With over 100,000 confirmed cases in more than 100 countries, COVID-19 has officially become a pandemic, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) head, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
What about travel? The outbreak of COVID-19 has left many Aussies wondering where they stand with regards to their overseas travel plans. Is it safe to travel? Is cancelling an option? Will travel insurance offer cover where it’s needed?
Given the ever-changing situation surrounding COVID-19, many of these questions can only be answered on a case-by-case basis – and what’s true today may not be true tomorrow.
With that in mind however, we hope to provide some answers to the questions you have about travel during this coronavirus outbreak. We’ll look at where you can find the answers you need, paying particular attention to what may or may not be covered by credit card travel insurance.
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So, you have credit card insurance. Tick. But does it offer the cover you need? Whether your credit card insurance covers disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak will depend on a few important factors.
With that in mind, let’s start with what the three main insurance underwriters have to say on the subject.
Allianz states that if you entered into a policy before 31 January 2020 – and your policy does not exclude claims arising from an epidemic or pandemic – you may be able to claim. However, if you entered into a policy after 31 January 2020, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to claim.
Chubb states that if you entered into a policy after 2 March 2020, coverage is unlikely. Earlier time frames apply for China but, aside from that, the insurer will assess claims on a case-by-case basis.
Zurich states that if you have travel insurance with Cover-More via your credit or debit card, this event is excluded and there is no cover.
Chubb states that all claims will be assessed individually according to the type of plan and each individual’s circumstances. However, if cover is activated after a destination or situation has been declared a ‘known event’ or ‘foreseen circumstances’, coverage is likely to be excluded.
Chubb also states that you will not be covered for any loss or expenses if the Australian government has issued a ‘do not travel’ warning for the region you’re visiting.
If a ‘do not travel’ warning is issued after your policy has been issued, and you want to cancel a trip or part of a trip due to the warning, expenses may be covered. It’s worth noting that as ‘do not travel’ warnings change, its advised that you should wait until at least four weeks before your departure date before cancelling in case the position on travel improves.
While Cover-More offers cover on COVID-19 related travel disruptions to its standalone policy holders, it does not provide cover to those who have Cover-More travel insurance via their credit or debit card.
According to Cover-More, COVID-19 is considered a ‘world event’ and is excluded. In other words, there is no cover available.
Cover-More will not pay for “claims caused by, or claims arising from, an epidemic, pandemic or outbreak of a contagious disease or any derivative or mutation of such viruses, or the threat or perceived threat of any of these.”
Insurance equals small print, everyone knows that. But, while reading the small print is essential, it’s not something we always get round to doing. Why? Because it’s not easy to read, that’s why.
If you happen to have travel insurance on your credit card, it’s likely been some time since you looked at the small print – if you looked at it at all. If you want to know if your travel plans are covered now though, this is the time to start wading through it.
First up, that small print will tell you whether you are eligible for cover. From there, you can check what kind of cover you can expect. This may include medical expenses if you contract COVID-19, paying for your stay in hospital, or any other expenses related to your medical care.
Your policy may also offer reimbursement on your travel costs if your destination is placed on Australia’s ‘do not travel’ list. That means, if your travel arrangements are cancelled by the provider, or if you have to cancel or postpone your travel to avoid the affected areas, the associated costs could be covered.
However, it’s worth pointing out that if you choose to cancel your travel plans because you are worried about the spread of COVID-19, your insurer is unlikely to cover those costs.
Be sure to check your policy wording carefully, as you may be eligible for other out-of-pocket costs as well. These could include accommodation, everyday expenses, and even pet care if you left your pet in Australia and have to pay for care while you are stuck overseas.
Just as your policy will tell you what you are covered for, it will also tell you what you aren’t covered for. However, if you can’t find specific details regarding COVID-19, you may want to contact the insurer direct.
Although, as a Ms Davis-Goff found out, doing this wasn’t entirely helpful either.
As reported by abc, 71-year-old Gwen Davis-Goff was planning a trip to the United States, and ended up spending $2,000 on four separate travel insurance policies just to ensure she was covered for COVID-19 related claims.
Initially, she used her Bankwest credit card to pay for her travel arrangements, providing cover for her trip with credit card insurance issued by Cover-More. But, as we have already found out, Cover-More doesn’t cover COVID-19 claims for credit card insurance policyholders.
