Advice on travel insurance and swine flu

The flu epidemic in Mexico has generated huge amounts of publicity.

Several insurance organisations and companies have given advice to people who had planned to travel to Mexico or anywhere else that may be affected.

Most of the advice is good, but some is dangerously misleading.

Travel insurance will not cover trips planned to Mexico

As long as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend only essential travel, then any policy is likely to be invalid.

Travel insurance will cover people coming back early from Mexico for cancellation and extra travel costs

The FCO has not said people in Mexico should come home, so insurers do not have to pay, but some may do so.

Any travel insurance you bought will automatically be transferable to a replacement trip

Only if you have an annual policy on a worldwide basis.

If your premium has been based on specific dates, you cannot amend those dates without agreement from the insurer.

If your premium is based on a specific country or specific part of the world  then you cannot freely switch to another country

If someone contracts Swine flu abroad policies should pay for their treatment.

The majority of travel insurance policies contain a medical section that will pay for treatment, but does not automatically entitle you to come home for treatment, and some limits may be too low for a long spell in hospital.

Airlines are unlikely to bring you home while with or suspected of flu.

Even air ambulances may refuse to take people.

Countries and airports have rules which mean either can refuse to allow a diseased traveller to enter or exit a country - at their total discretion.

You can claim for cancellation

Not all travel insurance policies will cover cancellation due to a pandemic or FCO advice against travel.

Where the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have advised against all but essential travel, most policyholders will be able to claim a refund or an alternative trip from their tour operator or travel agent.

If offered a suitable alterative trip you will find it hard to claim on the cancellation section of the policy. 

Travel insurance generally does not cover passengers who cancel or delay a trip merely because the travelers are concerned they might contract a disease, such as swine flu.

If you have or are suspected of having swine flu before travelling then you can claim for cancellation charges.

If a traveller actually contracted swine flu before or during a trip, each insurer’s terms for medical care would kick in, providing for reimbursement for the canceled trip or the ongoing portions of a trip that are delayed and for medical care away from home.

But if you are only a suspect, as more people are than who have actually caught it, you are not actually ill, so in theory insurers do not have to pay up.

When the problem is over, but you are too scared to go to Mexico, insurance will pay for cancellation

Insurance policies do not normally cover disinclination to travel to any destination

Travel insurance will pay if you are quarantined

Very few policies cover travelers if their trip is interrupted or delayed because they are quarantined to an area due to possible contact with the disease.

If you think your insurer is being unfair, use the official channels

The complaint processes take forever. Much better is to phone up the managing director or marketing director of the insurer or broker- do not get fobbed off with a minion.

All insurance providers now have a legal duty to treat customers fairly. If the company is messing you around unfairly then talk to the FSA.

Swine fever is topical, so if you have a valid complaint, talking to your local paper or a national paper tends to poke companies into action.

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Advice on travel insurance and swine flu
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