Swine flu worries abound, and though hopefully its reach and symptoms will be mild, the impact on summer holidays could be devastating. Yet act quickly and you can protect yourself financially. This is a special swine flu pandemic summer holiday briefing, including a full Q&A.
The Swine Flu Travel Checklist
Hopefully no one in your family will get swine flu, and if you do, for most people the symptoms should be mild. Yet it can easily prevent you having a summer holiday and leave you out of pocket too if you're not careful. This is an urgent checklist of things to do, to protect against the impact.
- Get Travel Insurance As Soon As Possible
Frankly, without a Travel Insurance policy, it's very likely you are going to have to cover any swine flu cancellations or problems out of your own pocket.
Yet travel insurance policies will only cover you and your family if they're bought before you've had any symptoms. Therefore, if you haven’t already, it's time to get a policy in place. The exact timing depends on which type of policy you have.
Single trip. This simply covers a one-off holiday, so buy a policy now, and it's in place in case there are any problems that stop you going away.
Annual Policies. These cover you for a year, and are cheapest for those going away more than twice annually. While there are no hard or fast rules, past decisions from the Ombudsman indicate it's the date you select the policy to start, not the day you pay for it, from when you can start claiming.
So if you buy now but select it to start the day before you go, and get swine flu just before, it's UNLIKELY you’ll be covered. For swine flu safety, start it at least a fortnight before you’re due to go away (as the virus typically lasts less than a week).
For details of how to get the cheapest policies, including best buys such as annual travel cover from £15 a year, see the Cheap Travel Insurance guide.
Check travel insurance policies will cover you for swine flu problems.
Whether it's a new or existing policy, it's important to check before you go that there aren't any exclusions which will kibosh swine flu claims.
The two main things to look for are:
- Cancellation cover. If your policy doesn't include cancellation cover, you won't get a payout if you can't travel. If it does, check the level covered is higher than (or at least equal to) the cost of the holiday, and watch out for high excesses.
- Pandemic Exclusion. Worryingly, some policies have a total exclusion for pandemics. Normally, this is the type of thing we don't worry about in the UK, until now. Swine flu is a pandemic virus, and if your policy has that exclusion, it basically means if you have any problems due to swine flu you're not covered.
- Going to Europe? Ensure you've a valid EHIC card.
The EHIC is a Government scheme which entitles you to free or discounted medical cover in EU state hospitals, plus those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland; providing you're holstering a valid card. Yet nearly three million people have out-of-date cards, so check before you travel.
If you don’t have it you can get one for free online at www.ehic.org.uk (don’t search on google, there are imposter sites), calling 0845 606 2030, or at the Post Office. Don’t think of it as a substitute for travel insurance though, just additional security. For more info see the full EHIC card briefing.
Got swine flu already? Speak to your insurer before you travel.
If you already have swine flu or symptoms of it, and are due to go away imminently, speak to your travel insurer as soon as possible. Insurers require official proof that you had the illness before they'll pay out; self-diagnosis isn't enough.
See the question above Am I covered if I have to cancel my holiday due to swine flu? for details of how to validate your claim.
If you have swine flu and aren’t going away for a number of weeks, then as the symptoms typically last five days, it’s to be hoped you will have made a full recovery by the time you’re due to go away.
Common Questions & Answers
What are the swine flu symptoms?
A. With the health service rapidly becoming overstretched, many people are being asked to self-diagnose the symptoms of swine flu virus (H1N1). In a nutshell they are as follows...
If you have a temperature of over 38° C (100 Fahrenheit) and two or more of the following symptoms:
- sudden cough
- aching muscles
- limb or joint pain
- diarrhoea or stomach upset
- sore throat
- runny nose
- loss of appetite
Then you should immediately call your GP or NHS direct (numbers below). Do not go directly, as then you may infect others. For full medical information on swine flu visit the NHS Direct Swine Flu pages.
Useful Numbers: The National Pandemic Flu Service, 0800 1 513 100. NHS Direct (England & Wales): 0845 4647, NHS 24 (Scotland): 08454 242424, NHS (N.I): 0800 0514142
Can I travel with swine flu?
A. The general medical opinion is it's not advisable both for your own health, as the symptoms may be temporarily debilitating, and also for the sake of others, to prevent contagion.
Medical screening from the swine flu virus has been introduced by local authorities at several airports for passengers arriving on international flights. Two major airlines, Virgin and BA, have already introduced ‘pigs won’t fly’ policies saying they’ll prevent passengers who have symptoms of swine flu travelling. This is standard practice when there's a pandemic warning (they did the same for SARS).
I’m worried I may get swine flu, can I just cancel my holiday?
