/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Can you trust travel insurers?

We rely on our travel insurance to be there for when things don’t go our way, especially when we’re abroad and don’t know the ropes. So why are so many consumers failing to get the cover they need?

Could you afford £300,000 for a medical emergency on holiday? That’s how much a heart bypass and repatriation from the US could cost.

And while the average claim is much lower, at £930, it’s the risk of those unexpected catastrophes that prompts holidaymakers to take out travel insurance for every trip. But when the worst happens, where are the insurers? In far too many cases, nowhere to be seen.

Small-print loopholes

Why are insurers unfairly rejecting so many claims? It’s all to do with the way companies interpret the conditions of cover in their policies. The devil can be in the detail with some policies, and with cover and exclusions varying, the policy you choose could be the difference between your claim being paid or rejected.

Digging into the detail is exactly what Richard Wilson had to do when he cancelled a £4,000 family holiday to New Zealand in 2013 after his father-in-law was taken gravely ill. The holiday was booked before Richard and his family knew the seriousness of his father-in-law’s condition. His insurer initially declined the claim, saying he should have foreseen the illness, given his father-inlaw’s age and other recent illnesses he’d had.

Richard told us the problem was that he wasn’t privy to what the doctors had told his father-in-law. He went on to say: “After much argument and with some help from the insurance brokers I’d taken out my policy with, the provider paid out.” If you find yourself in a tricky situation like this one and aren’t having much luck with your claim, we’ve highlighted 5 steps to boost your chances of success.

What the Financial Ombudsman says

Of course, I know travel insurers need to protect themselves against dodgy claims and fraud. But some of the policy exclusions we’ve seen – including the need to report thefts or losses to the police within 24 hours and not being covered for relatives’ illnesses that you didn’t know about – seem unduly harsh on policyholders

We’d like to see more insurers relaxing reporting times to make it easier for holidaymakers to report a loss without disrupting their holiday plans too much. And it would be fairer if companies could accept more ways of proving ownership for lost or stolen possessions.

It’s unrealistic to expect us to keep hold of receipts years after buying products. Some insurers accept an instruction manual as proof of ownership, which is a reasonable way to prove you own something. As for claims based on relatives falling ill, it would be much fairer if all policies covered you for the conditions you weren’t aware of.

We asked the Financial Ombudsman for their view on claims:

‘We’ve seen examples of good practice among travel-insurance providers, but a disappointing number of bad ones still arrive every year. When it comes to claims, we expect insurers to demonstrate that they’re behaving fairly by honouring the essence of the contract – not looking for reasons not to pay.’

‘However, we still receive enquiries from consumers who failed to get the additional cover they needed when taking part in winter sports like skiing. Even hiking can have an element of danger in the snow, so check with your insurer before you travel – and if something does go wrong, keep its policy and international phone number handy.’

Have you had any issues claiming on your travel insurance? If yes, was it fair your claim was rejected?


I used to work in a small general insurance business and we sold a variety of travel insurance policies, along with household, motor insurance, and even boat, and taxi insurance.

One advantage of the local broker was from experience knowing which travel policies best suited the customer. Also we were in a position to ring the line for intermediaries to speak to the company at an equal level of understanding. We could sometimes get policies indorsed with clauses to cover specific problems.

Cutting out the local broker saves the travel insurance company at least 30% of the premium which he then spends on a slick internet site and low grade staff who are only trained on selling their product.

A win for the consumer? Possibly a lower price perhaps not necessarily the best cover.

Now to get to the question of cover and dubious claims.
” It’s unrealistic to expect us to keep hold of receipts years after buying products. Some insurers accept an instruction manual as proof of ownership, which is a reasonable way to prove you own something.”

Scanning or photographing receipts would seem a good prctice for people to adopt now. It is very handy if you have to claim on any product.

Did we have customers with unfortunate track records that lead to claim after claim after claim…… yes we did. And then they could get no cover at all.

I ams sure the readers of this thread are not the sort to try it on but believe me there are a number who make false claims , and those who skimp on the cover on buying and then adapt the circumstances to try to fit the cover.

So try to see it from the insurers view – they will likely challenge a percentage of claims as a an auditing process given the costs of really looking at claims.

It is a pity that a number of these conversations start with emotive headlines like this, as if the whole industry was out to defraud its customers. We’ve recently had “Can consumers trust business”, as if all businesses were untrustworthy. There are untrustworthy operators but I wish Which? would not follow the politicians’ mantra of generating headline-grabbing sound bites like this. I expect to be in a minority but prefer balance objective reporting with appropriate headlines.

I have only once claimed on travel insurance, when I lost my wallet on a business trip. In addition to cash, I lost my emergency car key that lived in my wallet, even though it was no use abroad without the car. It was not a large claim and it was paid in full.

I don’t have any problem with the emotive headlines. I’m giving this as an example of a positive experience with an insurer, the only one experience I have had.

“We’d like to see more insurers relaxing reporting times to make it easier for holidaymakers to report a loss without disrupting their holiday plans too much. And it would be fairer if companies could accept more ways of proving ownership for lost or stolen possessions.”

