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News & Advice

Kate Simon: Better late than never. Travel insurers wise up to the grey pound

I've been trying out one of those multi-generation holidays (that my colleague Sarah Barrell scorned in this column last week). And, do you know what, they sometimes work.

My 81-year-old mum recently accompanied me on a trip that involved flying to New York for a few nights and returning to Southampton on the Queen Mary 2. I'll admit, I was worried about whether we'd survive being in such close confines for 10 whole days, the longest time we've been together since I left home more than 25 years ago. Yet, there wasn't one cross word said.

In fact, we had a blast. In New York – a city I feared would be far too noisy for my countryside-dwelling mum – we took in Wall Street, Central Park and all points in between. To top it off, the Commodore invited us to sail out of New York harbour on the bridge of Cunard's flagship ocean liner.

America is the furthest my mum has ever travelled from Britain, but then she didn't venture abroad until she was in her fifties. That was more than her mother ever managed. My old Nan, who died in 2002 at the grand old age of 102, never left these shores – a trip on an escalator was a thrill too far for her.

I'm not suggesting mum's trip was an extraordinary feat, but her willingness to travel so far at her age is a sign of the times. More and more senior citizens are criss-crossing the world; some are even taking risks that their children, even grandchildren, might not be up for.

Take Olive Cochrane, from Canada, who was on the news recently celebrating her 90th birthday with her first skydive. She's one of a number of nonagenarians who have hit the headlines because of their spirit of adventure. Gean Hodson, a 90-year-old from Linlithgow, Scotland, followed her doctor's orders and didn't do a skydive; instead she went white-water rafting on the River Tay.

One of the first concerns for any elderly traveller, however daring, is insurance, which for this age group has the reputation of being costly and difficult to arrange. Yet, an independent report by Oxera Consulting, commissioned last year by the Government, has busted both those myths. It found that while policies get more expensive as customers get older – because most claims are medical related in this age group – pricing tends to favour this sector of society more than any other.

And though there's a perception that travel insurance is hard to find if you're elderly, very few experience difficulties getting cover because of their age, with 66 single-trip policies now available for people aged up to 85, of which more than a third don't have an age cap. There are also 23 annual multi-trip policies.

Staysure is one company that specialises in insurance for the over-fifties. It confirms a doubling in interest from people in their eighties seeking travel insurance, a trend that has accelerated in 2010 and now accounts for more than 6 per cent of Staysure's business, up from about 2 per cent four years ago.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) believes that, as the number of older people wanting to travel more often and for longer increases, it is likely the market will respond. With the baby boomers not far off 80 now, this looks likely to become a lucrative market.

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