Ski Travel Insurance in the Covid-19/Brexit Era
1st October 2020 | Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Last modified on October 22nd, 2020
Getting the right insurance cover for your ski holidays is something most of us take seriously. It’s never been more important than now.
While some of us may be wondering how, or if, we’ll manage to get on the slopes this winter, others are determined not to let coronavirus stop us.
Easier said than done.
UK government advice against ‘all but essential travel’ is, at the time of writing, in place for most of the alpine nations in Europe and North America.
Even some of the ‘safe’ ski countries, such and Norway and Finland, have imposed quarantine requirements for travellers arriving from the UK.
A number of UK ski tour operators have issued their own Covid-19 guarantees to reduce the financial risk you take if you book a trip that has to be cancelled or is disrupted by the virus. Check out the terms and conditions carefully before booking.
(Update 21st October: Crystal Ski is now offering its own Covid-19 insurance to include the cost of overseas testing, repatriation, self-isolation and new flights home. It will be included in all holidays this winter and should be used along your usual travel insurance. See the full details here Crystal Ski Holidays Offers Free Covid-19 Insurance).
If you are planning to head to the mountains, it’s advisable to seek out the best travel insurance policy for your needs.
Not least because come 1st January 2021 when the Brexit transition period is over, and assuming no deals are done between now and then, the chances are that your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will no longer be valid.
If that’s the case, then any medical treatment you have in public hospitals or healthcare facilities in countries that are part of the EHIC scheme, will not be free. You – or your insurance company – will have to foot the bill.
So, what do you need to look out for, apart from the obvious of ensuring you have cover for winter sports?
We’ve put together some advice based on our research so far.
Covid-19 – Am I Covered?
Many travel insurance companies have introduced some form of cover for Covid-related claims, but by no means all.
Some will have a general exclusion, which bars any claims relating to the virus. If this is the case, you will not be able to claim for any losses or expenses whatsover that arise from Covid-19.
Some policies will cover only medical expenses if you fall ill with coronavirus while on holiday.
Others will cover you for coronavirus-related medical expenses AND cancellation if you can’t go on your trip or it’s disrupted, though ‘travel disruption’ cover is often an optional add-on you’ll pay extra for.
Even with travel disruption cover, you will need to make sure it doesn’t exclude coronavirus.
You will need to check the small print carefully.
For example, will it pay out only if you catch the virus and have to cancel your holiday?
Or will it also do so if you’re forced to self-isolate because you’ve been in contact with someone with the virus and can’t travel?
Will it pay out if your local area or the area you’re travelling to imposes a lockdown?
The good news is that some insurers have told us they are going to be adding or improving coronavirus cover in time for the ski season with policies expected to be available later this month.
“I think the situation can best be described as ‘fluid’ and the insurers I talk to are currently working on policy additions and changes that aim to accommodate snowsports in the new normal,” Mike Welby, former director of specialist snowsports insurer Dogtag UK, told us.
“As ever, the number one piece of advice is to do your own research based on your own particular circumstances. Then read and understand the policy. Seems obvious but people often don’t do this until they need to make a claim. So if there is anything you don’t understand, email your insurers and ask for the answer in writing.
“An example of this would be: Are you travelling against FCO advice? Currently that would include alpine countries like France, so will your insurer agree it’s OK?
“What if you are displaying symptoms at say Geneva airport and the airline denies boarding – are you covered?
“Suppose your whole household has to isolate because one of you has symptoms but you are well and are supposed to be going on a ski trip with your friends – can you claim for cancelling?”
Mike says that booking with a tour operator that is subject to the Package Travel Regulations won’t always be of help either, since the regulations guarantee you a refund only if the operator has to cancel your holiday, not if you do.
There are exceptions, of course. As mentioned above, a number of ski tour operators have introduced their own Covid guarantees.
Covid-19 Medical Cover/Cancellation Cover Examples
MPI Brokers, which specialises in snowsports insurance, will pay for your emergency medical treatment if you contract the virus abroad.
It is currently not offering Covid-19 cancellation cover. However, we are told this is likely be introduced so watch this space.
Dogtag UK, another snowsports specialist, told PlanetSKI that it will shortly be launching a new ski-specific insurance product that will cover some coronavirus related events.
“We know that planning a winter sports holiday can be stressful at the best of times, and hope that by having this extra level of security our customers will have a more enjoyable experience,” a spokesman told us.
Dogtag Ski is expected to be available later in October and the Covid-19 cover will include:
- Medical expenses and repatriation if you develop Covid-19 abroad
- Travelling home early if medically necessary after developing Covid-19 abroad
- Cancellation if anyone on the policy tests positive up to 14 days before travelling
- Accommodation if you are denied entry at the airport on the way home due to showing virus symptoms, along with the cost of your return trip
AXA says it will cover existing and new customers for emergency medical claims related to coronavirus in countries exempt from the current UK Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel.
Customers will also be covered if they can’t travel because they, someone they are due to travel with, or a close relative contracts coronavirus.
But AXA’s new policies will not protect you if you have to cancel your trip as a result of a lockdown, the Foreign Office advising against travel or any other country’s advice not to travel there.
