Conal Gregory: Why going on holiday without travel insurance is foolhardy

It is foolhardy to go abroad without comprehensive travel insurance.

Picture credit should read: PA Photo/iStock.

The cost of medical expenses and repatriation can be mega. Yet read the terms carefully to ensure you are properly protected.

According to the Association of British Travel Agents, an amazing 8.6m holidaymakers – two-fifths of those who go abroad – risk a vacation with no travel cover.

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If more than one short holiday is taken a year, it is usually cheaper to opt for a multi-visit annual policy but check on the maximum number of days permitted per trip. Usually insurers will quote higher premiums for outside Europe, notably North America, and also for cruises.

Summer holidays in sun kissed Scarborough .Emily Taylor , Becky Lumb, Patrick Eaton have fun. pic Richard Ponter 153410a

Cruise claims are not the preserve of an older age group. On one occasion recently, a man under 30 years was airlifted by helicopter to hospital after an accident getting out of a shower. The cost amounted to many thousands of pounds.

Package accounts from banks and a few building societies frequently come with travel cover but look carefully as the terms may be quite limited. Many either make an extra charge for older travellers or stop accepting, such as 69 years with Leeds-based First Direct, 74 years for Yorkshire Bank and 79 years with Bank of Scotland and Barclays.

In January, Nationwide not only increased its travel premium for older savers of its FlexPlus account from £50 to £65 but lowered the age from 75 to 70 years. Cover, which is per couple, is provided by Leeds-based UK Insurance, part of Direct Line.

Holidays abroad can cost more than expected.

There is no upper age limit with Age (formerly Age UK), Saga or Gibraltar-registered Ticorp, which trades here as Avanti and Staysure.

The American Express Platinum charge card, which costs £450pa, provides not only annual travel and lost or delayed luggage insurance but includes flight delay and cancellation cover.

If gadgets are to be taken, check cover or pay extra. The Post Office will protect a tablet, phone and laptop up to £1,000 for an extra premium. It will cover golf holidays for an additional sum which protects for loss of clubs, course closure and even the expense of a hole-in-one.

With airlines increasingly under pressure, ensure protection if your chosen one should fail. Several airlines have collapsed recently from Cobalt, Germania, Primera Air to Flybmi in February. However, under half the policies analysed by Defaqto offered protection with seven per cent prepared to extend cover for a higher premium.

Another air problem is where a flight is cancelled. In that event the airline should offer the choice of either an alternative flight or a refund, plus 250 euros per person compensation. Help and compensation for air passenger delays and cancellations are set out in the EU regulations (no EC261/2004).

Where additional expenses are incurred, such as a hotel overnight, if the airline will not pay such costs, it may be worth claiming from the travel insurer.

A new twist in delays arose last December when drones over Gatwick caused multiple flights to be cancelled. Insurers should include “abandonment of travel” as there is no protection under EU regulations since drone chaos is deemed an extraordinary circumstance. Asda already has such a protective clause.

Where a package holiday has been booked through a tour operator, the EU introduced cancellation rights last July where the circumstances are considered “unavoidable and extraordinary”. The gilet jaune riots in Paris and other French cities would fit this criteria.

The tour operator should offer a full refund as clearly the circumstances were beyond anyone’s reasonable control. Comparison websites or bookings made directly do not have the same protection which means travel insurance needs to be invoked.

Similarly, where the Foreign Office states visits should not normally be undertaken, such as to Sri Lanka for several months this year, those who earlier made financial commitments for an holiday should be able to gain reimbursement from their insurer.

In Europe, take the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is still valid for UK citizens. It provides reciprocal healthcare in the European Economic Area countries and Switzerland but this is in state facilities which can be basic.

Always declare any current health conditions and ongoing medication but also reveal historic health matters so that a fair premium can be worked out which takes the risk into account. Place the onus on the insurer to decide if an older condition is relevant rather than not declare it.

For those with a serious health history, notably cancer and heart bypass surgery, contact an experienced broker for advice. The regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, is establishing a ‘signposting’ scheme to require brokers, insurers and comparison websites to help find such cover.

Do not assume that travel cover will mean private health care. This may not be apparent until a claim is made and so do ask in advance. The policy ‘Travel Insurance 4 Medical’, sold by brokers to those with conditions like diabetes, uses state-run facilities. It is underwritten by Tifgroup, based in Germany.

One discount frequently offered is to not have luggage cover as home contents policies allow for a proportion to be taken outside the property.

However, this may be a false economy as it will not cover for delayed luggage – necessitating urgent purchases – and your excess may be higher than the value of the clothing.

Ensure there is sufficient cover to protect for valuables. Note serial numbers, such as for cameras, and if any item – perhaps jewellery – has been purchased only a short time before the trip, take the receipt or a valuation to prove it was not bought on that holiday if stopped for tax by an HMRC official.

Before incurring costs abroad, such as seeking medical help, wherever possible communicate with the insurer, all of whom offer emergency call centres. Seek their advice and authority for any expenditure. Similarly, if there is theft or a motor accident, obtain a police claim number.

With the popularity of booking spare rooms online and accommodation not matching the description, check that the insurer covers for misrepresentation.

This would also apply to either non-existent or non-functional swimming pools and be a far quicker way to resolve the matter than seek legal redress in a foreign country.

If a dispute should arise, try to resolve it with the insurer but, if this fails, ask the Financial Ombudsman to investigate. The service is free. Over a year it had 3,481 claims referred but awarded 66 per cent in favour of the insurer. You are not obliged to accept its judgment.

Finally, when comparing policies, use an independent researcher like Defaqto. It has 176 features on its database of which the 46 most important are applied to create a one to five rating.