Indeed, according to research by Sainsbury's Travel Insurance, a massive 13 million Brits will book holidays between Christmas 2010 and the end of February.
However, while holiday bookings increase dramatically at this time of year, there’s no corresponding surge over on the travel insurance page, suggesting that many people aren’t buying cover at the same time.
Instead, many holidaymakers leave purchasing their cover until closer to their trip, perhaps wrongly assuming that they only need it in case something goes wrong while they are actually away.
Don’t leave cover until the last minute
There’s no point waiting until you’re about to fly in order to book your travel insurance - you should always take out cover as soon as you’ve paid for your trip.
The reason you should do this is because, if something happens between booking your break and your travel dates and you were forced to cancel, you will then be able to claim back the cost of your trip from the insurer.
For example, if you or a loved one became sick, or if you were made redundant, then you may not be in a position to travel and may need to cancel your break. A good policy would protect you against being left out of pocket due to that kind of issue.
Another reason not to delay taking out insurance is that if your airline announces strike action which will affect your holiday before you get around to purchasing cover, you wouldn’t have any protection from that risk.
Extra protection for package holidays
Travellers who book a package holiday have additional protection from their supplier going bust, under the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) scheme. That ensures that you get a refund or can finish your holiday if the provider goes under.
But it’s still a good idea to buy travel insurance to protect against other potential mishaps, such as a theft or accident.
If you’re booking separate elements of your trip then it’s sensible to buy a policy that includes ‘end supplier’ failure, as this protects you against your bookings falling through.
What’s not covered?
No matter how early you buy your travel insurance, some things will not be covered.
For example, most insurers will not cover for cancellations resulting from civil unrest, so anyone forced to abandon their Tunisia break because of the political upheaval there at the moment is unlikely to be able to make a claim.
Many travellers discovered last year that their policies wouldn’t pay out over the volcanic ash flight ban.
But these kinds of events are fortunately rare, whereas falling ill overseas or having your foreign currency snatched, both of which insurance should cover, are unfortunately much more common.
Keep in mind that you have some responsibilities for your own safety when travelling. Most policies will refuse to cover you if you’re involved in any kind of drink or drug-related incident, or if you fail to take adequate care of your possessions.
How much cover do you need?
Your insurance needs will obviously vary depending on your circumstances. If you’ve booked a particularly expensive break then you’ll need sufficient cancellation cover.
However, we recommend you consider at least the following minimum protection:
- £2m for medical expenses
- £1m personal liability
- £3,000 cancellation - or enough to cover the cost of your holiday
- £1,500 baggage
- £250 for cash
- Policy excesses under £100
- Cover for scheduled airline failure and end supplier failure as desirable
- Delay cover (e.g. £20/hour for first 12 hours)
If you’re planning an adventurous break like a winter sports holiday then make sure the activity you’re taking part in is covered by your policy. You don’t want to be left with the bill if an air ambulance is called to carry you off the slopes.
Worryingly, a recent poll from AA Travel Insurance found that 26% of people trying to save money on their break this year will not take out travel cover in order to keep costs down.
But this could prove a dangerous false economy. Insurance can cost less than a tenner for a family of four going to Spain for a week, and that includes cancellation and baggage cover.
It’s better to have this protection in place and not need it, than to go without the peace of mind it offers.
Of course, the cheaper policies tend to provide less comprehensive cover than the more expensive options, so don’t just compare based on price. A cheaper policy may result in a saving in the short term, but if the policy isn't adequate for your needs you could find yourself paying far more if your claim isn't covered.