Coronavirus and travel insurance

Travel insurance and coronavirus – what you need to know

By Kevin Pratt on 

What cover does travel insurance provide in connection to coronavirus? Here are the key points you need to know

Airport


  • The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all non-essential international travel, initially for a period of 30 days. This advice takes effect immediately (starting 17 March). This change in travel advice reflects the pace at which other countries are either closing their borders or implementing restrictive measures in response to the global coronavirus pandemic
  • The government is not advising British people overseas to immediately return to the UK if they are overseas, except for a few countries detailed in its travel advice. However, it says British people should keep in mind that flights may be cancelled at short notice or other travel restrictions may be put in place by foreign governments
  • Air travellers to any destination should expect disruption to flights in the form of cancellations, delays and reduced schedules
  • The FCO is currently advising against all travel to Hubei Province, and against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not Hong Kong or Macau)
  • The FCO is also advising against all travel to the cities of Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan in South Korea
  • Some countries are requiring arriving individuals to enter a period of quarantine – check before you travel
  • The success or otherwise of claims for losses or costs suffered as a result of travel disruption will depend on the individual policy. See below for more details.

As more cases of coronavirus arise in countries across the globe, anyone with international travel plans is likely to have concerns about their safety and wellbeing.

For some, that may mean simply choosing not to travel. But would they be able to claim on their travel insurance for any financial loss or costs incurred?

The short answer is – probably not.

Every travel insurance policy has its own terms and conditions, so you’ll need to talk to your insurance company if you are unsure exactly what cover you have.

On that point – if you have a trip booked, make sure you’ve got travel insurance. Don’t wait until nearer to your departure date. This is crucial: travel insurance provides cancellation cover, which means you can claim for the cost of your trip if you can’t go for a compelling reason.

The reasons usually include bereavement, illness or divorce, but they also may include not being able to travel because the government has advised against all but essential travel.

It’s worth stressing: this reason for cancellation will only be accepted if you bought your insurance before any announcement by the government about the destination concerned.

Note also that not every insurer accepts this reason for cancellation, so check before you buy. And if you’ve already bought, check your documents or contact the insurer. You might consider extending your cover or buying another policy if your present policy doesn’t provide this protection.

Travel disruption cover and COVID-19

It’s generally advisable to add trip disruption to your travel insurance policy, which would let you claim in a range of circumstances should your holiday be disrupted. However in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, many travel insurers have withdrawn trip disruption cover from their travel insurance policies – while some aren’t offering any kind of travel insurance at all.

This means you won’t be able to find cover for cancellations or other problems that arise out of the coronavirus situation.

Many travel insurance companies are members of the Association of British Insurers. Collectively, they have pledged to:

  • Ensure that customers are provided with, or directed to, the most up-to-date information around the coronavirus outbreak and publish clear information at the point-of-sale around the valid coverage of their policies.
  • Work closely with customers to signpost them to where compensation may be received for cancelled transport, holidays or an inability to travel abroad, such as airlines, travel providers and travel agents.
  • Upon notification from their customers, help them consider their options for transferring their travel insurance to cover a new destination should people wish to make alternative travel plans.
  • Implement business continuity plans to be able to continue to handle travel insurance claims in challenging circumstances.
  • Be understanding of the difficulties customers may have in getting medical certification and consider, where appropriate, alternative evidence that customers may be able to provide.

Airline passengers and travel insurance

This guidance applies to Flybe passengers but is likely to apply in the same way if other airlines or travel providers go into administration.

Following the announcement on 5 March that the airline Flybe has gone into administration, passengers with flight bookings will be keen to know if and how they can get a refund for their tickets.

For travellers whose flight was part of an ATOL-protected package holiday, the travel firm you booked with should organise alternative outbound and inbound travel or provide a full refund if the holiday cannot go ahead.

If you made independent arrangements and paid by credit card or debit card, you may be able to recoup the price of your ticket via the chargeback scheme – VISA, Mastercard and American Express all belong to it.

Under the scheme, your card provider will seek a return of your money from Flybe’s payments operator. Your provider will advise you on the process – but they’ll do the legwork on your behalf.

If you paid by credit card (and spent more than £100 on your ticket), you have recourse to a piece of consumer protection regulation known as Section 75. More details here.

If you have spent money on accommodation or car hire or other services and are out of pocket because you have not been able to travel, you should first of all try to get a refund from the business concerned.

If this doesn’t work, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance but only if the policy includes ‘scheduled airline failure’ cover – many do not.

Entry restrictions for travellers

Many countries have introduced entry restrictions at border crossings and transport hubs. If you’ve recently travelled to China or any other affected country you may be refused entry or transit – or you may have to enter a period of quarantine.

There are also screening measures in place at some borders, which could include temperature checks and questions about your health and recent travel. If these screenings identify any cause for concern, you may be asked to undergo further medical checks.

If you need more information about entry restrictions and requirements, you should contact the embassy, consulate or high commission of the destination you’re travelling to – and check with your airline for the status of flights you’re booked on.

FAQs

Will I be covered by my travel insurance for coronavirus cancellations?

