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Smart Consmer: Does the travel small print make you want to tear your hair out?


Ciara O'Halloran

Ciara O'Halloran

Ciara O'Halloran

After a freezing winter most of us are eagerly planning a holiday overseas. But the dismal economic climate means that many people are also tempted to skimp on travel insurance.

A new survey by the AA shows that one-in-five holidaymakers don't take out holiday insurance. And of those that do, many leave themselves without adequate cover.

Travelling without insurance can be an expensive business if something goes wrong.

Michael Horan of the Irish Insurance Federation identifies three areas of cover which travellers abroad should consider.

The first and biggest issue is medical costs in the event of an accident or illness. Most private health insurance policies will cover medical expenses abroad but, if you have such a policy, it is worth checking this is the case before you go.

It is also recommended that you apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which will allow you to access healthcare throughout the EU and Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway. The EHIC is free and an application form is available from ehic.ie. Bear in mind, though, it won't pay to fly you home if that becomes necessary nor will it cover private treatment.

Theft of money or personal possessions is the next biggest worry for travellers. The coverage offered by most standard policies is relatively small -- a few hundred euro at best. If you are travelling with expensive jewellery, it's safest to have it listed on your home insurance policy.

Most standard policies will also include personal liability insurance, which covers you in the event that you injure a person or property while abroad.

However, there is one area where most travel insurance policies have proved a little lacking recently and that's when travel plans are disrupted.

The way we organise travel has changed hugely over the last few years. A decade ago, most of us went on package holidays where the agent was responsible for taking care of us when flights were delayed or cancelled. Now many of us are so-called independent travellers. We research our holidays online and use different sites to book flights, hotels and car hire.

While an airline is responsible for getting you to your destination if a flight has been cancelled, this can be little consolation if the flight was part of an onward journey, booked separately.

Steven Rice of ebookers (www.ebookers.ie) says that the biggest difficulty for travellers is when elements of a holiday -- flights, hotel or car hire -- are booked on separate sources.

"If you book all the elements from a single source, then you are covered if there's a problem with any one leg of the journey," he says.

While booking from a single source provides security, most travel sites recommend that travellers take out insurance.

The most expensive problem that could occur with flight disruption is if you get stuck abroad, as happened to many travellers when the ash cloud caused widespread cancellations throughout Europe.

Ryanair famously initially refused to pay out expenses to its customers but was forced to overturn that decision. However, it emerged that under many insurance policies the amount paid out to customers was as little as €35.

The situation appears to have improved slightly since the ash cloud debacle, but check the details of the policy before booking.

As a guide, a basic two-week insurance policy for a European trip for parents and two children both aged above three costs €50 on the site getcover.ie. This will pay out €35 for every full 12 hours of delay for each adult and child.

Of course there are times when holidays have to be cancelled, either because of illness or injury. Most basic policies will cover the cost of cancellation. Illness or death of a close relative is also usually covered.

A final tip is to consider a multi-trip annual insurance policy, particularly if you go for weekends abroad in addition to an annual holiday.

Irish Independent