“For claims such as these, customers should arrange a refund with their tour operator and/or airline,” it says.
One of the UK’s biggest insurers, Aviva, which offers winter sports cover, told PlanetSKI it had stopped selling new travel insurance policies back in March when the global pandemic struck.
It is, however, renewing annual policies for existing customers which will cover the medical costs of contracting the virus abroad.
And if you happen to have Aviva’s Travel Disruption upgrade, you also get:
Up to £5,000 for cancellation or abandonment cover if you cannot travel or continue your trip for one of the following reasons:
- Strike or industrial action
- Severe snowfall
- The Foreign Office advises against travel
- Food poisoning, pandemic or epidemic influenza or catastrophic damage directly affects your pre-booked holiday accommodation
Warnings Against Travel
There are several issues to consider here.
Travel Warning Introduced After Booking/During Your Trip
The simplest one to deal with is if a Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advisory warning against all but essential travel is introduced to your destination after you have booked your holiday and/or taken out your insurance policy.
As long as your policy does not exclude all Covid-19 related claims and you have travel disruption/cancellation cover you should be able to claim for any losses you can’t recover from your tour operator or elsewhere.
Equally, if a travel advisory is imposed while you are abroad, you will continue to benefit from the cover you had at the start of the trip.
Travel Warning In Place At Time of Booking
The FCDO currently advises against all but essential travel to almost every alpine nation.
So are we safe to book a holiday to one of those countries in the hope that the situation will change?
What if it doesn’t and we can’t travel? Will our insurance be invalidated because we knew of the risk at the time of booking/taking out the policy?
Aviva says on its website:
“You aren’t covered for cancelling due to COVID-19 if restrictions were in place when you booked the trip – such as FCO advice, quarantine, self-isolation periods or local lockdowns.”
We contacted Aviva who told us that booking while a travel warning was in place would not invalidate the whole policy.
In other words, if you are prepared to take the risk, you can book now to go skiing in France in February, for example, knowing your insurance will be valid should Covid-19 restrictions be lifted.
“The validity of cover won’t be affected if FCDO advice against travelling has been lifted by the time of travel,” a spokeswoman for the Association of British Insurers told us.
“However, customers should make sure they are aware of current restrictions at the time of booking and whether these are likely to be in place at the time of travel as they are unlikely to receive a refund if FCDO advice does not change.
“When booking any trip it is important to be aware of what the terms of refund are and to book on a credit card where possible.”
And how can our hypothetical skier wanting to go to France in February possibly know whether the travel advisory will be lifted by then?
The only chance of recompense, if it’s not lifted, may well depend on who you have booked your trip with, their terms and conditions and how you have paid.
Travel Warning In Place At Time Of Travel
The FCDO warning system or ‘red list’ is advisory only so, in theory, there is nothing to stop you travelling to a country to which the UK government advises you do not travel.
But will you have any protection if you do so?
We asked the Association of British Insurers for its view of how insurance companies were likely to respond.
Would they consider the whole policy to be invalid or – since the FCDO warning clearly relates only to Covid-19 – just any sections relating to the virus?
“Travelling against FCDO advice is likely to invalidate all of your travel insurance cover,” the ABI’s spokeswoman told us.
Dogtag UK says:
“None of our policies will provide cover if you decide to travel against the advice of the FCO. This would be for ‘all travel’ and ‘all but essential travel’ unless customers have contacted us in advance with their reasons for travel and cover has been agreed by the underwriters.”
Others take a different view.
Michael Pettifer of MPI Brokers told us that travelling against UK government advice was not against the law and MPI would continue to accept non-Covid claims in these circumstances.
So if you’re unfortunate enough to suffer an injury on the slopes or are taken ill with anything other than coronavirus, MPI’s policies will still pay out.
Aviva says that if you travel against FCDO advice, it won’t pay out for any disruption to your holiday, for example if you have to return home early.
“If you book a trip and travel against the advice your travel policy will cover you, so long as you follow the advice of the local authorities, for situations such as:
- Medical expenses for new conditions or accepted conditions you’ve told us about including with COVID-19
- If you’re quarantined abroad, for example following a temperature check.”
Should I Book To Go Skiing and When?
This is the big question we’re being asked more and more at PlanetSKI as the new season approaches.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many skiers and snowboarders have already decided it’s too much of a risk and have chosen to sit out the 2020-21 season.
For those of us who can’t face the prospect of a winter off the snow, what’s the best approach?
Should I bite the bullet and book now?
“I’m not. I’m going to wait, wait, wait,” one of our contacts who has spent years in the ski industry told us.
“My view is to leave it as long as you can leave it and only book when you are 99% sure it’s going to be OK to travel.
“I’m probably going to drive and book accommodation at the last minute.
“Of course, if you need to go at February half-term, you might need to book Eurotunnel and maybe try to find accommodation that will allow you to cancel right up to the last minute.
“If people are that desperate to go skiing this winter they are going to have to be prepared to take it on the chin.
“This season is going to be really darned tricky.”
That could be the understatement of the year.