After the experience at the end of last season, and concerns about a second wave of coronavirus either in the UK or in ski spots abroad next winter, one of the big worries many of us have at present is whether it’s safe to book a 2020-21 ski holiday?
That’s not just safe from catching the virus but whether the money we spend on our holiday is safe.
As with all things coronavirus travel related things are fast-moving and ever-changing. At the same time ski resorts and tour operators want to sell holidays next winter so most of them, aware of the concerns, are doing what they can to ensure clients are covered, one way or another, whatever happens.
Here’s a list of things we know about which you may want to think about before you confirm your booking however.
Reputable ski holiday companies have been warning us for years of competitor companies operating without ATOL licences and their fears for people booking cheap ski holidays with them. Those fears were realised last March and April.
“Our research has also told us that financial protection is of paramount importance during these times, so an ATOL protected package holiday is a lot more appealing in the current climate than a ‘DIY’ ski holiday,” said Chris Logan, Managing Director of Crystal Ski Holidays in late July.
So what is “ATOL Protection” exactly? Well ATOL covers package holidays that include flights, and some (but not all) flight only sales. ATOL cover means that if the ATOL protected company fails and your holiday can no longer go ahead you will be entitled to a refund if you are yet to travel, and hotel costs and flights home if you are abroad.
Another of the big ski holiday companies, Inghams, has launched a programme called ‘In Safe Hands’ which aims to reassure anyone booking a ski holiday with them that their money, and their holiday, is safe, with multiple levels of booking security and back up.
“If things change and we have to cancel your holiday because of Covid, you can pick another trip, or get a full refund,” the company says.
So if you’re booking a package 2020-21 ski holiday, do check the company selling it to you is ATOL licensed.
Getting good insurance for ski holidays has always been more difficult than it ought to be.
Insurance companies always say you should try to ensure all the possible eventualities on your ski holiday are covered on the policy you buy, leaving us wondering why insurance companies can’t just ensure all options you’re likely to need ARE covered anyway, or at least let you know clearly what they DON’T cover.
Now there’s a whole new dimension to insurance with the virus, with companies rushing in March to advise people the policies they bought no longer cover coronavirus related claims.
We heard lots of tales hat put travel insurers in a very bad light. For example people trying to claim for cancelled holidays being told by their insurers they should have known the virus might be an issue when they booked in January or February and trying to wriggle out of paying that way.
The good news though is that since the summer travel insurers have begun to look ahead and we’ve been receiving press info from companies saying they do again covert coronavirus related claims and even ‘as yet unknown future pandemics’ So it is a case of checking whether your insurer covers you or not.
One of those that sent us a PR email was Allianz Assistance whose head of travel in the UK said:
“The COVID-19 global crisis has demonstrated the devastating impact a pandemic can have. Travellers and the travel industry – including insurers – faced a wide range of unexpected situations that never had to be dealt with before. Plans were interrupted or cancelled and medical emergencies abroad were complicated by many new and challenging hurdles. It is vital that in the new world we find ourselves in, we offer a comprehensive insurance product that enables people not only to travel abroad again, but to travel with confidence. Our new offering not only covers pandemic-related medical expenses whilst abroad, but cancellation too, keeping our customers protected before and during travel. We always recommend that people purchasing travel insurance read their policy documents carefully during the industry standard 14-day cancellation period, to make sure they have appropriate cover in place and if in doubt, speak to their insurer.”
Another level of protection you can afford yourself is by always paying with a credit card rather than a debit card and certainly not a bank transfer.
For reasons best known to the financial industry, credit card payments have a kind of in-built insurance if whoever you bought a product or service off fails to deliver what they sold you for any reason. The claims process is like a court case and is onerous and slow even when clear cut (yes, we’ve been there, done that), but it’s something at least.
The Small Print
Other things to be aware of and wary of:
- If you’re unlucky enough to be contacted by a ‘contact tracer’ because you’ve been identified as having been near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19… and worse still this happens within 14 days of your ski holiday departure date, you won’t be able to travel. From what we can see some insurance companies will cover you in this scenario, others won’t. Similarly we see travel businesses saying they’ll “help all they can” – hopefully rebooking you to a later date if you can travel then, but there’ not much talk of refunds on request.
- All travel depends on the current advice from governments in all the ski destination nations as well as governments in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales who have at some points during the pandemic had different travel rules and requirements. In terms of our ski holidays these fluctuations could (but hopefully won’t) mean a destination is effectively ‘closed’ to non-essential travel (and apparently skiing isn’t essential), or that it’s possible but a 14 day self-isolation period is required on arrival, or return to the UK, or both. Among other consequences of such a status change for a ski destination nation, or the UK, most insurance policies have a get-out-of-paying-out clause that if UK Government advice is against travel, they won’t cover.