Could Which? flesh out what they are suggesting would be acceptable in terms of time limits , and of proving ownership.

Hi diesel, apologies for the delay in responding. I’ve been liaising with Matt on our Travel team and I can confirm that we mention in the post above, as well as in the March 2015 Which? Travel article “Can you trust your travel insurers?”, that 24 hr limits on reporting thefts or losses seems to be harsh and that some companies accept proof of ownership to be providing the instruction manual, rather than a receipt.

Andrew – Don’t forget that we have a current Convo entitled ‘Farewell to instruction manuals’, highlighting the move towards online instruction manuals.

Maybe photographs of items in our homes, the manufacturer’s box, and emails giving details of online purchases could all provide some evidence of ownership.

Good point wavechange! Yes, do feel free to send snapshots to the conversation inbox – It’s always great to receive such feedback 🙂

I am happy for your reassurance that Which? has consistently said it feels 24 hours is too harsh. My question was what does Which? think acceptable – given it [ Which?] thinks 24 hours too harsh.

Is Which? suggesting 48 hours? Should it depend on which country you are reporting in , or do Insurers actually use some commonsense already. I have no idea.

Incidentally the subject of repatriation of bodies, overseas deaths, affecting around 6000 British a year and their families might be usefully looked at as I understand it can be expensive.

It’s time we start looking at unfair terms in contracts. My understanding is that these are illegal.

Commonness suggests that we should report problems as soon as reasonable in the circumstances, but no insurer should be using an unreasonable time cut off to avoid a claim.

I assume reporting a crime to the police as soon as possible gives them a better chance of finding the perperator. Leaving it longer will make that more unlikely. So it seems fair that the insurance company should ask you to play your part.

I don’t think it’s difficult to keep documents to prove ownership for the valuable items that one might take on holiday – watches, jewellery, cameras, phones, tablets, etc. Most people have a particular place at home where they keep their private documents [like passport and birth or marriage certificate, qualifications, etc] and shop receipts don’t take up a lot of space.

Many individual items are of less value than the insurance excess these days – it’s only when more than one are lost or stolen at the same time that there is any chance of a claim!

We have only made two travel insurance claims. One was for termination of the holiday because weather conditions made landing impossible and we were returned to the UK and had additional hotel and travel expenses. That claim failed for reasons I didn’t agree with so I complained to the Ombudsman but that was a long drawn out and ultimately unsatisfactory experience. The travel operator eventually provided a replacement holiday – which was ninety percent of our expectations – so we dropped the insurance claim for the extra costs. Our second claim on a travel policy was when a serious medical condition occurred unexpectedly a week before departure and prevented us going away. John Lewis Insurance settled it fully and efficiently.

tae says:
21 March 2015

we have booked to go to Florida in 5 weeks,. A member of our party has been declared unfit to fly with a supporting Doctors letter. Will we be allowed to delay holiday for a few months untill fit to fly again

tae – It is not clear what you are asking for from the insurer. Is it just everything is being re-arranged at no claimable cost and you just want the term of the policy extended? Or are you asking for them to pay a claim and then offer to write a new policy for when your group is able to travel?

To answer the query properly anyone would need to see the policy details and know the nature of the reason not to travel, and what result you are looking for.. And have you asked the question of the insurer.

BTW if you used a good broker they would be doing the legwork for you!

John O'Hara says:
2 August 2015

We hit a rock about the size of a football or less in Greece (driving to a ferry port to go home) in July 2014.
Coincidentally, Just before setting off in May, we received updated details of the insurance which come with a NatWest Black account. We retained the booklets.
After the incident, We rang them from Greece and within 90minutes we were picked up by a rescue vehicle. THERE WERE HOLES IN THE ENGINE AND GEARBOX SUMPS and the exhaust, and so on.
Our car was best repaired in th UK and was taken there, free.
The car was stuffed full and had to be emptied before travel home.
We were reimbursed fully with nearlyÂŁ2,000 in expenses in getting home (with our dog)
The service we received was beyond criticism, except that green flag had a new telephone system and we weren’t always able to ring them; they still made sure someone rang us once or sometimes twice per day, to chech the progress of our rather complicated surface journey..
We are very grateful for such excellent service.

VictorS. says:
1 October 2015

A while ago I bought flight insurance from TRAVELEX. When my flight (USA-Europe) was canceled I asked Travelex for refund. I was naive. Even if in policy was very clear statement about 100% trip cost coverage if trip is canceled, my request was firmly denied. According to theirs rep, trip cost can be canceled only in case if flight was canceled because of extreme whether conditions or local union strike. Unbelievable!
When I insisted that it wasn’t mentioned in the original offer, I received a ton of insurance policies pages from TRAVELEX, STONEBRIDGE CASUALTYI NSURANCE, AND TRANSAMERICA INSURANCE. So, try to figure out who is responsible for what.
My advice: DO NOT BE NAIVE. Travel/Flight insurance companies are in business because they taking money from you and not paying anything back.