Rebecca and Tony | Edited by Johanna
Updated April 2017
Almost one in five Brits jet off without travel insurance, risking £1,000s in medical bills. If you've booked a trip but not insurance, do it NOW – it can cost as little as £9 for annual cover.
But it's not just about finding the best price, in this guide we also explain how travel insurance works and what to watch out for when you buy.
Travel insurance best buys
In this guide
- Your 14 need-to-knows, incl:
- How to claim on your travel insurance
- How to complain about your provider
Travel insurance: Your 14 need-to-knows
The aim of travel insurance is to cover the cost of the unforeseen, such as illness and injury or theft of your personal possessions while you are on holiday. It's also designed to cover you if you have to cancel your trip, or need to return early due to an emergency. But before you buy, here are 14 things you should know.
Insurance is about covering the unpredictable
"Why should I get travel insurance, I might not use it?" you may ask. But the whole point is to cover you for the unforeseen – ie, unpredictable events that may occur either before or during your holiday. You need to accept that, and as it's impossible to predict the future, all you can do is to give it your best shot. To sum up...
Insurance is about making unpredictable events predictable in case the unpredictable happens.
Buy as soon as you've booked to cover cancellation and pre-trip illness
If you've booked a holiday and think it's no biggie to leave insurance on the 'things to do' list, you're taking an unnecessary risk.
Thinking you don't need to arrange cover yet as your holiday's not for another six months is a big mistake. In fact, it's even more of a reason to arrange travel insurance, as anything can happen before your trip. Why? It's because travel insurance won't just cover you while you're away, it'll also cover you for cancellation or anything else that might go wrong BEFORE you make your trip.
Never assume all policies are the same
While choosing a travel insurance policy isn't rocket science, don't think you can buy cover without first giving it considerable thought. Policies vary greatly and each have their own inclusions and exclusions.
Before you decide what you are going to buy ask yourself the following questions: Will I be bringing expensive personal belongings? Will I be carrying a relatively large amount of foreign currency? Am I taking part in winter sports? This will help you decide what cover's right for you.
In our best buys below we give you two choices. Annual policies, which meet our minimum criteria for various things, including cancellation and medical care, and our top pick policies, which not only meet our minimum criteria but also have a good record on claims, strong customer feedback and a history of paying out in extraordinary situations.
What's typically covered under a travel insurance policy?
Every travel insurance policy covers different things but all would offer a varying degree of cover on:
Unforeseen illnesses, injuries or accidents will be covered under the medical section of your policy. This covers the cost of receiving treatment overseas – including dental emergencies in most cases – and repatriation, the cost of having to fly you back to the UK.
On a slightly more morbid note, most policies cover cremation costs or the repatriation of a body should you or someone else covered under the policy die during your holiday.
Travel policies also cover cancellation if you can no longer go on your holiday or you need to come back early. However, there needs to be a valid reason for you to abandon your trip.
Being made redundant, having to do jury service, or having to take care of a seriously ill family member are among the list of valid reasons. But if you decide you no longer fancy a trip to the Canary Islands because you would rather go to the Maldives, or you want to return to the UK because you forgot to put EastEnders on series record, your claim will probably be rejected.
Baggage and personal belongings
Your travel policy will also cover you if your stuff is lost, stolen or damaged while you are on holiday. Almost everything you take overseas, including computers, phones, cameras and expensive clothing is included. Many providers will also cover you for the loss of a passport, cash or a driving licence.
However, policies can vary greatly both in the amount covered and in the excess – the amount you have to pay towards the claim yourself. For example, items such as cash or expensive goods can be subject to an additional higher excess.
Personal liability protects others and their property from accidents you may cause while on holiday. For example, the personal liability element of your insurance would cover you if, during a skiing trip, you crashed into another skier and injured them. Insurers will typically cover you for up to £2m, which is generally more than enough.
Travel schedules are often the victim of adverse weather, so delay cover is one of the more important aspects of travel insurance. Most policies cover against more than just storms, with many including events such as industrial action and mechanical breakdown.
If your flight's been delayed for more than three hours or it's been cancelled you may be able to claim compensation of up to £470 directly from the airline but the reason for the delay or cancellation must be the airline's fault, so bad weather for example, won't count.
