Winter chaos – will your travel insurance cover you?

There has been incredible disruption to people’s travel plans this year, as threatened strikes, broken trains, collapsing airlines and extreme weather forced thousands of people to abandon their Christmas trips.

While nothing can compensate for calling off Christmas plans, it’s important to know what you’re entitled to.

Many people will be left hoping their travel insurance will pick up the bill, but not every eventuality is covered – so are you protected?

First up, before you ask your insurer to foot the bill, you should check if you are entitled to claim elsewhere. So what are your rights when it comes to a reimbursement or compensation?

What could you claim?

The BA strike has been called off, meaning all journeys can now take place. While this is great news for worried travellers, anyone who purchased a new ticket with a different airline, just in case, will not be able to claim the cost from BA.

If you changed your flight when the strike was first planned, BA will allow you to switch back at no extra cost – subject to availability of course.

Eurostar is promising a full refund to travellers whose journeys were affected, as well as £150 compensation and a free return ticket to those who were seriously disrupted.

If you had a booking for the Saturday, Sunday or Monday and had to check into a hotel and buy food, the company promises to reimburse any reasonable claims.

Travellers booked on Flyglobespan or Albury Travel Group are in a more difficult position. If they booked a package holiday then they should be protected by the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) scheme, which holiday operators pay into so that it can refund tourists if the provider collapses.

Under this scheme, passengers will be flown home at no extra cost and may be able to claim for any out-of-pocket expenses. Visit the ATOL website for more details.

If you only booked flights then you are probably not covered by the scheme. If you booked the tickets using a credit card then you may be able to claim a refund from your card provider under the Consumer Credit Act, if not then you won't be due a refund and should register as a creditor of the failed firm to see if you can recover any money.

What about the weather? Well, if the snow, sleet and rain means your flight is delayed, you may be offered complimentary refreshment and an overnight hotel. Depending on how long you’re stranded, you may also be due financial compensation.

There’s more information on the Air Transport Users Council website.

What are your insurance rights?

If you can’t claim a refund anywhere else then you’re probably relying on your travel insurance policy to refund you and repay any additional costs you incurred.

Not all travel disasters are covered under standard policies, so what can you expect?

My airline went under, can I claim?

If you booked flights through an operator that’s now collapsed, you usually won’t qualify for any ATOL compensation and are probably hoping your insurer will pay out.

However, many travel insurance policies will not pay if your airline goes under, so you should contact yours as soon as possible and find out if you are protected.

Snow means my flight is delayed, can I claim?

If you’re delayed at a snowbound airport then a standard travel insurance policy would usually cover you.

Again, policies vary so you should check the small print, but a delay of eight to 12 hours will normally mean you qualify for some help from your insurer.

Typically, it will pay you a cash amount for the delay, around £50 for each further half-a-day to meet your costs. There’s usually an upper cap on the compensation. Remember to get written confirmation of your delay from the airport as your insurer will need proof.

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The weather means I can’t reach the airport, can I claim?

The roads are in chaos, trains are being cancelled and many people will simply struggle to reach the airport. Some policies will pay out for this but you should keep any proof you can, for example, if you have to call out roadside rescue then keep the receipt to show your insurer.

My flight is cancelled due to the weather, can I claim?

You’re unlikely to be covered by your insurance if your flight is cancelled because of the weather.

Fortunately, most airlines will offer a refund or alternative flight if this happens, so you shouldn’t be left out of pocket. Usually, your insurer will agree to transfer the cover to the new flight at no additional cost. However, any additional expenses you incur by switching flights are unlikely to be met by your insurer.

I’ve been waiting for over a day, I want to abandon the trip. Can I claim?

Under certain circumstances, and if the flight has not been cancelled but just severely delayed, you could abandon your trip and reclaim a certain amount of money from your insurer.

However, check with your them before leaving the airport to make sure you’ve waited long enough to qualify for cover. Again, you'll need written confirmation of the delay from the airport.

I know there are delays and I want to abandon the trip, can I claim?

If you know that flights generally being delayed by the weather, you may want to cancel your plans rather than risk an icy drive to sit in an airport.

Be careful, though, as you are unlikely to be able to claim if you simply decide not to travel.

I’m ill/redundant/called up for jury service, can I claim?

Sometimes something comes up and you simply can’t travel. Perhaps you’re one of the people who recently lost your job or maybe you or a family member is ill.

Illness, redundancy and jury service are usually considered valid reasons to cancel a holiday and your insurer will normally pay out.

Should a close relative die just before or during your trip, many policies will pay for you to fly home or reimburse you for your trip.

Although it might sound obvious, bear in mind that you need to have purchased insurance before you became unable to travel.

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