Almost one in four 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 £13 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 10 need-to-knows incl.
- How to claim on your travel insurance
- How to complain about your provider
Travel insurance: Your 10 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 10 things you should know.
Insurance is about covering the unpredictable
"Why should I get travel insurance, I might not even use it?" you may ask. But the whole point of travel insurance is to cover you for the unforeseen – ie, unpredictable events that may (or may not) 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 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 skiier 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, with cover that includes the latter usually more expensive due to the high cost of medical treatment in the US.
However, some insurers include destinations such as Egypt and Turkey in Europe, while others offer European policies with the option of including or excluding Spain (which is more expensive and may increase your premium). As always, check your policy carefully to make sure you are 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.
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 £10m for trips abroad) will be greatly reduced for UK trips. For example, Direct Travel's* budget policy has a £5m medical limit if you are outside of the UK but will only offer travel expenses home following treatment and repatriation if you fall ill or die while on holiday in the UK.
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.
Going to Europe? Don't forget your FREE EHIC
One of the most common areas of travel cover confusion is the role of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Many travellers wrongly assume it is a substitute for travel insurance.
An EHIC entitles you to treatment in state-run hospitals in EU countries and Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The card, which is free, allows you to be treated for the same cost as a local person using the same hospital. So if they pay nowt, you pay nowt. However, you can only use hospitals and doctors signed up to the EHIC scheme. If you are in any doubt, check with EHIC before starting treatment.
However, the card should not be used instead of insurance. This is because travel insurance covers far more, including the costs incurred if treatment isn't free, cancellations, delays, repatriation and baggage loss or theft.
Warning!Some websites will try to make you pay up to £25 for an EHIC. These dress up like legitimate sites, using search optimisation tricks to rank prominently on Google. They then get you to fill in forms, charging you for 'administration', even though there's no administration needed. See our 60 Seconds on Copycat Sites guide for more.
Can my EHIC be used anywhere?
We've heard reports that some travellers have had their EHICs refused for public health care in some countries. It's only affecting a minority of travellers in a few areas. See which countries have been affected and what you should do.
Check if you're already covered
You may already have travel insurance without knowing. Many bank accounts that charge a monthly fee are likely to have extra benefits such as travel insurance (you could even get it for free if you have Nationwide's FlexAccount*, which is fee-free but includes travel cover). 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
Group travel insurance premiums are based on the oldest traveller or the person deemed to be the highest risk, such as someone with pre-existing medical conditions. Insurers become more selective under these circumstances, and hike up premiums.
If you, or someone in your party, is likely to pay more, a separate policy for that traveller may be the best option to avoid everyone paying over the odds.
Here's an example:
A family of four – a 66-year-old, a 40-year-old and two children under 18 – wants a European annual travel insurance policy. They have two options:
Option 1: Take out an annual group policy – the cheapest we could find was £77.98.
Option 2: Take out one policy for the 40-year-old and the two kids at a cost of £26.69, and a separate policy for the 66-year-old at a cost of £38.99. The total cost for both policies would be £65.68 – £12.30 cheaper than the group policy.
However, one thing to be aware of is that if, for example, the 66-year-old fell ill and ended up in hospital and couldn't fly back at the end of the holiday, the 44-year-old and the kids would not get a payout for the cost of having to stay on as they are on a separate policy. If they were all on the same policy they would all be covered for staying.
My partner and I are both under 65. Should we buy a joint policy?
If you are travelling with your partner or your family, you have two options – you can either cover everyone under one group policy, or you can each take out your own individual policy.
What's best for you depends on your circumstances. If you know you will all be travelling together on every holiday, a family policy could be the best option.
For example, a family of four where the parents are aged 46 with two children under 18 can get an annual policy covering Europe for £30. But an adult policy on its own will cost £14 for just the one traveller, and then £27 for the partner and children, making the total premium £41 - £11 more.
If you are travelling with your family, bear in mind that a policy traditionally covers your immediate family, although there is no set definition of what this is. If you need to add members of your extended family – such as stepchildren – check with your insurer whether this is possible.
Some insurers also provide cover on an annual policy if you travel independently. Even children going on a school trip may be covered automatically (as long as they are with a responsible adult) but check with your insurer for full details.
There are exceptions to the rule when separate policies MAY save you money:
- If one of the travellers is going outside of 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
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 issues you have that will be relevant to your policy.Pricing radically changes depending on who you are so it's important to disclose everything. However, the rules around disclosure are changing and from August 2016 insurers will be unable to unfairly reject customers' claims if they've given the wrong information about a part of their policy that is irrelevant to their claim (see the news story: New insurance laws will stop insurers wriggling out of claims). But until then... If your insurer doesn’t know about your conditions they will be excluded and you could face a massive bill if you need treatment.
Remember, if you have an annual policy and your circumstances change, or you become ill, let your insurer know. For more, 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 cheaper to take at 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 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 may ask? Well, you're charged more but the chances of you making a claim that high are incredibly 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!
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.
The main bank account that offers travel insurance is the free Nationwide FlexAccount*. For more info on that, and other accounts that may offer travel insurance, see our Best Premier Current Accounts guide.
Best buys: Annual travel insurance for under 65s
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
Here we’ve analysed 21 cheap travel insurers to find the cheapest deals ensuring that the policies meet our minimum cover criteria.
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|
FREE 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.
Free cover with your bank account
Nationwide Flex Account*
While most travellers have to shell out extra for their cover, Nationwide FlexAccount* account holders get travel insurance for free. But remember to check the full details of the policy before you travel to make sure it meets your needs. More on the Nationwide FlexAccount* in our Bank Accounts with Benefits guide.
Is it worth it? Considering the account is free the insurance offered by the Nationwide FlexAccount* is a good option. However, if you need family cover or winter sports, for example, it might be cheaper to look elsewhere.
- Cost of the account: £0
- Individual/family: Individual only (family can be added for an additional premium)
- Europe/worldwide: Europe (worldwide for an additional premium)
- Maximum age: 74 (can be extended beyond 74 for £50/year)
- Days per trip: 31 | Cancellation: £5,000
- Medical limit: £10m | Baggage: £1,500 (single item limit £300)
- Money: £500 (cash £250) | Excess: £50 | Winter sports: For an additional premium
Best buys: Single travel insurance for under 65s
If you're 35 or over, prices range from £6.50 for a single Europe trip or £62.80 for a family worldwide policy including winter sports with LeisureGuard Lite*.
It's cheaper with certain combinations of age, location and number of travellers to go with Holidaysafe* so if you've time always check it as well. For a wider selection of insurers, check out a comparison site such as MoneySupermarket*, Confused* and GoCompare*.
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. Don't delay making contact.
If it's a medical claim get an insurer to accept it first
If you need medical attention – and it is not an emergency – get an insurer to accept the claim first. If the insurer accepts the claim, you won’t be faced with a bill following treatment if your claim is eventually rejected. 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.
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…