Small world, but a big choice of cover

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The Independent Online

As holidaymakers plan their Easter breaks, a survey from Direct Line reveals that 15 per cent of us don't take out insurance when we go abroad for a long weekend. One in 12 take an even riskier approach, going overseas for two weeks without any cover.

While insurance might seem an unnecessary expense - most people won't make a claim - the cost of not having cover could be astronomical if something goes wrong.

"You can't plan for losing luggage, getting mugged or having a water-sports accident," says Paul Charles at online insurance broker Screentrade. "We are on the consumer's side and can't emphasise enough the importance of planning ahead and ensuring you are adequately covered."

Most holidaymakers appreciate the importance of travel insurance. Be careful though: more than 50 per cent of us are paying two or three times as much as we need for cover.

The convenience of taking out the travel agent's insurance could cost a family of four nearly £100 more than if they shopped around and chose the best deal. Cover for two weeks in Greece costs £122.32 from Lunn Poly but only £26.25 from Direct Travel Insurance.

Travel agents and tour operators have been criticised over the past few years for the high cost of their insurance. Even though prices remain high, increasing competition means consumers do not have to pay them. In November 1998, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (now the Competition Commission) introduced legislation banning agents from linking holiday discounts to policy premiums.

Many agents are now resorting to other tactics, including "free" insurance included in the price of your holiday or demanding proof that you have insurance before you book your holiday with them. Do not be pressurised as you have every right to buy cover elsewhere.

"Check the cover given by 'free' insurance offers," warns Gill Murphy of Direct Line. "It tends to be basic cover so look out [to see whether things] such as water sports are included and how much cancellation cover is given, as you may discover that this won't cover the full cost of the holiday. If you have an existing medical condition such as asthma, check that you would be covered if you fell ill on holiday."

If you go away more than once a year, you can save money by opting for a multi-trip policy rather than taking out separate insurance every time. Further savings can be made for families or couples.

Again, the best deals can be found away from the high street. Annual cover from Thomas Cook for a family of four will cost £236, based on two adults and two children under 12. Direct Travel will insure a family for £65, based on two adults and all children under 19, or 23 if they are still in full-time education.

Screentrade offers policies from four travel insurers and plans to add another six within the next month. It has just announced a "price promise", pledging to match the cheapest cover on the market.

* Contacts: CGU Direct, www.cgudirect.co.uk; Columbus Direct, 0207-375 0011; Direct Line, 0208-680 2121; Direct Travel, 01903 812345; Lunn Poly, visit local branch; Portman, 0870-444 3445; Screentrade, www.screentrade.co.uk; Thomas Cook Direct, 0870 666222.

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