Travel insurance confusion could leave holidaymakers out of pocket, warns Which?

Holidaymakers risk losing out due to confusion over the extent to which coronavirus-related disruption is included in travel insurance policies, Which? is warning.

Its research suggests many travel insurance customers are being left with a false impression about their level of protection if the pandemic affected their holiday plans.

Which? believes some of this is down to poor communication by travel insurance providers and the use of blanket terms such as “Covid cover” or “enhanced Covid cover” on insurers’ websites.

A Which? survey of more than 2,800 travel insurance customers between February and March found three in 10 (29%) have committed to bookings or arrangements for international trips this year.

More than one in 10 (12%) said while they have not booked or arranged travel, they do have specific plans.

Which? asked people if they believe their policies will cover them in certain scenarios, such as in the event of further lockdowns or if they have to self-isolate or test positive for coronavirus.

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Half (50%) said they believe they are covered should the Government’s travel advice change after a trip is booked, and nearly half (47%) think their policy covers them in the event that local or national lockdowns prevent them from travelling.

Almost half (46%) believe their policy covers them if their airline or holiday company postpones their travel, but does not offer a cash refund.

But when Which? analysed 73 travel insurance providers between October and November 2020, it found cover for those three such eventualities – particularly for when Government travel advice changes – was very rare, with large discrepancies between what policies included.

The consumer champion believes little has changed in recent months.

Since March 2020, many insurers have considered the pandemic a “known event”, and excluded Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cancellation cover from new policies and for newly booked trips.

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Which? found customers with policies bought after March 2020 are more likely to believe they are covered for this type of disruption than ones that had bought policies before then.

Two-thirds (65%) who had bought travel insurance less than six months prior to participating in the survey believe they would be covered if FCDO advice changes and advises against travel after they have booked their trip, whereas less than half (48%) of those who bought policies over a year ago did.

Which? said it believes providers should present what is included and excluded in their Covid policies clearly on their websites, and not bury exclusions in their “FAQs”.

Which? is also urging the Department for Transport to work closely with the Treasury, sector regulators and industry to ensure all travellers adequately understand their insurance cover and can access cover that protects them against FCDO advice related to the pandemic.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “The ongoing threat of Covid-related disruption means that getting the right travel insurance for your holiday is more important than ever.

“Without closer scrutiny from Government and regulators of how clearly insurers present their policies, there is a very real chance that many travellers will be left out of pocket yet again this summer.”

A spokesman for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said: “With overseas travel restrictions easing, it is important for travellers to take out travel insurance when booking their holiday, primarily to cover potentially very expensive overseas emergency medical treatment bills which can easily run into tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“We urge people to read their policy to understand the scope of cover, as policies bought after the pandemic was declared are unlikely to cover cancellation due to Covid as it is a known risk, and travel insurance is designed and priced to cover unforeseen events.

“Travellers should always be aware of and follow Government advice, and the border requirements of the country they are visiting. And always follow FCDO advice, to avoid invalidating your travel insurance.”

People can check FCDO travel guidance at www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus.

Here are some travel insurance tips from Which?

Be aware of the variation between the amount of information insurers give on their websites about their core levels of cover, particularly in scenarios related to the pandemic.

Terms such as Covid cover or enhanced Covid cover mean different things for different insurers, so avoid making assumptions. Be cautious if information provided only lists the benefits of the policy, not exclusions.

Some protections will only apply to customers who insured their trip before the pandemic was declared last year.

Take time reading the policy document – in particular check the medical expenses, cancellation and the policy’s general conditions and exclusions. If there are protections that you want but you find the policy document confusing, contact the insurer directly to confirm before booking.

Consult the insurance product information document for information on key areas of cover and exclusions, although it will not tell you everything about the policy.

Look for a flexible booking policy covering countries changing from “green” to “amber” or “red” between booking and travel.