Complaints about travel insurance have tripled over the past year as thousands of fed-up holidaymakers had claims declined or delayed during the Covid-19 crisis. 

Exclusive data from the Financial Ombudsman Service, which resolves disputes between customers and businesses, shows that more than 6,000 complaints were filed between April and December 2020, a 208 per cent increase on the number of cases it handled 12 months earlier. 

Most related to cancellations and claims due to the pandemic. The Ombudsman upheld about a third of complaints in the consumer’s favour. 

For anyone dreaming about taking a holiday this year, ensuring you have reliable travel insurance will be of utmost importance. 

Waiting game: Under current plans, the earliest that people in England, Wales and Scotland can go abroad on holiday is May 17

Under current plans, the earliest that people in England, Wales and Scotland can go abroad on holiday is May 17. But a third wave of Covid cases across Europe has jeopardised this. 

From tomorrow, anyone in England trying to holiday abroad risks a £5,000 fine. Meanwhile, a system for allowing international travel when the ban is lifted will be published next month. 

If your heart is set on a foreign holiday – or you’re planning a staycation – we offer a guide to everything you need to know about travel insurance, from finding a robust policy to whether vaccines will be mandatory. Plus, our tips on making sure your insurer pays out. 

Consider cover for a staycation

If you’re planning to stick to the UK, the good news is that almost all annual travel insurance policies cover such trips. 

So if you’ve already got one, you don’t need to worry too much about buying more insurance. The majority also cover you for cancelling a holiday if your pre-travel Covid test is positive. 

But check if your policy has any rules on the length of the trip. According to financial analyst Defaqto, three-quarters of policies will only cover UK breaks of two nights or more. 

If you do not have an annual policy – or any insurance from a packaged bank account – consider if it’s necessary for a staycation. While any medical expenses will be covered by the NHS, insurance can pay for costs such as being transported to a hospital near your home. 

It can also prove invaluable if your possessions go missing or are damaged. However, check if this is tents insurance. 

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, says a holiday provider with flexible booking terms may be the best choice. 

He says: ‘There will still be risks involved in booking a UK holiday once domestic travel is permitted again. But most of these can be overcome by booking with a provider that offers flexible booking terms, rather than by taking out travel insurance.’

Will insurers demand vaccine passports? 

There has been much talk about vaccine passports, which would allow people who have had the coronavirus jab to travel abroad. 

While the Government has yet to announce how they might work, some travel operators are requiring passengers to have had the vaccine. 

Saga will require all holiday and cruise customers to be fully vaccinated before travel. Airline Qantas will also demand proof that passengers have been vaccinated, unless exempt for medical reasons. 

‘This is the big, hot topic at the moment,’ says Martyn James at the dispute resolution service Resolver. ‘I can see ‘jab and go’ being a thing in the coming months for the travel industry.’ 

So far, no travel insurer has added Covid vaccinations to its small print, so a jab is not currently a requirement for cover. 

Whether insurers start tweaking their policies may be dictated by government actions. For example, if Brussels makes vaccination a requirement to holiday in EU countries, insurance providers may have to impose this on customers. 

Even if your insurer doesn’t require a vaccine, Anna-Marie Duthie, travel insurance expert at Defaqto, points out: ‘You should pay attention to the booking terms of a holiday to ensure that the travel or accommodation provider is not deeming vaccination a requirement.’

GET COVERED – FROM WHEN YOU BOOKED 

One of the biggest errors that people make is not starting their travel insurance policy when they book a holiday. 

Resolver’s Martyn James says: ‘Loads of people choose to buy last-minute or not start the policy until they travel. Curtailment is the big claim issue at the moment and that only counts if you have a policy that starts from booking.’ 

‘Nondisclosure is also a common reason for a rejected claim, so pay attention to any health questions when you take out the policy, and answer honestly. 

Any Covid-related cover tends to only kick in when you are diagnosed with the virus, not when you have symptoms. 

Defaqto’s Anna-Marie Duthie adds one final note: ‘Many consumers may expect their travel insurance to pay out should they need to cancel due to Covid. 

‘But if their accommodation or travel provider offers rebooking or credit, rather than a refund specifically, this would be deemed acceptable by the insurer and a claim rejected.’

What you need from comprehensive cover 

The travel insurance industry has been turned upside down as a result of the Covid crisis. Large numbers of policies were pulled a year ago when much of the world went into lockdown. 

Terms and conditions were hastily rewritten with pandemic exclusions added, and many customers had claims incorrectly turned down. Resolver saw a big increase in the number of travel insurance complaints it received: 1,124 last year compared to 355 in 2019. 

Reading the terms and conditions of an insurance policy before you take it out is always good practice, although wading through upwards of 150 pages, often laced with jargon, is no mean feat. 

Boland of Which? spells out the key elements of Covid-related terms to look out for. 

He says: ‘It should cover you if you contract Covid-19, if you have to self-isolate before or during your trip, or if travel restrictions – such as a lockdown at home or border closures at your destination – prevent you from travelling. It’s also advisable to book a package holiday, if appropriate, as this will give you additional protections.’ 

Nearly all policies will cover you for medical expenses should you get Covid while abroad, while Defaqto says three-quarters of plans will cover cancellation due to a positive Covid test before travel. 

However, there is currently no insurance that will pay for the cost of your trip should you need to cancel due to being placed into lockdown. 

While many insurers include ‘Covid cover’, this can vary widely. So make sure you check under which situations it will pay out. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the policy documents, give the insurer a ring. 

In terms of providers with some of the most comprehensive Covid cover available, Duthie highlights Axa Health and LV=, as well as the insurance that comes with packaged bank accounts offered by Barclays, Lloyds Bank and Coutts. 

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