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Six African countries have been added to the UK government’s travel ‘red list’ after a dangerous new Covid variant was discovered. What does this mean for travel insurance?
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) now advises against all but essential travel to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which means you’re unlikely to be able to get insurance if you do choose to travel to these destinations.
Since these are the only countries currently on the red list, when returning from most other trips you won’t need to stay in a quarantine hotel. But you will still need comprehensive travel insurance with ‘Covid cover’ wherever you go.
Here, we explore the kind of cover you’ll need for any potential pandemic-era holiday, and the insurers that provide it.
Find the answers to your questions by clicking the links below:
- Will my travel provider refund me first?
- Who has the best Covid cover?
- What should I look for when I’m buying travel insurance?
- How can I make a claim?
- Can I claim on insurance if I’m offered rebooking vouchers?
Will my holiday firm refund me?
Before you claim on your travel insurance, you’ll first need to check if you can get a refund from your travel provider. Or, if you’ve booked the flights and accommodation yourself, you’ll need to seek refunds from them before contacting your insurer.
Sadly, the pandemic has shown that not all holiday firms play by the rules when it comes to refunds.
Many firms have rapidly refunded customers for cancelled trips, but others have hung onto cash for months, and in some cases broken the law.
Nearly half of firms made our Green category for having rapid refunds and no-quibble cancellation policies. Among these were Which? Recommended Providers (WRPs) Jet2 Holidays, Kuoni and Hays.
Only a handful of companies made the Green+ list, including WRPs Explore and Exodus. To make this category, Green-rated firms also need to refund those unable to travel because NHS Test and Trace has told them to isolate.
As for the other firms we looked at, one in five were classed as Amber – for following legal obligations but nothing more – and three in ten were Red. Firms with this rating might stall or pass the buck on refunds, while others weren’t transparent about their terms and conditions – a major problem for would-be travellers.
Which policies have the best coronavirus cover?
From possible winter restrictions to getting sick, there are still dozens of ways the pandemic could wreck your holiday, even if you’ve been vaccinated.
Thankfully, there are some insurers who offer protection for all or many of these.
We reviewed hundreds of policies earlier this year, sorting them into four categories based on the strength of their Covid cover. From weakest to strongest these are:
- Basic For policies providing emergency medical cover and repatriation for coronavirus while you’re away.
- Low Insurance that covers unrecouped costs from cancelling your holiday if you’re diagnosed with Covid-19.
- Superior Policies that cover cancellation if you’re told to self-isolate without testing positive yourself, for example if you receive a test and trace notification via the NHS app.
- Complete Our highest rating. Complete policies cover you for cancellation if you can’t travel due to changes in FCDO advice or because of a lockdown.
We know of just five policies that meet the criteria for our Complete rating. These are from Barclays, Churchill, Direct Line, HSBC and Nationwide.
The Barclays Travel Pack add-on is for current account holders, and HSBC’s Select and Cover is available to current account, savings account, mortgage and credit card customers.
You’d be eligible for HSBC’s travel insurance if you opened an Online Bonus Saver account with a minimum of £1.
Direct Line Group, which also provides the Churchill and Nationwide policies, told Which? that its recent increase in cover was intended to ‘give customers back their freedom’ and support the travel industry’s recovery.
All readers can find a breakdown of different policies’ Covid cover levels on our best and worst travel insurance page. We’ve also given each of them a policy score, based on their wider cover, including for non-Covid related incidents. Which? members can log in to see these on the same page.
- Find out more: best and worst travel insurance
- Find out more: best travel insurance if you have a medical condition
‘Covid cover’ confusion
When we surveyed 2,800 travel insurance customers between February and March 2021, there was a gulf between what they thought was covered and the likely reality.
Around half of respondents thought they would be covered for cancellation in the case of another lockdown, or if the FCDO changed its advice on travel to their destination. In reality, we only know of five policies that would cover this.
On the other hand, only half of respondents thought they were covered for medical treatment if they caught Covid-19 overseas (the equivalent of our Basic rating), when in fact every insurer we analysed offered at least this much protection.
To address this disconnect between what customers think is insured and what insurers actually cover, we urged travel insurance providers to be clear about Covid-cover terminology, and to clearly outline what is and isn’t covered on their websites.
Our findings inspired the FCA to write to over 1,000 travel firms to remind them of their obligation to ensure customer communications are ‘clear, fair and not misleading’, particularly around ill-defined terms like ‘coronavirus cover’ and ‘enhanced Covid-19 cover’.
- Find out more: best and worst travel insurance
What should I look for when I’m buying travel insurance?
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 stops you travelling for any reason. Our ratings will tell you how much Covid 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 £5m worldwide
- Cancellation, curtailment and missed departure £2,000 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.
- Find out more: claiming on your travel insurance
Can I claim on insurance if I’m offered rebooking vouchers?
If you accept vouchers or refund credit notes (RCNs) 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 ABI told us: ‘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.
This story was originally published on 25 February 2020 and has been updated since then. The latest update was to reflect changes in FCDO advice and was published on 26 November 2021. Additional reporting by Dean Sobers.