This compensation is only for EU-regulated flights. An EU flight is where the flight departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline OR where an EU airline landed at an EU airport. Under this law, EU airports also include those in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. See our Flight Delay Compensation guide for more info.
If this doesn't apply – perhaps because you flew both from and to an airport outside the EU – you can also try making a claim on your travel insurance policy. Insurers typically pay out for each 12-hour period you've been delayed, but the payouts are often tiny compared to what you can get from your airline.
What is typically left out of travel insurance cover?
Like all insurance policies, there are a number of things that providers will not pay out for. Here are the most common:
You may be on holiday to unwind but if you are badly injured while you are more than just a little tipsy, your insurer is likely to reject your claim. The same goes for drugs. Insurers have different classifications of 'drunk', with some using blood alcohol limits, so check your policy carefully before you buy.
Insurers will often cover you if you have pre-existing medical conditions, but if you fail to tell your insurer and then need treatment for that condition, or a related condition, you won't be covered. You may also struggle to get a claim paid if you ignore advised medication or jabs needed to enter a country. So, if you go to Kenya and decide against getting jabs for diphtheria, hepatitis A, poliomyelitis, tetanus and typhoid do not expect your insurer to foot the bill if the worst happens.
If you are going on an adventure holiday, or you are planning to take a winter sports break, you must get extra cover or a specialist policy. Taking to the Alps for a spot of snowboarding with just a basic travel insurance policy in your bag is a risk not worth taking. If you get injured you could end up paying £10,000s in medical bills.
Travel insurance will cover your personal possessions when you are abroad but it doesn't mean you can be gung ho with your stuff. If you leave your items unattended and they are then stolen, your insurer will not pay for their replacement.
Travel to dangerous countries
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) outlines which countries are unsafe for travel. If you travel to a country on the FCO's list your cover is likely to be invalid. Check out the FCO's current travel advice for more.
Does it matter which country I am going to?
Insurers will classify your trip as either 'European' or 'worldwide'. Worldwide is often further broken down to either include or exclude the US. Selecting the option to include the US increases the premium due to the high cost of medical treatment in the US and possible repatriation.
European annual travel cover isn't just for Europe
If you're travelling just outside Europe, you don't always have to select worldwide cover. Many insurers actually allow you to use their European cover in a handful of non-European countries too.
If you're visiting Egypt, Morocco, Turkey or Tunisia, it's worth getting a quotation for European cover first and then checking the policy's geographical area definition to see if the country you're going to is included. Our cheapest top picks – Allianz, Insure & Go* and Coverwise* – all class Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia as Europe.
It's also worth noting that not all insurers automatically include Spain (and the Balearic/Canary Islands) in their European cover – you may have to pay extra to include Spain.
Important Tunisia warning: If you've booked a holiday to Tunisia, the Foreign & Commonwealth office has advised against all but essential travel. So contact the tour operator, airline or hotel to get your money back or to book a new holiday. If unable to recover all costs, insurers will consider claims on a "case-by-case basis". As the underlying issue is terrorism, many insurers exclude this though we have heard of insurers paying out.
As always, check your policy carefully to make sure you're getting the right cover.
Am I covered for trips in the UK?
Annual travel insurance policies will cover you for trips in the UK but there will be restrictions, especially to medical care (as travelling within the UK means you can rely on the NHS), so make sure you check your terms and conditions carefully before you buy. Even if you're on a caravan trip and already have specialist insurance, a separate travel policy will give you greater protection.
You will be able to claim for cancellation, lost luggage, lost money and the other common travel insurance benefits and the number of days per trip is likely to be the same as any overseas holiday taken under the policy. However, insurers have different definitions of a UK trip.
For instance, LV* covers UK trips but only if you have pre-booked your accommodation or are more than 25 miles from your home or your journey involves a sea crossing, Aviva* will cover you if your trip includes at least two nights in pre-booked accommodation and Holidaysafe* annual policies cover any pre-booked holiday in the UK as long as it as at least three days long.
In addition, because you will typically be entitled to NHS treatment in the UK, the medical expenses limit (which can be as high as £15m for trips abroad) will be greatly reduced for UK trips.
