Information unlimited: Travel insurance

The First Of A New Series Which Offers All The Facts You Need To Avoid Heartache. No 1: Travel Insurance
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The Independent Culture
TAKING OUT travel insurance is vital if you are going abroad, and in particular if you are travelling with children. You need to cover yourself and your family for loss, theft, delay, cancellation or illness. Make sure you notify your insurer of any special needs and tell them exactly what kind of holiday you are taking so that you can get appropriate insurance. (If you take your kids skiing and you have not told your insurers that beforehand, you will have no comeback should anyone have an accident.)

Most travel agents offer their own insurance packages, but those tend to be much more expensive. Shop around because banks, building societies, and even Help the Aged all offer competitive insurance. If you intend to make more than one trip, annual cover for the whole family can work out cheaper.

If you buy your holiday using a credit card, you get automatic travel accident insurance, but this only covers you while you are travelling. Gold credit cards provide free, fully comprehensive travel insurance providing you pay for your flights and accommodation with the card. Different credit card companies may offer different deals, so check before you pay.

What should be covered?

All insurance policies can be tailored to your needs and the premium will be adjusted accordingly.

Luggage and Contents:

Standard cover amounts to about pounds 1,500 for loss or theft with a ceiling of pounds 300 on any individual item. Help the Aged insurance offers pounds 2,500, and there is a ceiling of pounds 1,000 for an individual item. If you have an item of jewellery that is very valuable, you can't cover it with travel insurance, but you can get temporary extra cover on your "all risks" home and contents insurance. You will have to prove that you took care of your property or your claim may be rejected, ie, if your bag is stolen out of a car you will need to prove it was in the boot or out of sight before the insurers will pay out. Check your documents and tickets are covered and how much cash you will be compensated for.

Medical:

Standard cover should give you a minimum of pounds 1 million of medical insurance but there are many conditions and exclusions in the small print, so read the documents carefully. The cover generally pays for emergency medical and dental treatment and a flight home if necessary.

Check whether your insurance company has a 24-hour emergency assistance helpline. If you need emergency medical treatment in the USA, for example, the doctors will only treat you if they are guaranteed to get paid. If they can't confirm your insurance by phone, they will put the initial costs on your credit card until the insurers get in touch with them.

If you don't disclose any existing medical conditions when you are taking out travel insurance, the insurer may reject your claim should you get ill while on holiday. There are many insurers who specialise in cover for people who are ill or disabled, and their policies are no more expensive than standard cover. They only request that your GP confirms in writing that, despite your disability, you are fit to travel.

Medical costs vary from country to country, so the amount of cover you need depends on where you are going. In the USA, the costs are generally higher and this is reflected in the premiums. In Europe, you are entitled to free emergency medical treatment provided you have got form E111 which is available free from post offices. The form is contained within a booklet called Health Advice For Travellers and it must be stamped and dated at the post office counter prior to your departure. Even if you have form E111, you should still take out insurance as it only helps with the actual medical expenses and wouldn't cover emergency flights home.

Public Liability Insurance:

If you have an accident and hurt someone else or damage their property, this pays out on your behalf if they sue you.

Cancellation or Curtailment - If you get ill and can't travel, this insurance will refund the cost of your cancelled trip or get you home on the next flight if needed. When you buy your insurance, make sure that this part of the cover is high enough.

Motoring - If you are taking your car abroad you will need to extend your car insurance cover. Make sure you take the vehicle registration document with you.

Making a claim

Your travel insurance documents will tell you exactly what your insurer requires to make a successful claim. You should keep them with you and follow them to the letter.

If you have to cancel a holiday due to sickness you will need a doctor's certificate.

If you get ill abroad, keep all your receipts and doctors' reports and contact the emergency assistance company as soon as you can. The number will be in your policy documents.

If your luggage is stolen, get a written police report within 24 hours of discovering the theft. You will need to prove that you took due care. For lost or delayed luggage, get a letter from the airline and keep any receipts for any costs incurred.

If you are involved in an accident do not admit responsibility or agree to pay any costs without talking to your insurer first. Get a police report, take statements from witnesses, and photograph anything that might be relevant.

Your insurer should pay out if you have followed the correct procedure, but they will deduct an "excess" of about pounds 35 on the first part of the claim.

Some policies only give indemnity cover, and deduct for wear and tear. If you want to get the full replacement value of your possessions, you need to have built this in to your policy prior to travel. Your household insurance, if it is a policy which gives new for old cover, can probably be extended to cover travel.

Your Insurance company should be a member of either the Personal Insurance Arbitration Service or the Insurance Ombudsman Bureau. If you make a claim and it is rejected by your insurer you can make a complaint to these bodies who will offer you useful advice and help you make your case.

Useful numbers

Help the Aged Insurance: 0800 413180

Churchill: 0800 026 4050

Bradford and Bingley: 0800 435642

Family Care: 0990 561224

Insurance for people with a medical condition:

Chapman Hurst: 01253 884419

Bradford Peters: 01293 402222

Chartwell Insurance: 0181 956 0901

Post Office: 0345 334455

Insurance Ombudsman Bureau: 0845 600 6666.

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