Features

Coronavirus: will insurance cover your cancelled trip? 

24 Mar 2020 by Tom Otley
Coronavirus

By now you will already have checked your existing policy several times or be wondering whether the policy you are about to buy covers coronavirus (COVID-19).

For refunds on flights and hotels, and insurance claims, the situation is far from clear, and differs from one insurer to the next, from one policy to the next, and depends on when you bought the policy.

We will keep this information up-to-date – if you have questions – leave them in comments at the bottom and we will endeavour to answer them. Please note, we can’t help with individual inquiries for airlines, insurers etc… 

Your flight has been cancelled because of the outbreak

Airlines will give you a full refund and so you should contact them directly. They are overwhelmed at the moment, and there are significant delays in responding to queries, but you will get your money back. The chances are, however, that you have other costs, such as hotel bookings. If the flight originated from the EU, or was operated by an EU airline, then you might normally be entitled to compensation for other costs, too.

So much for the good news. The problem is that airlines regard coronavirus as falling under “extraordinary circumstances” – special situations that exempt them from any compensation for cancelled flights and associated costs as per EU regulation 261/2004. If the airline cancelled your flight 13 days or fewer before you were due to fly, then compensation of €250, €400 or €600 may be due depending on the flight duration, so it’s worth taking it up with the airline or perhaps using one of the companies who advertise online and who will quickly assess your case to see if it’s worth them pursuing.

I want to cancel my flight to a coronavirus risk area. Am I covered?

This depends both on the current advice from your government, the airline and the general conditions of carriage of your particular carrier. If the flight is to an area that the government considers unsafe, then it’s likely that the airline will cancel the flight, in which case you will get a refund.

Contrary to common sense, trying to cancel a flight to, say, Spain in May 2020 doesn’t make much sense at the moment. It is likely that the flight is still showing on the airline’s website, and while many airlines are waiving change fees, if you try and get a refund then the airline is likely to regard the flight as non-refundable, meaning you get back only Government Taxes. Closer to the time the airline will cancel the flight, and then you will be given a choice of actions, one of which will include a full refund.

If you still wish to cancel the flight, then, as stated, you are likely to get back only your taxes (assuming you didn’t book a flexible ticket). For the rest of the price of your ticket, you then need to look to your travel insurance.

Meanwhile, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) says of policies you have already taken out: “Check your travel insurance policy for the scope of cover. Travel insurance is not designed to cover ‘disinclination to travel’ where the FCO advice has not changed to advise against travel.”

What about my hotel?

Obviously, if you booked a fully flexible rate then you will get a refund, but terms and conditions vary from hotel chain to hotel chain, and also from country to country. In Germany, for instance, even nonrefundable stays at a hotel are worth cancelling since you will get back about 10 percent, which is the cost of servicing and cleaning the room (which now does not need to be done). For the rest of your stay, you need to look to your insurance.

Will my insurance cover my costs? 

There are likely to be two lots of costs – your journey to the country you no longer wish to visit, and your hotel costs. Insurance firm AXA’s website had the following in its frequently asked questions (FAQ) section as of mid-March 2020:

“In general, travel insurers compensate for cancellations only under certain circumstances:

  • The FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] advises against travel to the booked destination;
  • The insurance policy includes travel disruption cover*;
  • The holidaymaker has already contacted their airline or travel provider to change dates or arrange a refund.

These three conditions must be met for the policy to kick in.

It also added, however, that “In the case of novel coronavirus, we have decided to lift that condition for the next two months. Even if your AXA policy doesn’t include travel disruption cover, you can claim for cancellation if the FCO advises against travel to your precise destination. Our extension of cover is valid for trips due to depart on or before April 30.”

This means that if the advice is that it is still safe to travel to the country in question, but your reason for going has vanished – for example, the trade show or meeting you were attending has been cancelled – then it is unlikely your insurer will pay. This is confirmed by the following on the  AXA website:

“‘I no longer want to travel abroad because I am worried about the spread of the virus. May I cancel?’

“Only when the FCO advises against travelling to a country or region is cancellation cover in place.”

Buying insurance after your booking

If you have not got annual travel insurance, but are hoping to buy either annual insurance at a later date (but before the trip) or just buy single trip insurance, you will find it difficult.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, it was generally a bad idea, and the current situation has made it almost impossible.

Anyone trying to buy insurance, even to areas that have not been badly affected by the out break, are finding it difficult. As Axa says, “Travel insurance protects against unexpected events. If you buy a policy for a destination where an outbreak has been reported or regulatory advice is already in place, then coronavirus claims will not be considered”. Since that includes almost everywhere, you are unlikely to be covered for the effects of an outbreak.

