These insurers provide cover for holiday cancellations caused by COVID-19 - Gareth Shaw

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, considers a potential problem facing holidaymakers next year.

Library image of passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport, as people arriving into England from holidays in Spain have been told they must quarantine when they return home.

Dear Gareth,

I booked a holiday last year, and I’m not due to travel until July 2021. I had annual travel insurance at the time of booking, but when I came to renew it, my insurer wouldn’t do it on the same terms and I’ll have no cover for cancellation caused by coronavirus. I can understand why they would do this for new customers, but it doesn’t seem fair given that I’ve held the same policy for years. What are my options?

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Gareth says...

When the pandemic started to escalate, travel insurers scrabbled to amend their terms. Their argument was that insurance is designed to cover unknown risks, and coronavirus became a known risk – one that they weren’t willing to cover. In fact, dozens of travel insurers pulled out of the market altogether, refusing to sell their products so that they could focus on serving existing customers.

In your case, the insurer is perfectly entitled to change the terms. Annual travel insurance policies cover you for a 12-month period. When you come to renew, there is no guarantee that you will be buying a like-for-like policy at exactly the same price. So while you may have been covered for cancellation or travel disruption on your old policy, you won’t be if you decide to go ahead and renew.

So, where does that leave you? At Which?, we’ve been monitoring the travel insurance market to see which firms have been returning and whether any policies will cover you for coronavirus-related cancellations.

To be perfectly honest, you’re pretty short of options. While many insurers are still selling cover, they can be split into three categories – those that refuse to cover anything related to coronavirus; those that will cover medical expenses related to coronavirus – say you caught Covid-19 while abroad and need to be repatriated or treated – but nothing else; and those that will cover you for both cancellation and medical expenses.

That final group is small – at the time of writing, we know of nine insurers that will cover you for cancellation, but there are nuances within that group. For example, you’ll be covered by all if you catch coronavirus and can’t travel, but if someone in your household catches it or you’re isolating, you won’t be covered by all firms.

The nine insurers are: Abta, AllClear, Allianz Assistance, Axa, Insurefor, Jet2, Nationwide, Staysure, Trailfinders.

However, only Nationwide, Insurefor and Jet2 will cover you if your hotel closes while you’re abroad. And if the Foreign & Commonwealth Office changes its advice about travelling to a particular destination before you’ve travelled, only Nationwide and AllClear will cover you. Nationwide is the only provider to cover you if the country you’re planning to visit closes its borders to people visiting from the UK.

The UK’s biggest building society does appear to have the most comprehensive policy but there is a catch – you cannot buy it as a one-off, you need to have a bank account with Nationwide to get the policy.

For those that have active annual travel insurance policies that they have no plans to use because their travel aspirations have been curtailed by the pandemic, it is possible to get your premiums refunded. You’ll need to contact your insurer directly.

However, it’s worth thinking carefully as to whether you will be going away at any point during the policy’s 12-month lifetime. If you bought your policy before the pandemic, it’s likely to cover you for coronavirus-related claims. If you cancel, you’ll likely lose that cover if you tried to buy another policy in the future.

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