MoneySavingExpert Martin Lewis reveals what the 'indefinite travel ban' means if you’ve booked a holiday

The Foreign Office has advised against all travel abroad ‘indefinitely’ during the coronavirus crisis.

Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 2:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 2:01 pm

So what does it mean if you’ve got a holiday coming up later this year?

Money Saving Expert has issued some new information on what holidaymakers can do in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when it comes to refunds and cancellations.

A spokesman said: “With the Foreign and Commonwealth Office now warning Brits against all non-essential foreign trips indefinitely and advising all those overseas to return to the UK immediately, this is a fast-changing situation.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

How will coronavirus affect your holiday?

Here are five travel need-to-knows:

1. The Foreign Office has now warned against ALL non-essential travel overseas – which is the key trigger for insurance paying out

2. You can no longer get new travel insurance to cover coronavirus

3. You're not usually covered if you just decide not to travel – even if your main reason for going (eg, a sporting event) has been cancelled

4. Urgently find out your cancellation rights for hotels, holidays and flights – increasingly, firms are letting you cancel or rebook

5. You shouldn't book a new holiday without insurance, and most can't get insurance

It's now too late to get travel insurance to cover coronavirus cancellation

“We always say get your travel insurance ASAB (As Soon As you Book). Normally it's because if you leave getting insurance until just before you travel, you're not covered for anything that happens before the point you get it which stops you going – thus you've waved off half the value of the cover.

“Over the last couple of weeks we've been warning that if you had a holiday booked but no insurance, it was vital to get it sorted ASAP. Unfortunately, if you haven't yet sorted it it's now probably too late. “

I've already booked insurance – am I covered?

Most insurers will cover you for cancellation if there is a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advisory in place – as there now is for all non-essential travel overseas, to any destination. But for a rough check, see what individual insurers have said – though this will vary by policy and can change over time.

To be sure of what's covered, check your insurer's website – many now list their coronavirus cover. If not, and the policy terms are too tricky, call up or use online chat.

While it's generally difficult to get new travel insurance policies at the moment – and virtually impossible to get one that'll cover cancellation costs related to coronavirus – if you have an existing annual travel insurance policy, you may well have more joy.

Several travel insurers, including Axa, Coverwise and Planet Earth, have saud that if you have an annual policy and choose to renew, you'll still get the same level of cover on your renewed policy as you did on the old one.

That means if you have a holiday booked and your annual policy expires in the meantime, it may be worth renewing with your current insurer rather than looking for a new policy.

Make sure you arrange cover from the day after your current policy expires – that way, you'll have continuous cover.

It's worth noting even with policies that will give you cancellation cover for existing bookings on renewal, you won't be covered for any new trips you're planning. That's because travel insurance is supposed to cover for the unexpected. Equally, you won't be covered for trips booked after the FCO warned against travel to a country, or after coronavirus was declared a pandemic.

I've booked a trip – can I cancel and get a refund?

If you've booked a future trip, then your right to cancel and get a refund depends very much on the latest UK Government travel advice issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which is what insurers and airlines generally take their cue from.

If your trip's not for a few months, you may want to wait to get in touch, though of course there's always a risk things could change in the meantime as this is such as fast-moving situation. If your trip's imminent, you're abroad right now or you need urgent assistance, unfortunately you may not be prepared to wait.

The FCO now advises against travel 'indefinitely', so you should get a refund - for imminent trips at least

In some ways, the Foreign Office now warning against non-essential travel 'indefinitely' makes things trickier. When the end date of the advisory was 16 April, many firms were paying out for all travel booked before this date. But as the warning is now effectively 'no travel until we say so' and we don't know when they'll say so, it's likely you'll need to wait until close to your travel date before airlines / hotels / travel insurers agree to refund you.

I've a holiday booked – how can I get my money back?

No FCO warning in place when you travel? Don't expect to get a refund if you cancel, but check – some firms are now being flexible

Cases of coronavirus have now been diagnosed globally, and the FCO has warned against all non-essential travel. This is due to last indefinitely, and so holidays booked in the relatively near future are likely to be refunded.

If you cancel a trip that's well in the future, unfortunately there's no guarantee you'll get a refund, though some firms are now being more flexible and in particular letting customers rebook.

Some airlines, hotels and other travel firms WILL now let you cancel or rebook

It's worth checking directly with your airline or hotel even if your original booking was on a non-refundable basis, as some have started to introduce special cancellation or rebooking policies to help those affected by coronavirus. And even where firms haven't introduced special policies, it's worth asking anyway if there's any flexibility as in somes they be willing to let you cancel or rebook anyway.

What about holidays in the UK?

The info above relates to overseas travel, but many are also worried about holidays and other travel they've booked within the UK.

The UK Government has issued guidance saying people should avoid travelling in the UK unless it is essential. This means you should avoid visiting holiday or second homes, as well as campsites and caravan parks.

If you've booked a trip with a holiday company in the UK and it's forced to close due to coronavirus, it's likely you'll get a full refund for your trip direct from the company – and won't need to claim on insurance. For example, Center Parcs says it's closing all UK villages to 30 April 2020. It's giving guests the option to rebook at a date until the end of 2021 and get a £100 discount on their new booking, or a full refund.

If you've booked a UK trip and the accommodation provider isn't forced to close, it's less likely you'll be able to get a refund, but it's still possible.

Many firms are offering flexible cancellation policies, or the option to move your stay to another date. As an example, Airbnb has said reservations for stays and Airbnb Experiences made on or before 14 March 2020, with a check-in date between 14 March and 14 April 2020, may be cancelled before check-in.

As a last resort, you could try your travel insurer. Some insurers may cover you, for example Direct Line and Churchill told us that: "UK trips booked before 17 March for two or more nights in commercially-operated accommodation are covered for cancellation where the accommodation or surrounding area is closed due to the coronavirus."

I was about to book a holiday. Should I still do it?

This is a judgement call. In the immediate future taking a holiday outside the UK is off due to Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel and more broadly, the Government’s lockdownrules. We don’t know how long the Foreign Office advisory will last for, but regardless, right now you can't get travel insurance that covers you for most coronavirus-caused cancellations and claims.

In fact, even if you have an existing annual policy, it likely won’t cover any new trips booked. Sadly, and disastrously for the travel industry and their employees, that means most people would be sensible to avoid booking any holiday for now.

Even for trips later in the year it is a tough call. For booking at that time, the key is to look at the cancellation rights. If it's possible to book now, and then get a refund by cancelling if you can't go due to coronavirus, then you may want to go for it (just ensure you pay via debit or credit card to improve protection in case travel firms go into administration). But nothing in this environment is without risk.