead.
We asked the Association of British Insurers (ABI) if you can decline a voucher and claim cash from your insurer. It told us that insurers don't cover this in their policies.
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.
When should I claim?
As soon as possible.
Some travel insurers require you to make a claim by a particular deadline, although with insurers' helplines overwhelmed they should be reasonable with extending any deadlines.
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' 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.
- Find out more: travel insurance explained
What if I cancelled on official advice?
The ABI says most policyholders should be able to claim when a change in FCO advice has let to a cancelled or curtailed trip.
Unfortunately, this isn't the case with all policies, so it's important to check with your insurer.
The timing of your trip makes a huge difference here. Although the FCO didn’t warn against all travel until 17 March, it had already put out specific warnings against travel to several countries such as China, Iran and Italy. Check the FCO website for more details.
- Find out more: travel insurance and coronavirus
Is self-isolation covered?
If you’ve received medical advice not to travel, this should be grounds to make a cancellation claim. Insurers differ in terms of what evidence is needed to demonstrate that such advice was received.
However, ABI members have pledged to be understanding of difficulties in obtaining medical certification and to consider alternative evidence.
Policies will cover the associated costs of being sick or injured while abroad, such as rescue services or medical evacuation. Some also offer compensation for days spent in quarantine.
What about future trips?
While the FCO advice remains in place, even pre-existing policies are unlikely to cover you for claims if you now choose to travel abroad.
In the days after 11 March – when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic – insurers began considering coronavirus a ‘known event’, and ruling it out of cover for new policies or trips.
Few policies on sale now cover coronavirus-related claims, and we’ve also found fewer insurers selling travel disruption cover.
With more exclusions in place, it’s understandable if you’re reluctant to continue paying instalments for future holidays. Unfortunately, by withholding payment you risk breaching the holiday provider’s terms and conditions and losing your deposit.
The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) told us that it doesn’t ‘believe that a travel insurance policy would accept a claim if the holiday is cancelled due to non-payment’. Yet the ABI told us that ‘insurers will expect customers to keep potential liabilities down when a cancellation claim seems likely’ – for example by not leaving cancellation until the last minute.
If you’re facing this dilemma, you should contact both the holiday provider and the insurer to check your options, and then act in accordance with their advice.
How can I dispute an insurer's decision?
Of the 391 Which? members we surveyed in April, all of whom had submitted coronavirus claims, 12% had been unsuccessful, and 68% of cases were still being decided.
If the insurer rejects your claim, ensure 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?
Insurers expect to pay out an unprecedented £275m in coronavirus-related claims, which is why more than 30 insurers temporarily ceased selling new policies in March.
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.
5 top tips for insurance claims
Although the coronavirus pandemic has severely disrupted travel, it's worth keep these tips in mind for future trips.
1. Don’t delay your claim
Even if you don’t think that your claim is particularly urgent, make sure you tell your insurer as soon as possible. Many policies will have a time limit for claiming, so your best bet is to call your provider straight away.
Making swift contact is even more important if you need to make a medical claim because many providers insist that you check with them before you get treatment.
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.
2. 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 a crime within 24 hours.
If it's not possible to get over to the police station, tell your holiday rep or hotel manager, and ask them to help you put together a written report.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.