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Coronavirus travel insurance: who will cover me?

Find out how to get the best policy for 2021 and beyond

Coronavirus travel insurance: who will cover me?

International travel could return in some form for people in England next month. Here’s what that means for travel insurance.

The UK government has announced plans to allow international travel once again from 17 May at the earliest. A new ‘traffic light’ system will apply to people travelling from England, governing which countries are deemed safest to travel to.

Still, if you are thinking about booking a holiday for this year or beyond, travel insurance is still very important.

From getting sick abroad to having to cancel your flights because of self-isolation, the coronavirus pandemic could still wreck your holiday, even if you’ve been vaccinated.

Most insurers now offer ‘Covid-19 cover’ in some form, but Which? has found that none of them will protect you from the full range of possible coronavirus-related incidents.

Still, some insurers’ cover is significantly more comprehensive than others and these should be front of mind when planning a potential post-lockdown holiday.

Our experts analysed policies from 73 travel insurers, sorting them into four tiers based on their Covid-19 cover. Below, we talk you through the different levels of cover on offer and how comprehensive each insurer’s travel cover really is.

Plus, find all the details you need if you’re claiming on your existing policy.

  • 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 the traffic light system mean for travel insurance?

The full details of how the new traffic light system will work are due to be announced soon, and we still don’t know which countries will actually end up on each list. What we do know is that it could make travel more expensive, and that travel insurance won’t necessarily help with those extra costs.

Whether a country is on the green, amber or red list will decide which measures you need to take before you leave and when you return.

Even countries on the green list will require multiple PCR tests which could cost £200, while trips to red list countries will land you with a £1,750, 10-day stay in a government-run quarantine hotel. If your destination switches lists while you’re away, these costs could come as a nasty surprise.

But don’t expect your insurer to pay out for unexpected quarantine hotel costs, as it currently looks like insurers won’t be doing this.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI), which represents the insurance industry, indicated that insurers will not fund the cost of quarantine hotels on return to the UK, but that you should check with your insurer. You can find more detail on the ABI’s FAQs page.

When we last analysed insurance policies, the traffic light system hadn’t been announced, so we don’t know exactly how or if insurers will adjust their policies when it comes into force.

We will update this story when we have more details of exactly how travel insurance and the traffic light system will intersect.

How do insurers’ Covid-19 policies compare?

In October 2020, we quizzed 73 travel insurers on whether their policies would cover a number of specific coronavirus-related scenarios.

We analysed their answers and gave each insurer’s Covid-19 cover one of four ratings: Basic, Low, Superior or Complete. You can see what each rating means here:

While no insurers currently meet the criteria for our top Complete rating, there are several that reach Superior status, meaning you thankfully do have options if you’re looking for a policy that covers you for a number of coronavirus-related circumstances.

Superior insurers

Some 13 of the 73 insurers received a Superior rating. These will cover you for cancelling if you have to self-isolate without testing positive – so if the NHS sends you a Test and Trace app notification, for example.

A small number of these insurers will also cover you if you have to cancel your holiday due to changes in lockdown restrictions.

The rest

Every insurer we surveyed proffered at least the bare minimum of emergency medical cover for if you catch coronavirus while you’re away.

Just over half of insurers (43 of 73) received a Low rating or above, meaning they offer cancellation cover if you can’t travel because you’ve been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Sadly, no insurers received Complete, our highest rating. This would cover you if you can’t travel because of a change in advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

This means if the FCDO advises against all but essential travel, as it has done for much of the world for most of last year and 2021 so far, no insurer we surveyed will pay out. Similarly, if the ‘travel corridor’ with your destination country is closed, no insurer will cover you to cancel.

Travelling against FCDO advice could also invalidate your emergency medical cover, so ask your insurer before booking.

Our full guide to the best and worst travel insurers has a breakdown of which insurers received which ratings, along with details of more minute differences in cover between them. We also have reviews of individual travel insurers’ policies, which you can find through the guide.

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

At the moment, nobody in the country is allowed to go on holiday abroad until coronavirus restrictions are once again relaxed.

On top of that, travel corridors have now been closed and strict border measures – including quarantine hotels for some travellers – are required upon entering the UK, making even essential travel difficult.

Once holidays are allowed again, travelling abroad during the pandemic will still come with risks and travel insurance can’t protect you from all of them.

Find out more: travel corridor removal – what it means for you

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

  • Coronavirus medical and repatriation 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. Our ratings will tell you how much Covid-19 cover an insurer has.
  • 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 (note that the Europe amount could increase this year)
  • Cancellation, curtailment and missed departure £3,000 or the value of your holiday
  • 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 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 been flexible with deadlines during the pandemic so far.

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 October 2020, 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 2020, 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 had 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 2020, 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 have ignored 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 until later in the year, 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 may not. So you should think carefully before cancelling.

On 1 May 2020, 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 2020.

The FCA’s guidance was updated on 1 November 2020 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.

This story was originally published on 25 February 2020 and has been updated since then. The last update was to reflect the traffic light system and was published on 22 April 2021. Additional reporting by Dean Sobers.

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