Need to know
- A bit over half of insurers cover medical expenses resulting from a pandemic, but less than half cover cancellation expenses
- If you buy travel insurance after a pandemic or epidemic such as the novel coronavirus becomes a known event, you won't be covered regardless
COVID-19, originally known as the novel coronavirus before the World Health Organization named the disease in February, is throwing many Australians' travel plans into disarray.
People who bought travel insurance before the disease became a "known event" may be covered for medical expenses that arise from contracting the disease overseas, and may even be covered for cancellation expenses.
But people who bought travel insurance after COVID-19 was a known event won't be covered for either medical or cancellation expenses relating to contracting the disease, or from changes to travel plans that result from quarantine measures, for example.
In this article we look at what is meant by a 'known event', we reveal which insurers cover you for an epidemic, and we explain a bit about what you're covered for.
Does travel insurance cover a pandemic?
Many but not all travel insurers cover pandemics or epidemics, as long as you bought the policy before it became a 'known event'. Cover will vary between policies.
About half the policies in our international travel insurance review cover medical expenses in a pandemic. But you're more likely to need cover for cancellation expenses, for example if the government changes the travel warning to 'Do not travel', like they have with China amid the COVID-19 epidemic.
In our travel insurance review, less than half the travel insurers cover cancellation as a result of pandemic or epidemic, so make sure you check.
Pandemic or epidemic?
An epidemic is an outbreak of disease that happens in a wide geographic location and affects a lot of people. A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread throughout a whole country or across continents.
Travel insurers tend to exclude or cover both pandemic and epidemic. So if you're reading the terms and conditions you can scan for either of these words to check if you're covered.
Insurance is intended to protect you against the unknown, so once an event becomes known, it's generally too late to buy insurance to cover you for that specific event.
When, exactly, an event becomes 'known' is a grey area, but generally it's when it's publicised in the media or on official government websites. Insurers' definitions can vary so check with your insurer on when they cut off cover for a specific event.
Can I get travel insurance to cover the COVID-19 coronavirus?
Probably not. Although Cover-more offer a 'Cancel-For-Any-Reason' policy that may provide cover. It's generally sold through travel agents so you'll need to contact your travel agent or Cover-more directly to ask if they will sell you the policy, and for how much.
If you're unable to get cover for coronavirus now but you still plan to travel, you should still get travel insurance to protect you from events not related to COVID-19 coronavirus.
And if you bought your travel insurance policy before the pandemic became a 'known event', there's a chance you'll be covered – depending on your policy. See our list of insurers that cover an epidemic or pandemic.
Insurers that do cover an epidemic or pandemic cut off cover for claims resulting from COVID-19 from around 21 January 2020 for travel to China and 31 January for travel worldwide.
Below are the COVID-19 coronavirus cut-off dates for a few of those insurers.
|Brand||Cut off cover to China||Cut off cover worldwide|
|Insure and Go||21 January||31 January|
|Good2Go||24 January||24 January|
|Travel Insurance Direct||23 January||31 January|
What will travel insurance cover?
If your policy covers medical expenses as a result of a pandemic, you'll be covered for medical expenses if, for example, you contract novel coronavirus on your travels – as long as you bought the policy before the cut-off date.
And if the policy covers cancellation expenses, you'll be covered to cancel or possibly amend your travel arrangements to avoid the affected area. Check with your travel insurer specifically to find out what they'll cover here, because it can be tricky. For example, they usually won't cover you if you ignore travel warnings and travel to a region marked as 'Do not travel', such as China during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
On the other hand, they also won't cover you if you're worried about travelling and want to cancel your trip. So if you have a holiday planned to Bali and you want to cancel because you're concerned about the coronavirus spreading, you won't be covered to cancel your trip unless, for example, the government raises the travel warning for Bali to 'Do not travel'.
Which insurers cover you for an epidemic or pandemic?
What if you don't have travel insurance?
Getting your money back on flights in a pandemic
If the airline has cancelled or delayed flights due to a pandemic, it's considered an event that is out of their control and the airline will have a policy providing compensation for cancellation or delay in this scenario. Familiarise yourself with the policy in case you need to remind the airline of their terms and conditions, because they won't necessarily volunteer the information to you.
Getting your money back on accommodation in a pandemic
Your rights for accommodation bookings are covered by Australian Consumer Law and you have access to consumer guarantees, the same as for any other goods or services. Booking sites generally have their own terms and conditions and if you used a booking site, you should deal with them, not the end-point service provider. The booking site should still be subject to Australian Consumer Law.
If you booked accommodation through a third-party provider like Airbnb or booking.com, persist with your cancellation via that third party, since it's unlikely you'll be able to enforce the Australian Consumer Law on the overseas accommodation provider.
If you paid by credit or Visa/MasterCard debit card, you also have a right to credit card chargeback if the accommodation provider hasn't provided the service.
The sites usually have standard cancellation policies but in the event of emergencies like pandemics, they may make an exception. Airbnb, for example, may waive cancellation penalties in the event of a natural disaster. So familiarise yourself with the booking site's policy and quote it to them if necessary.