Travel insurance: Expert says refunds 'are not compulsory'
Brits are desperate for a holiday after nearly 10 months of coronavirus, masks, and staying at home. While there was some relaxation of rules in summer 2020, many people decided against booking a risky trip that could be cancelled anyway. Marcus by Goldman Sachs has revealed that the UK’s financial priorities have changed over the past year, with 22 percent of adults planning to spend more money on travelling in the next couple of years. Express.co.uk chatted to Nicky Kelvin from The Points Guy UK, Tom Bourlet from SpaghettiTraveller and Steve Norris MD EMEA of Flight Centre to find out whether or not you should book a holiday in 2021.
Can I go on holiday right now?
Holidays are not permitted in the UK during lockdown, but there could be the possibility of a holiday once lockdown is over.
At present, non-essential travel is banned – both domestically and internationally.
Essential travel could include work, education, medical appointments, or caring obligations.
What is and isn’t essential isn’t set in stone, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office still advises against non-essential international travel.
Mr Kelvin explained: “The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) still advises against travel to certain destinations – even if you meet that criteria for essential travel.
“Therefore if you’re looking to travel internationally, you must have a legally permitted reason to do so.
“If you do need to travel for one of the essential reasons, then the FCDO advice applies to you.”
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Nicky explained that because the information on what is essential isn’t very specific, it is pretty much up to you to decide whether you need to go or not.
He said: “Ultimately, this places the decision on the individual themselves based on the risk and their personal responsibility.
“If you choose to board a flight for one of the mentioned reasons, it is currently unlikely that the British government will stop you from doing so.
“Like the lockdown and social distancing requirements, it is up to each individual to do the right thing to help protect the NHS and stop the continued spread of the coronavirus so that we can return to normality and travel once this is all over.”
One essential reason could be a family emergency abroad or to go to another country for business or work.
Nicky added: “A pilot flying cargo planes full of medical supplies back and forth between China and the UK, for example, would also be essential travel as domestic and international freight transport is an essential service.”
You should not travel if you feel unwell, even if the reason is urgent.
Should I book a holiday in 2021?
Whether you’re travelling for an essential reason or leisure if it is allowed later in 2021, you need to be cautious.
Nicky said: “If you do travel abroad, there is no guarantee you will be able to return to the UK due to the constantly changing travel restrictions and interruptions.
“This may be particularly difficult if you travel to a remote island versus mainland Europe, for example, where you could potentially just drive back to the United Kingdom if necessary.”
Booking a holiday right now for later on in the year could also be risky because of the changing border restrictions.
Nicky explained: “There are also extensive and constantly changing border restrictions for UK nationals attempting to travel abroad currently, making any international travel particularly difficult right now.
“In fact, the Netherlands and Germany have banned UK arrivals who are travelling for non-essential reasons.”
If you decide to book a holiday abroad for later in 2021 and when the time comes you are not able to go because of border controls- you should get your money back or a voucher to rebook at a later date.
However, it’s important to remember that refunds aren’t compulsory and you should always check the terms and conditions before you book.
Mr Bourlet from Spaghetti Traveller recommended looking through reviews on how certain travel companies or online travel agents handled customers during the pandemic.
He said: “I know a number of brands who focused on refunding customers as quickly as possible, offering delays or alternative solutions, while others completely closed their customer service channels and ignored their customer base. The digital footprint is visible for all to see, so make sure to read up before booking.”
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Even if the borders are open, the UK Government could still be advising against all but essential travel and this would invalidate your insurance.
Nicky explained: “Most travel insurance policies will also exclude claims where travel has been undertaken in disobedience of a government travel warning, such as this from the FCDO, making it especially risky right now.”
Another potential problem is that your flights will be cancelled and you won’t be able to go.
Nicky noted that a number of companies such as Virgin Holidays, TUI, Thomas Cook and JET 2 have already cancelled flights out of the UK until mid-February.
Mr Bourlet said: “It could be argued that you will be safer financially if you opt for a package holiday rather than booking your accommodation and flights separately, providing it’s ATOL protected.
“Also, make sure to book the holiday with a credit card rather than a debit card.
“Some travel companies are allowing zero deposit, or a delay on paying, which would be useful, in case anything changes. This also gives you a little more time to save up for the holiday with less pressure on yourself.”
On top of that, you need to check the fine details when booking travel insurance because ‘Covid cover’ can be vague.
Mr Bourlet commented: “I haven’t yet seen one travel insurance policy making that claim that actually covers for all scenarios related to Covid, so don’t just believe it simply because you see the buzz word, this is simply a marketing tactic most of the time.
“You should make sure the travel insurance will cover you for any cancellation based on a requirement to self-isolate, even if this is as simple as the test and trace system claiming you’ve come in contact with someone that has Covid.
“You should also ensure it offers repatriation and medical cover in case you suffer from Coronavirus while abroad.”
If you don’t get one of the coronavirus vaccinations before your trip, you may not be able to fly according to Mr Norris.
He said: “Flight Centre predicts airlines will adopt a ‘No Jab, No Fly’ policy to safeguard its travellers and facilitate freedom of movement in 2021.”
However, for this to happen there must be an international standard to this policy in order to offer ease and consistency to travellers, he added.
If you decide you want to book a holiday for this summer, now is the time you’re going to get the best deal.
Mr Norris recommended booking flights sooner rather than later because flight prices are bound to increase in 2021.
He said: “Due to a decrease in airline capacity and an expected spike in demand as vaccination rolls out and restrictions begin to lift, Flight Centre is currently predicting an increase in flight prices in 2021.
“This supply and demand will of course depend on market confidence, border restrictions and additional costs of running airlines.
“It is therefore expected that the best time to book a cheap holiday for future travel will be in the first few months of 2021, before demand sparks price hikes.”
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