If you’re taking a holiday this year, then travel insurance has never been more important. With strikes, overbookings and rising costs adding to travelers’ woes, a good insurance policy can really bail you out if things go wrong.

I was recently asked to compare a range of policies for a television programme. Readers: it was soul-sappingly boring. But I was reminded of one, all-important fact. Every insurance policy is different, sometimes staggeringly so. So before you buy, shop around for the best deal. Here’s my guide to the basics.

There are two main types of policy – single trip or annual travel insurance. Single trip cover does just what it says on the tin. It’s cheap and cheerful and often sold alongside packages or at airports (don’t buy at the airport – policies tend to be a bit rubbish). Annual policies are worth it if you’re taking a few holidays in a year and it’s useful if you want to take advantage of those last-minute bargains, knowing you’ll be covered. It’s better for long-haul trips too and the cover can be more extensive.

Make sure you’ve got cancellation cover. If something unexpected happens in the run up to the holiday, like the death of a relative, illness, an unexpected event, then cancellation cover will pay out a sum towards the costs of not being able to travel. Cancellation cover isn’t for every eventuality. It only covers things happening to you or immediate family, for example. And if you’ve splashed out on a megabucks trip, make sure you know what you know what the maximum payout will be. If you’ve got a medical condition that might affect your ability to travel, you’ll need to disclose this. If you don’t, then your claim might get turned down.

There’s a ton of terms and conditions. Travel insurance covers you for many more scenarios than other insurance policies might do, so the contracts can be lengthy. This is why insurers are obliged to give you a ‘key facts’ booklet (or online link) that tells you the most important things, like excess levels, policy limits and how to claim.

Always, always check the excess fees and the maximum levels of cover. I’d advise you to look at policies that cover you for at least £1 million for medical expenses/repatriation (and £2 million in the US where hospital charges can be terrifyingly high), £2,000 to 3,000 for cancellation, £1,500 for lost or damaged luggage and £1 million for personal liability (in case you get sued for damage you cause to you, property or other people by accident). You’ll find that cover for things like travel cash is low, so keep your money safe. The excess fee is what the insurers knock off your payout as a charge for making a claim. The lower the excess the higher the premium. You can sometimes adjust and tailor this too.

Don’t give up if you’re high risk. There are a few things that can make getting insurance harder or more expensive:

  • Being older (over 70)
  • Being pregnant
  • Having a serious medical condition (even if it’s treatable)
  • Going somewhere where travel is dangerous.
  • Taking part in (legal) high risk activities.

Don’t abandon hope. There are brokers, charities and specialist insurers who can help you find cover. Start with the British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA) if you are struggling to find an insurance policy.

There are lots of family insurance policies so if you’re going away with the kids, it’s worth opting for one. As with anything, if the kids are going to be out of your sight at a holiday club or taking part in an activity, check for suitable supervision as this may be required as part of your insurance cover. Family cover will also allow you to stay with a sick child in hospital or travel home with them if necessary – but usually only covers one parent. This can be distressing for parents when they find this up, but it’s pretty standard in policies.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.


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