No travel insurer is providing ‘complete’ cover for COVID-19 and related disruption for customers looking to travel abroad, new Which? research shows, as it finds the industry is charging customers more despite protections that were in place before the pandemic disappearing.
As the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out gets under way in the UK, and the likelihood of international travel returning next year rises, the consumer champion analysed policies offered by 73 travel insurers, examining whether a customer would be covered in four different scenarios.
These include if you get COVID-19 abroad and require treatment; if you contract it ahead of your trip and have to cancel; if you’re exposed to the virus or have shown symptoms (but don’t have a positive test or diagnosis) and are self-isolating and have to cancel; or if wider disruption resulting from the pandemic – such as changes in official rules and advice – forces you to abandon travel.
The results show the scale of the changes that have taken place in the insurance market this year, as Which? was unable to find a single policy in its study that will cover COVID-19 as fully as insurance available before March 2020.
All 73 providers cover emergency medical claims and costs for emergency medical repatriation should you become ill with COVID-19 on holiday. However, 17 insurers offer nothing beyond this, meaning they are classed by Which? as having a ‘basic’ cover rating.
Offering cancellation cover, needed in a scenario such as having to cancel as a result of testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of travelling, in addition to medical cover, qualifies insurers for Which?’s ‘low’ COVID-cover rating.
Nearly 60 per cent of insurers (43 providers) included in the consumer champion’s analysis, fall into this category.
Providing cancellation cover due to self-isolation, in addition to standard cancellation and medical cover, qualifies insurers for Which?’s ‘superior’ rating. Just 13 insurers offer this protection if a trip is cancelled because you have to self-isolate because of suspected exposure to COVID-19 – for example if instructed to by NHS Test and Trace.
Not one insurer was judged by Which? to offer ‘complete’ cover. This would require customers to be able to claim in the event of cancellation caused by Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCDO) advice changes as well as government lockdowns – arguably the most likely way the virus could affect your plans.
Five providers – the AA, AXA, Halifax, Puffin and TUI – told Which? their customers can make cancellation claims if they can’t travel because of a localised or national lockdown – providing they can’t recoup lost costs from other sources. However, as they still don’t cover changes to FCDO advice, no provider meets its standard for ‘complete’ cover in full.
This means that, as it stands, insurance alone won’t offer genuinely comprehensive cover while COVID-19 remains a threat.
Reducing cover is one way for insurers to deal with the considerable costs of COVID-19, but firms could also increase premiums.
For instance, GoCompare told Which? that for a 24-year-old traveller going on a one-week holiday to Italy, the 20 cheapest single-trip quotes had increased by 17-34 per cent between October 2019 and October 2020.
And when Which? asked insurers if they’d raised their prices or would in the near future because of the pandemic, 42 – almost two thirds of those that answered the question – said they had or would.
In some cases this appeared to be a consequence of the high number of claims they have had to handle in recent months, but other insurers insisted it was also because of improvements they have made to their cover.
Which? believes it can not be justified for insurance providers to drastically reduce cover across the market, while at the same time increasing prices.
It considers this to be out of step with the Financial Conduct Authority’s expectations on firms in relation to cover impacted by coronavirus, and it raises a significant question around the value of travel insurance products today.
Ahead of a likely return to some form of large-scale international travel next year, Which? is calling for the regulator to investigate the travel insurance market.
This is to ensure that it is working fairly for consumers when they are in a position to start booking trips, and can get value for money from their policies while being confident that they will be protected, in what is likely to be another unpredictable year for travel.
Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said:
“Coronavirus has had a seismic impact on the travel insurance market and our research shows that consumers are facing the double whammy of significantly reduced cover and increased prices.
“While it’s still unclear how soon holidaymakers will return to the types of trips that took place before the pandemic, it’s vital that when they do comprehensive cover is available at a decent price if things go wrong.
“If not, the travel industry will not be able to rebuild confidence that it lost at the start of the pandemic. The FCA should act now rather than later to ensure that consumers will be protected on future trips, and that insurers are treating customers fairly.”
Which? recommends getting a policy with £2 million of medical cover for Europe, or £5 million beyond, although the Europe figure could increase due to Brexit.
Which? recommend a minimum of £3,000 cover, or the value of your holiday.
At the time of our research – which took place between October and November 2020 – just one provider – Nationwide Building Society – offered cancellation cover for changes in FCDO advice related to the virus. It has since announced that from January, this will be phased out. As a result, it was not deemed to provide ‘complete cover’ for future trips.
Which? analysis focused on the policy features it believes are the most vital, but is not exhaustive and does not cover customer service or value for money. Given the pressure the travel industry is under it also advises consumers to consider end supplier failure cover, which steps in where a business facilitating part of a holiday – such as an airline or events company – goes bust.
The FCA expects firms to assess “where the firms or the product itself cannot deliver a benefit, or where there has been a reduction in the risk of an underlying insured event happening so that the product now provides little or no utility to consumers.”
The FCA further says that “product manufacturers should be considering whether a product, including its costs and charges, remain compatible with the needs, objectives, interests and characteristics of the target market.”
In response to Which?’s findings, the ABI said: “Travel insurance is primarily an emergency medical product and ABI members will continue to provide cover medical expenses for Covid-19 overseas should the worse happen. Travel insurers have supported customers whose travel plans were affected by the first lockdown, and expect to pay a record £275million in cancellation claims to customers who have had to cancel holidays and who have faced disruption when travelling abroad. Most travel insurance policies taken out after the pandemic was declared are likely to have some Covid-related exclusions for cancellation cover. This is because the purpose of travel insurance is to cover for the unexpected and Covid-19 cancellation claims have become more of a probability than a possibility.”
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