Monday 15 October 2018

Small print could cost you big if tragedy hits holiday plans

Beware exclusions where your insurer may not pay out if you are forced to cancel or curtail a trip due to the death of a loved one, writes Louise McBride

Standard travel insurance usually doesn’t cover deaths or injuries that arise as a result of hazardous activities such as rockclimbing, so you should always check the general exclusions on your policy. Photo: Stock Image
Standard travel insurance usually doesn’t cover deaths or injuries that arise as a result of hazardous activities such as rockclimbing, so you should always check the general exclusions on your policy. Photo: Stock Image
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Your travel insurance could let you down if tragedy strikes during or before your holiday - because of the reams of small print which often comes with such policies.

Should you have to cancel a holiday due to the death of a family member or close relative, travel insurance usually covers you for any charges or expenses you paid, or were contracted to pay, for your holiday before you were due to leave for it.

Similarly, should you have to cut short a holiday due to the death of a loved one, you will typically be reimbursed for the unused portion of your trip which you have already paid for.

This is known as curtailment cover.

There are, however, many cases where you won't be covered for cancellation or curtailment, so it is important to read the small print of your travel insurance policy.

Family member?

Some travel insurers might not cover you for cancellation or curtailment costs after the death of a family member if that individual is a cousin or a relative typically considered a distant one.

The Sunday Independent surveyed a number of insurers - getcover.ie, justcover.ie, Chill Insurance, Blue Insurance and VHI (VHI Multitrip) - to check the position of their travel insurance policies in relation to death.

All five insurers covered cancellation or curtailment costs if the family member who died was a parent, brother, sister, child, foster child, grandparent, grandchild, spouse, legal guardian, parent-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece, step-parent, step-child, step-brother and step-sister.

Most of these insurers also cover cancellation costs in the event of the death of a fiance while some cover the death of the next of kin or of someone you had planned to stay with on holiday.

Justcover is the only one of the five insurers to cover the death of a cousin - as long as it's a first cousin.

The death of a civil partner is also usually covered by insurers. This could extend to a partner you are living with, but haven't entered a civil partnership with.

However, you should check this directly with your insurer if you are living with a partner that you have not married. For cancellation costs to be covered in the event of the death of a cohabiting partner, you must have been living with your partner for at least six months.

Most travel insurers - including getcover.ie, justcover.ie, Chill, Blue and VHI - won't cover you if you have to cancel or cut short a holiday due to the death of a close friend.

However, all of these insurers will cover you if your travelling companion died. Some insurers - including getcover.ie, justcover.ie and Chill - offer cover if a close business associate dies.

Pre-existing illness

Pre-existing illnesses could easily catch you out with travel insurance. Should your travel plans depend on the well-being of a relative who is not travelling with you and who has a pre-existing medical condition, many insurers won't cover you should you have to cancel or cut short your holiday due to the illness or death of that relative.

For example, getcover.ie's policy states that it is unable to provide cover "for any claim arising from any pre-existing medical condition of a non-travelling close relative or a close business associate where the individual is aware of a medical condition but has yet to receive a diagnosis; or has received a terminal prognosis; or is on a waiting list, or has the knowledge of the need, for surgery; treatment; or investigation at a hospital, clinic or nursing home".

There can be grey areas with pre-existing illnesses, so always check your insurer's position on this - and disclose the pre-existing illness of a close relative - if this could be an issue for you.

For example, let's say you must cancel or cut short a holiday due to the death of a relative - where the relative had cancer for a number of years. Although the relative wasn't expected to die while you were on holiday, it was a possibility given the nature of the illness.

"Once the condition is unforeseen, cover would apply under the policy," said a spokeswoman for VHI. "In a case where a family member has an ongoing illness but their condition is stable at the time of booking the trip or beginning the holiday and the treating doctor has not advised family members to cancel, if a sudden deterioration of their condition occurs, this would be considered 'unforeseen' and cover would apply."

With Chill Insurance and getcover.ie, cover would depend on the status of the close relative's health at the time of booking the trip or insurance. If the relative had received medical treatment and had recovered, cover should be available. However, if the relative was receiving or waiting to receive treatment or had a terminal prognosis, cover would not be available. Blue Insurance takes a similar position.

A justcover.ie spokesman said "such claims are covered if the person's medical practitioner can confirm in writing that, at the time you bought this policy, he would have seen no substantial likelihood of his patient's condition deteriorating to such a degree that a cancellation or curtailment would become necessary. If the medical practitioner will not confirm this, your claim is not covered".

It is therefore important to read the small print of your policy if you are elderly, have an elderly relative, have a pre-existing medical condition, or a relative with a pre-existing medical condition. Check if there's an age limit on your policy - many travel policies can not be taken out by people over the age of 75 and there may also be restrictions on cover if you are over the age of 65. Bear in mind that your private health insurance may cover the cost of emergency treatment abroad for a pre-existing illness.