A. No. There are virtually no travel insurers who include “disinclination to travel”. In other words, for cancellation you need to have genuine medical symptoms. If you falsify your symptoms and claim on the insurance it is fraud.
However, the one way out of this may be if you have a flexible airline ticket. Some airlines will allow you to rebook at limited or no cost. Of course, then there's still the hotel issue.
Am I covered if I have to cancel my holiday due to swine flu?
A. This is all about travel insurance; if you don’t have it, it's unlikely you’ll get any compensation. The usual other options of Credit Card Protection and tour operator or airline compensation are likely to have very little impact.
Providing it has cancellation cover and doesn't exclude pandemics, with a diagnosis of swine flu you should be able to claim (see the checklist above for more info). Yet to claim you normally need proof from your GP, but most sufferers are being told not to go to GPs, so they lack official diagnosis.
While the trade body for the insurance companies, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) says this should be taken into account and shouldn’t be a problem, it would be hard to bet against the fact that some insurers will undoubtedly try to avoid claims and make customers jump through hoops to prove they really did have Swine Flu.
Yet after initial doubts the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has confirmed that its members will now accept that if you can't get written documentation from your GP or other medical practitioner; it'll accept the unique ID number you get from The National Pandemic Flu Service website or hotline 0800 1 513 100 (a self-care service that will assess your symptoms), together with the label on prescribed anti-flu drugs which will include an individual's name and date of issue to validate your claim.
Yet the ABI doesn't cover all insurers, it's a trade body, and while 90% of the insurance industry belong to it, not everyone does, you can check if your insurer is a member on the ABI website.
Yet even if your company is part of the ABI, while they'll accept that evidence that you have swine flu, this is still untested water. Will it be accepted if you have swine flu two days, two weeks, six weeks before going away?
So it's worth working on the presumption that claiming won't be a piece of cake, and preparing for that to happen – if your claim goes through with ease, it's little wasted effort; if not it could mean the difference of hundreds or thousands of pounds.
The most important thing to do is collect as much evidence that you have swine flu as possible; take notes of your symptoms and anybody who you’ve spoken to officially, building up a case should your claim be rejected. Get any documentary evidence, even if it's just a receipt from the chemist of medicine bought.
Notes taken at the time, called "contemporaneous notes" tend to carry more weight, so if possible note things down as they happen, even sending them by e-mail to yourself or work - that way the notes have a level of time stamping.
What if only one member of the family gets swine flu?
A. Most insurers will cover cancellation for the entire family if one member cannot travel. Yet as always with insurance this is simply a question of terms and conditions.
Can I cancel if I'm going to a country with a swine flu problem?
A. In many ways there are no countries with 'swine flu' problems any more. The UK has the third biggest incidence of swine flu after Mexico and the USA. However it's always good practice to see what the Foreign and Commonwealth office travel advice says about any country or region you're visiting.
A few countries still have measures to quarantine infected travellers in place, but the vast majority have moved from trying to contain it to simply trying to manage it, so the FCO has removed them from its 'all but essential travel' list, which means there is no substantive reason as far as travel insurance is concerned for not going.
If for whatever reason you’re advised not to travel to your destination, take up the matter with your tour operator, travel agent or travel insurer immediately and ask for a full refund or alternative holiday.
If I claim will I get the whole cost of my holiday?
A. Generally not, you will first of all have to meet the cost of the excess. This is the amount you must pay towards any claim and depending on the policy can be anywhere between £50 and £250.
Cancellation fees also tend to be limited, to protect the insurer from you having a hugely expensive holiday. You should be able to claim for the flight and the hotel if booked separately. Cancellation cover limits vary widely and start at around £500, so if you've a swanky trip planned, do ensure your policy can stretch to reimburse you if the worst happens.
Are cheaper policies less likely to pay out?
A. More expensive cover tends to have more add-ons, larger cover limits, or simply be from more recognised brands which know they can get away with charging more (see the Cheap Travel Insurance guide). Yet the fact they're more expensive doesn't mean they are any more keen to pay out than the cheap policies.
As this is MoneySavingExpert.com you won’t be surprised to hear that our view is, providing it includes the cover you need, you may as well go for the cheapest policy. If you’re going to have to fight to get it to pay out anyway, why pay more?
My travel insurance comes with my bank account credit card, will I be covered?
A. First check it is actually travel insurance; often it’s actually only travel accident insurance, which only covers accidents had while in a train, plane or hire car paid for on the card, so never assume you're covered.
If it is proper travel insurance (see the Best Bank Accounts guide for details of free accounts that do include it) then even though it's an add-on it should still have a terms and conditions document of its own. So do the same checks on that as you would on any other policy.
What if my insurer turns down my swine flu claim?
