Booking a holiday? Take Martin Lewis' travel insurance masterclass

The world has been closed to travel over the past few months. Yet with restrictions likely to be lifted to some EU countries today, and many airlines and hotels offering new cheap holiday deals, many may consider going away later this year. Yet our Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis is warning it’s vital to consider your travel insurance situation first…

Before we talk travel insurance, if you’re going away ensure you’ve a valid EHIC first

As most of the permitted travel is likely to be to European Union countries, make sure you’ve got your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). It’s still valid till the end of this year – though from 1 January 2021, after the transition period ends, the EHIC's future is less certain (the Government says it's discussing the future of 'reciprocal healthcare arrangements', including the EHIC, with the EU, but we don’t know what that’ll be yet).The free EHIC gives you access to state-run hospitals and GPs in the EU at the same cost as a local. So, if it's free for them, it's free for you. So if travelling this year make sure you have yours, and everyone (including children) needs their own valid card. The expiry date of the card is on the front of it (bottom right). If yours is out of date you can renew if for FREE on the official EHIC website. Beware imposter sites charging for it – don’t pay anyone, it’s free.  And remember this is no substitution for travel insurance. You’ll need that too.When should you get travel insurance?

My usual answer is ASAB - As Soon As You Book - as half the point of travel insurance is not only to cover you for while you’re away but to also protect you if something happens before you travel and have to cancel.But in March, when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) warned against all non-essential travel, travel insurance came to a near standstill and many weren’t covering holidays booked after mid-March. So, booking a future holiday would have been very risky.

But now, a few insurers are offering policies again. The dirt-cheap deals have gone, so prices are higher, but it’s still affordable. For full details see Martin’s Cheap annual travel insurance guide, it’ll also link you through to travel insurance for over 65s and those with pre-existing medical conditions too. 

No mainstream policies will cover travel while the FCO continues to warn against it, nor if that's lifted and your holiday's cancelled due to future UK or other countries' coronavirus travel restrictions.

However, some (not all) no-thrills new policies including from Coverwise (Silver), Axa (Silver) and CoverForYou (Silver) will cover medical costs relating to coronavirus if you catch it overseas or if you or a family member get coronavirus before travelling and then can't travel. It can cost as little as £18 annual European cover for an individual under 66, or £8.50 for a one-week single European trip. Many of these offer older travellers cover too though prices increase.Other insurers like Leisure Guard, Staysure, Saga and Post Office will only cover you for medical costs once abroad, but not if you want to cancel beforehand due to covid. So do double check any policy before buying.

For those with pre-existing medical conditions many insurers currently have coronavirus exclusions on their policies. But it’s worth trying specialist medical comparison sites. A good starting point is All Clear Travel and Staysure, as we know they will provide coronavirus medical assistance while abroad, including repatriation if needed, but do check others.

Are those who already have annual travel insurance still covered?

You may be, but it depends on when you got the insurance and booked the holiday...

- Had cover and a holiday booked before mid-March? If both were sorted before the FCO warned against all non-essential travel, most (though not all) policies should cover you for cancellation while the FCO warning remains in place. Though your insurer will want you to try for refunds from the airline/travel firm first. The same should apply if the Government lifts then reimposes restrictions - provided your holiday was booked before mid-March.

- Booked holiday after mid-March? If you booked after the FCO warning, you WON'T be covered for cancellation due to coronavirus travel restrictions or disruption.

- Annual travel insurance lapsing and booked a holiday before mid-March? DON'T switch firm. If your insurance is about to expire, renew your cover with the same firm ASAP if you can. Most offer a continuation of existing coronavirus cancellation cover for holidays booked before the FCO warning, so stick with it, as you can't get that cover elsewhere.

If the holiday was booked after mid-March, you're unlikely to be covered for cancellation, so switching isn't such an issue.

- Not got travel booked and annual policy expiring? There's little benefit in renewing immediately, as you only get the coronavirus continuity on holidays that were in place pre-March.

If I’ve got annual travel insurance and am not planning to use it can I get a refund?

Maybe. Some major travel insurers including Axa, Churchill, Direct Line and Co-op are offering pro-rata refunds to customers who've ruled out travelling due to coronavirus and want to cancel their policy, though you can only do this if you haven't already made a claim on your policy. Plus, only consider doing this if you don't have any travel still booked and if you've sorted a refund for any trips that have been cancelled, as once you've cancelled your travel insurance, it obviously won't give you any further protection.

If you’re passport needs renewing do it ASAP

And just a final note, if your passport is at or nearing expiry, then renew it ASAP. The Passport Office is warning, understandably, that renewing is taking longer than the usual 3 weeks and I’m hearing reports that at the extreme, some are taking 3 months or more, while fast-track services and face-to-face appointments are suspended. So, if you've a trip planned later this summer sort it quickly. Apply via the official Gov site and an adult passport costs £75.50 online (£85.50 for the jumbo 50-page passport) or £85 by paper (£95 for the 50-pager). And 'no passport' isn't covered on most travel insurance.