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Five issues that you must learn about journey insurance coverage within the age of coronavirus

In normal times — and by this we mean before March 2020 — the UK government would apply the warning ‘all but essential travel’ only to destinations that were obviously unsafe, often places beleaguered by civil unrest, political conflicts or war. But in these strangest of times, this list has recently come to include pretty much the entire globe. An edict from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO, formerly the FCO) against non-essential travel once seemed like an all-powerful veto, but in fact you can visit a country to which it advises against travel. The issue is, you may well invalidate your travel insurance policy if you do so.

1. Read the small print

Back in March, faced with the realities of lockdown, many insurers stopped selling travel insurance policies entirely. Since then, many have returned to the market — but the small print in most conventional travel insurance policies still rules out cover for countries vetoed for travel by the FCDO. A handful of companies, however, are now willing to offer cover or extensions to policies at an extra cost. These include Battleface, Campbell Irvine, Insurefor, and Stay Sure. Their offerings vary. Some will cover you if FCDO advice changes while you’re away, others if it changes before you travel — and for now, most only include coverage for Europe.    

2. Be aware of closed borders

It’s worth noting that while the FCDO may list some places as safe for travel, certain destinations may have closed borders to arrivals from countries where Covid-19 infection rates are high. It’s less likely that your insurer will cover you if your destination country restricts its borders, although Nationwide is currently doing so, offering some of the broadest coronavirus insurance coverage, according to research by Which?. The consumer watchdog lists 25 insurers now offering fairly comprehensive post-lockdown travel insurance. However, like many insurers, Nationwide coverage isn’t available as a single- trip policy but as a conditional purchase — in this case, for account holders at the building society.

3. Find out how tour operators are taking responsibility

Most package holiday providers, notably those who are bonded (members of ABTA or ABTOT, for example) are legally responsible for your safety. As such, they won’t take you to a destination to which the FCDO advises against travel. If you’ve already booked, part of the legal requirement is that they have to refund you for a cancellation, and most operators now have flexible cancellation and rebooking policies.

Read our guide to refunds, rebooking and your rights

However, as we’ve seen in recent months, you may need to chase up refunds for weeks if not months, and vouchers for rebooking may be, in practice, hard to utilise. When considering which company to book with, it’s a good idea to look at how operators responded to mass cancellations and rebookings earlier this year.

Are your refunded flight vouchers still valid for travel?

If FCDO guidance change while you’re away, your tour operator is legally responsible for getting you home. Chris Logan, MD of Crystal Ski Holidays, part of the TUI Group, which uses TUI Airways, says it swiftly brought 10,000 people home after the last ski season abruptly ended, and is ready to do so again this season.

4. Check general cover for Covid-19

Some companies will have ‘general exclusion’ against any claims stemming from coronavirus, and others will pay up for medical expenses if you catch the virus abroad but nothing else, such as costs due to travel disruption, or repatriation.

A growing number of insurers, however, now cover general coronavirus-related expenses, from travel disruption due to the pandemic to related medical issues. But read the small print carefully — each insurer has its own exclusions. Many, for example, will cover you if you have to cancel because you’ve tested positive for coronavirus, but not if someone else in your household has it, or if you’re self-isolating but not infected.

5. Make sure you’re covered against airline failure

In these trying times, with many airlines streamlining their fleets, laying off staff or filing for bankruptcy, it’s also worth checking that your policy includes scheduled airline failure insurance (SAFI) to protect you in the event your airline ceases operations.

And, as ever, check a policy’s excess. Comprehensive Covid-era coverage is all very well, but you have to be able to afford the excess fee.

More info: gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Read more about travel in the age of coronavirus

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