A. Sadly this is quite likely to happen due to the lack of official diagnosis many people will have. Yet you have a full legal right to be treated fairly, and if you aren't you can make a free complaint to the financial ombudsman which has the power to ensure that you get your dues.
Of course if you have to go through this process, it won't be quick, but as long as you've got a valid claim it's to be hoped that you will get your money at some point. See the full Financial Figth Back guide to full details of how to complain.
In many ways this is why taking notes is so important: it gives you more proof if you have to get to this stage.
What happens if I get turned away at the airport?
A. Provided your insurance policy doesn't exclude swine flu and cancellation payouts (see above), you should be covered. However, while it mightn’t be easy, try to get the airline to write on headed paper that it has turned you away from the flight; this official note could be useful should you need to take your claim to the Ombudsman. The same goes if you get turned away at a ferry port or international train station.
If the airline has a doctor on hand, you could attempt to get a GP letter. If not then you are in the same boat as everyone else in terms of proving you have swine flu (and the fact the plane wouldn’t let you on is extra evidence – you could even take a picture of yourself at the airport with a sign showing the time and date to prove you went).
Some airlines have said they will try and accommodate people to get them on flights later in the summer if they're turned down. Don't think this means you'll get it free though, it's more about priority booking - and you may be able to push for a similar price (still to be confirmed) as the airlines' say 'refunds are a matter for your travel insurance'. If you've booked a flight, check your own airline's policies.
Getting the reference number from the Swine flu hotline (as explained in the Am I covered if I have to cancel my holiday due to swine flu? question above) is also important.
Is there a way to stop the airline turning me away?
A. Nope, all airlines have a right to turn passengers away for medical reasons. If you have swine flu-like symptoms but not swine flu, there's little to be done if you get turned away. Airlines initially suggested passengers could get a 'fit to fly' note from their GP, which would allow them onboard, but this idea's since been scrapped as it's flawed and adds pointlessly to doctors' already-stretched workload.
If you think you’re unfairly being turned away at the airport, then you could try asking to see a doctor there, rather than relying on non-medical personnel. Yet do remember as swine flu spreads, there will be increasing demands on staff at airports and doctors across the UK, and it may simply be impossible and inappropriate for you to escalate it further at this point. It's important to use your GP responsibly given the current situation.
In an extreme situation, if you’ve no travel cover then you could try arguing that the airline owes you the money for an unfulfilled flight, though chances of success are limited. Along the same lines if you paid over £100 for the flight, on a credit card, you have an equal right to claim from the card provider, yet again success chances are limited (see Section 75 protection guide).
What if I get diagnosed with swine flu and quarantined upon arriving?
A. Assuming your policy offers cancellation cover, it’s likely you can claim for accommodation (plus other pre-paid or contracted costs e.g. car hire) and the cost of rearranging flights home if necessary.
As ever though, it’ll depend on the terms of your specific policy, and you'll need to return with official documentation. Call your insurer ahead of the trip if you’re headed to a destination you know is still taking quarantine precautions (i.e. China). And again get all the evidence you can.
What if I get quarantined for swine flu symptoms upon arriving, but have no firm diagnosis?
A. Most providers officially offer no curtailment cover for people that aren’t proven ill. However, since the circumstances are exceptional, you may be still be able to claim. You’ll need an official confirmation stating your time in quarantine, which you can take to your insurer. Claims are likely to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, so gather as much evidence as you can to back yours up. Of course, if you deem the insurer's response unfair, then you can still take the claim (and your evidence) to the ombudsman.
What happens if I get swine flu once I’m there?
A. You should be covered under the medical clause of your travel insurance policy (unless it has a pandemic exclusion) and you get all the treatment that way. If you cannot fly back, it is to be hoped (but depends on the terms) you will get compensation from your travel insurance policy in the same way as any other delay.
What if my annual policy’s just had a ‘pandemic exclusion’ added to it?
A. If you have an existing policy and the terms have been changed since it started, you have a strong argument the change shouldn’t apply to you (or that you should be allowed to cancel with a pro-rata refund as the bare minimum) as any changes must be fair.
The insurance trade association, the ABI has already encouraged one insurer to drop its exclusion on epidemics or pandemics.
The chance of an insurer changing its cover for swine flu-related illnesses once a policy is in place is pretty low, but if it does or has happened to you complain to the insurer, followed up by complaining to the Free Financial Ombudsman Service.
How do I ask a question that isn't listed above?
You can suggest your question in the Swine Flu Travel guide forum discussion. While we can't answer personal questions we will try and review any issues missed and add them to this guide.
Also while there, you can chat through issues with other MoneySavers who may be able to help and make suggestions (though do remember it's an open forum so anyone can post there).