Whether or not your travel insurance policy will cover you for cancellations related to coronavirus will depend on your circumstances:

  • If you’ve booked your holiday before your destination was listed by the FCO, you may be able to claim for cancellation, curtailment or rearrangement. If you are able to claim, you may not be able to claim for the entire cost, depending on the amount of cover you’ve taken out
  • If you booked your trip after your destination was listed by the FCO, travel insurers won’t cover you for cancellation afterwards – which is why it’s important to keep up to date with FCO advice before booking holidays
  • If the FCO haven’t advised against travelling to your destination and you want to cancel your trip, end it early or rearrange it, this would be classed as ‘disinclination to travel’ – which isn’t covered by travel insurance providers

Can I add travel disruptions to my current policy?

This will depend on the travel insurance provider you’ve chosen – contact them to be sure.

What happens if I travel to a country against FCO advice about coronavirus?

If you travel to any destination against the advice of the government, you’ll render your travel insurance invalid and won’t be able to make any claims.

If the government advises against “all but essential travel” to a destination, you should check with your travel insurance company if you wish to proceed. It is unlikely that a holiday would be deemed “essential”, so you would probably not be insured if you went ahead.

Some airlines are cancelling flights and offering refunds or alternatives to those affected. If you have a flight booked, contact your airline to see what their policy is. Given the government’s advice, you should be able to cancel or change your itinerary.

What if my airline cancels flights to areas not included in any official ‘no essential travel’ advice?

Airlines are cancelling flights because of a huge drop in demand and an increase in the number of people not showing up for flights they have booked.

The airlines should offer refunds and alternatives if they cancel your flight, and some are allowing future bookings to be amended and/or transferred at no cost.

If you have booked accommodation or other services at your destination which you won’t be able to use because you cannot fly, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance. You’ll need to check with your insurer.

If possible, you should first see if you can cancel with the accommodation or service provider and obtain a full refund or move the booking to a later date.

What should I do if I’ve booked a trip to one of the named destinations affected by COVID-19 later in 2020?

Your first port of call should be your travel agent or tour operator. Given the government’s advice on travelling to certain destinations, you should be offered a refund or provided with alternative arrangements.

If you make alternative plans, you should be able to transfer your travel insurance to cover the new trip. But discuss this with your travel insurer before you set off.

If you no longer need insurance because you are not travelling, you may be able to obtain a refund of some or all of your premium.

If you’ve made your own travel and accommodation arrangements for a trip to one of the named destinations, you’ll need to contact the airline and hotel to discuss refunds or alternatives.

If you are obliged to cancel your trip because of government advice or medical advice, you may be able to claim any non-refundable costs. Your insurer will provide details.

What should I do if I’ve booked a connecting flight to one of the destinations affected by COVID-19 and listed by the FCO?

You may find that your airline has suspended flights, in which case you should be offered alternative arrangements to get you to your destination.

If the flight is going ahead, be mindful of the government’s advice about non-essential travel to the destinations above. If you choose to travel, you are likely to invalidate your travel insurance.

If you have booked a holiday that requires a connecting flight through a listed destination, contact your tour operator or travel agent for advice and information about a refund.

I’m not travelling to a listed destination, but I still don’t want to travel abroad because of the coronavirus. Can I claim for cancelling my trip?

Almost certainly not. Travel insurers would refer to this as ‘disinclination’ to travel, which is not seen as a valid reason to claim.

If you dig deep into your policy documents, you may even find an explicit exclusion saying that fear of catching a disease is not sufficient to trigger a pay-out.

I’m already on holiday (not in China), but I want to come home. Can I cut my trip short any claim back any additional costs I incur?

Again, you’d be extremely unlikely to make a successful claim if you curtail your trip unless there is a specific cause as listed in your policy documents. Simply wanting to come home – while an understandable instinct – would not count as an insured event.

If the government amends its advice against travel to include the country you are in, you may be able to claim for the cost of repatriation. But you’d need to check with your insurer. If the government organises the repatriation of UK citizens, you’d need to come home that way.

I want to travel to a country that has already seen a sudden increase in coronavirus cases, will I be covered?

If you’re travelling somewhere that has seen an increase in coronavirus cases, but the FCO hasn’t issued a warning against travelling, it’s unlikely your travel insurance policy will cover you for cancellation of your holiday.

However, you should be covered if the coronavirus outbreak leads to disruption while you’re on your trip.

Will I be covered if I get coronavirus or I am put into quarantine?

If you’re diagnosed with coronavirus while you’re travelling, you will need to seek medical treatment before returning to the UK. If you fall ill, tell your insurer immediately and they will advise you of your options.

As far as travel insurance is concerned, your situation will depend on where you are, what treatment you receive and your medical prognosis.

Insurers are responding differently to the situation as it develops, so you’ll need to ask them for advice and support.

If you fall ill in Europe, your European Health Insurance Card will entitle you to treatment on the same terms as a local citizen (this will remain the case at least until the end of the Brexit transition period, which runs until 31 December 2020).

If you are further afield, your travel insurance should meet any medical expenses you incur, provided you did not ignore government travel advice. You may also be able to claim for additional expenses incurred because of your prolonged stay overseas, such as bed and board for other members of your party.

If you are placed into quarantine abroad, you may also be able to claim for out-of-pocket expenses, but as ever, you’ll need to check with your insurer.

Information in this article is correct as of 17 March 2020.

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