Next, she purchased standalone cover from Woolworths Insurance. But, after she bought that policy, Woolworths’ underwriters defined the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. She checked the small print to find out that epidemic and pandemic-related costs were excluded, even if the policy was taken out before a pandemic was declared.
She then went on to buy standalone cover with Budget Direct. However, after multiple conversations with the company, she still wasn’t sure whether it provided COVID-19 coverage. Despite, being provided advice twice in writing and twice over the phone, she was eventually told she may not be covered.
Later, Budget Direct formally confirmed she would be covered, but by that point, she had already paid for a fourth policy, with US insurer Seven Corners.
So, as you’re checking your policy info, what should you be looking for?
This is more likely to be found online than in your product disclosure statement (PDS). You can use the above dates as a guide. Once the insurer classifies an incident as a ‘known event’ or ‘foreseen circumstance’, only policies activated before that date will offer cover related to the event.
Some cards require cardholders to pay for a certain amount of their trip using their card, while others only ask that you activate the policy before you travel. Make sure that you met the requirements to be eligible for cover. If you have an activate-only policy, find out if you still benefit from cover if you have not yet activated the cover for your upcoming trip.
If your insurer classifies the COVID-19 outbreak as such, it may mean you will not be covered for COVID-19 related claims. As an example, the CommBank Credit Card Insurances PDS states:
While the Citi Credit Card Insurances PDS states:
After reading the PDS, whether you think you might be covered or not, it’s still worth contacting your credit card company – or the insurer – to find out for sure. Bear in mind that with the outbreak causing so much chaos, insurance companies are incredibly busy, so you may spend a considerable amount of time on hold waiting to speak to someone.
Okay, so you’ve booked travel, but you’re not sure where you stand. What should you do first?
If you paid with credit card, it’s a good idea to start by calling your credit card provider – or the card’s insurance provider – to find out where you stand.
If you’ve decided to cancel or postpone your trip, and your insurance doesn’t offer cover for this, call your service provider direct to see how they can help. That could mean calling the airline or hotel you booked with, or your travel agent. Some are providing refunds or vouchers to those with bookings to severely affected areas, while others are allowing for amendments or cancellations, with or without fees included. If you have a cruise booked, call the cruise line, as many have altered or cancelled scheduled itineraries and are now offering full refunds.
Some airlines are contacting customers about their flights to make rearrangements. Make sure the contact details you provided were correct, and check your inbox for spam.
Look into ‘cancel for any reason’ cover. While your current insurance policy may not offer the cover you need, you may be able to purchase ‘cancel for any reason’ cover that will allow you to cancel your trip up to just a few days before for truly any reason. That could include you deciding that you just don’t want to go anymore.
Check your rights under Australian Consumer Law. Under Australian Consumer Law, you have access to certain consumer guarantees, so if you booked travel with an Australian booking site, you may be covered if your booking is cancelled.
Colloquially referred to as coronavirus, COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family. This
Initially, the novel coronavirus – later named COVID-19 by WHO – was passed from animal to human, with the first cases detected in those exposed to the virus at a live animal market in Wuhan, China. From there, the coronavirus mutated to spread person-to-person, with the Chinese authorities confirming this change on 20 January.
Those infected with COVID-19 may show symptoms that vary in severity, with common symptoms including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Severe cases can result in pneumonia, and even death.
Perhaps you haven’t got anything booked yet, but you were planning on taking a trip in the near future. Or maybe you’ve noticed how cheap it is now that airlines and travel agents are slashing prices to encourage more people to travel. So, should you make new travel plans as COVID-19 continues to spread?
When it comes down to it, the decision is up to you. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Cheap travel deals: With fewer people travelling, many in the travel industry are reducing their prices as an incentive to book. You could find great deals on flights, hotels, packages and more, paying much less than you would at any other time.
Quieter destinations: You may find that when you get there, the destination is quieter than usual. This could make your holiday more enjoyable, especially if you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing holiday.
Travel delays: Increased airport screening will likely take its toll on queues at the airport, which could mean lengthy waits on departure and arrival.
Cancellations: You may also find that as COVID-19 spreads, countries around the world take action, banning incoming passengers who have visited or who come from certain places. If you book too far in advance, you may find you are not able to travel to your intended destination.
Limited Insurance Cover: If you purchase travel insurance now, it will not cover you for COVID-19 related claims when you travel. While it should still cover you for other claims, if you do get sick with COVID-19, or your travel is disrupted by it, you will not be covered.
