Sorry to use the tired old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ but, as many people have found out to their detriment, it is especially true when it comes to travel insurance. It’s all too easy to take the first policy you’re offered rather than have to sift through policy details and comparisons to understand exactly what you’re getting. Trying to work out insurance jargon is about as much fun as an advanced level jigsaw puzzle with a lot of blue sky.
It has become a way of life for pale, sun-deprived Brits desperate for sunshine to trudge through the rain to their local travel agent and book a package holiday. Why not? After all, the sun provides you with a healthy dose of Vitamin D, and everyone knows that vitamins are good for you! (Just don’t forget to slap on the sunscreen to help prevent skin cancer).
Many travel agents and tour operators will try to sell you travel insurance at the same time as the holiday, or throw the insurance in free or for a ‘little extra’. How many people get past the glossy brochures full of tanned bodies lying on sun-kissed, palm fringed beaches to read the small print of the insurance policy? By that stage you are mentally already in your swimsuit and diving into that warm, azure blue water.
Travel insurance is often advertised by banks, credit card companies, chemists, supermarkets, coach companies, airlines, retail shops and the Post Office. On the surface it may seem adequate, but open the box and look a little deeper inside. Compare the levels of cover they offer against a good, comprehensive, policy and you’ll find that pieces of the puzzle may be missing. They are often the vital corner pieces too! For example, you may find there’s no cover for lost luggage, or the cover only extends to excursions organized by their tour operator or rep.
Once you reach your destination, would you stop to consider the consequences of going off to a local water park for some fun on the water slides, a sightseeing coach trip, or an elephant ride? When the carefree holiday spirit has you in its grip it’s likely you’ll do all sorts of activities on a whim. What if you sustained an injury at the water park, the coach crashed, or you fell off the elephant? It would be a very unwelcome shock and perhaps an unhappy end to your holiday to discover too late that the insurance your travel agent sold you only covered activities which had been arranged by your travel rep. They would put the lid back on the holiday jigsaw and you’d be left puzzling how to pick up the pieces and pay the bills!
Travel insurance need not be expensive, so it’s important to make sure you get the right cover for your needs. It’s a waste of money to take out more insurance cover than you need. If you only plan to take one trip to France in a year, then a single trip policy will be the one for you. If you are planning a short trip to Spain and then a ski trip later in the year you’d save money by purchasing a multi-trip policy and adding extra cover for skiing and winter sports. If you have pre-existing medical conditions you must declare them and it might cost a bit more, but it is better to be totally honest and ensure you will be covered if there are problems. If you have to make a claim and it comes to light that you have not been honest in any aspect of your application then your entire claim could be invalidated!
Next time you are at your travel agents office caught up in the excitement of booking your trip; don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. You might think it’s easier to take care of the holiday and insurance all at once. That way you can forget about the boring parts and get on with shopping and packing for your holiday. Instead, give the offer of free insurance some thinking time, obtain quotes from reputable travel insurance companies and do a comparison. For example, check to see whether the free policy includes personal liability and legal expenses. They often don’t!
This problem will no longer be an issue after January 1, 2009. The government’s financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), will thereafter require that any company selling travel insurance be FSA-regulated. In the meantime, be on your guard. Banks may be FSA-regulated as far as their banking business, but until the new rule takes effect they are not required to comply with the FSA regulations to sell travel insurance! A stand-alone travel insurance company has to be regulated and you have the benefit of the ombudsman if their services fail you in any way.
Just like a jigsaw puzzle, your dream holiday should contain everything you see in the picture on the box. If there are missing pieces or it all falls apart, you’ll need a good travel insurance policy and someone to call upon for help. Don’t risk spoiling your holiday and lamenting ‘Now, I know why you were so cheap!’