/ 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.

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

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…

It would be much cheaper if the insurers automatically included basic travel insurance with a rather high excess in their home/content insurance. In that way, everybody could get a basic coverage that would protect from economic disaster. As it is now, travel insurance is very expensive and suffers from adverse selection (high risk travelers are more prone to taking out an insurance). IMO, travel insurance is too generous. It offer the travelers the option to be sloppy with their belongings or change their mind and cancel (just lie to your doctor) without any real penalty.

Why should those who do little or no travelling subsidise those who do? It would complicate home insurance and push up prices. No thank-you.

Margaret Newman says:
1 March 2013

Travel Insurance – Both my husband and I are 75 years of age and in excellent health but at our age you cannot go through life without a few odds and ends.
The customer is expected to remember every single thing that they have had wrong with them – this is not possible. I try and only buy a basic policy which gives us a ‘Policy Number’ to satisfy a travel provider but what a price!
Cousins, it is true that some companies do ask about them – I have no idea about others health and would not dream of enquiring. Our relations have no idea if we go on holiday and would think we were mad if we telephoned them to ask if they were in good health before buying travel insurance.
More important medical screening who are we revealing all this information to? I think the state of my health is between me and my GP not a girl in an office using a computer.
We should all be allowed to buy a basic policy and if we wish to add a problem then negotiate a deal.

For a few years I had wondered (tongue-in-cheek) if I ought to declare my mothr-in-law’s advanced age as a possible reason we might need to curtail a trip abroad. When she did pass away, at the age of 101, we were abroad and claimed for curtailment and flight expenses. This was passed with no query. The only thing we were a little put out about was that the company wouldn’t pay our fare back a few days later to continue our pre-booked stay, but as we were on Easyjet it didn’t cost a fortune.

Falkenna says:
2 March 2013

Margaret Newman, I found a policy like that: I rang up to declare my pre-existing conditions, which are minor and I was not prepared to pay to cover, and they said if I didn’t want cover for them, they didn’t need to know. Keep looking.

There should be much more variety in travel insurance on offer. I go to the US about twice a year to see family. I can cope with travel delays, don’t carry much money, and could deal if something happened to my passport. But I am over 60 and need really good insurance for accidents or unforeseen (unrelated) medical emergencies. Why can I not just buy this, paying less money or at least knowing that my payments will go towards covering my needs?

jon says:
21 March 2013

Oh you make so much sense to me.
I have asthma and am diabetic ( diet and tablet controlled) so of course have had raised blood presure and cholesteral in the past) we got a quote for 10 day travel to USA and without declairing was £47 with declaring existing conditions was over £200.
I dont have problems at home with my existing conditions which are fully under control and never been in hospital for any of them.
dont carry lots of money around and take credit cards for emergencies. dont want compensating for flight delays and never take expensive hi tech with me.
all i want is cover to get me home / treatment in case of a “accident” yet if i dont pay the extra they wont cover for heart attack, stroke, diabetic coma, asthma etc etc .
I just want insurance to cover for a accident which can happen to anyone ie: being hit by a car , mugged etc. but insurance companies seem to use “unrelated” existing problems to get out of paying as in “so you were walking and tripped – you might have have a diabetic blackout ( never had one) and because you didnt cover for diabetes we are not paying out”
I know its about risk level but they take your money then dont want to pay out.
we have been paying accident insurance for last 3 years ( £220 per year ) to cover me and my wife. unfortunatly my wife broke her wrist in a fall at xmas. we filed a claim paid for doctors report (£30) sent all forms and sick notes off but because her “fit for work” ( new sick note ) said “ammended duties” then they said she could still work with arm in pot. yet hospital said she can not drive car due to braking stresses etc and her work is 22 miles away from home. her employer said she could not work with broken arm as job required lifting and paid her full pay while off for 6 weeks. yet still insurance company would not pay out as she was fit to work. we were not trying to claim any loss of earnings or anything else just the £100 p/w they offered us when we took out the insurance. just a further note i asked what if she did not work anyway, they said if not i would have had to prove that she had been housebound for the 6 weeks ??? and this is a well known insurance company. so thier tempory disability due to broken limb is not worth paper its written on. OFT will be next port of call then county courts to get payments and expences back

Some tour companies try to refuse your booking unless you take their insurance or ‘equivalent’. This even applies to a short (6 day) coach tour on the continent. I leave it till near to the departure so they’d have difficulty filling my place, then resolutely refuse to buy any extra insurance- the EHIC would suffice (I’ve used it twice with no problem) The travel company then sends me a disclaimer to sign, and that’s OK!
I never had insurance at all in the 50’s and 60’s- didn’t even know it existed. Now I’m 81 and presently in Spain, relying on the EHIC should \I need it.The quote for insurance at my age made it even less worth while buying. The non- medical items I don’t want to insure anyway, like flight cancellation or lost baggage.

my wife had her handbag stolen in Italy last year. Although our insurance covered “replacement passport” that is only pro rata on the full passport. As her passport was due to expire in two years we only got £20; the temporary passport you need to get home (€127) was not covered. Also her car keys (replacement cost £200) were not covered as they are “car accessories”!!!

To be completely fair to the insurers, it is very easy to make an excessive (or even fraudulent) claim for loss or theft . Just report it to police and you have your “evidence”. We were on a trip to Crete a few years back and two separate people “lost” gold jewellery on the beach. If genuine, it was at the very least “contributory negligence”.