Choose wisely: Think about where you want to travel, check the Smartraveller website for info, and consider how far in advance you want to book. It’s also worth thinking about what kind of medical treatment would be on offer in the destination you choose.
Be flexible: Try to be flexible in your travel plans. Opting for ‘cancel-for-any-reason’ insurance could provide some protection should you need to rearrange things, but be sure to read the PDS carefully to ensure it offers the cover you need.
Stay informed: Use trusted websites to stay informed, checking back regularly for the most up-to-date info.
Practice good hygiene: Both at home and when you travel, be sure to wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, and practise good hygiene. Smartraveller has tips regarding this.
Consider your health: For the most part, those who are most severely affected by COVID-19 are the elderly and those with particular existing medical conditions. If you fit in these categories, travelling may not be the best choice right now.
Skip the cruise: Smartraveller states, “Australians, particularly those with underlying health concerns should reconsider taking an overseas cruise at this time due to COVID-19. If in doubt, consult a medical professional before travelling.”
Isolation guidance: All people who arrive in Australia from midnight 15 March 2020, or think may they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, are required to self-isolate for 14 days.
With more than a decade in the industry, CreditCard.com.au creator Roland Bleyer is an expert in all things credit card. And it just so happens he is an avid traveller as well. So, what advice does Roland have on travelling during the coronavirus outbreak?
Here are Roland’s answers to some of the most common questions he has been asked since the coronavirus started causing havoc with people’s travel plans.
That will all depend on where you are travelling to. The Australian government has issued warnings regarding travel to certain countries and all people who arrive in Australia from midnight 15 March 2020, or think may they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, are required to self-isolate for 14 days. Check for the most up-to-date information from the Smartraveller website before you do anything else.
From there, it’s a good idea to see where you stand in terms of cover. If you purchased standalone cover or your travel is covered by your credit card’s travel insurance, this is the time to read the PDS – and the insurer’s website – to find out what kind of cover you can expect.
Whether you’re covered or not will come down to the policy you have, and when it was activated. If you’re unsure, give your card provider or insurer a call. They should be able to provide more exact details surrounding what you’re covered for – and what you’re not covered for.
If you find that your cover isn’t great – or in fact, that it’s non-existent – check with your travel provider. They may be offering the option of refunds to certain destinations, or the option to postpone travel. If you purchased a flexible fare, this should give you more flexibility to cancel or postpone.
For the most part, the decision to travel anywhere in the coming months should be determined by your age, your health and personal circumstances. If you are in the high risk age category (60+), or you have respiratory problems or a chronic health condition, cancelling your trip may be the wisest course of action.
As the coronavirus continues to spread, more destinations may become a no-go for travellers. But, does that mean you should cancel your plans?
Now with the travel ban in place and with forced self-isolation for 14 days upon returning overseas, I do not recommend any non-essential overseas travel.
You should take into account what cover you currently have if you decide to cancel. You may find you are left out-of-pocket if you decide to cancel simply because you’re unsure of the situation. Reaching out to your travel provider may offer more options in terms of cancellation and getting your money back.
As far as insurers are concerned, this is now a pandemic. Some insurers will not cover any claims that relate to a pandemic, epidemic, infectious diseases or ‘world events’, no matter when you got your policy.
The main thing to do is check when you got your cover – whether that’s your credit card insurance or your standalone cover – and see how that relates to your insurer’s cut-off date for providing cover. Also check the PDS to find out whether pandemics and the like are actually covered.
Each insurer will have their own policy regarding what’s covered and what’s not, which is sure to remain fluid as the situation progresses. So, it’s a good idea to reach out to your insurer for the latest updates. Bottom line though, I would not rely on my travel insurance to cover me.
Note: Any advice given within this post is general in nature. You should consider your own circumstances, and seek advice where needed before making any decisions regarding travel or travel cover.
Stay informed, but remember, there is a lot of info out there surrounding COVID-19 – and not all of it is true. We recommend authoritative resources such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Smartraveller. Smartraveller also allows you to subscribe to your destination, and you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter to receive the latest updates as they occur.
Founder of Creditcard.com.au. Roland has extensive knowledge about credit cards in Australia. Known as a credit card expert, he has been featured on tv and in various publications. Some popular offers on our site right now include the ANZ Low Rate. Ever popular with no annual fee first year, low purchase rate and 0% balance transfer. Have a look also at the 0% balance transfer HSBC offer with no balance transfer fee, plus an annual fee waiver each year you meet a spend criteria.