With New Zealand’s border restrictions set to loosen in 2022, Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI) is reminding New Zealanders that travel in the time of COVID-19 will still be very different to that seen pre-pandemic.
Getting all the details right before leaving has never been more important to make sure people can travel with peace of mind, said SCTI CEO Jo McCauley.
“Although New Zealand is soon taking the big step in relaxing some of the strict quarantine measures that have been in place at the border since early 2020, it’s important to remember that travel during the pandemic is still a fluid situation and things can change very quickly.
“As we’ve seen with a new variant of the virus emerging in some regions, the pandemic is still very real. It’s essential that travellers always check the travel advisory for their intended destination, and make themselves aware of what they’re covered for while travelling,” she said.
SCTI has shared a number of important tips for New Zealand travellers to consider when making international travel plans for next year:
Check the travel advisory status of your destination
When planning a trip, it’s really important to check the travel advisory that the government has in place for the destinations you’re travelling to. These can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (MFAT) SafeTravel website.
Due to the high risks involved in travelling to destinations with an ‘avoid non-essential travel’ (Level 3)’ or ‘do not travel’ (Level 4) advisory, insurance providers are unlikely to pay out on any claims related to the reason why these advisories are in place.
Some insurers, including SCTI, have extended their policies to include a level of COVID-19 cover, however this generally only applies to customers travelling to destinations with an MFAT travel advisory of ‘exercise normal safety and security precautions’ (Level 1) or ‘exercise increased caution’ (Level 2).
Some countries have also made travel insurance cover for ‘medical expenses associated with COVID-19’ a mandatory entry requirement, so travellers should also check if their destination requires this.
Carefully read the terms and conditions of your travel insurance cover
While nobody loves to read the small print, it’s never been more important to understand your travel insurance policy. Since the emergence of the pandemic, it’s become clear that while more people than ever recognise the importance of travel insurance, they can still get confused by complicated policy wording.
To help make this simpler for travellers, SCTI has rewritten its international (‘TravelCare’) and domestic travel insurance policies in ‘plain English’. This means technical jargon has been replaced with more commonly-used phrases and information is illustrated in ways that can be more easily interpreted.
If you still don’t understand your cover after reading the policy document, it’s advised to contact your travel insurer directly to get clarity. This is particularly important if you have pre-existing medical conditions that you may want cover for.
Be clear about the level of COVID-19 cover available to you
Due to the unpredictable travel environment, and other pandemic uncertainties, travellers should be aware that COVID-19 cover does not apply to all circumstances.
“We don’t know of any travel insurer that is providing cover in the case of a government mandated lockdown,” said McCauley.
For example, SCTI’s COVID-19 cover includes costs related to:
• Medical expenses if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 while on your journey
• Changes to travel arrangements if you or a relevant person are diagnosed with COVID-19 before you leave, and your journey is cancelled or amended ($2,500 up to unlimited - depending on how much cover you have selected when purchasing your policy)
• Changes to travel arrangements if you or a relevant person are diagnosed with COVID-19 after you leave, and your journey is interrupted or cut short (up to $5,000).
To be eligible for SCTI’s COVID-19 cover, travellers must be fully vaccinated and travelling to a destination with a SafeTravel advice level of ‘exercise normal safety and security precautions’ (Level 1) or ‘exercise increased caution’ (Level 2). Costs incurred for failing to procure relevant travel documents (e.g. a negative COVID-19 test) or getting COVID-19 while travelling in a region that has a Level 3 or 4 SafeTravel advisory in place will not be covered.
Some travel insurers may have other exclusions in their policies so people are strongly encouraged to carefully read all policy documentation prior to booking so there are no surprises at claim time.
New Zealanders should take out travel insurance as soon as they book their trip
This is because travellers may be covered for other non-COVID-19 related events that lead to cancellation before their journey has even begun, such as illness or injury. The most expensive domestic travel insurance claim SCTI paid in 2021 was $16,274 for a traveller who had to cancel a Fiordland cruise after developing a respiratory infection before they departed.
Customers needing to change or cancel their journey accounted for 39 per cent of the total value of domestic travel insurance claims paid out by SCTI over the past year.
“Interestingly, people commonly purchase insurance because they want to be covered while they’re away on holiday, but some of our most expensive claims are proof that the unexpected can happen beforehand, regardless of whether you’re travelling domestically or abroad. Unfortunately this can have a serious hit to your pocket if you don’t have travel insurance,” said McCauley.
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