What is an excess and how does it work?
An excess is the amount you have to pay towards any claim you make. For example, if you cancel a trip and are entitled to £3,000 back from your insurer but have a £500 excess you will only receive £2,500.
However, many travel insurance products have separate excesses for different sections of the policy. For instance, some providers may make you pay an excess on both stolen cash and luggage. So if your suitcase was nicked and your wallet was inside you would have to pay an excess on both.
If you have a group policy you may also have to pay an excess for each person for any loss that impacts your entire party, such as cancellation. It's important to check all excesses so you know exactly what you will have to pay if you make a claim.
Does it matter what type of holiday I am going on?
Most travel insurance policies are designed to cover package holidays, as historically that's how 90% of us booked our holidays, and not all providers have kept up. This leaves them ill-equipped to cover DIY trips, where flights and accommodation are booked separately.
The biggest issue is a lack of cover for knock-on consequences. If a policy covers scheduled airline failure, for example, and the airline goes under, you'll typically be able to claim for the flights and any consequential losses, such as hotel costs. Without this cover, you'll lose the money you paid for it.
To beat this, you need a policy that specifically covers 'indirect loss' or 'scheduled airline failure'. Check the small print as some insurers include this cover as standard, while with others it is an optional extra.
Remember, packaged holidays feature extra ATOL and ABTA protection, which you don't get on DIY trips. If you're booking a DIY trip, if the additional fee isn't too expensive, book with a credit card (repaid in full to avoid interest) and then you get Section 75 protection for anything costing over £100.
What should I check in my policy before I buy?
As with any insurance product, check all the terms, conditions, exclusions and inclusions before you buy. Travelling without the right cover can leave you seriously out of pocket.
Remember to check your excesses too. High excesses may result in a cheaper policy but should only be considered if you can afford to front a large portion of the costs of any claim yourself.
Going away twice or more this year? Annual cover is cheaper
If you know you're going to travel at least twice in a 12-month period, consider an annual policy instead of single trip cover. This is because annual cover often works out cheaper than buying two single trip policies. But always do the calculations.
Of course, this varies depending on where you're travelling and for how long, but if you get an annual policy you also have the added comfort of knowing if you have a third trip within that 12-month period, you already have the cover in force.
How many days can I travel for on my annual policy?
Annual cover will insure you for an unlimited number of trips over a 12-month period. However, the number of days you can be on holiday for per trip may be capped – it is often 31 days but can sometimes be as low as 17 or as high as 90. If you're planning a backpacking trip where you'll be away for months on end, you'll need specialist backpacker insurance.
Going to Europe? Don't forget your FREE EHIC
The free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to treatment in state-run hospitals in EU countries, plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. You'll be treated at the same cost a local. So if they pay nowt, you pay nowt. It's not a substitute for insurance, which covers far more.
The card is free so if a copycat site pretending to the the real thing advertises a fee (often about £25), run a mile. For full info and how to get it for free from the legitimate NHS site, read the Free EHIC Card guide.
Check if you're already covered
You may already have travel insurance without knowing. Many bank accounts which charge a monthly fee have extra benefits such as travel insurance. If you think you get insurance as a sweetener with your bank account, check the terms to see if it is appropriate for your trip.
Do NOT confuse this with a benefit offered with credit cards called travel accident insurance, which only covers accidents on a train, plane or in a hire car paid for on the card. Never think this means you're completely covered.
If you're an older traveller, or there is one in your group, consider a separate policy
Older travellers are considered higher risk. This means travel insurance is more expensive and more difficult to buy as you get older – especially if you are over 65, with the average annual cost standing at more than £80.
If you buy family or other types of group cover, also note the price is based on the oldest traveller or the person deemed to be the highest risk.
To help cut costs we've written a full Over-65s Travel Insurance guide with the tips, tricks and best buys.
Check if a couples or family policy is cheaper than individual policies
If you are travelling with your partner or your family, you have two options – you can either cover everyone under one policy, or each person takes their own. It's often cheaper to get a combined policy but always check first.
For example, a couple both aged 40, can get an annual worldwide policy with winter sports cover for £83. But buying two individual, equivalent policies costs £46 each. The two can usually travel independently even if you've a joint policy.
