Look before you leap! 15 top tips on travel insurance
Insurers and their underwriters refuse to pay many holiday claims each year. To ensure that yours isn't one of them, follow this advice from Nick Trend
Published 24/07/2010 | 05:00
Insurance is only of use if it pays out when you need it. And the trouble with travel insurance in particular is that there are many reasons -- some of them counterintuitive and unexpected -- why your claim might fail.
So, to help make sure you have the right cover this summer, and that if you do have to make a claim you stand the best possible chance of success, I am setting out 15 of the most likely reasons why an insurer or underwriter may say no.
Most of these reasons will be buried in the small print, so it's worth reading this before you buy the policy, rather than as you are trying to make a claim.
Forewarned is forearmed.
Usually, the longest paragraph buried away in the small print will be the list of high-risk activities that are excluded from cover.
Some of these are obvious and won't apply to the vast majority of travellers -- base-jumping or skydiving, for example.
However, others are quite common, especially among younger travellers. They include bungee jumping, white-water rafting, parascending from a boat off the beach, some types of mountain trekking, cycle touring and dinghy racing.
One of the saddest cases I have ever covered was that of a reader who suffered serious head and brain injuries after slipping on some steps the day before his daughter's wedding in Australia.
Unfortunately, he had drunk three or four pints of beer over the preceding few hours; his insurers pointed to a standard exclusion clause that invalidates claims where alcohol is a factor, and refused to pay his hospital and treatment bills.
That case revealed not only how vague and unsatisfactory this exclusion is, but how many of us are left without cover when we do something as simple and commonplace as sharing a bottle of wine over dinner while on holiday.
Lack of evidence
Many claims fail because they are inadequately supported by evidence. If you have your bag stolen, for example, you will normally need a copy of a police report to prove your loss.
If your baggage is lost by the airline, you will need to obtain a "property irregularity report" from the airline.
I received a press release from a financial research company, Defaqto, the other day pointing out an unexpected gap in cover in some travel insurance policies.
According to the company, 28pc of family policies do not cover children travelling with a parent if the parents are separated and the children normally live with the other spouse.
If you are planning to travel with a child in that situation, you would do well to check cover levels.
Less than the excess
Most policies have an excess -- often €50 -- attached to different areas of cover. That amount is deducted from the claim, normally for each member covered and for each relevant section of the policy.
So if a family of four all have their bags snatched, the excess will end up as €200. If any of you need medical treatment as a result of the mugging, that would involve a further deduction of €50 per person.
You see how it starts to add up?
Claiming too late
If you need to make a claim, you should inform your insurer as soon as possible -- even if you can't send in documentation immediately.
This is especially important in medical claims, because the insurer will have its own protocol for arranging treatment and, except in life-threatening emergencies, if you don't follow this you may invalidate your cover.
Some specific time limits on claims and notifications may be included in the policy: usually you need to report any relevant crime to the police within 24 or 48 hours of its happening, and there may be a deadline by which you have to submit a claim after returning to Ireland.
Wrongly completed forms
An obvious one, but insurers tell me that wrongly completed forms are probably the most common reason why claims initially fail.
Concentrating when filling in paperwork will pay dividends.
Travel insurance is intended to cover emergencies, not make life more comfortable. All insurers have their favourite examples of customers who have unrealistic expectations -- the sort of people who try to claim for a massage because their legs are aching after a day on the ski slopes.
Existing medical condition
A common problem, for older travellers especially, is the issue of existing medical conditions. If you don't declare a condition, the entire policy will probably be invalidated. If you are in any doubt, talk to the insurer before you buy.
Note also that, if you have an existing injury that is exacerbated by a second accident while you are travelling, cover for this may also be excluded.
Disinclination to travel
If you decide to cancel a holiday because you are worried about a terrorist event, for example, you won't make a successful claim.
You will need evidence of an event such as a medical emergency or a death in the family to activate this section of the policy.
Lack of precautions
If you are hiring a moped and you don't wear a helmet, any claim for injury may not be covered. The same is true for riding and similar sports.
Some parts of the world are clearly unsafe to travel in -- parts of Afghanistan and Somalia immediately spring to mind. But there are many other, less obvious areas that are considered exceptionally dangerous.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently advises against all travel to some areas in a total of 36 countries, including parts of some major holiday destinations such as Thailand, India and Sri Lanka.
Your policy is unlikely to cover you if you stray into an area specified as dangerous by the FCO or our Department of Foreign Affairs so, if in any doubt, check the latest advice on the website www.dfa.ie or www.fco.gov.uk.
Lack of due care
You are expected to exercise "reasonable care" for the safety of your property. This means that in some circumstances, anything lost or stolen won't be covered.
An example of an exclusion is baggage left unattended, unless in locked accommodation and "where an appropriately sized safety deposit box was not available for use by you" (in other words, if you don't lock valuables in the hotel safe, they won't be covered).
Other exclusions include baggage stolen from an unattended vehicle "unless it was in the locked glove compartment or locked rear boot or luggage area of the vehicle"; and valuables stolen from checked-in hold baggage.
Many people wrongly believe that travel insurance will cover you if your travel company goes out of business. They are wrong.
A few policies do now cover the financial failure of an airline; fewer still also cover any losses (such as those on accommodation bookings) that you suffer as a result.
Acts of God
Costs associated with an act of God (such as an erupting Icelandic volcano), a terrorist act or a strike, such as the recent BA cabin crew walkout, are not normally covered by travel insurance policies, though some insurers have waived this restriction on a one-off basis in exceptional circumstances, most notably in the aftermath of 9/11.