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Coronavirus: what it means for your travel insurance

Major insurers pull coronavirus cover in the wake of the outbreak

Coronavirus: what it means for your travel insurance

Holidaymakers with cancelled trips who are only offered vouchers or credit notes from airlines and holiday operators could struggle to claim on their insurance.

Some airlines and operators aren’t providing the full cash refunds to which their customers are legally entitled, but insurers would encourage customers to pursue these cash refunds instead of making a claim.

And, as Which? found, holidaymakers have also struggled to claim their money back from banks via the Consumers Rights Act and industry ‘chargeback’ schemes.

If you’re trying to recover costs after a holiday was cancelled, this article explains how your travel insurance can help, and what could prevent you making a successful claim.

We’ve compiled the key contact numbers and advice that you need if you’re making a claim.

  • You can keep up to date with our latest news and advice on the coronavirus outbreak over on our coronavirus advice hub.

Find the answers to your questions by clicking the links below:

How can I make a claim?

Many people buy travel insurance hoping they’ll never actually have to claim on it.

But the pandemic has left thousands of holidaymakers with no choice.

If you had a trip booked that you couldn’t take, or if you have one coming up, you might need to make a claim yourself.

Before you get in touch with your insurer, you should try to get a refund from travel or accommodation providers.

Insurers will only pay out for costs that couldn’t be refunded, so if you approach them with a claim before exploring the refund route, they will want you to do that before you can progress further.

Next, make a list of all the non-refundable costs you want to claim for. Not just hotels and flights, but transfers, tours and excursions.

After that, you’re ready to contact your insurer. We’ve gathered the claims numbers for more than 40 travel insurance providers in the table below. Click the name of the insurer to see our review of its service and find more details about how to make a claim.

If we don’t have a review, contact your insurer directly for more information.

Will my claim be accepted?

Whether your claim is accepted or not will depend on the cover you purchased and your reason for cancelling.

You’ll usually find a list of acceptable cancellation reasons in the ‘policy wording’ document your insurer sent you. Also check your ‘insurance product information document’ and the ‘policy schedule’, which may also have sections on cancellation.

When we surveyed Which? members in early April, 391 of them had submitted travel insurance claims. One in five (20%) of those said their claim was accepted, 12% said it was rejected and two in three (68%) were still waiting to hear back.

Can I claim on insurance if I’m offered rebooking vouchers?

Among the Which? members with cancelled plans who didn’t claim, many were offered vouchers from their travel providers instead of cash refunds.

If you accept vouchers or credit notes as compensation, you cannot claim for cash from your insurer as well as this would be a double claim.

Legally, you should be able to reject vouchers and get cash refunds instead, but many holiday firms are ignoring this rule.

Your insurer will likely advise you to pursue this legal right if you’re in this situation. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) told Which?: 

‘Where travel operators have a legal obligation to refund customers, insurers expect them to honour that legal agreement. Insurance cancellation cover kicks in when no other safety net is available with insurers expecting to pay out £275m in cancellation costs due to COVID-19.’

If you’re not offered a cash refund by your travel operator, Which? believes banks should refund customers under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, for purchases by credit card of over £100, or through the chargeback scheme for other purchases.

Banks don’t always accept these claims, but card issuer Mastercard has confirmed that chargeback is valid in these cases.

Can I make a claim from abroad?

The spread of coronavirus and countries’ measures to tackle it have led to cancelled flights and closed borders all over the world. Which? has been inundated with messages from people trapped abroad asking if they’re covered.

If you’re experiencing problems outside of the UK, your insurer may be able to help over the phone. Some have separate phone numbers for claims being made from abroad, as seen in the table above.

Your insurer will also have an emergency number, generally for medical emergencies. You’ll find this in your policy, or you can read our travel insurer reviews.

Can I get a travel insurance refund?

Since travel is unlikely to restart in the near future, anyone with an active travel insurance policy might reasonably ask if they would be able to get a refund on their premium.

The ABI told Which? that it expects these refunds will be happening and that customers should contact their insurers for more details.

However, it warns that while your current policy – if bought before the coronavirus pandemic – will cover you for COVID-19-related claims, a new policy likely will not. So you should think carefully before cancelling.

Direct Line has stated that it would provide pro-rata refunds to customers with multi-trip policies.

On 1 May, the FCA launched two quickfire consultations with proposals to offer general insurance customers payment holidays, reduced cover and refunds in light of the way coronavirus has changed the market. These measures came into force on 18 May.

Which insurers have withdrawn from the market or changed policies?

More than 30 insurers stopped selling travel insurance after the start of the pandemic, leaving a shrinking pool of providers that will cover you for travel.

Since then, many of them have returned to selling, albeit with exclusions for coronavirus-related claims.

We’ve collated the insurers that have paused sales of cover or changed cover for new or existing customers.

As well as excluding coronavirus-related claims, some of these insurers will no longer cover you in the event of any future pandemic.

We’ve linked to insurers where we can provide more information. If no link is available, contact your insurer directly.

Where we note ‘no new cover’ we mean for policies bought after 11 March.