If you are travelling with your family, a policy normally covers your immediate family only, so check exactly who is covered when buying. Even children going on a school trip may be covered automatically on a family policy (as long as they are with a responsible adult).
There are times when separate policies MAY save you money (so always check, to be safe), incl:
- If just one of the travellers is going outside Europe, in particular to the US, or on a skiing trip (or even both), it could be better to have separate policies rather than the whole family buying extended cover when it's not needed.
- If one of the travellers is over 65.
- If one of the travellers has a medical condition.
- Some super-cheap policies (with less cover) don't cover couples.
Always declare your medical conditions, or your claim may be rejected
The thought of having to declare medical conditions can be daunting but travelling without making your insurer aware of any issues can result in any claim you make being rejected. Make sure you give a full and frank run down of all the health problems you have, plus if you're pregnant too.For much more, including tips, tricks and how to find the cheapest deals, see our pre-existing medical conditions travel insurance guide.
Going skiing? Make sure you've got winter sports cover
Winter sports can be dangerous, so as soon as you've splashed out on your break, make sure you are insured on the slopes. As well as covering you for the basics you'd get under a standard travel policy, you'll also be insured for activity-related injury and your winter sports equipment.
Is winter sports cover automatically included?
Many holidaymakers wrongly assume they're automatically covered for winter sports as part of their travel insurance. While some providers offer winter sports as standard under certain policies, other travel insurers only cover you if you extend your insurance and this will typically cost extra.
All winter sports policies will cover you for skiing and snowboarding and many will also cover other activities, such as husky dog sleigh riding and sledging, as standard. If you are doing something a bit more unusual, such as ski jumping or snowmobiling, check the terms and conditions of your policy first. If you are planning to take part in something even more crazy – such as luging or stunt skiing – specialist providers such as BMC and Snowcard may be able to offer you cover.
If you opt for a specialist travel policy, check your details closely to make sure you know the limits of your cover.
Don't forget to pick your specialist provider like any other travel provider. Make sure you tell your insurer about any pre-existing medical conditions and remember to pack your EHIC if you are going somewhere in Europe.
Is it worth getting a basic policy and hoping for the best?
The cost of medical bills if you get injured on the slopes can be extortionate so it is essential to have the right cover.
Being airlifted from the mountain to hospital can cost £2,500, repatriation from Europe can set you back £10,000 and you will have to fork out £40,000 if you need to be flown home injured from the US or Canada.
As well as covering yourself, winter sports insurance will also cover your ski pack and cancellation of your holiday.
Do I need extra cover if I want to go off-piste?
In most cases, you'll be allowed to ski off-piste but with certain restrictions. You'll have to be within the boundary of the resort or supervised by a qualified instructor.
I am skiing twice this year. Should I get an annual policy with winter sports cover?
Lucky you. It may be cheaper to take out an annual policy with a winter sports add-on. However, check the price against the cost of covering single trips to ensure you're getting a bargain.
Can I claim for piste closure?
If your piste closes (usually due to lack of snow or an avalanche) and you're unable to hit the slopes, your insurer may give you back a set amount per day. This can range from £10 to £30 – up to a limit of £200 or £300.
Is my equipment covered? What if it is rented?
Most winter sports policies will cover you for accidental damage, theft or the loss of equipment. The onus will be on you to keep your gear safe, so don't leave it at the mercy of crooks.
Your equipment will usually be covered for up to £3,000, but different providers offer different limits. The sum insured is usually in addition to your standard baggage cover. For example, Axa Direct will cover up to £2,000 worth of equipment with some policies, while Admiral will only cover up to £1,000. Think about the value of your stuff and pick your policy accordingly.
If you've hired ski equipment, it may be covered by your insurer if it's lost, stolen or damaged. Some providers insure any rented kit as part of your baggage up to the limit of the coverage. Other insurers only pay up to 50% of the sum insured for hired equipment. Some ski equipment providers may also cover their gear for you so it is worth checking with the resort before you buy your cover.
In most cases, your ski pack – including ski school fees, a lift pass and hired ski equipment – is covered. The amount can range from £150 to £500, but can be as high as £5,000. As always, check your policy closely for any potential exclusions.
