Cancelled holidays, compensation and travel insurance (what you need to know)

Does travel insurance cover you if you have to cancel your holiday? Are you entitled to compensation from the airport if your flight is cancelled or delayed? Let’s explore cancelled holidays and what you might be covered for.

Last year it was the risk of trips being cancelled because of COVID-19. This year it’s the fact that understaffed airports and airlines are creaking under the strain and cancelling flights left, right and centre as a result. 

One thing’s for sure, though – we’re not ‘back to normal’ when it comes to going abroad for a holiday by any stretch of the imagination.

When you throw in the disruption being caused by a series of rail strikes in the UK, everyone with travel plans for the rest of the year is watching nervously to see if they’ll actually make it or not.

This raises an important question. What happens if your holiday is cancelled? What happens if you don’t make it on time for your flight because of all the issues on the rail service, which is also having a knock-on effect on road congestion?

Most crucially of all – will you get your money back?

Given the high risk of holiday disruption again this summer, holidaymakers are being urged to take out travel insurance to make sure the cost of their holiday is covered should the worst happen. Here’s what you need to know.

Cancelled holidays compensation and travel insurance

Will I be entitled to compensation if my holiday is cancelled?

If your flight or package holiday gets cancelled because of the current disruption at airports, then you are entitled by law to a full refund and to compensation on top of that. The compensation rules also apply if your flight is significantly delayed rather than cancelled. The purpose of the compensation is to cover extra costs you might incur, like having to stay in a hotel overnight, or travelling back from the airport if your flight is cancelled.

Citizen’s Advice advises “You’re legally entitled to get compensation if the cancellation is the airline’s responsibility and both the following apply:

  • the replacement flight delays your arrival by 2 or more hours
  • your flight was cancelled less than 14 days before departure.”

However, there are question marks about whether the compensation amounts available will cover all travellers’ extra costs, especially for the independently booked accommodation. In cases where you have booked flights and accommodation for your holiday separately, you might lose out on at least your deposit or maybe your whole accommodation cost if you can’t travel to take up the booking (unless your travel insurance will cover this). 

Also, there are situations where airlines and travel firms aren’t obliged to offer compensation, such as if the cancellation is the result of strike action.

With the looming threat of aviation workers taking industrial action over pay and conditions just to add to the chaos, you really need travel insurance to be absolutely sure you can claim your money back.

If my flight is cancelled weeks before I fly, will my travel insurance still cover me?

This question gets asked a lot because, when you buy single trip travel insurance, you are always asked for your dates of travel. When you complete your purchase, you are told your cover starts on your departure date.

This is obviously a concern with airlines cancelling flights days and weeks in advance. If you happen to be one of the unlucky ones, does that mean your insurance won’t be of any use?

You don’t need to worry. While it’s true that most elements of a single trip insurance policy kick in on the day you travel, cancellation cover is active from the moment you complete your purchase. Insurance companies recognise that the majority of cancellations happen in advance of travel and take that into account.

What if I test positive for COVID? Will my insurance still pay out if I cancel?

As long as you have picked a travel insurance policy that specifies COVID cover, then yes it will. Even though many of the tight COVID rules that forced people to cancel trips last minute (like compulsory testing) have now been lifted, insurers recognise that people are still catching the virus and it’s not a good idea for them to travel if they are positive. 

If you are yet to buy a policy, just make sure you check the small print to find out what each provider means by COVID cover. Some policies may offer cover for medical costs should you fall ill with COVID while abroad but not cancellation cover for a positive test. And be aware that many insurers will decline to offer any kind of COVID cover if you are not fully vaccinated.

What if I change my mind because of all the disruption? Will my insurance cover me for cancelling?

Unfortunately, in most cases, no.

The cancellation cover built into most travel insurance policies is designed for circumstances outside the policyholder’s control. There are some premium-level policies that offer ‘cancel for any reason’ protection, but they are expensive and not easy to find.

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