Coronavirus is now a pandemic, having taken hold the world over.
With the illness now impacting a majority of popular holiday destinations, more and more travellers are concerned about the implications for their easter, and summer, holidays.
For example, the Foreign Office is advising against travel to countries including Spain, Italy and the US. Many more countries are imposing measures, including quarantine of up to two weeks, on British arrivals.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has issued guidance on how UK holidaymakers can best cover themselves in the event their trip is affected by the coronavirus.
Below we run through some of the key questions and concerns, including whether you are due compensation and what the declaration of an official pandemic means for your insurance.
Does travel insurance cover coronavirus?
Broadly speaking, no, but the impact the virus might have on your trip, and the way your trip is planned may make a difference. “Travel insurance may cover non-refundable cancellation costs, in specific circumstances,” explains the ABI.
“These may include medical advice against you or a member of your group from travelling or government advice against travelling. Check your travel insurance policy for the scope of cover. Travel insurance is not designed to cover ‘disinclination to travel’ where the FCO advice has not changed to advise against travel.”
A number of insurers have specified that recently purchased policies may exclude travel disruption caused by coronavirus. LV last week said it would be halting the sale of policies to new customers.
What’s the point in travel insurance?
One might ask then, what is the use of cover? But the ABI’s point that insurance is not designed to cover ‘disclination to travel’ is key.
Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel’s consumer editor, says: “It’s important to realise that travel insurance is of limited use when it comes to covering the costs of cancelling a holiday. If you decide you don’t want to travel, you only have a right to a refund from a tour operator if the FCO has warned against ‘all but essential travel’ or ‘all travel’.”
“Insurance cover usually only kicks in if you – or your companion – become too ill to travel. The medical provisions of travel insurance are designed primarily to cover you if you incur costs because you fall ill while you are abroad. So if a doctor required you to go into quarantine, you would usually expect your insurance to pay any costs associated with that, and to pay for your flight home when you were cleared to leave – assuming you had missed your original return flight.”
The ABI says insurance should help you leave an area if a Foreign Office warning comes into effect while you are away.
What are best travel insurance policies for coronavirus?
There is no silver bullet for finding a policy to cover your holiday for every eventuality linked to coronavirus. However, there are steps you can take to ensure your insurance is as good as it can be. Firstly, purchase insurance as soon as you book so that there is not a period without cover where you are vulnerable to circumstances beyond your control.
Nick Trend has given his advice on how to find the best cover.
There is evidence that the cost of cover has increased as more and more purchase insurance, but the ABI has said that the market will always be competitive so it pays to shop around.
Should I check Foreign Office advice before travel?
Yes, the guidance of the Foreign Office determines the validity of your insurance. Foreign Office advice works in several ways: advice against “all but essential travel” or “all travel” to some or all of a country; or specific advice against certain towns or regions; or general advice without any kind of travel restriction.
It is also worth checking the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre.
If I ignore government advice against travel, will be travel insurance still cover me?
The ABI says: “If you travel against government advice then you are likely to invalidate your travel insurance. If unsure, then speak to your travel insurer.”
It also says that if you are unsure over what would be defined as “essential travel” to speak to your insurer. “A holiday to the area is unlikely to be considered as essential,” it adds.
You should be able to defer your travel insurance if you decided to delay a trip. In terms of travel arrangements, you would have to speak to your tour operator, airline or accommodation separately.
Will ATOL protect my trip?
No, the ABI says, ATOL is only related to the failure of the providers of package holidays and not for a major medical outbreak.
However, if your trip is organised through a tour operator (who are often part of the ATOL scheme), speak to them as to how your holiday might be affected. Many tour operators have announced they are offering special flexible bookings due to the fast-changing nature of events.
Abta, the UK travel association, says: “Tour operators can offer alternative holidays if they are able to. If these mean a significant change to the original arrangements, for example spending the whole or part of the holiday in a different country, you aren’t obliged to accept the alternative and will be entitled to a full refund of the package price.”
When am I not entitled to a full refund – can I claim compensation?
“If you have booked a package and are not due to travel imminently, tour operators will decide on an ongoing basis how far in advance they’ll begin offering alternative arrangements or providing refunds,” Abta says. “The Foreign & Commonwealth Office advice is in relation to imminent departures and it is too early to say that your holiday can’t go ahead as planned. Therefore, customers with future departure dates will be required to wait to find out whether the advice changes and their holiday can continue as planned. If you cancel early you may have to pay cancellation charges.”
Can I cancel my flight?
The same applies to flights, generally speaking. You will not be allowed to cancel your flight without penalty if you do not wish to travel.
However, the world’s airlines are beginning to reduce their schedules and therefore cancelling flights. If an airline cancels your flight you will be eligible for a refund or rebooking.
Given the unprecedented situation, airlines are also offering bespoke flexible booking conditions, allowing travellers to rebook services into the future even if their flight has not been cancelled.
What are my rights if my flight is cancelled?
If an airline does cancel your flight due to the coronavirus, you will be eligible to a refund or rebooking alternative.
I have an underlying health issue – will I be able to get insurance?
Neil Wright, founder of Cover For You, says: “The coronavirus situation is evolving very quickly so we are monitoring things closely. As it stands, everything remains the same with getting cover – including the criteria and premiums for elderly travellers and those with underlying health issues.”
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