Why it pays to have travel insurance

When it comes to preparing for a round-the-world trip, forking out for comprehensive travel insurance on top of all your other costs often seems about as appealing as going for your Hepatitis jabs.

But it’s when you come to claim on the policy that it becomes worth every penny, as Laura Howard learned from first-hand experience. Here, she tells her story….

Getting covered

I set off on my trip from London’s Heathrow airport on the evening of 25 February 2011, having only paid for my travel insurance and printed off the documents that afternoon.

While I already had annual travel insurance through my Barclays current account, it only applied to trips lasting a maximum of 90 days. My travels were to last for at least five weeks longer than this, so I needed to buy a standalone Single Trip policy to ensure I was covered. This covers travellers for one particular trip and requires a clear start and end date.

After some shopping around, I found a deal from Cover-More. At a cost of £210 for worldwide cover between 25 February and 24 July it was not the cheapest policy on the market but it came with comprehensive benefits.

These included a 24/7 emergency assistance telephone number – handy when travelling alone – and operations in Australia and New Zealand, the two countries in which I planned  to spend the most time. 

The fact there was no excess to pay on the policy was also appealing. With my money already having to stretch around the globe, this meant I would not need to stump up the cost of the first part of any claim should I need to make one.

As it turned out, I needed to make two.

Coming unstuck in the USA

I travelled through South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji unscathed, carrying my travel insurance documents in a pocket of my rucksack. It was when I arrived at my final destination of America that they had their first outing.

I contracted an ‘acute upper respiratory infection with bronchospasms’ in San Diego, California. Having ‘fought’ the infection for more than a week, it finally won the battle and, feeling terrible, I checked into the local emergency doctor.

I was charged $164 for the appointment, while the antibiotics and inhaler I was prescribed cost $114 and $43 respectively.

This turned out to be the best $321 I ever spent – and I made sure I retained all paperwork and receipts so that I could claim it back on my travel insurance.

Two weeks later and fully recovered, I found myself in a jazz bar in San Francisco when my handbag was stolen. Foolishly, I had hung it from the back of the bar stool on which I was sitting. Even more foolishly, it contained my passport (often required in America for ID purposes), my bank and credit cards, my camera, my mobile phone and $90 in cash.

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Damage limitation

While it would take more than a stolen handbag to spoil the last few days of my trip, I knew I needed to take the right steps and gather the appropriate documents as quickly as possible to minimise any further damage.

My first stop was San Francisco Police Station where I reported the theft and acquired an incident report number – vital for making a successful insurance claim.

I also put a stop on my bank and credit cards, though £1,000 had already been spent on them, interestingly, all of it on the local train service.

I cancelled my mobile phone with 02 and arranged an appointment with the British Consulate for the following day to assess the possibility of making my scheduled flight home in three days’ time.

The Consulate issued me with an emergency passport which only took a couple of hours to process and cost $176.  Mine was the 90th British emergency passport to be generated that month, staff told me, with many travellers simply overlooking the fact that theirs had expired.

It’s worth noting here that an emergency passport is only good for one trip. If you don’t make the exact flight it is registered to, you will be stranded for a second time.

That’s why it pays to have friends in this situation. Eric from Canada, who I had met just days before and who was with me at the time my bag was stolen, helped and funded me throughout the whole ordeal.

Thanks to him, I continued to have tremendous fun and I caught my scheduled flight home – he even paid for a taxi to the airport.

Next time however, I will ensure that I keep some cash and a credit card in a separate location, so that I don’t end up stranded without any money.

Sorting things out

On 3 July, the day after I arrived back in the UK, I set about getting my finances back on track. Getting the disputed transactions refunded to my Barclaycard and Barclays bank account was a priority.

Within 10 days of returning the appropriate forms, all fraudulent transactions had been refunded to both accounts.

Putting together the claim for Cover-More was more time consuming. I submitted two separate claims, one for medical and one for theft, enclosing all original supporting documents and as much detail as possible.

Where I didn’t have a receipt for the purchase (my camera for example which cost £164.50), I provided bank statements and highlighted the transaction

And in the absence of a receipt for something I had bought with cash (such as my handbag which cost £50) I sent photographic evidence.

A welcome outcome

The outcome was surprisingly favourable. In less than two weeks, Cover-More had refunded the full $321 (£200.22) of my medical claim straight into my bank account.

The insurer was fair on my theft claim too. It repaid the £100.68 cost of my emergency passport, the $9.99 (£6.21) for the required photographs, and even the £77.50 fee of getting a new passport issued from the UK – something I would need to do next year regardless. 

The $90 cash, which fell within the £200 policy limit, was refunded at £55.97, as was the full £164.50 cost of my camera. Even the £50 claim for my handbag in the photograph was successful. 

The only part of my total claim which was turned down was the £50 cost of my mobile phone. However, the policy made it clear that mobile phones were excluded from cover.

The total payment of just over £655 was a welcome relief after the overall expense of the trip. The challenge now is to replace what I lost with the money, rather than put it towards a new ticket.

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