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Coronavirus travel insurance: who will cover me?

We explain whether you’ll be covered to claim with current lockdown restrictions in place

Coronavirus travel insurance: who will cover me?

With England’s national lockdown due to end next week, and restrictions still in place across the whole of the UK, we look at the impact this will have on your travel insurance.

Ever-changing lockdown rules have put an end to many people’s international travel plans so far this winter. And although many insurers now say they offer ‘coronavirus cancellation cover’, the vast majority will not pay out if you need to cancel due to a lockdown.

With so much variety between what is and isn’t covered, we break down the differences to help you understand when you can claim, and answer questions about cover, vouchers and travel corridors.

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

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

What does lockdown mean for travel insurance?

At the moment, people in England can’t go on holiday, in the UK or abroad, due to the ‘stay at home’ rule that is in place. Northern Ireland will also have a ‘stay at home’ rule in place from Friday 27 November, ruling out holidays.

Travelling outside your local area is outlawed in areas of Scotland under Level 3 and 4 restrictions, other than for ‘essential’ reasons (which doesn’t include holidays).

People who live in Wales can stay overnight within the nation, but they cannot leave Wales unless it’s essential.

If you have a trip booked, wait and see if your airline or holiday provider cancels your trip and refunds you. If it does, and you have no other unrecoverable costs, there’s no need to involve your insurer. Make sure you don’t cancel the trip yourself, as this will forfeit your right to a refund.

If your holiday isn’t cancelled and refunded, that’s where insurance could theoretically come in. Although in this case, most insurers won’t cover you.

Many insurers’ ‘COVID cancellation cover’ doesn’t apply if you can’t travel due to a lockdown; instead some only cover you if you catch the virus yourself before you leave. To our knowledge, Nationwide is the only insurer that would cover you in this instance but its cover will become less comprehensive soon.

The Nationwide website says: ‘If you had an existing account with travel insurance and booked your trip before 1 January 2021, then you will be covered to cancel if you are unable to go on that trip due to Government actions (such as lockdown) if this advice is in force within 28 days before your departure and you weren’t aware of such advice when you booked your trip.’

However, there will be no cover for this after 1 January 2021. So keep that in mind before burying insurance for a 2021 trip with Nationwide.

You can read more about which insurers cover you for what in this section.

How can I make a claim?

The pandemic has left thousands of holidaymakers out of pocket. If you had a trip booked that you now can’t take, you might need to make a claim yourself.

Insurers will only pay out for costs that can’t be refunded by travel or accommodation providers, so you should get in touch with them first. If you approach insurers 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 in June, 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 the end of the trip.

Of these nine, 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 bought 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 13,169 Which? members in mid October, 980 had submitted travel insurance claims due to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. We found that 65% said their claim was accepted, 18% said theirs was rejected and 17% were still waiting to hear back.

Of those that had been settled, 78% were accepted.

We found a very different picture in June, when only 31% said claims submitted in the previous two weeks had been accepted, 11% were rejected and 58% hadn’t had a decision.

From this, we can see that the majority of members’ claims have now been settled one way or another. It’s worth noting, though, that many of these claims will stem from policies taken out before the pandemic. Since then, policies have become more restrictive around covering the coronavirus.

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

Among the Which? members with cancelled plans who said they didn’t claim in June, many were offered vouchers – or refund credit notes (RCNs) – 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.’

After campaigning from Which?, the government confirmed that RCNs will be covered by the travel industry’s Atol scheme. This means if you accept an RCN and your holiday provider goes bust, your money will be protected.

If you’re not offered a cash refund by your travel operator, and you don’t want to accept an RCN, 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? during the first lockdown that it expects these refunds will be happening and that customers should contact their insurers for more details.

However, it warns that while an older policy – if bought before the 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.

The FCA’s guidance was updated on 1 November to supplement what was announced in May. It sets out how firms should offer insurance and premium finance customers extra support to pay what they owe.

Can I get insured for a post-lockdown holiday?

Booking a holiday for after lockdown could be risky, as the strict measures could be extended, and travel may still be restricted after it ends.

Still, now that many insurers are offering coronavirus cancellation cover, it is theoretically possible for you to be insured against many of the things that might go wrong with post-lockdown travel – but not necessarily for everything.

Most travel insurers will not cover you if the FCDO changes its advice before you fly – as it did when it closed several travel corridors – or if the government orders another lockdown.

It’s also still very rare to find cover for if the country you’re travelling to changes its border policy and doesn’t let you in.

