I frequently write about the importance of having suitable travel insurance.
It’s useful for covering everything from delays and cancellations to medical emergencies and legal advice.
In Covid times, it might even be essential – not only to insure for eventualities but also because it’s sometimes a requirement.
But how do you choose the right travel insurance for you? And what should you look for?
Here’s what you need to know.
You might need travel insurance now
Pre-pandemic, I would have said that travel insurance is not essential but merely advisable.
Besides, as some banks and credit cards offer travel insurance as part of their package, you may already have coverage.
But since the pandemic, things have changed a lot.
Depending on where you’re travelling to, it may be a requirement to have travel insurance – and specifically a policy that includes Covid cover.
This was the case on two of my trips this year – one for entry into Mauritius and the second to board a cruise ship (where I’m writing this now).
And, as coverage can start from less than £5, it’s well worth it – although of course it depends on your individual circumstances and the type and extent of protection you need.
When to buy travel insurance
You should actually buy travel insurance as soon as you book your trip, rather than just before you travel.
This is because your travel policy doesn’t just apply to the travel period – it also protects you if things go wrong before your holiday, for example, if the travel provider goes bust before you go on your trip.
Types of travel insurance
There are a few different types of policies you can go for, including:
Single trip: Valid for just one journey, this is the type of cover to get if you only do one or two trips a year. The length of coverage is usually up to 31 days but can be shorter. It’s worth being specific about where you’re going as this can affect the cost of your coverage.
Long stay: Valid for a single journey that’s longer than a month, this is ideal for backpacking holidays but may also be suitable for work trips. Some policies can even cover trips as long as 18 months, although they may not be as comprehensive as those for shorter trips.
Annual multi-trip: Valid for multiple trips a year, this is the policy regular travellers go for – but it may be worth getting one if you plan on doing three or more trips a year. You can choose between covers for the UK, Europe, or Worldwide (including or excluding USA and the Caribbean). There are two things to note. First, there’s usually a limit on the length of each trip. And second, most providers won’t insure anywhere that’s not on the Foreign Office’s safe list, and you may not be covered if you visit a destination where there’s currently sanctions in place. A specialist insurer such as Battleface* may be able to help in this case.
Specialist cover: For cruise, certain sports, gadgets, and those over a certain age or with a pre-existing medical condition, you may need to get specialist cover. This can be purchased as a premium cover on top of a standard policy or as a standalone one. Divers Alert Network (DAN) for example is specifically designed to insure divers and will cover medical treatments that may not be under more general policies.
Solo, couple or family?
You can get travel insurance for one, couples or a family. The latter two are considered linked policies and usually work out cheaper per person.
The downside is that the cost can be inflated by anyone in the group. So if one person has a pre-existing medical condition, it would increase the cost for everyone.
On the flipside, if anything does go wrong and you have to cancel a trip, you’ll all be covered. If you bought separate policies, were travelling together and had to cancel, you may not be covered.
Things to look for when buying travel insurance
It’s worth diving into the small print for specific items that will affect the scope of your policy. Look for words like…
Covid-19 cover: Some policies will only cover medical expenses related to Covid while others will also cover cancellations and delays resulting from the pandemic. It’s worth double checking the wording when you renew a policy as well, as some providers have updated their terms and conditions to specifically exclude pandemic cover.
Excess: Like any other insurance policy, the excess varies according to the level of cover you take out. It can range anywhere between zero and £200, and change between different items. Although it’s cheaper to take out a policy with a higher excess, after you factor in things like depreciation, the payout on a claim might be so miniscule that it might not be worth having a policy at all.
Activities: Most policies will cover a range of sporting activities such as hiking and cycling. However, if you’re planning to take part in any “extreme” sports, which can be as mild as kayaking, make sure your policy covers you in case anything goes wrong, such as when evacuation might be needed.
Level of cover: Check you have the right level of cover for the type of holiday you tend to go on, and the stuff you take with you. If you only go on luxury breaks, make sure your cover matches that value in cases of cancellation and curtailment. Similarly, if your suitcase is filled with designer clothes or you tend to carry a lot of cash, make sure you have the appropriate level of protection for those.
Exclusions: All travel insurance policies have exclusions that range from pre-existing medical conditions (and losses and damages resulting from these) to when you want to cancel a holiday because you’ve changed your mind or can no longer afford to go. If you want to insure for these, you’ll have to go to a specialist and it can end up being quite expensive. Those with cancer may find it particularly difficult to get travel insurance, for example.
How I look for travel insurance
While these don’t cover every policy under the sun, they are suitable for most people and are useful for narrowing down the list of providers.
I sort the results from the cheapest to the most expensive and then I look at key areas of coverage to whittle down the list. My criteria include a low excess (usually for baggage cover), gadget cover, and now Covid.
Once I have a couple of policy providers in mind, I use defaqto’s ratings to quickly check how comprehensive their coverage is rather than spending hours pouring over the fine print.
If all of those checks pass muster, I then go directly to the policy provider to start the purchasing process.
This gives me a quote that’s actually tailored to my situation – including a premium for pre-existing medical conditions, which comparison sites don’t always factor in. It’s also at this stage that I actually check the fine print.
Finally, when I’m ready to buy a policy, I’ll go through a cashback site such as Topcashback* or Quidco* to make that final transaction – and yes, I do check the prices are the same as my earlier quotes before I press the confirm button.
Is it worth getting travel insurance?
Well, I guess it depends on how risk averse you are.
For the last few years I’ve paid between £50 to £100 for my travel insurance – annual worldwide multi-trip – but this is definitely on the more expensive side.
My policy is so costly because I need additional cover for all the gadgets that I take on trips, which typically includes my phone, tablet and camera, but can also extend to laptop, GoPro, dictaphone and more.
My pre-existing medical conditions also mean that my policy is a little bit more expensive.
And there’s an additional premium because I want a policy that has small or ideally zero excess.
Pre-pandemic, I went on average 10-12 trips a year. Most of these were abroad, and some were a couple of weeks long.
I’ve had to make a handful of claims; some years this meant I “made money” from my policies but most of the time I didn’t, so from a purely numbers standpoint, I would have been financially better off by not buying a policy.
But that’s the thing about insurance policies – it’s to protect against the unexpected. And in this life, you just never know what’s around the corner.