COVID-19, originally known as the novel coronavirus before the World Health Organisation 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 may not be covered for 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.
Travel insurance policies generally have a 14 day cooling off period after you purchase the policy. If you change your mind, you can cancel your policy and get your money back from the insurer. Otherwise, there is no obligation on the insurer to refund, reschedule or provide a credit for unused travel insurance premiums.
Several travel insurers are however allowing people to reschedule their travel insurance for rebooked trips later in the year, or allowing you to cancel and take a credit toward a future premium. So if you need to cancel or rebook your trip, ask your travel insurer what they can do for you.
If you haven't purchased a policy by 31 January 2020 it's unlikely you'll get travel insurance that covers claims resulting from coronavirus since it was deemed a known event. Many travel insurers also suspended policy sales in response to the Australian government's international travel ban, but if you plan to travel later in the year, shop around as there is still some travel insurance policies being sold.
Cancellation expenses for COVID-19 coronavirus
If you bought a policy before coronavirus was deemed a known event by your insurer, see our list of insurers that cover an epidemic or pandemic to check your cover.
If you bought a policy after COVID-19 was deemed a known event, it's unlikely you'll get cover for cancellation expenses. Cover-more's 'Cancel-For-Any-Reason' policy did cover cancellation expenses, but they suspended sales of the policy on Friday 13 March. If you have already bought a 'Cancel-For-Any-Reason' policy then cover will still be provided.
Medical expenses for COVID-19 coronavirus
It will be difficult to find policies that cover medical expenses for coronavirus if you buy one after 31 January, even if they don't have an exclusion for epidemic or pandemic. Several insurers have cut off cover for claims resulting from coronavirus worldwide, see the below table for some examples.
If you're travelling later this year, in the summer holidays, some insurers may still cover medical expenses. You'll need to contact the insurer to request cover.
Quarantine expenses for COVID-19 coronavirus
The exact costs of being hospitalised or quarantined are unknown at this point, but if it happens to you, you'll likely be expected to contribute in part or in full to the associated costs.
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|
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. Many travel insurers suspended policy sales in response to the international travel ban, but if you plan to travel later in the year, shop around as there is still some travel insurance policies being sold.
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 advice for your destination to 'Do not travel'.
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 usually 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.
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 insurers' 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.
When will travel insurance cover my expenses?
Travel insurers 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 'Do not travel' ban remains in place.
On the other hand, they usually won't cover you if you ignore travel warnings and travel to a region marked as 'Do not travel'. This applies at the moment since all international travel is banned.
Do not travel
As of 18 March 2020 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade updated alert levels to 'Do not travel' for all destinations. On 24 March this was escalated to a travel ban. For policies that cover COVID-19 coronavirus, you should be able to cancel and claim on your travel insurance.
Speak to your insurer before cancelling because if they won't cover cancellation, re-arranging your holiday dates to a later time may be a more cost effective option.
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. 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.
Most airlines now waive booking change fees for existing and new flight bookings. See our advice on coronavirus flight refunds for more information.
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 for guests impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus. So familiarise yourself with the booking site's policy and quote it to them if necessary.
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