/ Travel & Leisure

Is your travel insurance policy packing a few surprises?

A life ring next to a tropical beach

Many travel insurance claims are rejected, or pay out less than you may have expected. Have you ever had difficulties claiming on your travel insurance if your holiday went wrong?

When you buy travel insurance, would you think to tell the insurer about the state of health of all your cousins?

I certainly wouldn’t. In fact I wouldn’t know about all my cousins’ underlying state of health. I can’t imagine calling them up to ask about their health and explaining that I need the information for my travel insurance policy, just in case they die suddenly while I’m on holiday and I need to cancel.

Yet that is what some travel insurers state in their small print. Many insist that all pre-existing conditions of ‘close relatives’ – sometimes defined as including cousins – must be declared.

Trying to expect the unexpected

When we looked at the reasons Which? members were given for having their travel insurance claims rejected, this issue was high on the list.

We heard about a travelling companion’s husband being diagnosed with a brain tumour, only to be told the insurer would not cover the costs of their lost holiday. Another member was told the same thing when their father-in-law died on the second day of the holiday.

The insurers’ positions were that these illnesses must have been known about before the policies were bought, so should have been declared. Our members’ view was that they didn’t know they had to declare it, because the clause was hidden in small print, and that the death or diagnosis was unexpected.

Complaining about claiming

Some people found that their insurers refused claims for lost or stolen items because the incident had not been reported to police within 24 hours. This included an example when the item was a pair of glasses that were lost on a cruise ship.

Other complaints included insurers saying stolen belongings were unattended when they were only out of sight for moments on a train or in a hotel – or even with a hotel porter – and insurers accepting members had a valid claim, but refusing to pay the taxes element of their airfare – which can make up more than half the total cost.

These exclusions are generally contained in insurers’ terms and conditions, but you often have to look hard to find them.

And while people may unrealistically expect travel insurance to cover every eventuality, Which? research has shown that travel insurance has the highest rate of rejection of all sectors we investigated, including car, home, pet, phone and gadget insurance. It also has the lowest satisfaction scores. This suggests that customers are getting a raw deal.

What’s your experience of travel insurance? Have you made a claim and was it met?


I have only once made a claim, for a wallet that I lost in Greece. I reported the loss to a police station in Athens and was given a copy of the report to pass on to my insurance company. The insurance company paid my claim in full. I’m very glad that my passport was not in my wallet.

Boblechien says:
26 February 2013

I think the issue with all insurance are the different T&C’s that can be included. So much better if all policies were to follow a standard form and the companies required to highlight the exceptions. Specialist cover could also be included without affecting these standard paragraphs. Exceptions would have to be agreed by an official body before they could be included.

Any unfair interpretation would either be discounted or would revert to the standard clause.

Insurance Companies need to remember that they are there to insure people not to not insure them.

Sam Kubunavanua says:
26 February 2013

Travelled to Fiji over Xmas. Flew from London to Seoul OK but then flight from Seoul to Fiji delayed because of Cyclone Evan. Stayed in Seoul for 36 hours instead of 3. Claim refused because small print says only covers delays for first part of flight, and return journey but not second part of out-going flight (why????) – even though a direct flight is not available and airlines would have known second part of flight would be delayed and still let us travel the first part.

Ridiculous. Learned lesson and will read small print very carefully in future. What is wrong with expecting to be covered for all eventualities? It’s the unexpected that insurance should be for, surely?

Newquay Traveller says:
26 February 2013

I used to work in Travel Insurance (a very long time ago) and the taxes part of an airfare was always paid out. However, I often argued with Insurers that as the Flight was not used, the Tax could not be collected by HMRC and the Airline should refund it, after all, it is they who have kept it.

I doubt there are many Insurers who would class a Cousin as a ‘close relative’, this is scaremongering by Which. In reality, a close relative is deemed Parent, Spouse, Brother/Sister, Son/Daughter but not Grand-Parent, so why would Cousin be included. I’d suggest this was a cheap nasty Insurance aimed at the budget market with limited cover.

