If you were planning a relaxing gondola ride around the canals of Venice or a luxury cruise in the next few months, it is safe to say that your dream holiday is looking a lot less idylic now.
With the coronavirus on the brink of escalating into a full-blown pandemic, many people are probably anxious to avoid bustling city centres, busy airports, packed train stations and crowded cruise ships.
Even if you consider the risk to yourself is low and decide to go ahead with your holiday anyway, your trip could be cancelled or severely curtailed now that the raging infection has swept into about 50 countries.
Face of fear: A tourist in Venice wears a protective mask as well as the usual covering for the carnival which had to be cut short because of the coronavirus threat
Wherever you want to go your plans could be wrecked, whether it is a sporting event being postponed, such as the Six Nations rugby match in Dublin between Ireland and Italy, or attractions being closed, such as museums, theatres and churches in Milan.
Either way, you need to ensure your travel insurance will cover you if you do not want to travel or you are scheduled to go somewhere where coronavirus has taken grip – and do not allow yourself to be short-changed.
Remember, companies have a legal duty of care to their customers. So demand hard cash if your trip is cancelled or disrupted.
Here is some crucial advice to help you protect your money, and not just your health.
I’m supposed to be travelling overseas in the near future. Am I covered if I cancel?
First check the Government website for advice on whether your chosen destination is one that you really should stay away from. If you find there are no restrictions in place and you do not already have travel insurance, you will be covered if you buy some now – even if the travel guidelines covering your destination are subsequently changed.
However, if you insist on travelling to a country or region against Government advice – areas such as Hubei Province in China or certain villages in Northern Italy that are now in lockdown – then you risk invalidating your travel insurance. But it depends on the individual provider, so you might still have a chance to claim money back in some circumstances.
If you insist on travelling to a country or region against Government advice – areas such as Hubei Province in China or certain villages in Northern Italy that are now in lockdown – then you risk invalidating your travel insurance
Some travel policies include cancellation if the Foreign Office advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to the destination, while a few will cover for cancellation due to any cause beyond your reasonable control or for ‘travel disruption’.
This is usually an add-on to a basic policy which would cover you if Foreign Office advice changed while you were travelling.
There must be no travel restrictions in place at the time the policy was purchased.
Contact your tour operator or airline to reschedule or seek a refund for your trip. Airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have suspended flights to mainland China and passengers are entitled to a full refund.
Virgin advises contacting your travel agent to discuss rebooking and refund options if you booked through them, or send a text message to Virgin’s customer care team if you booked directly, on 07481 339184.
British Airways says you can refund your ticket online using its ‘Manage My Booking’ system, or call 0800 727 800. The airline promises: ‘We’ll do everything we can to help customers,’ so take them at their word.
I don’t want to travel now. Can I cancel my cruise, flight or package holiday even if it’s not in a coronavirus affected area?
The majority of travel insurance policies provide cancellation cover – but be warned, this is only for a list of limited reasons.
They include death, injury or illness of you, a travelling companion or a relative not travelling with you. But while most will cover you if you are called for jury service or made redundant, for example, the cover does not include stopping a trip due to the fear of an epidemic or pandemic. Bizarrely, this is dismissed as a ‘disinclination to travel’.
The only exception would be those with underlying health problems who have a letter from their doctor confirming they are advised not to travel to an area due to their condition.
The Guinness Six Nations match between Ireland and Italy, scheduled for March 7 in Dublin, has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak
I’m worried about my upcoming cruise holiday. What are my options?
Many cruise ship operators are amending their itineraries to avoid coronavirus affected areas or cancelling some routes altogether. They are also refusing to take passengers on board from affected areas and are stepping up deep-cleaning. Contact your cruise company to see how your holiday will be affected. Many are offering full refunds or cruise credits for cancellations and changes close to the departure date.
I was going to the Six Nations rugby match in Dublin. How does its postponement affect my flight plans?
Contact the airline to see if you can get a refund or reschedule the flight – and check to see if you are covered for any costs through your travel insurance provider. But if there is no Foreign Office advice against travel, the airline might refuse a refund – or could charge you for the rescheduling of flights.
If I’m quarantined on holiday, am I covered for any missed excursions already booked?
Some travel insurance providers, but not all, will provide you with cover for any pre-booked and paid-for missed excursions, up to a pre-determined limit on the policy.
Can I claim on my travel insurance if my holiday is cut short?
If you are quarantined on holiday, you generally cannot claim for curtailment as even though your trip may be ruined, technically you have not cut it short. But there is some small comfort. On a small number of policies, a daily benefit might be payable if you are admitted to hospital or confined to your holiday accommodation on medical advice.
Always check your insurance policy wording for the exact level of cover. Unsurprisingly, the more expensive the insurance, the more cover you are likely to have.
The majority of travel insurance policies provide cancellation cover – but be warned, this is only for a list of limited reasons
I’m quarantined in my hotel and can’t go home when I was supposed to. Am I still insured?
Contact your travel insurance provider and tell them about your situation. Some insurers will extend the cover free of charge while others might charge an additional premium depending on the length of the extension.
If I am quarantined on holiday and then again for another 14 days on my return, can I claim for loss of earnings?
Unfortunately not. This is known as ‘consequential loss’ and there is no cover for this under a travel insurance policy. Government advice is that employers should treat cases of self-isolation as sick leave, so you should be paid as usual and then get statutory sick pay if you go over the company’s sick leave limit.
What happens if I’m travelling through an area I think is risky, such as Italy, even if I’m not staying there?
If you are concerned about passing through an area – flying to Rome, for example, to board a cruise ship in Civitavecchia – you have no right to a refund or replacement flight unless you have bought a flexible ticket which allows changes or cancellation.
Some airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic, are offering customers the chance to reroute flights if they are concerned.
What if I’m supposed to be flying via a restricted area and my flight is cancelled?
If, for example, you have a flight booked from Heathrow to Sydney, changing planes at Shanghai and the flight from Heathrow is cancelled, the airline is obliged to get you to Sydney via another route or provide a refund.
If you have booked two separate flights to make the same journey and the first leg is cancelled, then the airline has no responsibility for the onward journey so you will get a refund for the first flight but will miss the second and not be entitled to a refund.
What steps do I need to take right now?
If you did not buy travel insurance when you booked, then buy some right now, checking the level of cover provided. It will not cover you for travel restrictions already in place. But it could protect you against any new restrictions.
Ask about adding ‘travel disruption’ cover. If you already have insurance, then check your travel insurer’s website to see if they have provided any key details about coronavirus – or contact them directly. Also, see if you can add ‘travel disruption’ cover.
It is worth remembering that you should also contact your travel agent, tour operator, airline, holiday accommodation provider and anyone else involved in the chain to see what costs (if any) you can recover.
Columbus Direct’s Stuart Lloyd says many companies, especially where the holiday is sold under an ATOL Licence, have a duty of care to the customer – refunding costs or rescheduling or rerouting trips.
If holidaymakers decide to go ahead with their trips, as long as these are to areas the Foreign Office has not advised against travelling to, any medical costs will be covered and assistance provided if they are then diagnosed with the virus while abroad.
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