Skiers face steep climb in the cost of holiday cover: Insurers react to mounting accidents and medical expenses

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The Independent Online
SKIERS taking to the piste this winter can expect to pay 10 per cent more for their insurance cover than they paid last year.

Most insurers have put up premiums by at least 10 per cent - as a result of increasing claims and the rising cost of medical care abroad. However, there are still some bargains.

London-based Columbus Travel sells direct to the public, which, it says, has enabled it to keep costs down and hold its prices this year. By contrast, Thomas Cook has put up premiums by about 10 per cent - and now charges nearly 50 per cent more than Columbus on eight-day ski policies in Europe.

At first glance, Abbey National's premium rates may seem uncompetitive. Its skiing holiday rates are at the top end of the price range. But over the past few months, the bank has focused on promoting its annual travel insurance policies. Included in its pounds 89 individual annual policy is up to 21 days' cover for winter sports. The same cover is included in Abbey's pounds 125 five-person policy for families.

Most skiers, however, will find themselves buying their insurance cover through either tour operators or travel agents. Because of a new EC directive, which has increased the financial responsibilities of tour operators for injury and damage, nearly all travel agents and tour operators require customers to take out insurance before they go skiing.

Most skiers will probably take the cover offered to them as they book their holiday, but the Association of British Insurers says that they should shop around.

'The reality is that most people go somewhat excited to a travel agents,' said an ABI spokesman. 'Perhaps the checking of insurance policies should be done before they go. People must take as much care about selecting the insurance as they do about choosing the holiday.'

Skiers with expensive equipment stand to lose out - unless they make alternative arrangements through their home contents insurance - because of the standard restrictions on luggage claims to about pounds 300 per item. The ABI also warns holidaymakers to check the personal liability cover clause in their policies. A spokesman for Home & Overseas, Britain's largest travel insurer, said: 'If you crash into an American on the slopes, a big smile comes over their face - and it's got your name and address written all over it.' Insurance policies from the household-name companies tend to offer personal liability cover of at least pounds 1m in case the policyholder causes physical injury or damage to property. But the ABI warns holidaymakers to read the fine print.

In general, insurance premiums on winter sports holidays are about twice as expensive as other travel insurance policies. Home & Overseas, which has 30 per cent of the leisure travel insurance market, does very little skiing business. 'There is a dreadful medical risk that attaches to skiing,' said a spokesman.

Nearly 40 per cent of holidaymakers have admitted to travelling abroad without taking out insurance, in a survey conducted recently by Home & Overseas. But, even more than other travellers, skiers need to make sure that they are well covered before they leave home.

Abbey National is offering 500 free copies of its Winter Travel Check to Independent on Sunday readers. Write to Abbey National, Department 8599, Winterhill, Milton Keynes MK6 1HQ.

On receipt of an SAE, the Association of British Insurers will send out free copies of its guide. Write to the ABI, Holiday Insurance Leaflet, 51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Table: SKI POLICIES: HOLIDAYS IN EUROPE ----------------------------------------------------------------- 8 days 15 days 31 days pounds pounds pounds Compass Ski Insurance 23.00 30.00 50.00 Thomas Cook 28.95 33.95 41.40 Europ Assistance 29.95 38.35 48.65 Douglas Cox Tyrie 27.50 33.00 55.00 Norwich Union 31.20 35.90 47.70 Columbus Travel Insurance 20.00 28.00 36.00 Abbey National 31.40 36.00 52.40 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Source: Columbus Travel Insurance -----------------------------------------------------------------