What happens if I have an accident while I am a little tipsy?
Many people aren't aware that if you have an alcoholic drink on holiday, and you lose something or have an accident, your insurance may not cover you – even if you were only a bit tipsy.
It has been reported that some insurers have gone as far as testing blood samples of your alcohol level (although we wonder how this works in practice!) but this does vary from policy to policy.
Having a claim refused could hit hard, possibly excluding you from medical or possessions cover.
So check your policy carefully before you buy. The same goes for skiing despite weather warnings and – with some providers – skiing without wearing a helmet.
Don't overpay on your insurance. Costlier cover is rarely worth it
Insurance providers go all out to scare us into upping cover levels. Don't be duped into upgrading for no reason. Platinum policies with £10m medical cover are bunkum.
"Why," you ask? Well, you're charged more but the chances of you making a claim that high are slim. According to the Association of British Insurers, the average cost of a medical travel insurance claim in 2013 was £930 – a far cry from £10m!
Insurance from a travel agent could cost seven times moreIf you buy travel insurance from a travel agent or airline, be it for a single trip away or an annual policy, you are likely to massively overpay.
This table compares the price of a selection of holidays with our top picks versus the cheapest options from a selection of travel firms that meet our minimum criteria .
Travelling for more than two months? You'll need specialist 'backpacker' insurance
If you're going away for more than 60 consecutive days then standard travel insurance is unlikely to cover you.
You'll therefore need specialist backpacker insurance - sometimes called gap year or extended leave insurance. These policies can protect you for up to 18 months as standard in most cases, and can even be extended.
Going on a cruise? You’re likely to need an add-on to the policy
Cruise ship holidays are growing in popularity but don’t expect to be automatically covered for cruise specific issues. Carefully check your policy to make sure you are covered should you need to cancel a cruise holiday or require medical treatment once on board.
This insurance should also not be confused with Section 75 legal protection – which covers you if you buy anything that costs between £100 and £30,000 using a credit card (not a debit card). See our Section 75 Protection guide for more on this.
For accounts that may offer travel insurance (and other perks), see our Best Premier Current Accounts guide.
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The price of our top picks vs the travel firms
|Single trip, one week to Europe||Annual worldwide|
|Our top pick (no-frills)||Travel firms' cover (1)||Our top pick (no-frills)||Travel firms' cover (1)|
|Family (2)||£9 – Leisure Guard Lite*||£9-£58||£37 – Holidaysafe Lite*
|Individual, 18-35||£5 – Leisure Guard Lite*
||£8-£26||£19 – Holidaysafe Lite*
|Individual, 36-65||£6-£9 – Leisure Guard Lite*
||£6-£52||£20-£33 – Holidaysafe Lite*
|Note: (1) Prices from BA, Thomas Cook, Thomson & Monarch. Some offer higher cover levels than our top picks, but consider whether you need it. (2) Ages 35, 35, 12 & 8. Correct as of March 2017.|
If you can avoid buying the agent or airline's insurance and instead check our full best buys below for a cheaper price.
If you need extended cover, which usually includes cover against missed departure, unused cruise excursions, cruise itinerary change and cruise cabin confinement, you can usually select an add-on to get the right protection – which won’t break the bank.
The big question to ask yourself is – are you going away at least twice in the next 12 months? If so, consider an annual policy, if not go for single trip.
Below we list the cheapest annual policies for all travellers aged under 65 and without medical conditions which meet our minimum criteria (see our over-65s and pre-existing conditions travel guides for more).
Find the best policy for you
Select your options to see the best deals for you
Your results: The cheapest policies for aged
We’ve analysed 18 insurers to find the cheapest deals that meet our minimum cover criteria. Many won’t automatically include cover for gadgets (ie: laptop, mobile phone, tablets), scheduled airline failure or cruise ship holidays. If you require cover for any of these, do check the policy or select as an add-on extension. For gadgets, check your home insurance cover or consider a specialist gadget policy.
|Provider||Worldwide Cover||Europe(ish) Cover|
Your results: Our best value policy
This is our top pick policy that meets our minimum criteria (so the same as for our cheapest policies) but also has good feedback, a history of paying out in extraordinary situations, such as 2010’s volcanic ash disruption and a proven track record for paying out claims.
|Provider||Worldwide Cover||Europe(ish) Cover|
Not found the right policy for you? Go back and re-select from the options above.
