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Coronavirus: what it means for your travel insurance

Insurance might not cover you despite new government advice

Coronavirus: what it means for your travel insurance

Summer holidays might be back on the cards for many, as the government announces changes to its advice and quarantine programme. But would-be holidaymakers beware: insurance might not cover you.

Since March, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised people to stay in the UK unless they have an ‘essential’ reason to leave. That all changed last week.

Under the new guidance, Brits are free to travel to 66 countries on holiday. If you’re flying back to England after 10 July, you won’t have to quarantine when you return from these places, either. That’s not necessarily the case if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, however.

But if you do go abroad, you’ll be facing a number of significant risks alone, as most travel insurance policies won’t cover many coronavirus-related claims.

Anything from catching coronavirus before you leave to not being let in when you arrive could disrupt your holiday, and insurance won’t always protect you in these cases.

Here, Which? looks at how much protection travel insurance now offers, and the details you should look out for if you are planning to fly.

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


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

Will travel insurance cover me?

Dozens of insurers stopped selling travel insurance after the start of the pandemic, leaving a shrinking pool of providers that would cover you to travel.

Since then, many of them have returned to selling, but to our knowledge every one of them now has coronavirus-related exclusions on what they will cover.

Bar two exceptions – discussed below – most currently available policies can be broken down into two groups:

  • Those that don’t cover anything to do with coronavirus
  • Those that cover emergency medical expenses and repatriation if you contract coronavirus abroad, but don’t cover coronavirus-related cancellation or disruption.

This means that in almost every case, your insurance policy will not cover you for cancelling your holiday if you catch coronavirus, or have to self-quarantine, before you leave.

Similarly, if you arrive at your destination and you’re turned away due to that country’s lockdown restrictions, you won’t be able to claim. Nor could you claim if your destination enters lockdown while you’re there.

A steady stream of insurers are adding emergency medical treatment to their cover, and some have covered it since they returned to the market. So it’s getting easier to find cover for this. Coronavirus cancellations cover, on the other hand, is still extremely rare.

Who does coronavirus cancellation cover?

The holiday provider Trailfinders, which also sells travel insurance, announced in June that it had revamped its policy to include coronavirus protection.

The additions include medical expenses cover if you catch the virus overseas, but also – uniquely, among policies we’ve seen – cover for certain cancellation claims.

If you have to cancel a holiday because you catch the virus, or are personally ordered to self-isolate or into quarantine because it’s suspected you’ve been exposed, you’ll be able to claim against the policy for unrecouped expenses.

Importantly, though, the cover doesn’t extend to more generalised forms of disruption that coronavirus may cause – and that many policies available prior to the pandemic would cover. For example, you’re not covered against government issued restrictions on travel (such as changes in FCO advice), lockdowns or the country you’re travelling to refusing to allow entry to UK citizens.

For these eventualities, you’d need to rely on protections offered by airlines or package holiday companies – or failing that, your credit or debit card provider.

Insurer Insurefor.com has announced a similar change to its cover, again offering cancellation payouts to customers who test positive for COVID-19 before they are due to leave.

It also covers you if – after you’ve checked into your hotel – it then needs to close because of coronavirus.

What does the new FCO advice mean?

Since 17 March, the FCO has advised against ‘all but essential travel’ to anywhere outside of the UK.

But from 4 July, more than 60 countries, including popular European destinations like France, Spain and Greece, will be exempt from this advice, meaning the FCO says they no longer present ‘an unacceptably high risk’ to UK travellers.

You can read the full list of countries here.

However, the FCO’s advice does not mean all these places will make great holiday destinations.

There’s no guarantee you won’t have to quarantine when you get to your destination. And the FCO says it’s safe to fly to some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, that won’t let you in at all if you fly there.

You can find out more about the rules for entering each destination by reading their individual pages on the FCO website.

The advice change has a few important implications for insurance:

  • If you book a holiday and the FCO once again advises against travelling before you go, you may be covered for non-coronavirus related cancellation with certain policies.
    If you travel to a country that the FCO still advises against visiting, such as the USA or most of Africa, your insurance policy could be completely invalidated in most cases.
    If you were waiting for a holiday you had already booked to get cancelled due to FCO advice so you could claim, it might now go ahead.

