Natural disasters can happen anywhere in the world at any time. There’s always the risk of Australian travellers getting caught up in the impact of a flood, earthquake, cyclone, tsunami or other disaster.
There are a number of ways a natural disaster can affect travellers:
- If you’re caught in a natural disaster, you can be injured and require emergency medical assistance.
- You may have your return flight delayed, resulting in out-of-pocket expenses for extra nights of accommodation and food.
- Your return flight may be cancelled, meaning you have to negotiate a new flight home.
- Your flight may be cancelled before you travel and your holiday has to be postponed cancelled altogether.
In 2016, thousands of Australian travellers were left stranded in Bali after two separate volcanic ash clouds resulted in all flights in and out of Denpasar airport being grounded.
A large number of travellers had to spend more than they planned on alternative flights, transport, extra nights of accommodation and food to wait out the travel delays.
You never know what can happen when you travel, which is where travel insurance comes in to assist you.
Be prepared for a natural disaster with these 4 top tips
- Consider taking out a travel insurance policy as soon as you pay for your flights or accommodation
You never know when a natural disaster will occur. It’s a good idea to have insurance in place in case a disaster forces you to cancel your trip. If you take out a travel insurance policy after the natural disaster has occurred, you won’t be able to claim for the cancellation costs.
- Read the Product Disclosure Statement
It's important to understand what cover you’ll have for natural disasters before you choose a policy and make sure it provides you with the cover you want.
- Know your emergency contacts
Travel insurers generally offer 24 hour emergency assistance. Ensure you have these contact details handy in case a natural disaster does happen.
- Know the risks
Research where you’re travelling to and the time of year it is there. Some regions are prone to earthquakes, cyclones, floods and fires during certain seasons.
Can I get travel insurance that covers natural disasters?
Various travel insurers will provide cover for different natural disasters, including:
- Volcanic eruption
To find out what cover you’ll receive in a travel insurance policy, be sure to read the insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS).
What benefits does travel insurance provide for natural disasters?
Travel insurance companies are all different, but may include cover for the following benefits in the event of a natural disaster:
Trip Cancellation Expenses
If you purchase travel insurance before a natural disaster occurs, and the natural disaster results in your flight being cancelled, you may have cover for any non-refundable bookings and deposits.
You may also have cover for travel delays if your flight has to be rescheduled to a later time.
Alternative Transport Expenses
This benefit can cover the additional costs of getting to your destination if your scheduled transport is cancelled, delayed, shortened or diverted due to the natural disaster, and you will miss out on a pre-planned event or arrangement.
Examples of a planned event or arrangement include weddings, a funeral, conference, sporting event, prepaid travel (including booked accommodation) or tour.
This additional cost may even cover the cost of a plane ticket with an alternative airline to get you there on time.
Travel Delay Expenses
Where a natural disaster occurs, there is always the chance of planes or trains being delayed, or roads being closed for a number of hours.
If your pre-booked transport is delayed by a certain number of hours, you may be able to claim for an allowance to cover additional expenses such as food, transport and accommodation.
Overseas Emergency Medical Expenses
Cover for the costs of emergency medical treatment and hospital expenses may also apply if you suffer an injury or become seriously ill due to a natural disaster.
If the worst should happen and you're killed in a natural disaster, there may also be cover for returning your remains home to Australia.
Emergency Repatriation Expenses
In the event that you require emergency evacuation home for medical treatment, you may have cover for these costs. Repatriation costs may also be covered in the event of your death overseas.
Read the Product Disclosure Statement to find out how much cover is provided in these situations.
Damage to Luggage and Personal Effects
If your belongings such as your camera, phone or travel bag are lost or damaged during a natural disaster, you may be able to make a claim for them.
What travel insurance exclusions apply to natural disaster events?
It’s important to be aware of exclusions in travel insurance policies, otherwise you may believe you have cover for something when you actually don’t.
Finding out you don’t have cover for something after you’ve submitted a claim can be unpleasant and costly!
After a natural disaster occurs
Insurance doesn’t cover expenses incurred retrospectively, or after a natural disaster becomes a 'known event'.