Insurers no longer selling cover Insurers changing cover details
AA AllClear – no new cover for coronavirus-related claims
Admiral Allianz Assistance UK – from 12 March, no new cover for coronavirus-related claims
Asda Alpha Insurance – only covering trips booked on or after 17 March, departing after 25 June. No cover for coronavirus-related claims, except emergency medical treatment
Aviva Axa – no new cover for coronavirus-related cancellation
Bengo Boots – only covering trips booked on or after 17 March, departing after 25 June. No cover for coronavirus-related claims, except emergency medical treatment
Churchill Columbus Direct – from 13 March, no new cover for coronavirus-related claims
Clydesdale Bank Debenhams – from 16 March no new cover for coronavirus-related claims
The Co-op Direct Travel – from 17 March, no new cover from coronavirus-related claims
Direct Line Ergo Travel – exclusions regarding any epidemic or pandemic as declared by the WHO
Esure Holidaysafe
First Direct InsureandGo – no new cover for coronavirus-related incidents
HSBC Insurewith – only covering trips booked on or after 17 March, departing after 25 June. No cover for coronavirus-related claims, except emergency medical treatment
LV JS Insurance – no coronavirus-related claims except emergency medical treatment
M&S Bank Nationwide – from 18 March, new policies won’t cover coronavirus
Post Office NFU Mutual – still selling annual policies to existing home insurance customers but have stopped the sale of single-trip policies
Santander Saga – from 13 March, no new cover for coronavirus-related claims
Sheilas’ Wheels Sainsbury’s Bank – no new cover for epidemics or pandemics, including but not limited to COVID-19
Spectrum Staysure – no travel disruption extension for new customers
Virgin Money TopDog – only covering trips after 26 June
Yorkshire Bank

Note: details correct as of the article publication date at the top of the page.

As the situation is changing rapidly, we recommend you carefully check policy details and exclusions prior to purchasing a policy, or booking new trips with an existing annual multi-trip policy.

What does the FCO advice mean when I’m making a claim?

On 17 March, the FCO advised against ‘all but essential travel’ to any country for an initial 30-day period. And on 23 March, the government advised all Brits abroad to return home.

The FCO has since made this advice ‘indefinite’, meaning there is no confirmed date when travel can continue as normal.

When your upcoming holiday gets nearer, your flights may be cancelled, meaning your airline should refund you or let you rebook.

If this doesn’t happen, FCO advice is often the trigger for insurance cancellation cover, so you’ll be able to make a claim if you have that.

However, some policies include a clause that explicitly says FCO travel warnings are not grounds for cancellation claims, so you’ll have to hope your airline and hotel offers you a refund instead.

Though it is indefinite, FCO’s advice isn’t permanent, so if your holiday is booked much later in the year, you’ll have to wait and see whether the FCO is still warning you against leaving the country by then.

I’ve booked a holiday, should I cancel?

If your holiday’s a while away, but you think the pandemic will stop you travelling, you can get your money back immediately by cancelling any refundable parts of the trip.

If you booked non-refundable flights or accommodation, you can wait for your airline or hotel to cancel your trip itself, as it will have to offer you a refund or allow you to rebook.

However, there is the risk here that your trip still won’t be cancelled.

If you don’t already have insurance for your upcoming trip, it might be too late to get a policy that covers you for coronavirus-related claims.

Still, it’s worth getting what cover you can if you do think your holiday may go ahead later in the year or in 2021.

If you’re still shopping for travel insurance, look out for:

  • Scheduled airline failure insurance (SAFI) This will cover you if your airline goes bust before you fly. The coronavirus pandemic is putting pressure on airlines as demand for bookings falls. Flybe, which collapsed recently, might not be the only airline to do so during the outbreak. Find out more: what are my rights if an airline goes bust?
  • Excesses These are how much you’ll have to pay towards what your insurer pays out. You’ll still need to be able to afford the excesses if you’re going to make a claim.
  • Travel disruption cover You might find it more difficult to find this, since many insurers have removed it from their policies, but keep an eye out just in case. It will reimburse you for costs associated with delays, missed departures or being forced to remain at your destination for longer than planned (as is the case with the holidaymakers trapped overseas).

Which? recommends getting the following levels of cover:

  • Emergency medical cover: £2m for Europe, £5m worldwide
  • Cancellation, curtailment and missed departure: £3,000
  • Personal belongings and money: £1,500
  • Personal liability: £1m

Find out more: flight cancellations and compensation

What is ‘essential travel’?

The ‘all but essential travel’ warning has been talked about a lot recently, but what does it actually mean?

The FCO itself doesn’t specify which types of travel are essential. The government website says this:

‘Whether travel is essential or not is your own decision. You may have urgent family or business commitments to attend to. Circumstances differ from person to person. Only you can make an informed decision based on the risks.’

At the start of the outbreak, we asked insurers about what ‘essential travel’ could mean for their customers. Some of them have since stopped selling or changed their travel cover, but their answers will still be accurate for policies bought before these changes were made.

Admiral, Co-op and NFU Mutual said they wouldn’t cover anyone who travels to a country that has an ‘all but essential travel’ warning in place, regardless of the reason.

Other insurers we spoke to seemed more flexible.

Saga said it would decide on a case-by-case basis.

M&S Bank advised customers to follow advice from the FCO and local authorities, but said you would still be covered for medical emergency claims abroad. It said: ‘If you do decide to travel, because the FCO advice is already in place, there would be no cover if you later decide to abandon your trip and come home early.’

Before it stopped selling cover, Aviva told us it had a similar position to this.

Nationwide said its travel insurance would cover people travelling if there was an FCO ‘all but essential’ travel warning in place. But not if there was an ‘all travel’ warning in place.

Despite all of this, the government’s recent call for all Brits to return to the UK as soon as they can suggests that it’s very unlikely your trip will be essential enough to go through with, no matter what it is.

This story was originally published on 25 February 2020 and has been updated since then. The last update contained new information on the FCA’s guidance and was published on 15 May 2020.


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