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What does travel insurance really cover?

Find out what you are covered for with your travel insurance, and how the restrictions around COVID-19 might affect your travel plans.

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What does travel insurance really cover?What does travel insurance really cover?

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For many people, the promise of a summer holiday abroad after lockdown is a tempting prospect. A number of airlines have publicly said that they will start operating flights this summer. However, Spain's tourism minister has said that British coronavirus figures "still have to improve" before Spain could receive tourists from the UK. Many other countries have closed their borders and remain closed to outside visitors.

So if you book a holiday and have to cancel, or if you already have a trip planned for later in the year, which hasn't yet been cancelled, what will your travel insurance cover if you are unable to travel?

If you have a pre-existing condition, you can still get a quote. These conditions could include cancer, stroke, serious heart, respiratory and terminal conditions.

Some insurers might not cover you if you already have a serious medical condition, or if you have a number of conditions. Others might only offer insurance at a much higher price. If you're unable to find suitable cover, the Money and Pension Service (MaPS) has also set up a directory of insurers willing to cover customers with pre-existing medical conditions.

You can contact the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) or you can telephone 0800 138 7777.

What is the government position on COVID-19?

The UK government is still advising people not to travel outside the UK. In its COVID-19 Exceptional Travel Advisory Notice, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently advises British nationals against all but essential international travel.

Will my passport be valid for me to travel this summer?

As travel restrictions start coming to an end, it's advisable to check your passports before travelling and booking summer holidays this year.

The government is advising it can take longer than the usual three to six weeks to process passport applications. It also states that you shouldn't apply unless you require one for compassionate reasons, such as a death in the family or government business.

Even with the travel ban lifted, receiving essential travel documents can delay the process for booking a holiday this summer. So it is advised not to book a new holiday until you have received a new passport, if your current one has expired or is due to expire.

It's also important to remember that your new passport will not have the same as your old one.

This advice as of June 2020 is being kept under constant review.

What are the new rules on arriving in Britain?

The government has also introduced new rules to stop the spread of coronavirus from abroad by proposing to impose a quarantine rule for anyone arriving in the UK, including British people.

Anyone arriving from outside the UK will have to self-isolate for a fortnight. This will affect inbound tourism, but will also make it difficult for anyone to return to work unless they are able to work fully from home.

The home secretary Priti Patel has said that the government is looking at “international travel corridors” to low infection countries in the future, although it is not clear at the moment how this would work. Agreements would have to be with other countries who are willing to receive Brits.

Which countries could I travel to if restrictions are lifted?

At present, France, the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have closed their borders and have banned arrivals from overseas.

A number of European countries including Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy are likely to allow Brits to come this summer, as will the United Arab Emirates. As lockdown eases across the world, more governments may decide to allow international travel again.

However, there are likely to be longer queues and enforced social distancing and travel will be very different from what we were used to.

What happens if I suffer travel disruption or holiday cancellations?

With such an uncertain picture, it's not clear whether people will be able to travel abroad this summer, and therefore may be considering holiday cancellation insurance to cover cancelled flights, closed hotels, and travel disruption due to COVID-19.

If I have to cancel my flight, can I get my money back?

Legally airlines have a duty to refund your cash if they cancel your flight. As a result of millions of flights being cancelled because of the coronavirus.

There have been reports of airlines refusing to give refunds or telling customers they can rebook flights for later in the year or receive travel vouchers instead.

For many people this isn't acceptable, as they just want their money back. You are legally entitled to compensation, but it can be a struggle to get through to many airline help desks.

What does travel insurance cover and how has COVID-19 affected travel insurance?

If you're thinking of booking a holiday abroad this summer, you want to know that you have cover if you need to cancel because of lockdown.

People may be wondering if you can get your money back if you cancel a holiday, and if travel insurance covers flight cancellation. There's also the question of the decision to cancel a holiday even if your airline or travel company is prepared to take you – some people with existing bookings do not feel comfortable travelling abroad at this time.

What are your holiday cancellation rights and what can you claim under travel insurance flight cancellation?

If you're planning to travel later in the year, your travel insurance should still cover you if your trip is cancelled at a later date. However, it will only cover you if you bought insurance before the government banned foreign travel. Since then, most insurers have excluded cover against COVID-19 disruption from their policies.

This doesn’t mean that travel insurance is worthless – you would still need cover for lost, damaged or stolen items while you are away, and health cover if you get sick – but you might not be covered for any claims that involve the coronavirus.

What if flights resume but I don’t want to travel?

If the government were to lift restrictions and airlines started operating to countries where the borders were open, you might be in a different situation.

Before the lockdown, if you cancelled your flight because you were disinclined to travel, you wouldn't be covered by insurance. If in the future flights are operating, but you don't want to put yourself at risk, you may not receive compensation for cancelled flights or packages.

However, it's difficult to know what travel insurance will cover until the FCO travel advice changes.

While UK government advice should make it easier for you to get your money back from a trip that has not yet been cancelled, some travel companies may initially suggest you rebook for a later date, rather than offer you an immediate refund.

What do I need for travel insurance cover if I fly this summer?

When you're thinking about what can travel insurance cover and what travel insurance to get, it does depend when and where you are travelling. At the moment, your travel insurance policy may not cover you if you decide to travel this summer, because the government advice to stay within the UK is still very clear.

Even if you can buy travel insurance, it's unlikely to include compensation for delayed or cancelled flights due to COVID-19, although it should cover other reasons for cancellation, such as the aircraft unable to fly because of weather, mechanical or staffing problems.

How does travel insurance work under normal circumstances?

In the first instance holidaymakers who experience delays, cancellations and costs as a result of unforeseen events including snow, strikes and volcanic ash clouds will need to contact the airline provider.

They will typically offer alternative flights and, where cancellations have occurred, alternative dates for the trip.

Travel insurance policies can also cover you for medical assistance, loss or damage.

How does travel insurance work around compensation for delay and cancellation?

If your flight is delayed, due to specified events such as strikes, adverse weather and mechanical defects some insurers will pay compensation, although individual claims are relatively small.

Policies usually offer payouts for travel delays of typically only around £25 for every 12-hour delay, up to a maximum of around £250 to £300.

Some policies will pay out if delay forces you to cancel your trip following a delayed flight - check the policy print to see what cover you have.

What compensation can I expect for accommodation costs under my travel insurance?

If a passenger has a flight cancelled and is refunded from the airline, but still has accommodation that they can't cancel or use, these claims can be considered under travel delay leading to trip abandonment.

But you will need to provide written official evidence to support any claims where it is reasonable to request such evidence, so make sure to keep receipts.

Of course, if your airline has offered to pay for accommodation the travel insurer will not do so too. If it has not, you may be able to make a claim - again it depends on your insurer.

Insurers claim it's the duty of airlines to pay for bed and board for stranded passengers. Unfortunately in most cases these people will not be able to claim any shortfall from their travel insurer.

Are there any exclusions in the small print of travel insurance?

Generally, travel insurance covers a wide range of risks, including medical treatment costs, loss of possessions, delay and curtailment. However, beware of the fine print as insurers will expect you to take reasonable care - so for example, if you leave possessions unattended, then they may not be covered if they are lost or stolen.

Also, beware of drinking heavily holiday. If you are drunk - which is defined as anything over the UK legal limit - your claim will not be covered if, say, you were robbed or hurt.

How can I make a complaint about my travel insurance claim?

Finally, if you have exhausted your insurance company's complaints process and still think you have been treated unfairly, you could take your case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

It will consider claims on a case-by-case basis because policies are all worded differently. The FOS will look at issues including the wordings of individual policies, and a person's circumstances when they took out the policy.

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