While there aren’t many travellers who are happy with their insurers at the moment, it’s the ABI (Association of British Insurers) says that travel insurers expect to pay out at least £275 million to travellers due to the coronavirus. The vast majority of payouts will be for cancellations, and will be the highest cancellation pay out on record.

Specialist brokers may be able to help, or it might be worth looking at other insurance policies you may have, including those you have got with credit cards, to see if you had an annual insurance policy you were not, perhaps, aware of.

Meanwhile most insurers are being very careful about declaring what they will cover or not, though some have taken a more ‘generous’ view as to what is covered because many customers who have purchased year-long policies have been doing so for years and with luck will do so in the future. So, for instance, Allianz says “Claims due to known, foreseeable, or expected events, epidemics, or fear of travel are generally not covered, and coverage can vary by state.  However, until further notice, although not covered under most plans, we are currently accommodating claims for:

Under Emergency Medical Care and Emergency Medical Transportation Benefits: Emergency medical care and emergency medical transportation for a customer who becomes ill with COVID-19 while on their trip.

Under Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption Benefits: Trip cancellation and trip interruption if a customer becomes ill with COVID-19 either before or during their trip.

Under Trip Cancellation Benefit: Non-refundable, non-transferable trip cancellation expenses for customers who purchased their plan prior to January 22, 2020 for trip components in Mainland China, South Korea, or the Lombardy or Veneto regions of Italy and departing prior to April 1, 2020.

The above list is strictly applicable to COVID-19.  This is only available for customers whose plan includes the applicable benefit.  All other terms, conditions, and exclusions of the plan apply as normal.”

What happens if I am quarantined while away?

In general, you will not be covered, and so will be at the mercy of whatever hotel you find yourself in. It is our understanding that for those who have found themselves stuck in hotels such as those holiday makers in Tenerife, the hotels absorbed the extra costs of the accommodation, perhaps hoping to recoup it from the local administration or government. As far as insurance is concerned, as Allianz puts it: “[In general]… circumstances in which customers are quarantined abroad are not covered under our travel insurance policies.”

This isn’t always the case, however. Axa says “If you are confined to your hotel under doctor’s orders for at least 48 hours, we will pay for the room, up to the policy limit. And if you paid in advance for excursions or activities that you can’t do because of your quarantine, we will compensate for that, up to a certain amount.” Co-op travel insurance echoes this: “If you are going to incur additional accommodation and flight costs as a result of the quarantine, you must contact the 24-hour emergency assistance phone-line. If you are confined to your hotel throughout the trip, you will need to contact the Claims Department upon your return home for guidance on what you are entitled to claim.”

Note that if you then get ill, you may be covered for medical expenses, provided that you have not travelled against FCO advice.

You can understand an insurer would not want to issue a “blank cheque” in these circumstances, but it seems there will be cover, provided you didn’t travel against FCO advice.

What's the position with cancelling a non-refundable flight?

The position previous to coronavirus was – you don’t get the fare back, but you are entitled to receive back some of the taxes the airline collected on behalf of the government. It’s not very easy to do this, however. To take easyjet as an example, it told us:

“We do have a policy where customers can make a booking and if they wish to cancel and are within 24 hours of the booking being made, there is an  option to cancel on our website with a refund minus a cancellation fee of £33.00. Outside of this time customers must contact us directly via any of our channels ie: Twitter/Chat/CS or any Facebook account that is not within the UK as we can’t take private booking information from public accounts for security reasons.”

You can also request an insurance letter in order to help with claiming the remainder of the booking cost that the airline will not refund.

Note that this position has now changed. You can read about that in the following story

Coronavirus: Easyjet waives flight change fees for all new and existing bookings

Ryanair, meanwhile, says the following

“There is currently no change to advice for airlines. Our flights are operating as normal and all our terms and conditions apply. We will continue to monitor the situation and follow all public health instructions that are issued.”

Let us know your experience of claiming for cancelled trips as a result of coronavirus? Visit
businesstraveller.com/forum

Easyjet cancel booking

We will continue to update this piece to answer your questions.

What has your experience been of claiming for cancelled trips as a result of coronavirus?

Take part in our forum discussion.

Loading comments...

Search Flight

See a whole year of Reward Seat Availability on one page at SeatSpy.com

Business Traveller September / October 2020 edition
Business Traveller September / October 2020 edition
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below
Polls