If you’re dreaming of escaping the British winter to that long-awaited holiday in the sun or on the slopes, make sure you don’t end up out of pocket if Covid strikes as you’re about to leave! The right travel insurance for the pandemic should provide comprehensive cancellation cover to give you the peace of mind to book your overseas holiday.
After two years of cancelled overseas holidays, we had high hopes for a pre-Christmas ski trip to Switzerland. With the ever-changing travel restrictions in early December and growing wave of Omicron, choosing the right travel insurance was critical to ensure we weren’t financially exposed if we had to cancel our trip.
Although trawling through the terms and conditions of insurance policies seems about as interesting as completing your tax return (unless you’re Donald Trump), it’s worth taking the time to find a policy with good cancellation cover.
What should you look for in a travel insurance policy?
Cancellation due to Covid infection
Our first step was to find a policy that covered cancellation if one of us tested positive for Covid before we left the UK. This was straightforward as nearly all policies covered cancellation in the event of pre-departure Covid infection.
Cancellation due to compulsory isolation
Again, we had a good choice of policies as most, though not all, insurers provide cancellation cover if you don’t have Covid but you, or a member of your family, is required to isolate by NHS Test and Trace and therefore unable to travel. Based on a price-comparison website search, around two thirds of policies covered compulsory self-isolation.
Cancellation due to overseas government restrictions
Due to the lack of visibility of travel restrictions in Europe, this was an important factor in choosing our insurance. Most policies do not cover cancellation costs in the event of a change in restrictions in the destination country (nor in the UK); none of the 67 policies featured on a price-comparison website search provided this cover.
However, there were a few insurers offering cover if quarantine restrictions were imposed in the destination country, including Churchill and Direct Line and, for their account holders, HSBC (Select and Cover), Barclays (Travel Pack) and Nationwide (FlexPlus). As a Barclays’ current account holder, the Travel Pack seemed a reasonably priced add-on at £12.50 per month for annual travel insurance (for our family of four) plus RAC Breakdown Cover, with a minimum term of 6 months.
Switzerland announced at the end of November that UK travellers had to quarantine for 10 days on arrival. In the case of our Barclays travel insurance, cancellation would have been covered as the quarantine restrictions were “new” i.e. in place on the later of the date we booked the holiday or the date on which we purchased the insurance. Fortuitously, the Swiss government removed the quarantine requirement a week later so our holiday was back on.
Other exclusions to watch out for
Many insurers have now made full Covid vaccination a pre-condition for cover; if you haven’t had a full course of vaccinations and have to cancel your trip because you contract Covid or are required to self-isolate before departure, you are unlikely to be able to claim. There is also an exclusion if you have Covid symptoms when you take out the cover.
Similarly, very few policies offer cancellation cover if the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to a country, even if this changes after you booked your trip.
Claiming for a cancelled holiday
We’d booked our hotel and accommodation separately, rather than as a package, but had a refund option up to a week before. We decided to commit to going and duly ordered our three sets of Covid travel tests, but our excitement was short-lived as the dreaded second line appeared on my son’s lateral flow test 5 days before we were due to leave. The long-awaited gluhwein on the slopes was grudgingly swapped for the less enjoyable task of claiming our costs through our insurance policy.
It’s worth noting that there’s a grey area in terms of claiming costs for a cancelled holiday, as our policy with Barclays only covers non-refundable costs (although these could include Covid travel tests, train tickets, ski passes etc). In the first instance, the onus is on us to try to recoup as many of our costs as possible, such as accepting a voucher for our flights.
If the travel or accommodation provider offers “suitable alternative arrangements” i.e. to reschedule the booking, this is also not claimable under our cancellation cover. The insurer may ask for evidence that you have tried, and been unsuccessful, in obtaining refunds from the various travel providers. Our claim is still being processed so I can’t comment on how straightforward the process will be, but fingers crossed that, like many others, we will eventually succeed in getting away!