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Top travel insurance mistakes and misconceptions revealed


"If someone doesn’t have cover in place and their situation changes before the holiday, meaning they’re unable to travel, unfortunately they won’t be able to make a claim."

  • More than half of travellers wouldn’t reveal medical conditions when taking out travel insurance.
  • Falling out with travel buddies and a poor weather forecast are amongst the reasons people wrongly expect insurers to pay out.
  • But holidaymakers don’t understand when they can claim – such as being called for jury service or if a close business colleague is taken ill.
  • A quarter of holidaymakers leave travel cover to the last minute.

Millions of holidaymakers are unwittingly putting themselves at risk, because of confusion over travel cover.

A new study from Aviva finds that many customers aren’t sure when to buy, what to tell their insurer, or what’s covered under their policies. The insurer is therefore urging people to check their travel insurance ahead of the summer holiday season.

What to tell – medical history

In spite of medical emergencies being the main driver for taking out travel insurance, many travellers don’t understand the importance of disclosing their medical history. The study of 2,000 UK adults1 found less than half (47%) would tell their insurer if they had an existing medical condition when they bought their travel cover.

25% would tell their insurer if they had to undergo medical tests after they had purchased their insurance

33% would disclose the medical history of someone else on their policy

29% said they wouldn’t make their insurer aware of any health or medical situations. 

Adam Beckett, Product Director for Aviva General Insurance says: “A person’s medical history is incredibly important when taking out travel insurance, as are any health changes that occur between them purchasing cover and travelling. This allows the insurer to appropriately assess the medical risks each customer poses, along with any other risks, in order to provide cover at a fair price.

“For those who have travel insurance through their bank or as an annual policy which renews automatically, it’s vital that they check their cover at renewal and inform their insurance provider if anything has changed or before they book a holiday.

“If a customer doesn’t disclose their medical history, this could mean that their policy is invalid. So if they are taken ill on holiday, due to a pre-existing condition or a condition which was being investigated before they travelled, unfortunately a claim may be declined.”

When to buy?

Customers are also confused about the best time to buy their cover. Insurers advise that people should purchase cover as soon as they have booked a holiday, in case an event occurs which means they need to cancel their plans. However, only a fifth of people do this (22%). The same number (22%) buy cover shortly before they travel and 3% leave it until they get to the airport.

“If someone doesn’t have cover in place and their situation changes before the holiday, meaning they’re unable to travel, unfortunately they won’t be able to make a claim. This could mean losing a deposit, or even the full cost of the holiday, so we’d always advise customers to take out cover as soon as their vacation is booked.” Adam Beckett, Product Director for Aviva General Insurance

What’s covered?

The research also found that customers are confused about what is and isn’t covered under their travel insurance policies.

39% believe that they can claim on their travel insurance policy if they’re the victim of a booking scam – but this is not the case.

24% expect to be able to make a claim if they lose their passport – a situation which is usually only covered under travel insurance if it happens overseas.

And travel cover doesn’t extend to situations where people simply fall out with travel buddies or if the weather forecast at the destination is poor – yet in both cases, 5% of travellers would expect to make a claim.

This said, customers don’t always realise when they can make a claim. Just 7% think they would be covered if a close business colleague became seriously ill and they were required to take on their workload.

Only 12% think they could claim if they were made redundant, and less than a third (28%) would expect travel insurers to pay out if they were called up for jury service – yet each of these three scenarios would be covered under Aviva travel insurance if they meant the policyholder needed to cancel a holiday.

Adam Beckett says: “Travel insurance is designed to help customers in the case of an unforeseen emergency. This could either mean something that occurs on holiday or an incident that happens beforehand which disrupts travel plans.

“Our research reveals that less than a third of people read their travel insurance documents in full, so it’s no surprise that there’s some confusion over cover. But this can lead to disappointment if people expect to make a claim, only to find they can’t. It’s crucial that people check their travel cover when they buy it or when they receive an annual reminder, so they know what the restrictions are. This should help to avoid any unpleasant surprises.”

Aviva has the following tips for customers taking out travel insurance:

  • Always check what you need to tell your insurer about your health - or the health of anyone else on your policy - such as any existing medical conditions or investigations. If your health changes between taking out insurance and travelling, or at renewal, it’s important to update your insurer, in case this affects your cover.
  • Be sure to know the specific cancellation and missed departure reasons that are covered by your policy - for example if your travel plans are affected by severe weather, drones or an airport strike. Missing a flight because you overslept is sadly not covered.
  • If you’re taking valuable items on your travels - it’s worth checking your baggage insurance is sufficient, whether you need additional cover, or if there are conditions such as ensuring your valuables are kept in your hand luggage.
  • Check whether baggage cover is part of your insurance package. For many policies it’s an optional add on, so don’t assume it’s in place automatically.
  • Be vigilant when booking. Unfortunately booking scams are not covered under travel policies, so take care when making your travel plans. You can find a list of ways to spot a scam through this useful Which? guide here.
  • Don’t leave insurance to the last minute. We recommend that customers arrange travel insurance to start from the day their trip is booked, not from the day the holiday starts, to ensure there’s cover for any listed cancellation reason.
  • Travel insurance often allows you to buy optional extras to meet your specific needs. So check what is covered as standard (for example with Aviva, most watersports are covered) and whether you need to purchase additional cover (e.g. for scuba diving or winter sports).
  • Are you travelling on business? Even if this just forms part of your travel plans, you may need to purchase additional cover, so make sure the policy is suitable for your needs.
  • Check your policy - Does it allow you to claim for delayed departure after check-in, or flight cancellations?
  • Understand the criteria for a UK trip to be covered. With Aviva’s travel insurance you need to have pre-booked accommodation for two nights or more.

1All data taken from research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva in May 2019, surveying a nationally representative sample of 2005 UK adults.

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