What is unexpected-event travel insurance?
The Icelandic ash cloud, civil unrest, strikes – it's not always apparent whether your insurer will cover you if you have to cancel or cut short your holiday for reasons well beyond your control.
By definition, all events covered by travel insurance are unexpected. But by 'unexpected events cover' we mean disruption that can indirectly affect large groups of travelers, such as business failures or natural catastrophes.
Most policies cover some unexpected events but not all. In some cases, cover for unexpected events is only available at extra cost.
Here we reveal the best policies for covering unexpected events, and what cover to look for in your policy.
Best and worst policies for unexpected events cover
We analysed 199 travel insurance policies looking for those that cover six kinds of unexpected event as standard.
These included bankruptcy of holiday supplier; bankruptcy of airline; industrial strikes; volcanic ash; terrorism and civil unrest.
Of 199 policies reviewed, just six cover all as standard. Members can log in to see which these are. If you're not already a member, join Which? and get full access to these results and all our reviews.
- Find out more: your rights if your flight is cancelled
What unexpected events do insurers cover?
By 'unexpected event' we mean disruptive events with the potential to affect large groups of people:
This is whether the policy can pay out if you lose money because of the bankruptcy of a holiday firm, such as a hotel or tour operator. Around four in ten policies we analysed provide this as standard.
You may have other protection - see our guide to your rights if a holiday goes wrong
Also sometimes referred to as 'Safi' (Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance) this is increasingly popular due to the shaky prospects of smaller airlines - and comes as standard in around half of policies. This protection covers you if you book a flight with a provider that goes bust before you fly.
Strike cover provides protection if your flight, and holiday, was delayed or cancelled due to industrial action.
In 2010, plumes of ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland disrupted flights across much of Europe. It was an unusual event, and resulted in thousands of travellers having flight plans disrupted.
The Financial Ombudsman Service adjudicated that the volcanic ash episode was as a result of 'poor weather conditions', meaning many travel insurance policyholders got redress.
As a result, many insurers have added a provision to their policies that covers disruption caused by volcanic ash.
World events have made travelers more mindful of the possibility that their travel plans may be affected by acts of terror. Around one in ten policies offer this as standard. Most don't cover it at all.
Riots and outbreaks of civil unrest have emerged sporadically in recent times. Some insurers now cover this eventuality, making it worth considering if you are travelling to a potential hot-spot.
Do I need unexpected events cover?
You don't necessarily need to be fully protected by your insurance against certain events to have some peace of mind.
If you've booked with a package holiday firm, for example, you will benefit from ATOL protection if it goes bust, and it will also have to refund you if it cancels your holiday because of a major disruptive event.
If you've paid for your bookings using a credit card, you'll be able to claim with the card provider if the holiday firm hasn't been able to provide the service you've paid for or refund you.
- Find out more: our holiday checklist
What about Covid-19?
An unprecedented event hugely affecting travel in recent years has of course been the global coronavirus pandemic.
Most insurers offer some degree of cover in the event that your trip is affected by Covid - but it always comes with some exclusions, so check the t&cs carefully.
In our policy ratings, we look at the protection they provide against typical coronavirus-related incidents.
- Find out more: the best and worst travel insurance