Volcanic ash: The insurers that will pay out

20 April 2010

Many insurance firms are yet to confirm if they will pay out for delays and holiday cancellations as the volcanic ash crisis rumbles on.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says that while a volcanic eruption is not a specific event covered in insurance policies, some cover for delay and travel abandonment may be available, depending on the level of cover purchased by the policyholder and the terms and conditions.

“This will vary as there is no standard travel insurance policy,” says Nick Starling, ABI director of general insurance and health.

“Payment for delay, whether outward or return, is usually a fixed amount per delayed period up to a maximum figure, not an open-ended sum.

"It is especially important to talk to your insurer to determine the types of expenses, which can be covered before you incur them.”

In the first instance, people with flights booked or stranded abroad should contact the airline to see if they will refund or offer them alternative travel arrangements.

In theory, travel insurance should cover extra expenses incurred due to delays, such as hotels, but not all insurers will cover this in such exceptional circumstances.

Offering compensation

One that will is Direct Travel Insurance, which has confirmed it will cover claims from customers who are either stranded abroad or can’t travel due to the volcanic ash.

This means customers will be able to make a claim for travel delay, abandonment or missed departure.

Paul Thilo, spokesperson for Direct Travel Insurance, says: "We have received calls from a lot of distraught customers. Some concerned about their forthcoming holidays, others stranded abroad and while our travel insurance does not normally cover this kind of situation, we wanted to do what we could to help those that have had their holidays affected.”

Direct Line, Fortis, and Saga have also said they will cover policyholders for delay, missed departure and cancellation. However, most travel insurance firms will only cover customers for cancellation or trip abandonment once their flight has been delayed for at least 24 hours.

HSBC, M&S Money and First Direct have all confirmed that, although claims relating to volcanic eruptions are not usually covered by travel insurance policies, they will consider claims in the current circumstances.

Paul Thurston, chief executive of HSBC Bank, says: “The volcanic ash disruption is an unprecedented event and has left thousands of travellers disappointed. Not all insurance policies are the same, but at HSBC we believe standing behind our customers on this extraordinary occasion is the right thing to do.

“Our commitment to consider claims in this situation will help our customers cope with the costs arising from the disruption of their travel plans.”

Lloyds Banking Group has also confirmed it will support all those customers currently abroad who have one of its travel policies or who are eligible for travel cover through its Silver, Gold, Platinum or Premier current accounts.

It has agreed to reimburse them for any reasonable costs they incur as a result of the disruption. Halifax, part of the Lloyds Banking Group, has said the same applies for customers with a Halifax travel insurance policy or eligible for travel cover through its Ultimate Reward current account.

Sitting on the fence

However, some travel insurance firms still haven’t confirmed their position on the current crisis and some travellers who have made their own way home by boat, bus or car have said their travel insurance will not pay up.

Steve Williams, head of travel insurance at Confused.com, says: “Insurance providers need to establish a clear position on the cover they will provide. There is too much confusion among travellers because providers are being slow in clarifying where people stand.

"The British government, foreign and commonwealth office have all stepped in and offered services that will appease the situation. We are calling for insurers to do the decent thing and at the very least give customers some peace of mind. As the disruption looks set to continue, the ‘there is no standard approach' line is wearing thin for the thousands of people who need a clear answer and need it now.

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