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Is Airbnb’s COVID relief enough to protect you?

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Airbnb has launched a new COVID support package in Australia – good news, but here's why travel insurance is still a must.

The online platform's new scheme, Guest COVID Support Program, is being funded by an initial US$20 million. It aims to provide relief to guests no longer able to proceed with their previously booked reservations due to unexpected travel disruptions caused by government mandates.

Airbnb cites "border closures" or "mandatory extended quarantine requirements" as examples of claimable events. Guests who've made bookings in these situations can get a travel coupon for 50% of the cost of any portion of their reservation that's not been refunded.

Airbnb confirmed to Finder the new support is available now in Australia, and it can be applied retroactively to reservations that:

  1. Have a check-in date on or after 1 December 2021, and
  2. Had to be cancelled by the guest due to border closures, government mandates and certain other Omicron-related travel restrictions not in effect at the time of booking

Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb country manager for Australia, explained: "For example, if a traveller in October booked a stay to Queensland with a check-in date for late December – and Queensland's restrictions on outside travel were announced after the date of booking but before the date of check-in – this program would retroactively apply.

"However, if a traveler books a stay in Queensland today while the same travel restrictions are already in place, the program would not apply."

Wheeldon added that the program's intention was to "support guests who have encountered extreme and unexpected government-mandated travel disruptions due to Omicron and through no fault of their own."

Airbnb insurance: A new product is coming

Airbnb also announced it will launch "custom-built" travel insurance this year aimed at Airbnb guests. This will be supported by a "reputable insurance carrier", who'll be the underwriter. Airbnb wasn't able to confirm to Finder when or if the insurance may arrive in Australia.

Insurance isn't new to Airbnb. The platform offers host protection insurance under a program called AirCover. This includes cover for legal costs to help with any disputes between a host and their guests. But its current insurances are geared towards hosts. For guests who make the bookings, Airbnb's cancellation terms during the pandemic can be tricky to navigate.

Its refund policy no longer considers COVID-19 "extenuating circumstances" if you cancel your booking. Instead, guests are largely tied to the cancellation terms they agree with their host on confirming their trip.

And while Airbnb's website says it does "allow guests who contract COVID to cancel for a full refund even if it's outside of the Host's cancellation policy", there are a number of other travel mishaps linked to a COVID surge that won't lead to consumers getting their money back.

For example, Airbnb's COVID-19 policy doesn't cover: "transportation disruptions and cancellations; travel advisories and restrictions; health advisories and quarantines; changes to applicable law; and other government mandates – like evacuation orders, border closures, prohibitions on short-term rentals, and shelter-in-place requirements."

So, the Guest COVID Support Program will help some who find themselves in these situations. But how much further does travel insurance go?

How travel insurance can help

Claiming back costs for trip cancellations and curtailments has long been a feature of travel insurance. And COVID-linked insurance benefits are now available with 17 travel insurance providers.

Such policies can offer money back for claimable events, such as if:

  • You, or your travelling companion, are diagnosed with COVID-19 after you take out a policy – Cover-More offers up to $10,000 in domestic cancellation cover following if you're diagnosed with COVID or you're a close contact.
  • You are diagnosed with COVID-19 during your trip and are ordered into a period of quarantine or isolation.
  • A close relative, residing in Australia, is diagnosed with COVID-19 and it's considered to be life threatening.
  • The person you're due to stay with in Australia is diagnosed with COVID-19 or made to quarantine and you can no longer stay with them.
  • The prepaid accommodation you were due to stay at is closed because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

It's worth noting that travel plans disrupted by border closures are commonly excluded by travel insurance. To that end, Airbnb's new programme should offer some assistance.

But it's important to keep in mind that it isn't just COVID-linked happenings that are covered by insurance. For example, a policy can protect you if your luggage or belongings are lost, or if you have an accident with your rental vehicle while on holiday.

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