There has also been some confusion around which countries people can and can’t visit. At the same time as the FCO’s advice change, the government released a list of more than 70 countries that are exempt from the 14-day quarantine rule.

There’s a lot of crossover, but any country that isn’t on the FCO’s list is still considered unsafe to visit, and you will struggle to get any insurance policy that will cover you to go there.

Which insurers are still selling and what do they cover?

In the table below, 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, except emergency medical treatment
Admiral Allianz Assistance UK – from 12 March, no new cover for coronavirus-related claims
Asda Alpha Insurance – no cover for coronavirus-related claims, except emergency medical treatment
Aviva Axa – no new cover for coronavirus-related cancellation
Bengo Boots – 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
First Direct Esure – no coronavirus-related claims except emergency medical treatment
HSBC Flexicover – no coronavirus-related claims except emergency medical treatment
LV Holidaysafe – no coronavirus-related claims except emergency medical treatment
M&S Bank InsureandGo – no new cover for coronavirus-related incidents
Post Office Insureancewith – no cover for coronavirus-related claims, except emergency medical treatment
Santander Insurefor – cover for some coronavirus-related cancellation and medical expenses
Sheilas’ Wheels JS Insurance – no coronavirus-related claims except emergency medical treatment
Spectrum Nationwide – from 18 March, new policies won’t cover coronavirus
Virgin Money NFU Mutual – still selling annual policies to existing home insurance customers, but have stopped the sale of single-trip policies
Yorkshire Bank Post Office – no cover for coronavirus except emergency medical cover
Zurich Saga – from 13 March, no new cover for coronavirus-related claims, except emergency medical cover
Sainsbury’s Bank – no new cover for epidemics or pandemics, including but not limited to COVID-19
Staysure – no travel disruption extension for new customers, but emergency medical treatment for coronavirus is covered
Trailfinders – cover for some coronavirus-related cancellation and medical expenses

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 should I look for when I’m buying travel insurance?

Travelling abroad during the pandemic comes with risks, and travel insurance can’t protect you from all of them.

When looking for a policy, make sure you look for the following things:

  • Coronavirus medical cover: to cover you if you’re infected when you’re away.
  • Scheduled airline failure insurance (SAFI): to cover you if your airline goes bust.
  • Travel disruption and cancellation cover: you may struggle to find this now insurers have changed their policies, but it’ll cover you if you need to cancel for a specific list of outlined reasons. As mentioned above, most policies will not cover for cancellation due to coronavirus.
  • Excesses: this is what you’ll pay towards what your insurer pays out. You’ll need to be able to afford them if you’re claiming.

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

How can I make a claim?

The pandemic has left thousands of holidaymakers out of pocket. 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.

Is there a deadline for claiming?

You should contact your insurer swiftly if you plan to claim, but the good news is many have said they’re being flexible with their existing claims deadlines.

When we examined 32 travel policy booklets, we found 11 stated deadlines for notifying the insurer of oncoming claims. Nine of these had deadlines 28 to 31 days from the incident or end of the trip.

Of these nine insurers, AllClear, NFU Mutual and Staysure said that they aren’t enforcing deadlines, and Virgin Money said it’s ‘trying to be as flexible as possible’.

Columbus Direct  and Santander said their deadlines only apply if the delays impede their ability to investigate claims. The Post Office continues to insist customers at least notify it within 28 days.

If it has one, your policy’s deadline will be either in the claims or general conditions section of the ‘policy wording’ document your insurer sent you.

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 your policy wording.

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 June, 893 had submitted travel insurance claims. Some 31% of those said their claim was accepted, 11% said it was rejected and 58% 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 can’t 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 more than £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 get a travel insurance refund?

Since many are unlikely to want to travel 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.

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.

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

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, this is only the case if you bought your insurance cover before the current FCO advice was issued on 17 March.

And 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.

Although it’s indefinite, the 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.


This story was originally published on 25 February 2020 and has been updated since then. The last update contained new information on the change in FCO advice and was published on 9 July 2020. Additional reporting by Dean Sobers.


 

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