Worried about holiday travel chaos? Make sure you have the right insurance

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After being grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, many UK families are looking forward to going abroad this summer but the recent scenes of travel chaos at airports means buying travel insurance should be top of your to-do list.

The likelihood of widespread cancellations and delays means it has “never been more important” to ensure that you have adequate travel insurance from the moment you book your holiday, says Rory Boland, the travel editor of the consumer group Which?.

“We advise consumers to carefully check the policy wording to ensure you fully understand what it offers and any limitations, as these can vary considerably between providers,” he says. “If there are specific reasons why you’re taking out cover, check these sections to ensure they align with your expectations.”

There is no point wasting money on an expensive policy that does not fit your needs, or finding out that the basic cover you bought won’t pay out when you most need it. Here we take you through the things you need to consider to find the right policy for you.

The basics

When you are looking for a travel insurance policy, make sure you read the small print. The level of protection you will need mainly depends on where you are going and what you are planning to do when you get there.

For example, if you are going to a country with expensive medical costs, such as the US, you should consider taking out a higher level of coverage for that. If you are planning on doing any sports while you are abroad, that’s also something you need to factor into your policy.

Also consider whether it is worth getting multi-trip insurance, which could save you money and hassle if you are a frequent traveller. Experts say it might be worth buying if you have more than one holiday or mini break lined up.

View image in fullscreenHave you checked the wording on your travel insurance carefully? Photograph: Gaizka Iroz/AFP/Getty Images

There are several comparison sites you can use to find the best policy for you, such as GoCompare, Moneysupermarket and Comparethemarket.

A family of three, comprising two adults and a child, with no existing medical conditions, for example, could expect to pay between £13 and £153 for varying levels of cover for a week-long trip to Spain in July, according to a GoCompare quote.

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Adding on gadget insurance, where it is not included as standard, costs an extra £9 to £45 – depending on the level of cover you need.

You will have to check the detail of each policy to see whether you are covered to use mopeds, quad bikes or other activities, as this is not something you can select as an add-on. However, you can select cover for winter sports, cruises and backpacking.

Illness and injury

Your travel insurance policy should cover medical expenses overseas and emergency repatriation to the UK if you get sick while you are abroad.

It is important to have a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (Ghic), which replaced the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) for most Britons after Brexit, as this entitles you to receive “medically necessary” state-provided care in the EU and Switzerland.

Care could include emergency treatments and visits to A&E or treatment for long-term or pre-existing medical care. However, you may still need to pay for some treatments, even if they would be free on the NHS in the UK.

The card is not a substitute for a travel insurance policy, and it is not useful if you are travelling outside Europe. If you are visiting the US, for example, you should make sure you have good medical cover because hospital bills can become very expensive.

You may need to check that cancelling because of Covid is included in your policy as some insurers offer it as an add-on

Even in an EU country, the level of care can differ and a travel insurance policy may mean you can be treated in a private hospital. A Ghic or Ehic card will not cover the cost if you need to be flown back to the UK for medical treatment but most good travel insurance policies will pay for repatriation.

Most providers include medical care if you contract Covid-19 while abroad in their policies as standard. However, you may need to check that cancelling because of Covid is included in your policy as you may have to pay extra for this.

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If you have any pre-existing medical issues – either physical or mental – make sure you declare them when you buy your policy, otherwise you might not be covered even if your claim is unrelated to your illness. You may also have to declare any recent hospital treatments or tests.

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“When taking out a travel insurance policy, customers will usually be asked if they have undergone any hospital treatments or medical tests, as well as any diagnosed medical conditions,” Kelly Whittington, the speciality claims director at Aviva UK, says.

“A customer may still be eligible for cover but the insurer may require further information about their health and the types of test before they can make a decision. Cases are usually assessed on an individual basis.”

Declaring medical problems is likely to push up the cost of your policy but will be worth it if you do need to make a claim.

You may not automatically be covered for all of the activities you have planned. For example, if you fall off a bike while on holiday your travel insurance may not pay out – unless you are covered for cycling and other sports.

Cancellations and delays

Cancelled flights and delays are usually the responsibility of your airline but travel insurance can fill in the gap when they won’t pay out.

Airlines do not have to pay compensation if the disruption is not their fault and to be covered by UK law must satisfy certain conditions, such as departing from an airport here, or arriving on an EU or homegrown carrier.

View image in fullscreenAirlines do not have to pay compensation if disruption is not their fault. Photograph: PCL/Alamy

Make sure your travel insurance policy will cover you for the full cost of your holiday – if your trip cost £1,000 you will need cover that will pay out at least that much in the event of a cancellation.

Your travel insurance will cover you for cancellations and delays in some scenarios where you would not qualify for compensation from an airline. For example, if you need to cancel your trip because of illness, injury or bereavement. You would also be covered if you are called up for jury service or have been made redundant.

It is important to take out insurance as soon as you have booked your trip, even if it is months before you are due to set off. Sean Tipton, a spokesperson at the travel industry body Abta, says: “If you fell ill and had to cancel your trip and you weren’t insured, you’d be hit with a cancellation fee. Take it out when you book it … don’t leave it for weeks and months.”

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You may be able to make a travel insurance claim even if you have been given compensation from the airline. For example, you could claim for costs such as pre-paid excursions or kennel or petsitter fees.

You will not be covered if your trip is cancelled for a “known event”. For example, if an airline strike is announced for the day you are due to travel, there is no cover if you buy your insurance after the announcement..

Travel insurance will not cover the cost of missed flights or connections if you turn up to the airport late.

Loss and theft

Travellers who have seen coverage of bags going missing and luggage piling up at Heathrow may be more concerned than usual about insuring their possessions. It is usually included in a standard travel insurance policy but it is a good idea to double-check that the level of cover included suits your needs – especially if you are taking valuables or specialist equipment.

You also need to look at the excess fee – which is how much you will have to contribute before your insurer will pay out – versus how much your stuff is worth. Accepting a higher excess fee can reduce the cost of a policy but if it is £200 and your missing luggage is only worth £150, you won’t get any money back.

View image in fullscreenLines of passenger luggage at Heathrow airport in June. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Insurance firms usually set a limit on the amount they will pay out on baggage claims and a decent policy should cover at least £1,500 of personal belongings. Check for single item limits if you are packing expensive items such as wedding outfits.

Find out whether your phone and laptop are covered as part of your policy or whether you need to take out gadget insurance separately. Most price comparison sites will tell you which policies cover gadgets as standard, and give you the option to add cover.

It is also worth checking whether you have personal belongings covered as part of your home insurance, too, to avoid paying extra for duplicating cover.

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