Medical cover on policies is normally in excess of £2million and is more than sufficient for worldwide travel. There will be exclusions for some pre-existing conditions but this is to be expected. In Europe the EHIC card can be used at any Public hospital for any treatment for any condition, no one need go without cover in Europe. Their are reciprocal agreements with many other Nations across the World, check out the Foreign Office website for details.

Always, always take out Insurance, check out any wording if you think it may apply to you, such as your dear old Dad who died 27 years ago of a heart attack, you may be at risk too and a chat with your GP should also be in order if you have not seen him/her about it.

MarkL says:
26 February 2013

Claimed twice over years.
1st: wife’s handbag stolen in Amsterdam, reported to police, had to jump through lots of hoops, excess applied to every individual item in bag including excess on car key replacement and separate excess on house keys even though on same key ring. Ended up with about £5

2nd: in US had conjunctivitis, cost best part of 200 quid for visit to clinic and antibiotics. Contacted insurer from US to report, provided all documentation on return, insurer settled in full without further correspondence.

jon says:
20 March 2013

just read your item about travel insurance, would love to know which insurance company you used for your US trip as we are going to hawaii 2014 and hear horror stories about insurance not paying out etc
you seem to have a easy time with them

many thanks


geoff jenkins says:
1 March 2013

Mt experience absolutely reflects your commentary on travel insurance. My father died after a short battle with cancer two days before a booked family holiday in Italy. My claim was rejected as I had not informed them he was receiving medication some months before. Apparently they must be informed of amy medication (sleeping pills?) being administered 90days before you take out insurance -or any hospital appointment test etc. This wide ranging exlusion effectively means anyone with elderly relatives has no cover if the worst happens!

In my case, we had automatically renewed our travel insurance so had continuous cover for three years. My claim that ‘the start of the insurance’ was in fact three years back was rejected -twice – by the insurer. I took the case to the financial ombudsman and before the case was considered, the company conceded – without legal liability etc, – and paid out. But it was a tough battle -not one that people dealing with bereavement would necessarily be able to take on.


A few yeas ago my wife and I were in Prague. My camcorder was stolen and my wife’s purse. We put in a claim for around £800. The insurer gave us only £250. I complained that this was a miserly payment and would not replace anything we had lost. They refused. So since then we never take out travel insurance. It is not worth it.

erik99 says:
5 March 2013

How can anyone claim that travel insurance is not worth it? My wife had a (completely no-fault) traffic accident whilst a passenger on a Madeira “road-toboggan”, breaking her pelvis in three places, as well as several ribs. Insurance paid for two weeks in clinic, ten seats (to accommodate stretcher) on scheduled flight, nurse to accompany on the return journey, and a private ambulance to our local hospital. Never be without insurance when travelling abroad; it can end up costing a lot!

jon says:
21 March 2013

what insurance company did you use, i want to use them

New Malden Don says:
1 March 2013

I am totally disillusioned with travel insurance including those companies recommended by Which. The premiums can be very low but the small print seems to seek to exclude most likely events on a holiday and offloading liability for any claim for possessions on to house contents policies including items such as glasses, cameras. Of course phones are not covered nor is unattended luggage such as on a train. Also they require receipts for any articles that are being claimed for and any payment will not be new for old. The only point of insurance appears to be for flight cancellations/delays and health emergencies. Nationwide offer free annual insurance to their account holders and it looked fairly reasonable so I am relying on this for our travel cover from now on.

Tilly T says:
15 October 2015

Don’the rely on Nationwide, am currently in the midst of my claim for stolen bags, so many exclusions… a con! Very dissappointed

Henry Dudeney says:
25 September 2017

Nationwide have just rejected part of our claim for a stolen handbag containing cash and keys. They say that they do not cover house keys, car keys or garage keys. I can find no mention in the policy exclusions relating to the house/garage keys. As for the car key (the most expensive single item), they seem to be relying on a clause which excludes “Pedal cycles, motor vehicles, caravans, trailers, camping equipment or parts or accessories of any of them, or household goods, musical instruments, antiques, pictures, dinghies, boats and / or ancillary equipment.” Such exclusions do not appear in the summary of cover.
I feel cheated & it has soured me towrds Nationwide – my bank for the last 40 years…