I made a cruise booking in July last year for a ship departing Auckland. The booking was cancelled in February, due to uncertainty around the Coronavirus scare.
I took comprehensive insurance with with AA at time of booking, but they have denied a claim saying they are "not accepting claims relating to Covid-19".
What are my options?
For many travellers, getting sick on a ship is not an option. Although the risk is still slim, some would-be travellers are cancelling trips simply because they can't risk getting quarantined abroad.
Unfortunately insurers will not see "disinclination to travel" as a reason to pay out.
I've got in touch with Allianz who handle the travel insurance for AA.
They have said that "customers always have a right to submit a claim and we are assessing all claims related to Covid-19 on their own merits according to their Policy Wording".
However, if the ship is still sailing and circumstances have not changed to prevent you from taking the cruise, it seems there is little willing to pay out.
"Most travel insurance policies have an exclusion for disinclination to travel, meaning the insurer will generally not pay for claims arising from customers who no longer wish to travel."
AA included a "general exclusion for epidemics and government intervention" from February 28. However, your cover was bought well in advance and they still consider your claim.
Some cruises are taking matters into their own hands. They know that after the Covid-19 fears have subsided, they will still have ships to fill. While cancellations are expensive (for passengers and cruise lines), goodwill and "peace of mind" is priceless.
Viking have taken the unprecedented step of allowing guests to "cancel or postpone sailings up to 24 hours before departure" without incurring any cancellation fees.
It's worth talking to your cruise line or agent to see if there is an amnesty on rebooking your cruise for a later date.
I travelled by rail through Belarus last year, although I went from Berlin to Moscow by train. My experience does not tie up with the Mfat advice not to travel. My understanding is that you can not enter Belarus (on say, a tourist visa) and then just go to Russia. You have to do the entry for both countries when you enter Belarus.
What I did have a problem with was getting the visa for Belarus. It all got very tight as my passport only arrived back 5 days before I was due to fly out.
The train I got - the "Strizh" - did not need to change wheels and does the trip about 4 hours faster than the normal train.
The Mfat advice is a strongly worded warning. The open border between Russia can cause all sorts of problems to non-nationals. While the US advice is also not to travel, the UK foreign office suggests it is possible but passengers must go out of their way to arrange exit/entry stamps. Without one you will be "denied entry on your next visit". When I spoke to Rail Bookings their opinion was not to put clients through the hassle. It's touch-and-go, but it sounds like you got lucky.
The Strizh or "Swift" train went into service 2016, and is capable of running on European and Russian rails. It runs twice a week between Moscow and Berlin but, sadly, taking the fast train won't fast track your visas.
A small problem
In China, the pre-flight airport security checkpoints did not permit alcoholic miniatures in anyone's toiletry bag.
While most countries give a liquid allowance of 100ml per item - on domestic flights in China the CAAC specifies that this allowance applies only to "cosmetics". They are strict on this. Medicines have to be handed over to cabin crew and even parents have to apply for baby formula, which is provided by crew.
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