Cheap Travel Insurance
Many jet off without travel insurance, risking financial loss if they need to cancel, or £1,000s in medical bills. If you've booked a trip but not insurance and it's been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, there's little you can do now, you can't buy cover retrospectively. But, if you're optimistic about future trips and looking for a new travel insurance policy, read on...
Coronavirus and travel insurance
If you're looking for more information about your travel rights and what insurance might cover, see our Coronavirus – Travel Rights guide.
If you're looking for a new policy to cover an upcoming trip, insurers have limited cover offered on new policies to not include coronavirus-related issues. We've suspended our top pick policies in light of this, but we've help on how to find a new policy.
Your nine travel insurance 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 before you go, or if you need to return early due to an emergency. But before you buy, here are nine things you should know.
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.
Standard travel insurance covers you in the UK but the cover here is not as powerful as when overseas, though it can still prove useful, so you'll need to weigh up the pros and cons.
Travel insurance in the UK offers all the usual protections you'd get abroad, such as theft of valuables and cancellation though you normally aren't covered for hospital treatment but that's not such an issue given you should be able to use the NHS.
That said, you'll still need to declare all pre-existing conditions as insurers want to know how likely you are to have to be driven or airlifted home in a medical emergency. problem is not all trips are covered, eg, most insurers only cover you if you've booked accommodation.
But there can be other restrictions. For instance, LV gives cover if you're more than 25 miles from home or your journey involves a sea crossing. So the message is to check policies carefully as they can vary.
For more information on what's covered for UK trips affected by Covid-19, see our coronavirus guide.
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.
If you are travelling with your family, a policy would normally cover 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).
However, there are times when separate policies will be a better option (so always check, to be safe), including:
- If one of the travellers is over-65 as the group price you'll pay is based on the oldest traveller, or the person deemed to be the highest risk, so it'll usually hike the price for all (see our Over-65s' Travel Insurance guide for ways to cut the cost).
- If one of the travellers has a medical condition as it will increase the price for all.
- 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 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.
Always compare the price of any insurance a tour operator offers with other policies.
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 has its 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.
When choosing a policy you'll need to choose either an annual policy or cover for a single trip. We list the cheapest no-frills options for both below that meet our minimum cover criteria (but this does not factor in payout record or customer service). Our tool for annual cover also gives you options if you want a more comprehensive policy, 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.
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 £530 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.
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 and tetanus 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.
Refused entry (to visiting country)
No one wants their holiday to end before it begins, but most standard policies won't cover this type of scenario. Insurance policies have a list of scenarios they do cover (eg, theft, medical assistance).
To mitigate against problems, as it's your responsibility to check your travel documents are valid and you meet the entry requirements, always check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for the entry rules of the countries you're visiting well before travelling and give yourself plenty of time to get your paperwork in order.
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 and 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.
Here is a run down of eight things many do on holiday that could invalidate your insurance
Insurers will classify your trip as 'European' or 'worldwide'. Worldwide is often further broken down to include or exclude the US, Canada, the Caribbean, or Mexico. Selecting the option to include these countries increases the premium due to the high cost of medical treatment - particularly 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. The following insurers – Allianz, Insure and 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 if you plan to travel there.
As always, check your policy carefully to make sure you're getting the right cover.
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.
It's important to check all excesses so you know exactly what you will have to pay if you make a claim.
Most travel insurance policies are traditionally 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. And as of 1 July 2018, you're fully protected if you create a DIY package by selecting elements separately via the same website (or shop or call centre) and then buy them in the SAME transaction. See Holiday Rights: ATOL, ABTA, cancellations & delays explained for more.
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.
There's no clear answer on this: some insurers will cover you, some won't, so double-check your policy – whether out of curiosity or if you need to make a quick decision on which to go to.
Of those we asked, it was a mixed bag. For example, if you're overseas and know you need to go to hospital to check out a chest pain, LV says it would cover you in a private hospital, but not all the insurers we asked would.
However, if you're in an emergency, eg, you've a ruptured appendix or had a serious accident and are taken to a private hospital by emergency services without your knowledge, you're more likely to be covered by insurance but there's still a chance of rejection. If rejected and you're unhappy, you can always go to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which can arbitrate.
Remember, too, an EHIC WON'T cover you for any private treatment, or repatriation.
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 2017 was £1,300 - a far cry from £10m!
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, or had, usually in the last five years, 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.
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 £35), run a mile. For full info and how to get it for free from the legitimate NHS site, read the Free EHIC guide.
What's happening to the EHIC after 31 December 2020?
While the UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020, EHICs will continue to be valid and you'll be able to apply for a new card or renew yours if needed during the 'transition period', which ends on 31 December 2020. After that, we still don't know for sure what will happen to EHICs, though the Government says it's discussing the future of reciprocal healthcare arrangements – including the EHIC – with the EU. For more information, see our What Brexit means for you guide.
Once you have your EHIC, consider a Europe Plus policy (previously known as EHIC Plus). It covers most pre-existing conditions, as long as you use an EHIC, plus it gives you all the usual protection travel insurance gives, such as for delays, baggage and cancellation.
Do note that Europe Plus is not Government-backed. The underwriter is Mapfre Insurance.
An EHIC should be seen as an extra to travel insurance, not a replacement. Travel insurance covers far more scenarios, as well as possessions, delays, repatriation and more. Plus, even using an EHIC you may need to pay, and travel insurance will cover that (and often using the EHIC means you don't pay the excess).
Equally, many travel insurance exclusions don't apply with EHICs. So If you've been drinking you'll still be treated (not an excuse to push it); or if you've got a pre-existing condition, it still works. Though medical tourism – going abroad to get treatment – is definitely not covered.
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.
