Things have gotten a lot more complicated with travelling compared with how they used to be. The COVID-19 pandemic has put the brakes on people moving around in a way that is unprecedented in modern times.
If it isn’t official lockdown measures and border closures that are preventing people from travelling, it’s uncertainty, doubt and fear. There’s the obvious caution people have about moving around in general these days and not wanting to put themselves at increased risk of catching the virus.
On top of that, there are the added barriers put in the way by quarantine rules, which in some cases makes travel overseas unfeasible even if technically allowed. The UK government, for example, has recently imposed new rules requiring people travelling from 33 so-called ‘red zone’ countries, including British nationals returning to the country, to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel, at a cost of £1,750 a time.
What are the risks of booking ahead?
The whole COVID situation remains very fluid. No one can forecast where we’ll be in a few months’ time. Even with vaccination programmes being rolled out across the globe, you can’t guarantee booking a holiday now and not running into problems closer to the time.
It could be your trip gets cancelled because a new wave of COVID leads to more restrictions. It could be that you or a member of your family or party falls ill or has to self-isolate. It could be that your airline or travel agent goes under because of the financial strain created by the pandemic.
For all of these reasons, it is more important than ever that you take out travel insurance. Booking to travel anywhere carries a greater financial risk than it perhaps ever has done right now. Travel insurance is the only surefire way to guard against those risks.
Will any old travel policy cover me for COVID?
Just as the need for travel insurance has become greater than ever before, some providers are pulling back from offering policies – or at least policies that include cover for COVID-related claims. For those companies, too, the risks are just too high.
That means you can’t rely on running a search on a comparison website and simply picking out the cheapest travel policy available. If you want to be certain you won’t lose everything you’ve paid up if your trip gets cancelled, or that you’ll get financial protection for medical care and repatriation costs if you fall ill with COVID while away, you have to be sure you are getting a robust level of cover that explicitly includes COVID in the terms and conditions.
In short, the cheapest policies just won’t wash anymore.
What should I look for in a travel insurance policy?
Travel insurance is designed to provide financial protection for a range of unforeseen events that might affect you on a trip away somewhere – falling ill and having to pay for medical care, cancellations, lost luggage, theft of or damage to personal possessions and more.
In the context of the coronavirus, the two most important areas to prioritize are cancellation and medical cover.
Look for comprehensive cancellation cover
The rules and procedures over holiday cancellations linked to COVID-19 are at best muddled. For example, while the UK travel industry trade body ABTA explains that anyone purchasing a package holiday “should be entitled to a refund”, it also states that some firms are offering time-limited credit notes or re-booking options instead. There’s even less guarantee of getting your money back if you book flights and accommodation separately.
If you want the reassurance of a refund rather than having your money tied up in credit notes, you should look for a travel insurance policy with a comprehensive level of cancellation cover. By ‘comprehensive’, we mean a policy that clearly states it will pay out whatever the reasons for a cancellation – local restrictions in your intended destination, your own national government banning or advising against travel, or you having to cancel because someone catches COVID.
Read the small print carefully and pay attention to any exceptions listed. It is also worth noting that, if you do decide to travel to a country against the official advice of your home government, that is likely to invalidate any travel insurance you buy.
Make sure medical cover is COVID-specific
In the normal scheme of things, medical cover is the single most important reason for taking out a travel insurance policy. It is also the highest value component of the financial protection you receive. This is because, in most circumstances, foreign visitors to a country are not entitled to state-funded healthcare.
In other words, if you fall sick or have an accident in another country, you have to pay for medical care, at private rates. Depending on the nature of the ailment or the country you are in, this could run to tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Healthcare services are already overstretched in many countries trying to tackle COVID, so this has pushed costs for foreign travellers up even higher. For some travel insurance providers, those costs are too high. As already mentioned, travel insurance companies have to be aware of their pay-out risks, too. So many are deciding to exclude claims for COVID-19 from their medical schedule.
Again, the onus is on you to seek out the policies that do provide COVID cover, and read the small print carefully.
Where do I find COVID-secure travel insurance?
To keep prices affordable, most ‘mass market’ travel policies – i.e. those designed for ‘traditional’ short breaks and holidays – offer only a basic level of cover. For example, most will not pay out for any medical care linked to specific medical conditions, including COVID-19.
Search for providers that specialise in medical travel insurance. These companies cater for people with pre-existing medical conditions who are therefore not eligible for standard policies. Expertise in providing cover for specific medical conditions makes these specialist providers well placed to offer policies that cover the extra risks associated with COVID-19 without charging a fortune.
Another thing to be wary of is annual travel insurance that you may have as an extra incentive bundled in with a credit card or bank account. All too often, people don’t read the details of these policies and assume they are covered. The level of cover is likely to be very basic, and highly unlikely to include cancellations or medical expenses related to COVID.
In some cases, certain banks, such as Tesco Bank in the UK, are leaving the travel insurance market altogether. Click here to find out more about alternatives to Tesco Travel Insurance.