British holidaymakers are scrambling to protect their future holiday bookings from coronavirus disruption, with soaring demand for travel insurance reported by three of the UK’s biggest price comparison websites.
Moneysupermarket, GoCompare, and Compare the Market all told FT Money they had seen huge increases in customers purchasing travel insurance policies online and searching for quotes on cover.
GoCompare said sales of travel insurance policies had soared by 277 per cent over the past seven days, and by 159 per cent compared with the same period last year.
Sally Jaques, from GoCompare Travel Insurance, said: “We are seeing a shift away from customers buying ‘same day or within a week of travel’ to ‘one month to travel’. This would suggest that customers are buying earlier for their Easter holidays and other later dates.”
Moneysupermarket said it had seen a “significant week-on-week increase” in the number of visitors to its travel insurance price comparison pages, as well as an increase in the number of people purchasing cover through the site.
Mark Felix, commercial director of insurance at Moneysupermarket, said: “We’ve seen that customers are buying travel insurance further in advance of trips they have planned, rather than waiting close to their departure date to make a purchase, which is what we see usually.”
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, stressed that buying travel insurance as soon as you book a holiday has never been more important.
He said: “Every year I talk about booking travel insurance ASAB — as soon as booked — because if you don’t and something happens in the meantime before you get travel insurance, you’re not covered.”
Compare the Market said it had seen a “huge spike” in purchases for travel insurance in recent days. Patrick Ikhena, head of travel for the site, said: “It could well be down to the British public’s growing concern about the coronavirus.”
Worldwide searches for “travel insurance” on Google surged by 92 per cent in the past week as consumers seek to protect their upcoming holiday bookings, and see whether virus-related disruption will be covered by their policies.
Blue Insurance, a leading Irish insurance broker, said there had been a 425 per cent increase in customers taking out travel cover between Tuesday and Thursday this week, compared with the same period last year.
Ciaran Mulligan, managing director, said: “It has been the busiest three days the company has had in travel insurance sales since we opened in 2003 and we expect it to continue as the coronavirus spreads.”
Customers can tailor travel policies online and the broker also recorded a rise in existing and new policyholders adding travel disruption cover to their current insurance policies.
The Post Office, which sells travel insurance through its network of more than 4,700 branches, also confirmed a “large spike” in demand for both quotes and sales of travel insurance.
As the spread of the virus continues to disrupt international travel, there is already evidence that the cost of insurance cover is increasing.
Pricing data from Compare the Market this week showed the highest average premium quote for travel to Europe in the last three months.
Malcolm Tarling, a spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers, said: “Regardless of the coronavirus, travel insurance will remain very competitive, so it always pays to shop around to get the best policy for your particular needs.”
British insurance policies commonly rely on the advice issued by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which advised against all travel to China’s Hubei province at the end of January.
The FCO also advised against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macau), two South Korean cities and 10 small towns in Italy’s Lombardy and Veneto regions.
In a statement on its website, the British Insurance Brokers’ Association said: “Consumers who had purchased travel insurance and travelled before the FCO issued its advice . . . will be covered while in China (including in Hubei province if they travelled there before the original advice was issued on January 23).”
However, travellers to other destinations who seek to change their plans may find that their insurance will not cover the cost of amendments or cancellation.
Will I be covered?
FT Money asked major travel insurance providers about levels of cover on their typical policies:
Axa: If a trip was booked and a travel insurance policy was bought before Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice on a particular location was issued, then cancellation will be covered.
Admiral: If customers travel to China against FCO advice, Admiral won’t be able to pay out on any claim they need to make.
Virgin Money: Will consider claims for cancellation if the FCO states that, on the date of departure, it advises against “all but essential travel” to a customer’s travel destination.
Direct Line: If customers have a trip departing in the next 28 days to mainland China, they should contact their transport provider in the first instance to seek an amendment to the booking or a refund. If this is not possible, Direct Line advises customers to contact its travel claims department.
The Post Office: Unless the FCO changes its travel advice to advise against all travel — or all but essential travel — to an area or country, customers cannot claim the costs of a cancelled trip back from their insurance.