You won’t find an insurer that will cover you simply if you change your mind about travelling – for example, if cases in your destination country are rising but the FCDO has not warned against going there.

And although medical expenses cover is more widely available, COVID-19 is still a threat and it’s still deadly, so you need to take every precaution to make sure you’re safe if you do go abroad.

Will travel insurance cover me for COVID-19?

Dozens of insurers stopped selling travel insurance after the start of the pandemic, but since then, large numbers have returned to the market – many with some form of ‘COVID-19 cover’.

In terms of coronavirus, we can split them into three general groups:

  • Those that don’t cover COVID-19 Some insurance policies come with a ‘general exclusion’ against claims stemming from coronavirus. With these, if your claim is related to the pandemic, they won’t pay out.
  • Those that cover COVID-19 medical expenses, but nothing else These will pay out if you catch the virus abroad. They won’t cover you for anything else related to coronavirus.
  • Those that cover COVID-19 medical expenses and cancellation Broadly, this means that in certain circumstances you’ll be able to claim if coronavirus stops you from travelling.

To our knowledge, at least 25 insurers now fall into that third category, which is great news for anyone who wants more comprehensive post-lockdown travel cover. We list them all below.

The problem is, there’s a wide range of what’s actually covered within that group.

With all of them, you’ll be covered if you need to cancel because you’ve caught coronavirus. But if someone else in your household gets COVID-19, or if you’re self-isolating without being infected, you might not be.

The table below shows which insurers will cover you in six potential scenarios. It’s worth noting that these scenarios are not the only reasons you might need to make a coronavirus-related cancellation claim and that some of these insurers will cover other situations. Additionally, it may be that some of these insurers only offer COVID-19 cancellation cover with certain policies.

Cover If your destination restricts its borders before you travel for reasons relating to the pandemic If the FCDO changes its advice before you travel If your hotel closes while you are there If you’ve been told to self-isolate by the NHS, but haven’t been tested If a family/household member is diagnosed with COVID-19, meaning you have to self-isolate If you are diagnosed with COVID-19
Insurers Nationwide* Nationwide* Axa, Big Blue Cover, Insurefor, Jet2, Leisure Guard, MRL Insurance, Nationwide* AllClear, Allianz Assistance, Asda, Axa, Co-op, JustTravelCover, LV,  Nationwide*, Trailfinders AllClear, Allianz Assistance, Abta, Asda, Axa, Co-op, JustTravelCover, LV, Nationwide*, Staysure, Trailfinders Abta, AllClear, Allianz Assistance, Alpha Travel Insurance,  Asda, Axa, Big Blue Cover, Co-op, Dogtag, Flexicover, Get Going, Holidaysafe, Insurancewith, Insurefor, Jet2, JustTravelCover,  Leisure Guard, LV, MRL Insurance, Nationwide, Postcard, Saga, Spectrum, Staysure, TopDog, Trailfinders

*Nationwide is changing its coronavirus cover from 1 January 2021. See below for more detail.
Table correct as of 27 October 2020.

As you can see, only one insurer (Nationwide) covers you if the FCDO changes its advice after you book, because of a development related to the pandemic. And Nationwide is also the only insurer that will pay out if your destination country restricts its borders.

Of all the policies we’ve found, Nationwide’s has the widest coronavirus cover. The downside is that it won’t work for a single-trip policy; you can only get Nationwide travel insurance if you open a bank account with the building society.

Another downside is that Nationwide has now said it’s changing its cover from 1 January 2021. For trips booked on or after that date, you’ll only be covered to cancel if you, a relative, colleague or travelling companion catch COVID-19. The Nationwide website has more detail.

For a full list of insurers and what they cover, see the table below. It shows whether insurers are currently selling policies, and whether they cover coronavirus for medical expenses, medical expenses and some cancellation, or not at all. Each insurer’s website will have more details – most have a dedicated coronavirus FAQ page.

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

At the moment, millions of people in the country aren’t allowed to travel until coronavirus restrictions are relaxed. But even when you are permitted, 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.
  • Coronavirus cancellation cover You’ll need this if you want to be able to claim on insurance for refunds if COVID-19 stops you travelling for any reason. The insurers in this table offer some form of this.
  • Scheduled airline failure insurance (SAFI) To cover you if your airline goes bust.
  • 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

This story was originally published on 25 February and has been updated since then. The last update was to reflect changing lockdown restrictions and was published on 25 November. Additional reporting by Dean Sobers.


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