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Buying travel insurance is no longer a question of picking the one with the cheapest premium and assuming it’ll be fine, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the best Covid cover.
At the very least you need a policy that will cover cancellation costs if you can’t travel due to coronavirus and any medical bills if you get sick while you’re abroad.
But there are lots of other things to consider, such as will your travel insurance pay if you’re told to self-isolate, if someone you’re due to visit catches coronavirus, or the Government says it’s not safe to travel?
Lots of travel insurance policies now say they include ‘Covid cover’, but there’s no single policy that covers all of the above.
Most policies will cover your medical bills if you get coronavirus abroad, many will cover your cancellation costs if you catch coronavirus and can’t travel, some will cover cancellation because you’re told to self-isolate – and a few will pick up cancellation costs if you can’t travel due to a national lockdown.
However, no policy you buy now will cover cancellation costs if the Government says it isn’t safe to travel, even though to do so would invalidate your insurance.
Important things to consider when buying Covid travel insurance
When you’re looking for the best policy, you should check if it includes cancellation for the following:
- if you or anyone on the booking catches Covid and can’t travel
- if you or anyone you’re travelling with is told to isolate by NHS Test & Trace
- if someone you’re due to stay with catches Covid or is told to self-isolate
- there’s a national lockdown
- the country you’re visiting closes its borders
- you’d have to quarantine in the country you’re visiting
- you’d have to quarantine on returning to the UK
- the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises against non-essential travel
Note that where cover is included for cancellation due to someone else in your party catching coronavirus or self-isolating, it might only apply if they’re named on the policy.
You also need to make sure the travel insurance policy will cover:
- medical bills and repatriation costs if you catch coronavirus overseas
- additional accommodation costs and air fares if you have to extend your stay due to Covid
- additional accommodation costs and air fares if you’re told to self-isolate overseas (such as if you have a positive Covid test before returning home)
Best Covid travel insurance policies
Nationwide is the only insurer that will cover cancellation due to a change in the FCDO advice, but only for policies bought before 1 January.
Only a handful of travel insurers provide cancellation cover in the event of a national lockdown: these include AA, AXA, Halifax and Puffin. The tour operator TUI also has an insurance policy that covers cancellation in the event of a lockdown.
Other policies that include a good level of Covid cover, including cancellation costs if you’re told to self-isolate, include Virgin Money, Allianz Assistance, Trailfinders and some of those from All Clear.
TravelBag has a comprehensive Covid travel insurance policy that covers an extended stay due to Covid, while Staysure’s policy will cover extra accommodation costs.
Other tips when buying travel insurance
As well as checking Covid cover, you should:
- buy insurance as soon as you book in case you need to cancel for any reason
- read the T&Cs – always boring but in this case essential since insurance policies contain so many exclusions
- check the excess – sometimes the cheapest policies have the highest excess (the amount of any claim you have to pay) which makes them false economy
- remember that if you have a pre-existing medical condition you might need a specialist insurance policy
- check if you’re covered for cancellation due to redundancy (some policies don’t cover redundancy if it’s due to Covid)
- make sure you can defer your policy if your trip is postponed due to Covid.
- check to see if you’re already insured elsewhere ie through your bank account or house insurance. Some travel companies such as Club Med, airlines including Virgin Atlantic and destinations, including the Canary Islands, offer limited Covid cover.
The crucial thing to remember when buying any travel insurance is that it will only cover the risks listed in the T&Cs – if something’s not on the list, then it’s not covered.
What if I’m travelling against Foreign Office advice?
The Foreign Office (FCDO) advises against travel to destinations the Government considers unsafe. When this happens, most standard travel insurance policies become void. If you’re already overseas when the FCDO issues an advisory you might still be covered for the rest of your trip, but if the FCDO advises UK citizens to leave a country, your insurer will expect you to return home asap.
If your trip is essential and the FCDO is only advising against non-essential travel (ie holidays) then your insurer might still cover you, but you’d need to check with them first.
Otherwise, if you want to travel against the FCDO advice you can buy specialist insurance from a company like Battleface. Its policy provides emergency medical cover but it doesn’t cover Covid-related medical bills for those aged over 59.
Are there alternatives to travel insurance?
You should never travel without travel insurance but there are also other steps you can take to protect your money.
Always pay with a credit card (preferably in the name of at least one person on the booking). That way, you get additional financial protection if something goes wrong with your holiday or it’s cancelled and your airline or tour operator won’t refund you.
If you book a package holiday with a reputable tour operator, rather than flights and accommodation separately, you’re less likely to lose money since it will almost certainly be cancelled and refunded if the FCDO advises against travel.