Airlines plug it, banks offer it free and ‘cut-price policies’ are sold everywhere on the internet, but what’s the best way to make sure you’re covered?
Do I need it?
Yes. Travel insurance is arguably the one
form of protection a family cannot afford
to skimp on, yet many people travel without it entirely and many more buy the dirt-cheap policies available online and through brokers, which look like money-savers but often come with high excess charges and lots of exclusions. Equally, it’s not true that the higher the cost of the insurance the bigger the payout. Read the small print to ensure excess costs won’t bankrupt you, and bear in mind some sports — certain watersports, for example — are often excluded.
What’s the best policy?
Family policies are usually cheapest, although some individual policies offer free coverage for family members. Usually, the fewer people travelling and the closer to home, the cheaper it is, and policies can often be extended later if needed. Some bank accounts and credit card purchases come with ‘free’ (cost-inbuilt) insurance but these may not give you full medical, property or transit cover. Price comparison sites offer policies up to 75% cheaper than buying direct with an insurer.
When should I buy?
As soon as you book, or you’ll not be covered if any part of the trip falls through. And don’t forget your free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC; forms available from post offices or ehic.org.uk), which entitles you to free, or local-cost, treatment in state-run hospitals in the EU and some neighbouring countries. It’s not a substitute for private travel insurance, though, and is only valid for five years.
What should I be covered for?
Insurance should cover medical costs of up to £1m for European trips; £2m worldwide. Cancellation costs should match your holiday outlay and luggage. The policy should cover repatriation in the event of a medical emergency, and personal liability of £1m in case you or your kids cause injury or damage. A 24-hour helpline is also necessary. If you book your flight or package with a firm bonded by ATOL, ABTA, The Global Travel Group or the Travel Trust Association, you can claim compensation in the event of an airline or holiday firm going bust. If you’ve booked with a credit card, you’ll be legally protected; debit cards have similar protection under the chargeback scheme. But neither are substitutes for personal travel insurance.
The excellent Moneysavingexpert.com has a detailed section on the current best buys for family insurance, including clever credit card loophole deals
Where does insurance stand on…?
Cancellation and curtailment: Most policies only respect cancellation or cutting a trip short due to unforeseen circumstances, like the death or serious illness of one of your party. Buy a policy that covers cancellation and issues arising as a result of terrorism. This cover should be around £3,000.
Airline/operator failure: “End supplier failure” is not standard in many policies, so check.
Operator failure: Take out cover with a company separate to your tour operator, as if it goes bankrupt, claiming can get tricky.
Are all your family members, activities and destinations covered?
What are the excesses and coverage payouts?
Is there a limit to trip duration?
How quickly do you have to make a claim and what documentation will you need?
Does your policy cover delays? Airlines are largely responsible for compensating delayed passengers but usually make this as awkward as possible in practice.
24-hour emergency number?
Read more in the Summer 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)