Insurers will leave Britons unprotected and out of pocket this Christmas as they fail to offer cover against the tightened travel restrictions.
Fears of the new omicron variant have thrown travel into chaos, with new border rules coming into force across France, Spain, Portugal and other popular destinations this week. The red list is back and testing requirements have been beefed up. Many people heading home for Christmas or visiting friends or relatives abroad now face losing their money if plans fall through, or paying hundreds of pounds for extra tests.
Anyone entering Britain must now take a PCR test, which ranges in price from around £50 to £217. At an average cost of £80, more than £300 could be added to the travel bill for families of four looking to get away over the festive season, and double that if a test is needed to enter the destination country. Test prices are expected to rise in the coming weeks as private companies respond to this higher demand.
Anna-Marie Duthie of Defaqto, a financial data firm, said travellers should only book trips they know to be 100pc cancellable or refundable, because of the uncertainty around rules changing at short notice.
“Travellers may encounter increased costs from having to pay for PCR tests, having to stay beyond the planned return date or having to pay to quarantine in a government hotel,” she said.
Switzerland introduced a 10-day quarantine on all arrivals from Britain, before reversing it, meaning that some skiers decided to ditch their plans. Searches for winter travel to Geneva rose by 300pc last month, according to Skyscanner, a price comparison service. But one in five passengers failed to turn up to some flights leaving the UK on Monday.
Britons who continue with Christmas travel plans could find themselves footing the whole bill if there are any government-enforced restrictions.
No insurer will pay out if a trip is cancelled because of further lockdowns, and only 3pc will cover disruptions caused by a change in the official advice, according to Defaqto.
Just 1pc of insurers would cover the cost of quarantining abroad or travellers denied boarding a flight because they displayed symptoms.
Only half of policies will cover anyone who can no longer make their trip because they must self-isolate. However, nearly all policies will pay up for any medical costs related to contracting coronavirus, or a cancellation due to a positive test. Anyone who chooses not to travel because of the increased risk or cost will have no protection if their flight or train is still running, Ms Duthie said.
Travellers have been given a “false impression” about what insurers will and will not cover, the consumer group Which? has previously warned. Insurers have used confusing policy names, such as “Covid cover” or “enhanced Covid cover”, to reassure customers despite policies containing harmful exclusions, Which?’s report found.
Demand for travel insurance has risen in the past week. One company, CoverForYou, reported a 40pc rise in insurance policy sales on Sunday and Monday following changes to travel rules.
Increased uncertainty and last-minute changes to government policies will be a big blow to people’s confidence, warned Ian Bell of RSM, a consultancy. He called for more support for the struggling travel industry, such as bearing the cost of PCR tests for all inbound travellers.
Flight companies must offer a cash refund for a cancelled flight. Some airlines have kept flexible travel policies in place for all passengers, which means those who are unable to travel or choose not to could change their flight or request a voucher.
British Airways and easyJet flights can be rebooked without charge, but passengers will have to pay the difference in the fare if the new tickets are more expensive. Ryanair flights booked between Nov 20 and Dec 11 2021 will also be covered under a zero-change fee policy.
However, passengers are unlikely to receive any cash refunds for flights that are still running and they choose not to take.