Call for clarity over travel insurance as holiday bookings surge

File photo dated 22/08/20 of passengers in the arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport, London. The much-anticipated green list of countries that tourists can visit without quarantining on their return will be published on Friday. Issue date: Friday May 7, 2021.

Confusion around travel insurance is another risk to travellers, as borders open to green list countries in England today. Photo: PA

Concern is brewing over the protection insurance policies offer travellers against potential COVID-19-related disruptions to their trip as international travel opens from England on Monday. 

New research from consumer group Which? found that those buying travel insurance could be left out of pocket after being left with a false impression of the level of protection they might benefit from. 

Which? believes some of this is down to poor communication by travel insurance providers and the use of often confusing, blanket terms such as ‘Covid Cover’ or ‘Enhanced Covid Cover’ on insurers’ websites.

The survey of over 2,800 travel insurance customers, conducted between February and March 2021, found that three in 10 respondents (29%) had committed to bookings or arrangements for international trips this year – with around one in 10 (12%) saying that while they’d not booked or arranged travel, they did have specific plans.

Read more: Ryanair predicts ‘strong recovery in air travel’ as it suffers €815m loss

Half of survey respondents (50%) believed that they’d be covered should the government’s travel advice change after a trip was booked, and nearly half (47%) thought their policy would cover them in the event that local or national lockdowns prevented them from travelling. Almost half (46%) believed their policy would cover them if their airline or holiday company postponed their travel, but wouldn’t offer a cash refund.

However, when Which? analysed 73 travel insurance providers between October and November 2020, cover for those three such eventualities – particularly for when government travel advice changes – was very rare, with large discrepancies between what policies included. 

The consumer group has been continuing actively to monitor COVID-related cover offered and believes little has changed to improve this situation in recent months.

Since March 2020, most insurers have considered the pandemic a ‘known event’, and excluded FCDO cancellation cover from new policies and for newly booked trips. However, Which?’s survey found that customers with policies bought after March 2020 were more likely to believe that they were covered for this type of disruption than ones that had bought policies before then.

While some insurers give upfront information about how extensively they protect against COVID-related disruption on their webpages and in their FAQs, some providers only state key benefits that their ‘Enhanced Covid Cover’ provides, and are less clear about what is excluded. 

Other providers describe their policies as covering a ‘range’ of COVID-related scenarios, and direct prospective customers to the FAQs for further detail.

Read more: Travel stocks sink as virus variants throw holidays into doubt

“The ongoing threat of COVID-related disruption means that getting the right travel insurance for your holiday is more important than ever,” said Jenny Ross, Which? money editor. 

“Without closer scrutiny from government and regulators of how clearly insurers present their policies, there is a very real chance that many travellers will be left out of pocket yet again this summer.”

Which?’s research comes as foreign holiday bookings surge and Brits head off to ‘green list’ countries.

Travellers can now visit 12 countries on the government’s green list, including Portugal and Israel, without isolating on their return.

The vast majority of tourist destinations remain on the amber and red lists, meaning travellers must quarantine when they get back.

Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?