Cover is possible via your bank
You may already have travel insurance if you pay a monthly fee for a bank account. If you believe you get insurance as a sweetener with your bank account, check the terms to see if it is appropriate for your trip.
For more bank accounts which offer travel insurance, see our Bank Accounts with Benefits guide.
Best buys: Single travel insurance for under-65s
If you're only going on holiday once in the next year, a single trip policy could be the cheapest option but do compare the single trip premium against an annual multi-trip policy as it could be cheaper or better to opt for an annual policy. Also, before committing to a worldwide policy, check where your destination is deemed to be, as some providers - Allianz, Insure & Go* and Coverwise* - class Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia as Europe.
For those aged 44 and under, the premium ranges from £5 for an individual visiting Europe for seven days (£14 worldwide) and from £9 for a family in Europe (or £28 worldwide including USA, Australia, etc) via Leisure Guard (Lite)*. Also get a quote from Holidaysafe Lite* as there's not much in it and can sometimes win.
If you're over 44, this is when Leisure Guard (Lite)* and/or Holidaysafe Lite* are the winners. You should get quotations from both where prices for going solo start from £6 in Europe (£15 worldwide) and travelling with a family costs from £12 in Europe (or from £31 for a family on a worldwide policy).
Looking for winter sports cover?
The cheapest starting price is via the Leisure Guard Lite (Winter Sports)* policy. For an individual, it costs from £11 if going to Europe. For worldwide travel, the price is from £28.
Travel as a family and the premium starts from £21 if you're only visiting Europe and from £57 if going further afield (worldwide), via this Leisure Guard Lite (Winter Sports)* link .
Cashback sites may pay you for signing up
As an extra boon, members of specialist cashback websites can be paid when they sign up to some financial products. Do check that it's exactly the same deal though, as terms can be different. And remember the cashback is never 100% guaranteed until it's in your account.
Full help to take advantage of this and pros & cons in our Top Cashback Sites guide.
How to claim on your travel insurance
Claiming on your travel insurance shouldn't be daunting and – if you understand the terms and excesses on your policy – you shouldn't be in for any nasty shocks. Follow the five steps below in the event you need to claim.
Submit your claim as soon as possible
Contact your insurer as soon as you can. Some parts of your policy may have a short window to submit a claim and it may take a while to be processed.
If it's a medical claim get an insurer to accept it first
If you need to make a medical claim – and it is not an emergency – get an insurer to accept the claim over the phone first. For example, thieves make off with medicine kept in a handbag that you need urgently. If the insurer accepts the claim over the phone, you're less likely to be faced with a rejected claim later down the line. For obvious reasons, don't delay treatment if it is an emergency.
If it's a theft or loss claim notify the police
If something goes missing or is stolen when you are abroad you may need to get a crime reference number or the overseas equivalent to make a successful claim. Report the incident to the police as soon as you can – you often have to do it within 24 hours – to make sure your claim doesn't hit the skids.
Keep your receipts
If you are claiming for lost luggage or delay, remember to keep receipts of essential items you have bought in the interim, such as food and drink. Many insurers allow you to add these expenses to a claim and may ask for receipts as proof.
Complain if you feel your claim was unfairly rejected
If your insurance company rejects your claim and you think it has done so wrongly, do not take it lying down. Complain to the free Financial Ombudsman. The ombudsman is an independent adjudicator that will make the final decision on a claim if you are locked in a dispute with your insurer. For more on how to make a complaint, read our Financial Rights guide.
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How to complain about your insurance provider
The insurance industry doesn't have the best customer service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include claims either not being paid out on time or at all, unfair charges, or exclusions being hidden in the small print. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then…
Free tool if you're having a problem
This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with it to help people get complaints justice.
If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate it to the free Financial Ombudsman Service.
Important: if your issue is about a voucher or incentive that was part of an MSE Blagged deal, then instead just let us know by emailing email@example.com as that's usually quicker.