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 can often be as low as 17 days, with other setting the limit at 31 or 45 days but can sometimes be as as high as 90. If you're planning a backpacking trip or gap year travelling where you'll be away for months on end, you'll need specialist backpacker insurance.
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.
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 Packaged Accounts guide.
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.
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, which will not necessarily break the bank to get this extension.
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.
The cost of medical bills if you get injured on the slopes can be extortionate so it is essential to have the right cover.
The Association of British Insurers have said one Brit required £90,000 of treatment for a fractured rib and punctured lung.
Even a smaller injury, such as damage to a knee ligament, cost as much as £3,800 to treat.
Add being airlifted from the mountain to hospital, repatriation if you need to be flown home injured from the US or Canada and this would significantly increase the claim.
As well as covering yourself, winter sports insurance will also cover your ski pack and cancellation of your holiday.
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.
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.
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 £50 – up to a limit of £200 - £500.
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 but different providers offer different limits. The sum insured is usually in addition to your standard baggage cover. For example, Axa will cover up to £1,500 worth of equipment, Admiral will cover from £500, up to £1,000 (depending on the policy), while Aviva and Direct Line give cover up to £500. 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.
Check your policy carefully before you buy. If you go skiing ignoring weather warnings and – with some providers – or go skiing without wearing a helmet, your claim could be rejected. In some counties, it's also a legal requirement to wear a helmet, so don't fall foul of the rules.
Cruise ship holidays are growing in popularity but while most regular travel policies will cover you for loss or theft of goods and medical costs on a cruise, you may not be for other eventualities unless you upgrade your policy. These include:
- Missed departure
- Unused cruise excursions, eg, a day trip to a city port
- Cruise itinerary change
- Cabin confinement, eg, onboard virus
To get cover for these, you can usually select an add-on to get the right protection – which won't break the bank. If you want to buy one, a quick way to get a quote is to use a comparison site such as MoneySupermarket*, Confused.com*, Gocompare* or Compare The Market*. Please note, these sites are independent of MSE and may include providers we wouldn’t. See FAQs below.
It's also worth comparing with our cheapest no-frills options below (but make sure you add cruise cover to those). When choosing cover, simply click on the option to include a cruise in the cover.
Until we know if the UK will be leaving the European Union with or without a deal in place – it's impossible to say for sure whether there'll be disruption to flights.
There is also a risk that if your holiday is cancelled because of Brexit-related flight disruption, you will not be covered for hotel, car hire and other associated costs.
If you're worried, do check your policy now – and if you do want cover for disruption, you need to sort it now or risk not being able to get it. See our 25 Brexit need-to-knows for more.
Single trip & annual travel insurance for under-66s
With so many insurers changing their policies, or postponing selling travel insurance, we've had to suspend our top picks as we don't want to give you the wrong information.
For those still looking for travel insurance – knowing that you will not be covered against cancellation, for example, due to coronavirus – or travelling against the advice of the FCO (see Foreign Office extends warning against all non-essential travel 'indefinitely' story) – then it’s worth doing a check using the following comparison site (as the others we usually mention have also postponed selling travel insurance):
This comparison site will enable you to adjust your quote to suit your needs, ie, in case you want to add travel disruption cover, scheduled airline failure, cruise cover etc.
Please note: This site is independent of MSE and will include providers we wouldn't. See FAQs below.
It's also worth looking at packaged bank accounts, but be aware these cost between £10 and £20 per month (though you also get breakdown cover and mobile phone insurance included).
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How to claim on your travel insurance
Claiming on your travel insurance shouldn't be daunting and – if you understand the terms and the excesses on your policy – you shouldn't be in for any nasty shocks. Follow the five steps below in the event you do need to make a claim on your travel insurance.
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 you need to make a medical claim – and it's not an emergency – get an insurer to accept the claim over the phone first. For example, if you sprained your ankle, call your insurer – if it accepts the claim then, 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Many people aren't aware that if they have an alcoholic drink on holiday, and lose something or have an accident, their insurance may not cover them – even if they only had the one drink. Insurers all have different interpretations – which we have seen in the T&Cs – ranging from 'drinking too much' to 'approx four pints' to 'alcoholic abuse'.
In practice, what most say is that it's all about if the drink has affected your decision-making ability. As we all have different tolerances, for some this could mean that just one drink could invalidate a claim.
It's also been reported that some insurers have gone as far as testing blood samples for your alcohol level (although we wonder how this works in practice) but as stressed, this does vary from policy to policy.
Having a claim refused could hit hard, possibly excluding you from medical or possessions cover. As a general rule, use your common sense as it's about safety as well as insurance. For example, if you're skiing and have two or three glasses of wine at lunch before hitting the slopes again, you're increasing the chance of an accident – which you also may not be covered for.
See our 8 things many of us do on holiday that could invalidate our insurance blog - it is an eye-opener.
As we say above, we have minimum cover standards, and so we do exclude some providers that don't meet these.
In addition, one insurer, Holidaysafe (which was listed for a long period in our travel insurance best buys as a cheap 'no frills' provider) is currently excluded because of serious allegations made in The Times in November 2018 about its parent company, TIF. We took the decision to remove it from the guide while investigations continue. As they're ongoing, Holidaysafe (and any TIF – Travel Insurance Facilities – policies) are currently excluded from our guide.
However, we do link to comparison sites within our travel insurance guides and as they're independent of MSE, they may include providers we wouldn't.
We regularly review our policy on excluded providers and update our guides accordingly.
What to do if something goes wrong
First, you need to complain to your insurance company directly. If it doesn't respond, or if you don't like what it says, then you don't need to just take it.
You can escalate your complaint to the free Financial Ombudsman. The ombudsman is an independent adjudicator which 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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