The small print that ruins travel insurance

Published by Ruth Jackson on 22 December 2014.
Last updated on 22 December 2014

Travel insurance

It's the time of year when we all start thinking about booking holidays to help us deal with the post-Christmas blues. Alongside plans for that poolside cocktail or snow-brushed chalet, most of us will also quickly snap up the cheapest travel insurance we can find. But have you bought the right insurance? If not, that £20, even £50, you just spent on a policy was a waste of money.

"What people don't realise when it comes to buying travel insurance is that cheap is rarely cheerful," says Georgina Gold, spokesperson for the Chartered Insurance Institute. "It is vital that individuals make sure they don't just opt for the cheapest policy but ensure that their policy is the best cover for them.

"Although this could mean you pay a little more, it is a fraction of the cost you would pay if you are not covered."

Here are five things you need to check to make sure you get the best value travel insurance that is still worth the paper it is written on.

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1. Have you got enough cover?

When it comes to buying travel insurance it is easy to just go for the cheapest deal you can find on a comparison website. But if you do this, you could be leaving yourself in a sticky situation if your holiday plans go wrong.

Cheap policies often don't provide very much cover. For example, a family of four going to Thailand for two weeks could get travel insurance for just £19.99. But a closer look shows that policy provides just £500 of cancellation cover. It's highly unlikely that it will cover the cost of the holiday if you did need to cancel. Make sure you check the cancellation cover and think about the cost of your entire holiday.

Always ask: is it enough?

Also check that your policy has enough medical cover as the cheaper deals often skimp here, too. The Association of British Travel Agents recommends a minimum of £2 million for European trips and £5 million if you are going further afield. Medical bills can mount fast.
For example, a fractured hip in the US could cost £55,000, according to Asda Money.

"Treatment costs are sometimes just the beginning, with flight and hotel costs thrown in," says Kirsty Ward, head of Asda Money. Something as simple as gastroenteritis could cost more than £2,000 if you need to be hospitalised in Europe.

2. Has a medical condition invalidated your cover?

When you take out travel insurance, make sure you pause for a minute and consider whether you or a family member who will be on the policy have any medical conditions you need to declare.

It can be easy to overlook something that could invalidate a medical claim. Finding yourself ill abroad and facing a massive medical bill is a situation that Alan Radcliffe knows only too well. Alan, a former publisher, was on a golf holiday in France with friends when he began to experience chest pains.

"It was the penultimate day in the afternoon, the weather was hot and we were finishing a long slog around Le Touquet," says Alan. "I had a dull pain in my chest and shoulder but felt alright to carry on and finish the round." It wasn't until he was in the clubhouse that Alan and his friends started discussing whether he should go to hospital.

Unfortunately, one of Alan's friends works in insurance and quickly realised that because Alan hadn't declared a medical condition – hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy – he wouldn't be covered by the group's travel insurance.

Alan hadn't thought to declare his condition as he has coped with it for nine years. "Because I have lived with the condition for so long, I never think of myself as being 'ill' and it would certainly not cross my mind that I needed any sort of
special insurance."

Because Alan wasn't insured, one of his friends offered to drive him back to the UK there and then. He was then admitted to hospital and spent three days receiving treatment.

So make sure you declare any pre-existing medical conditions. It may increase your premium by a few pounds but that will be nothing compared to the thousands you could have to pay out if you get ill abroad and your insurer refuses to pay.

3. Are your plans covered?

Another thing to consider is what you are planning on doing on your holiday. Many activities will not be covered under a standard insurance policy including skiing, kayaking and some types of cycle touring. If you are planning on doing anything remotely adventurous, make sure your insurance will cover you.

If you are going skiing, don't assume adding winter sports cover means you can do what you like on the slopes. Many policies still won't cover off- piste skiing, snowmobiling or, in some cases, any skiing if you aren't wearing a helmet. Make sure you read your policy and know exactly what you can and can't do.

4. Can you drink?

A lot of travel insurance policies include a clause stating that you will not be covered for any incidents that occur after you've consumed alcohol. Many of us write this off as simply meaning don't drink and drive but it is a far broader get-out clause than that.

If you fall over or injure yourself while drunk, you probably won't be covered, and if you have an incident the morning after a particularly heavy night you could also find yourself uninsured, too. For example, if you are on a ski trip and head out for an early session on the slopes, only to have an accident, your insurer could refuse to pay out if it believes you were still drunk from the night before.

Your insurer may ask medical teams for blood tests to check your alcohol levels or it may just take a look at your social media pages – be careful what you brag about!

Read your policy and make sure you are aware of where you stand in terms of alcohol levels. Then make sure you plan your activities accordingly.

5. Is multi-trip insurance really better value?

In recent years, the insurance industry has done a really good job of convincing us all that multi-trip travel insurance is better value than a single-trip policy. It's great news for them – many of us now hand over upwards of £60 a year with little possibility of ever claiming.

Don't just blindly purchase multi-trip insurance. Think about your plans and unless you have at least three trips definitely booked over the next 12 months, think about going for single-trip cover instead. For example, a family of four heading on a two-week summer holiday, one-week winter break and a weekend away would save only £14 going for multi- trip rather than separate single policies.

But if you do get multi-trip travel insurance, remember that it doesn't just cover your foreign jaunts. Your UK-based trips are insured, too. This is well worth remembering if you have to cancel train tickets for a trip to visit relatives or your camera
is stolen when you are away for the weekend at a wedding. If you have paid out for multi-trip travel insurance, make the most of it.

6. What happens to multi-trip insurance if my circumstances change?

If you do decide to get multi-trip insurance, make sure you don't accidentally invalidate it during the year. If you or someone else covered develops a medical condition during the year, you need to let your insurer know.

"In the event of cancellation through the development of a new condition or the deterioration of an existing condition deeming the policy holder 'unfit to travel', you will be required to get confirmation from your GP or consultant that you are fit to travel before heading off on another trip," says Linda Davis, head of operations at AllClear Travel. "It is not necessary to provide evidence of this prior to the next trip but the information may be required if another claim is made."

Any significant changes to your health should be reported to your insurer to make sure you are still covered. A medical condition that arises between trips could still class as a pre-existing condition if you know about it before a trip and fail to tell your insurer.

So no matter what type of travel insurance you end up going for, make sure it has a decent amount of cover for all eventualities and also that you know exactly what you can and can't do. Get to know your travel insurance and you can holiday with confidence.

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