Monetary limits

There are limits to the amount that an insurer will pay out should you have to cancel or cut short a holiday - so if you have booked an expensive holiday, buy a policy with cancellation cover which covers the full, or most of the, cost of your holiday. For example, getcover.ie's budget policy only covers up to €1,000 of cancellation costs while its standard policy covers up to €3,000 - and its premium policy covers up to €7,000.

Irish trips

Should you be staycationing, check that the travel insurance also covers Irish trips.

Should you have to cancel an Irish holiday due to the unexpected death of a family member, Blue Insurance, Chill, getcover.ie and VHI Multitrip will cover you for cancellation - as long as you have at least two nights pre-booked accommodation.

(This accommodation would need to incur a fee - there would be no cover if you were simply staying with friends or family.)

With justcover.ie, you must have at least three nights pre-booked accommodation to be covered for holidaying at home.

Bear in mind that with some travel insurance, the only cover offered for Irish trips is for cancellation and curtailment - and so if you buy such a policy, your Irish trip would not be covered for any of the other problems typically covered by travel insurance.

Even if you're not staycationing, check that the location of your holiday is covered by your insurer as there are often geographic limits on a policy - and most travel insurers won't cover you if the Government has advised against travel to a particular area.

Exclusions

You should always check the general exclusions on your policy, as this will rule out cover in many instances. For example, standard travel insurance usually doesn't cover deaths or injuries that arise as a result of hazardous activities or sports such as rockclimbing, abseiling, hot air ballooning or safari (if guns are involved). Should you need to cancel your holiday - or have it disrupted - due to a natural disaster, you may not be covered. Even if the reason for the holiday cancellation is covered by your policy, you must tell your insurer as soon as possible.

"In most cases, for any costs to be covered, you will need the prior agreement of the insurer - for example, if you are forced to end your holiday early but only advise your insurer of this after you return home, they may not cover certain costs," said a spokesman for the AA.

Going through the small print on your travel insurance policy is an arduous task - but failing to do so could see you nursing huge financial losses if things go wrong on, or just before, your holiday.

How health insurance could let you down on holiday

Don’t rely solely on your private health insurance to cover you for problems that arise during or before your holiday. Buy a good travel insurance policy in conjunction with your private health insurance instead. Otherwise, you could have to foot the bill for problems you run into.

Getting remains sent home

Most of us don’t expect to have our remains — or those of a loved one — sent home during or after a holiday. However, tragedy can strike on holiday — and the repatriation of remains can be very costly and complicated. Should you be relying on your private health insurance, rather than travel insurance, to cover the cost of the repatriation of remains, you could get caught out — depending on the private health insurer.

“Laya’s health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of repatriation of remains if a member dies abroad unexpectedly,” said Dermot Goode, health cover analyst with Totalhealthcover.ie. “VHI will cover the repatriation of remains.”

With Irish Life Health (ILH), you may be covered for the repatriation of remains, depending on the circumstances. A spokeswoman for ILH said that it would cover repatriation if the individual who died had “been receiving emergency care in hospital” as long as the treatment had “been authorised by ILH” and had “commenced within 31 days of the member’s departure from Ireland”. Furthermore, “if a person dies unexpectedly whilst abroad, it is normal for the body to be brought to a hospital,” said the spokeswoman. “In such cases, we consider this to be an admission to hospital. Provided that the ILH member meets all other criteria in relation to length of stay [in the foreign country], being an Irish resident, and has an Irish PPSN, the repatriation benefit can be applied in line with their policy cover.” The ILH spokeswoman said there may be some cases where it wouldn’t cover remains repatriation. Travel insurance usually covers repatriation of remains, though the conditions of your policy dictates this, so check the small print.

Flights for urgent medical care

Private health insurers will typically cover your repatriation to another country — if you become ill on holiday and need to be flown or transported somewhere for medical treatment. “If a member falls ill while abroad and needs to be evacuated for emergency treatment that has been deemed medically necessary and is not available in the country in which they are travelling, Laya’s private health insurance will cover the cost of their medical evacuation to the nearest medically appropriate country, or to Ireland — whichever is nearer — to receive treatment,” said a spokeswoman for Laya.

Getting full hospital bill paid

“A lot of people don’t buy travel insurance when they go away — they rely on their private health insurance’s cover for overseas emergency medical expenses instead,” said Goode. This is a mistake.

Private health insurance typically covers up to €100,000 of hospital bills (depending on your plan) if you have a medical emergency abroad. However, the cost of a lengthy stay in hospital abroad, particularly the US, could easily be more than €100,000.  With travel insurance, the cover for emergency medical expenses arising from hospital treatment abroad typically runs into the millions — and sometimes, tens of millions.

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