Just as you can’t purchase home insurance to cover the damage to your house after a tree has already fallen on it, or car insurance after being involved in a traffic accident, you can’t purchase travel insurance after a natural disaster has already happened and expect to claim for the extra expenses of delays or cancellations.
Once a natural disaster occurs and is publicised on mainstream channels such as television or online news websites, it’s considered to be a ‘known event’. If you purchase a policy after this time, it's assumed that you did so with knowledge of the event and the potential impact it would have on your travel plans.
For example, if you hear about flooding at your chosen travel destination on the radio and quickly hop online to buy insurance, you may not be covered for any claim directly related to that natural disaster.
Check Smartraveller.gov.au for any advisories issued for your travel destinations. If you haven’t booked your holiday yet, you may be able to delay your holiday until the natural disaster has ceased.
Daily limits to additional expenses cover
There may be daily limits (e.g. up to $200 AUD) to how much you can claim for additional expenses such as extra accommodation and food if a natural disaster delays your scheduled flight home or travel plans.
Also remember that your travel insurer will only provide cover for reasonable expenses at the same standard as your original holiday itinerary.
This means that if you had booked accommodation in a three-star hotel, but then decide to upgrade to a five-star hotel after finding out your flight is delayed, you may have to foot the bill yourself.
The same goes with your rescheduled flights. It's unlikely your travel insurance company will pay for you to fly home in business class if your original ticket was economy!
Always read the Product Disclosure Statement to understand how much cover you’ll be provided with should you be delayed due to a natural disaster.
If you voluntarily decide not to travel
If there’s a natural disaster in the country you’re travelling to, but it hasn’t affected your flights or the particular area you’re travelling to, then you may not be able to make a claim for cancellation.
Travel insurance will generally only provide cover for cancellation expenses due to a natural disaster if you're physically unable to reach your destination, or the destination is considered too dangerous or uninhabitable.
A good way to find out whether your destination is still safe to visit is to check the Smart Traveller website which is managed by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The website posts regular status updates about the conditions in each country.
Am I covered if I decide to cancel my holiday due to bad weather?
Bad weather doesn’t count as a natural disaster, even if it’s extremely unfortunate when you’ve planned an active outdoors holiday or one by the beach!
Travel insurance only provides cancellation cover in extreme situations where the weather forces you to cancel your travel plans.
If your flight is delayed or cancelled, your accommodation is severely damaged or flooded, or something physically prevents you from going ahead with your holiday plans, that’s when travel insurance can provide cover.
Remember that in most cases you'll need to contact your airline, travel agent or tour provider to see if you can reschedule or obtain a refund from them in the first instance. You can then submit a claim with your travel insurance company for any remaining financial losses.
See our Claims page for more information about submitting a travel insurance claim.
Do I need to extend my travel insurance policy if a natural disaster means I can’t get my scheduled flight home?
If a natural disaster causes delays to your scheduled transport and you’re not able to return home as planned, your travel insurance may be automatically extended at no additional cost.
Check the Product Disclosure Statement or ask your travel insurer to see if they provide this benefit before you take out your policy.
Example Case Study
A traveller is in Bali when Mount Rinjani erupts, resulting in flights being grounded for a week. The traveller is stuck in Bali a week longer than planned, and has to pay a few hundred dollars more than expected on accommodation, transport and food. If the traveller has a Fast Cover Comprehensive travel insurance policy, they would be able to put a claim in for these extra expenses.
Why is it important to buy travel insurance that covers natural disasters?
Natural disasters are unpredictable and can impact travellers in various ways, including your bank balance!
If an earthquake, tsunami, cyclone or volcanic eruption occurs before or during your holiday, you can end up spending far more than you originally planned on your trip.
As well as providing 24 hour emergency support and overseas medical assistance, travel insurance can help ensure that if a natural disaster does occur, you may be able to recoup some of those extra costs and prevent your holiday from turning into a complete financial disaster!
*Stories are fictitious examples drawn from the experiences of Fast Cover travellers and staff. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Cover is subject to the terms and conditions including limits and exclusions of the insurance policy.