Depends on circumstances and item values, but based on our experience these people are likely to get their claims rejected for the following reasons.
– a police report is not enough evidence, insurers will ask to see receipts and photos of the owner wearing the jewellery. You need proof you had the stuff in the first place
– was the jewellery in a bag that was left unattended? Or did it fall off your wrist and you did not notice? Either way, as you say, this is negligence

jon says:
21 March 2013

you work hard, buy nice stuff, insure your contents for £20,000, pay your premiums for 5 years , some low life removes your kitchen window and steals your 3 year old 42″ plasma tv and runs off. you report to police, provide original receipt etc and insurance company offer you £50 cos its 3 year old. no wonder people add a few items. but i do sympathise with insurance companies because of all the made up claims regarding theft.

would like a question about insurance claim .my girlfriend and i where to travel to rome on thursday the 7th of may and stay until 14th of may.with jet2 from belfast. our flight was cancelled while we were at the airport due to a fire at rome airport. jet2 rebooked us on a new flight the following sunday and we stayed until sunday the 17th. but this meant that we lost 3 days at our hotel. and as they where full we had to book a different hotel for the last 3 days. my insurance said as it was a fire that caused the cancelled its not covered. what course of action should i take if any. look forward to your reply . thanks patrick

they also talk spam,my baggage was relayed in italy.Being I lost a few receipts and being niave about travel insurance i put a clsim in with saga travel insurance.I telephoned and the was told that i didnt have receipts so i couldnt claim..that was tine then i received a strange email from a colleagure who said i see my colleague took down your claim but didnt take the details of the daye or airlone company.I then contaced cigna who deal with claims for saga who then said different info.I said to the first guy i was told to no make a claim as i had no receipts.He said oh thats still ok just make a claim,i reiterated are you sure the first guy said i couldnt ,he still said thats ok.He said i will send the claim form out.I waited for 8 dsys for claim form,the next person this time said i vouldnt claim and also “we dont send claim forms out as quote”we do it by phone”.These call operators get away with spam talk at saga or cigna absolute craziness.

I have just discovered a potential pitfall in annual holiday insurance.

Although this has not affected me I came across this situation whilst updating my insurer of a change in medical conditions.

I have had annual holiday insurance for each year since 2013.

Some of the holidays that I take part in need to be booked some 12 to 15 months in advance in order to ensure availability.

HolidayRisk.com have informed me that the annual periods are not “rolling” periods and therefore a holiday booked in any one annual period will not be covers if the holiday takes place in a later annual period.

Their argument is that each annual period is discrete and booking and holiday must occur in that discrete period.

I have checked with other insurers who have assured that me that as long as cover is continuous then cover will roll over.

HolidayRisk.com’s position negates most of the benefit of annual cover as it would be necessary to have more than one policy to cover holidays where the booking and holiday go over the renewal date. It also makes it impossible to use HolidayRisk.com where the period between booking and the end of the holiday are more than 12 months apart.

I do not believe that the “non-rolling” nature of the policy is clear from the policy documents and I bring this to your attention in order that you are not disadvantaged by this situation.

Whilst this has not affected me as I have never made a claim, I am horrified that over the last 3 years I have on a number of occasions been at risk as apparently I would not have been covered in the event of a claim. I will need to consider further whether the policies were in fact mis-sold.

You might pick travel insurance recommended by which, we did of course. But, if you need a hospital you will have no idea whether you will be treated in a basic public hospital, with a lack of doctors and facilities; or a state of the art hospital. If you are in Asia this will matter to you!

I had an accident in Thailand and was taken to the nearest hospital, which was a private hospital. This is usual for tourists and they are very popular with Thais also. Lying in A&E with a broken leg, after some time, I was told by my insurers to transfer to a public hospital; or I will need to pay myself and see if they’ll accept it later – or not. They would not tell me if I was covered or not. Anyone got £7500 spare on their VISA card? Could have been a load more than that in some other countries.

After getting a VISA credit limit increase, while in obvious pain and hoping my phone had enough charge, I decided it was probably not safe for me to transfer. After all, the state hospital would have a huge wait, perhaps all day and they wouldn’t give me an option A with back-up option B for the operation, just the one. The thought of enduring a shared room in a foreign state hospital without air-con, would also be a tough one in Thailand. In Thailand if you’re in a public hospital you feel lucky when the doctors get round to seeing you, meanwhile those hours stuck to a board are seriously increasing your risk of DVT.

After my return and an excellent experience in a private hospital, I found out that some UK insurers have agreements with particular hospitals in Thailand (and obviously other countries) and some don’t. I thought that’s great, next time pick and company that does this and pay more for my cover.

Now answer this, can you find any insurance company that will tell you which companies they have arrangements with? NO, absolutely not – tried phoning, emailing and researching websites. This information appears to be top secret, until you need it, which is too late of course.

And to answer your question, “yes”, I did eventually get my money back, all of it, probably because of my situation. But , let’s say another time you hear of someone having a heart problem, will they risk going to a private hospital, having enough credit limit and hoping to claim it back – or go public and suffer?

I always thought the different activity packs on travel insurance were indicative (rather than specific to the activities listed):
Basic – safe activities where only the unfit and frail hurt themselves.
Group lead activities – bit more risk but you are with a professional.
Individual extreme sports or professional sports – you need specialist cover.
Which activities would fall in each category would vary with each insurer but I didn’t realise it is only the activities listed that are covered.

This makes no sense to me as how could any insurer possibly list all the different things people could do on holiday??! For instance some of the things we are considering are not listed but very safe, eg, going to a water park and some are a bit more risky but definitely not riskier than the things most insurers list as activities they cover, eg, coasteering and stand up paddle boarding. Then some of the things we are doing don’t even have a name so how could the insurer even list them: go-karts on a track on a ski slope, inflatable obstacle course in the sea and a cart in a metal half pipe down a hill. All these activities are with professional companies in EU countries and some have been operating more than a decade.

I appreciate I need to pay more but I have now tried lots of companies and can’t find any cover. Any ideas?