Britons looking forward to trips abroad in weeks and months ahead are nervously watching what happens with coronavirus.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to just two places, Hubaei province, in China, and the city of Daegu, in South Korea, and also against all but essential travel to mainland China, South Korea’s Cheongdo and ten small towns in Italy’s Lombardy region and one in the Veneto.
That leaves a lot of other places in the world that people have not been told to travel to, but are still worried about doing so or booking trips there in the future.
But what are your rights if you cannot travel, or do not want to, and what will travel insurance cover? We take a look.
The coronavirus has spread across the world and has caused travel disruption for thousands
People have been told to do what they can to stop the spread of coronavirus, but there has not been a ban on holidays and trips to countries with the virus.
Some individuals have complained that even though they personally have been advised not to travel for health reasons, as flights have not been cancelled they are unable to get their money back from their airline.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘People are understandably concerned about how their travel plans will be impacted by coronavirus, and a lack of clear and timely information has left many travellers confused about their options.
‘With thousands of holidaymakers already worrying about whether to cancel upcoming holidays, the Government must ensure it is reacting quickly to developments in the spread of the virus to avoid any further confusion for travellers.’
Those who have thought ahead and have bought travel insurance might believe that this covers them for all sorts of incidents, but in a unique situation like this will they be able to reclaim money?
This is Money, with the help of travel insurance experts, delves into travellers’ most common questions and whether you can expect to get your money back if you cancel a trip to an overseas country.
Will my travel insurance cover me if I want to cancel my trip due to the coronavirus?
Travel insurance will likely only step in when the country you are going to has been named by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) as somewhere you should not travel to at all, or where you should only travel if it is essential – and you can argue that holidays are not essential.
Travel insurance may cover non-refundable cancellation costs, in other specific circumstances. These may include medical advice against you or a member of your group from travelling.
It is important to check your travel insurance policy for the scope of cover.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you may be able to cancel and claim on your travel insurance based on advice from your doctor. Contact your insurer to discuss this.
Brian Brown, of Defaqto, said: ‘In these circumstances your outcome will depend on your holiday plans – if you’ve booked through and ABTA or ATOL member, they will either attempt to find you an alternative holiday, or give you a refund.
‘If you’ve made your own arrangements, it will be down to your travel insurer, or yourself to remedy the situation.’
What if I don’t want to go?
If you’re simply worried about a trip but government advice is that it is still fine to travel, you will lose your money, even if you have travel insurance.
This is because insurance will only cover you if a flight has been cancelled or the FCO has made a pronouncement about a country.
You will then have no grounds on which to cancel your travel plans, so no insurer will cover you for cancellation.
The phrase used in policies is ‘disinclination to travel’ which is not covered.
However, travellers are urged to check with their individual insurers just in case.
Passengers want to know whether they will be able to claim back on their travel insurance
What if I don’t have travel insurance?
If there are travel restrictions or other coronavirus-related restrictions to a destination already, then it is likely to be too late.
With most policies a claim will not be valid if you purchase travel insurance after travel to a destination has been advised against.
The state-of-play can be fluid in a fast-moving situation like this, so it’s always worth checking with your travel insurance provider and the airline you are flying with for their latest advice.
What about buying insurance now for trips to places that are not banned yet?
Buying insurance now for places that are not yet banned, for example, France and Poland, should still cover you should it become banned in the future.
It is recommended to buy travel insurance for any trip you are planning to take in the future, in case of any cancellations or travel bans.
Again, check with your insurer to find out the full details of cover.
Where do I stand when it comes to flights/hotels?
Customers are advised to contact their airlines and accommodation directly in the first instance, if travel is advised against. They should give you money back, but if you cannot get that you may have to claim on travel insurance.
If you have to cancel your bookings due to health advice, you may potentially get your money returned but it will, again, depend on your provider.
Patrick Ikhena, head of travel at Compare the Market, said: ‘If the FCO is advising against all but essential travel to a particular region you will likely be covered by any disruption caused to your holiday plans – providing your trip and insurance policy was purchased before the outbreak.’
Whether you can claim on your insurance when cancelling depends on the circumstances
If the Government advice is to return home, will my travel insurer cover any additional costs?
Travel insurance policies may cover some out-of-pocket losses, and also help you to leave the area if a warning to return back to the UK comes into effect while you are there, if you are unable to get assistance from any other source.
Does it depend when you booked?
Yes, it does depend on when a customer booked their trip, according to the Post Office Travel Insurance.
It said that trips booked prior to the outbreak of coronavirus are more likely to have a successful claim. Claims on trips booked after the risk of coronavirus was announced are less likely to be successful.
Does your age factor?
With regards to the coronavirus, your insurance cover should not depend on your age.
Can your workplace stop you from going on holiday?
It is up to individual workplaces to decide whether it can stop you from going on holiday or not. You would need to negotiate with your work about being recompensed.
If I ignore government advice and catch the virus, will I be covered?
If you travel against government advice to not travel then you are likely to invalidate your travel insurance. If unsure, then speak to your travel insurer.
Will I be covered if I change destination?
If you make alternative travel plans, then you may be able to transfer your travel insurance to cover your new destination, according to the ABI.
Therefore, if you have booked to travel to a potentially unsafe area, it could still be worth re-routing your plans, rather than cancelling them completely.
How has this impacted the insurance industry?
Anthony Baker, President of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers and Partner at Plexus Lawm said: ‘So far, the impact to the insurance industry has been minimal as no claims of this sort have been made.
‘The potential risk facing insurers comes from package holidays where they might see a flood of claims from the same resort if an outbreak happens and it was found the tour operator failed to take the necessary steps.’
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