Holiday cancellation and curtailment insurance

Holiday cancellation cover can help if you can’t make your trip, while curtailment will cover you if you need to end your trip early

Eve Powell
Eve Powell
Updated 21 March 2023  | 4 mins read
Reviewed by Jasmine Hembury

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What is travel cancellation insurance?

Travel insurance policies are designed to cover you for unexpected situations that could affect your trip, or impact your travel plans, so they usually include cancellation cover as standard.

This will compensate you for some or all of your travel expenses - like flights, cruise, hotel, excursions and so on - if you have to cancel your trip because of unforeseen circumstances.

You’ll need to check your policy to find out exactly what causes of cancellation are covered, but it usually includes:

  • An injury or illness that stops you travelling
  • A fire or flood occurs at your home
  • The government advises against travelling to the country you’re visiting
  • You’re called up for jury duty
  • A close family member is seriously injured, ill or dies

Key points

  • It’s a good idea to take out insurance as soon as your trip's booked so you’re covered for cancellation immediately
  • You can’t take out insurance for a problem that you’re aware of when you buy cover
  • Make sure you understand how your policy treats cancellations for Covid-related issues

Does travel cancellation insurance cover Covid-19?

Many insurers offer cover for Covid-19, but what’s included varies.

Some will cover cancellation due to a positive coronavirus test before you travel. But only a small proportion will cover you if you’re denied boarding at the airport, or if your trip’s cancelled due to changes in lockdown restrictions.

Most policies will cover your medical expenses if you catch Covid-19 while abroad and need treatment, but you’ll struggle to find an insurer that’ll cover accommodation costs if you fall ill and need to extend your stay.

And you’re unlikely to be covered at all if you need to cancel due to coronavirus after travelling against Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice.

When does cancellation cover begin?

It depends on the type of policy you have chosen. You’ll be covered for cancellation from the date you purchase your travel insurance with a single-trip policy.

That’s why it’s a good idea to buy cover as soon as you book your holiday - so if you run into any unexpected problems, you won’t find yourself out of pocket if you have to cancel.

With an annual policy, you can choose the start date from which you’ll be covered. So, think about starting it from the date you book your first holiday of the year in case you need to cancel your trip beforehand.

Also, with an annual policy you’ll already have cancellation cover in place for any subsequent holidays throughout the year.

What does holiday cancellation insurance cover?

What’s included and the level of protection you’ll get with cancellation cover varies between providers. Check your policy terms and conditions to be sure, but most policies:

Will cover

  • You or a close family member becoming ill. This usually includes being diagnosed with Covid-19, but check your policy documents carefully
  • Being called up for jury service
  • A bereavement or needing to attend a funeral
  • A natural disaster
  • If you or a travelling companion become pregnant and are told not to travel (but not because you just no longer want to travel)
  • FCDO advice changes since you booked your trip to say it’s no longer safe to travel to your destination
  • A burglary, flood or fire at your home
  • Being involved in an accident

Won't cover

  • Being unable to travel because of pre-existing conditions you’ve not declared
  • Your airline cancelling your flights - you’ll usually need to try and get compensation from them directly
  • Injuries or incidents caused by being under the influence of alcohol or drugs that stop you from being able to travel
  • Any incident that’s already happened or that you know will happen
  • Changing your mind about travelling

How much cancellation cover will I have on my policy?

The amount you’ll be able to claim varies between policies, but the cover is usually quite generous.

Over half (69%) of the annual travel insurance policies on Defaqto will cover cancellation costs of at least £3,000 or up to the full holiday amount.

Just 2% of policies offer cover of £1,000 or less.[1]

What is curtailment cover?

Curtailment cover can provide financial compensation if you’ve started your trip but have to cut it short unexpectedly - for example, if you fall ill part-way through your holiday.

Almost all travel insurance policies include curtailment cover as standard. If you have to come home early, it’s designed to reimburse you for the unused part of your trip and for reasonable expenses to return home.

In some cases, it might cover your travelling companion if their time away was also cut short.

Just bear in mind that the nearer you are to the end of your break, the less you can claim back. And you can only claim for the days you haven’t used, you can’t claim for your whole holiday.

What does it cover?

You’ll need to check your policy wording for an exact list of what you will and won’t be able to claim for, but reasons for curtailment that are likely to be covered include:

  • A close relative in the UK dying or falling seriously ill
  • Your house getting burgled or rendered uninhabitable (fire or flood, for example)
  • You or a travelling companion lose your passport, or have it stolen
  • You’re in the armed forces and you’re ordered to return to work

However, insurers might refuse your claim if you need to come home early because of a pre-existing medical condition, even if it’s one they’ve agreed to cover. So if there’s any risk you might have to cancel or cut short your trip, make sure you check the policy exclusions.

And you won’t be able to claim if you’re just not enjoying your holiday or it’s not what you expected. Although if you booked through a travel operator, you’ll have the option of complaining to them instead.

Does travel insurance cover flight cancellation?

Airlines have a responsibility to their passengers if a flight is delayed or cancelled. So you might be able to get compensation from your airline instead of claiming on your insurance.

If your flight’s cancelled, your airline should provide replacement flights or give you a full refund for any parts of the ticket that haven’t been used. You may also be given compensation for things like overnight accommodation and meals while you wait for your replacement flight.

However, the airline won’t provide compensation if your flight didn’t go ahead due to strike action, severe weather, or anything beyond its control, although the cost of your flight should still be refunded.

You might be able to claim on your travel insurance if:

  • Your flight is delayed more than 24 hours
  • Your flight is cancelled and the airline doesn’t rebook you on an alternative flight within 24 hours
  • Your airline can’t refund you for any other reason

How do I claim for holiday cancellation?

Usually, you’ll need to:

  • Show receipts, invoices and travel documents for bookings
  • Have a signed medical certificate from a doctor if you’ve cancelled because of illness or injury
  • Provide a copy of the death certificate if you had to cancel your trip because of a bereavement
  • Provide any other kind of evidence for why you had to cancel – for example, a letter stating you must attend jury duty

The number you’ll need to call to make a claim will be on your policy documents, and make sure you have your policy number to hand when you speak to your insurer.

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[1]Last checked 11 May 2023