Shop around, and read the small print

Banks, building societies, travel agents and the Post Office offer policies for travellers. But check the details.

If you're a regular traveller, it's worth considering annual travel insurance policies. "A few years ago, travellers tended to automatically buy their travel insurance as part of their holiday package. But because more and more people are taking several holidays a year, they are opting for independent annual policies which can save them a considerable amount," points out a Lloyds Bank spokesperson.

These days policies are easy to pick up. Most banks and building societies have a range of travel insurance schemes and there are several direct specialists that can give you a quote over the phone. Another good source for relatively cheap travel insurance is the Post Office.

A good travel insurance policy should cover a range of emergencies including cancellation costs if you are unable to travel, medical expenses if you fall ill or have an accident, personal accident cover if you are killed or injured, personal liability if you injure someone else or damage their property, and loss or damage to your belongings.

But before taking out any travel insurance you should check your home insurance. If you have an all-risks clause, you will be covered for certain belongings and a certain amount of money you take away from the home. This means that you may be able to reduce the cost of your travel insurance by excluding baggage cover.

With most insurers you'll have to negotiate a reduction. But if you take out travel insurance with the same company that insures your home, you may automatically quality for a discount. The TSB, for instance, offers a 15 per cent discount on its travel insurance if you already have home insurance with the company. It could be unwise to rely solely on your credit card insurance. While it's true that if you buy your travel ticket with your credit card you're likely to get some travel accident insurance, it will only pay out if you are injured while travelling. Which means you'll need to take out separate medical insurance to cover any eventualities that happen at your destination. (Gold card holders, on the other hand, get much better cover.)

"You should shop around for the right cover at the right price," says Julie Philpott of Columbus. "You should definitely read the small print, and if you are in doubt about the cover, ask for clarification. "To avoid disappointment when you claim, it's crucial to read the small print on your policy. There are many exclusions and unless you do things by the book, you could fall foul of the insurance company's rules.

Specialist insurer Columbus, for instance, lists 45 specific exclusions and 13 general exclusions in its travel insurance brochure. Other companies are equally picky. "What you pay for is what you get with travel insurance," points out Bob Clark of Thomas Cook Insurance Services. "You should know what you're buying and be prepared to pay more if necessary. By doing so, you'll get a more flexible product.

Most of us have a general idea of what we are covered for when travelling, but there are many myths about what you can actually claim for. You can normally only get recompense for flight delays, for instance, after 12 hours or more. Insurers report thousands of unsuccessful claimants every year who had to endure delays lasting hours, but not long enough to qualify for a pay-out.

Exclusions vary between policies but there are some general rules that you should be aware of to ensure a trouble-free pay-out. For instance, you must report any loss to local police within 24 hours. It you don't take reasonable care, you will also normally lose out when claiming. This means keeping your cash, traveller's cheques and passport in separate places, for instance.

You should be aware of the limits insurers set on both single items and cash, and make sure that you don't carry too much money or expensive personal items. When choosing a policy you should look at the excesses to make sure they're not too high, and when claiming you should be aware that the insurance company is likely to reduce the amount claimed, for depreciation and wear and tear.

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