So, Boris has given us the green light to go abroad. Travel companies are offering unbeatable offers. And you’re desperate for some Mediterranean sun.
But before deciding on your next getaway, take a little time to consider what’s happened over the last few months, and make sure you follow our guidelines when booking your next trip.
Many of us have learnt a lot over the past few weeks about consumer rights and the lengths some companies will go to so they can shirk their responsibilities.
So, before you enter your card details to book a well-deserved holiday somewhere far, far away, you might want to consider a few things before you press pay.
Be careful who you book with
Do some research to find out which companies paid refunds quickly when the crisis hit. Who treated their customers fairly and who didn’t? Travel agents and tour operators were legally obliged to offer refunds, but many did everything they could to avoid paying out. Would you really trust them not to do it again if another wave of the virus hits?
A recent high-profile survey of customer experiences revealed a big gulf between the big travel operators and the small specialist providers – and it showed that bigger isn’t always better and small can be beautiful.
Small, specialist companies paid out for cancellations far quicker than their big-name rivals. So, it’s sometimes worth paying a little bit extra to a smaller specialist company rather than buying on price alone.
Look at the reviews, check out customer rating sites like Trustpilot which, although not always balanced, can give you a good idea of whether they looked after their customers.
Holiday firms have been warned of legal action over a failure to pay refunds to millions of angry and disappointed customers.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has threatened legal action against holiday firms which have refused refunds to customers whose holidays were cancelled. They’ve written an open letter to more than 100 firms telling them to pay up or face the consequences.
The CMA says it’s received more than 17,500 complaints about firms in the travel sector and will act if things don’t improve.
Here at Travel Insurance Explained, we’ve heard of all kinds of ruses that travel firms have tried to avoid paying refunds.
We heard of a Yoga holiday specialist that said it couldn’t offer refunds as it claimed to have ceased trading. But when the travel insurer checked it out, the company had just re-started trading under a slightly different name. Same holidays. Same website. Different name.
And in another attempt to avoid their legal obligations – namely, to refund a cancelled football tour – another travel agent acted on behalf of the customer to claim from their travel insurer.. The travel agent posed as the customer and complained to the insurer to try and put pressure on them to pay when the truth was that the travel agents themselves should have refunded the team. When the insurer challenged this, the travel agent admitted they knew they were obliged to refund but were trying to protect their own financial position.
Think about taking out a package holiday – you may have more protection
Independent travel has boomed thanks to cheap flights and low-cost airlines. The growth of accommodation sites like Booking.com and Airbnb have also flourished through independent travel.
Designing your own, made-to-measure trip can be both fun and rewarding. But if something goes wrong, you’re left with the headache of chasing all your providers, hotels, airlines, etc., yourself.
Booking a package holiday has its advantages, not least because they are ATOL protected and covered by the European Package Tour Regulations which protects customers both from the cancellation of a trip, as well as from a company going bust. As the legislation states: “The Package Travel Directive (2015/2302/EU) protects European travellers’ rights when booking package holidays, for example in terms of cancellation, liability, repatriation, and refunds. It applies to both European and foreign traders selling travel packages to European travellers, be it directly or via a retailer.”
Read the terms and conditions before you book
OK, it may not be as gripping as the latest John Grisham novel but understanding the terms and conditions (T&Cs) of your booking is important. Many companies will bury the information and sometimes have catch-all clauses in the small print.
Online travel agents and hotel booking websites came under the spotlight during the pandemic for poor customer service. They were never designed for a crisis of this size and struggled to deal with customer enquiries. To be fair many have changed their systems to make it easier to claim refunds.
But the old phrase ‘caveat emptor’ – let the buyer beware – is now more important than ever as many people have learned to their cost. Be sure of the quality of what you are buying.
Buy travel insurance with Covid-19 medical cover
As the coronavirus became a known event, many travel insurers began excluding coronavirus-related claims from any new policies. And while holidaymakers most likely still won’t be able to claim for cancellation, abandonment or curtailment claims relating to the coronavirus, they will be able to claim for medical expenses linked to Covid-19.
This is because many travel insurers are now offering Covid-19 medical cover, meaning policies will cover any medical expenses incurred as a result of the coronavirus and assist in repatriating you back to the UK if you fall ill abroad. Throughout the pandemic, travel insurers have been successfully bringing people home in difficult circumstances, with little in the way of commercial air transport.
However, it’s worth knowing that while most travel insurers are currently unable to offer cover for cancellation or curtailment claims related to the coronavirus, the situation is under constant review and could be included in some policies in the near future.
Buy the most suitable policy – not the cheapest
Travel insurers have worked hard in recent years to make it clear exactly what cover they are providing, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to work out what you are covered for.
Travel insurance provides peace of mind so that should something happen while you’re away, you’re protected. However, it is by no means a ‘one-size-fits-all’ product and it’s important to buy the right one for your trip, which suits your exact needs.
Many people worry about declaring their medical conditions to their insurer as they are concerned that it could make their travel insurance policy too expensive. However, failing to declare a medical condition is a huge financial risk to take, as if you need medical treatment while you’re abroad, and your travel insurer finds out you didn’t disclose vital medical information, you could be left to foot any medical bills or repatriation costs all by yourself. It’s also wise knowing that if you have an existing policy in place but later develop a medical condition you must update your insurer, as failure to declare any change in health could leave you without protection.
We always recommend comparing quotes from a few specialist medical travel insurance providers as policies are often a lot more affordable.
For those who enjoy a more adventurous holiday, it is essential you buy a policy or policy extension that provides cover for the sporting activities that you plan on taking part in. Otherwise, if something was to go wrong and you don’t have the right cover, you could be left with a broken bone and wallet to go with it. There are all sorts of different extensions and add-ons, so it’s important to shop around and make sure you get the right ones for your trip.
Lastly, it’s important that you understand exactly how much your policy excess is before taking out cover. More often than not cheaper policies have much higher excesses, which can often take people by surprise when they come to claim. So, you may want to consider spending more on a policy that has a lower or no excess at all – yes zero excess policies do exist!
Buy travel insurance when you book – not when you travel
The most common mistake people make is buying their travel insurance just before they travel, leaving their holiday at risk. All kinds of things can go wrong before you go on holiday and having the right travel insurance can cover you for all kinds of unforeseen events, should you need to cancel your trip.
Many customers panic bought insurance in March when COVID-19 starting rapidly escalating and for a large proportion of these customers, they found their insurers had declined their claims for cancellation of those trips. These customers unfortunately have learnt the hard way, the importance of protecting their trip as soon as they book it.
If an insurer can reasonably consider that a customer has purchased insurance with either the sole intention or ‘reasonable’ (considered as better than evens chance) of claiming then they can decline a claim in line with their contract and general principles of indemnity insurance. In simple language – they know that you probably knew you had to cancel and so bought insurance for that reason, which is not how insurance is supposed to work – unless it’s a specific ‘after event’ product.
You should always buy your travel insurance as soon as you’ve booked your trip in order to prevent any mishaps. Buying your policy early also gives you more time to find a deal that has the right level of cover for you and your holiday.