Why travel insurance saved us!

Have you booked a break to make the most of the long Jubilee weekend or the June half term next month? Are you starting to get excited about your long summer holiday? If so, buying sun cream and loading new books onto your Kindle may be top of your to-do list, but don’t forget about travel insurance.

As the following case studies demonstrate, taking out a travel insurance policy can prevent your well-deserved holiday from becoming a nightmare. And carefully chosen policies will cover you for most eventualities – from being stranded abroad to having to reschedule your trip.

Chloe Halsted, 26, North Wales

“The ash cloud left me stranded in Tenerife with just fancy dress in my suitcase”

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When Chloe and 14 friends went to Tenerife in 2010 for a fun-filled hen weekend, the last thing she expected was a cancelled flight home due to the ash cloud spewed out by a volcano in far-away Iceland.

“After enjoying a weekend in Tenerife for a hen party, I turned up at the airport with 14 other girls and queued at the check-in desk. However, we soon noticed that all of the flights on the departure board had CANCELLED written next to them due to the ash cloud.

“Our flight was booked with easyJet and they took all passengers on a bus to accommodation they were providing until a flight became available. We weren’t happy with this accommodation as we didn’t feel safe there so we left and managed to book back into our previous hotel.

“Many of the girls on the trip had babies or young children back in England and we were all eager to get home so we contacted the airport every day in the hope of getting a flight. As we were on a hen do, we also only had fancy dress in our suitcases. However, we were told that easyJet was boarding its passengers in the order they had flown out of the UK, so we faced a back-log of a week.

“We decided that our only option was to book on to another flight to the UK with an alternative airline and to put a claim in with our travel insurance provider when we got home.

“My insurance company, Insureandgo, covered all costs for the initial flight that was cancelled and easyJet refunded some of our alternative accommodation costs.

“This situation has definitely made me more aware of things that can happen that are out of your control. Before this, everything had gone smoothly when I’d gone on holiday so I just wasn’t aware of the importance of taking out insurance. However, now I would never go away without it.”

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While disasters such as the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull are rare, they can massively affect travellers – almost 100,000 flights were cancelled due to the 2010 ash cloud and more than 5million holidaymakers were left stranded.

To ensure that you are covered, read the fine print of any policy before you take it out. Look out for travel insurance that covers delays and cancellations, and natural disasters – some insurers such as Columbus Direct even allow you to add ash cloud cover on to you policy. And read the exclusions on the policy carefully.

Sheila Baldwin, 61, Manchester

“I had to cancel my retirement holiday to Australia and New Zealand due to a serious family illness”

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Sheila retired in 2010 and was looking forward to making the most of her free time by travelling. She had a holiday of a lifetime booked to Australia and New Zealand in 2011, but had to cancel it when her Dad was diagnosed as terminally ill.

“Following my retirement, I had a six-week trip booked to Australia and New Zealand with three friends. We’d booked our flights, a ferry from New Zealand’s North to South Island and had started to book our accommodation.

“A month before I was due to travel, I was told that my father was terminally ill. He’d had Alzheimer’s for years but had lost his swallow reflex and could no longer eat.

“I phoned up my insurance company AXA and explained the situation. After providing a letter from my Dad’s doctor, they agreed to refund me for all of the travel arrangements I had already made and all I lost was the excess on my policy.

“While the whole situation was a stressful one, and I was disappointed not to go on my planned trip, I used the refunded money to pay for a cycling trip around Cuba later in the year.”

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Sheila’s story shows how important it is to take travel insurance out as soon as you book your trip. No one wants to think about what could go wrong between booking and travelling, but having insurance in place will give you peace of mind should something happen that is out of your control. Read more on this in Clare Walsh’s article ‘Why you should buy travel cover as soon as you book’.

If you care for a relative and are aware of an existing illness when you take out your travel insurance policy, it may be worth mentioning this to your provider to be 100% sure you would be covered should you be left in a similar situation to Sheila.

Laura Howard, 34, Essex

“I contracted bronchitis and had my handbag stolen on my round-the-world trip”

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In 2010, after selling her house, Laura Howard decided to don her backpack and travel the world. And her travel insurance proved to be extremely valuable when she fell ill in San Diego and was robbed in San Francisco.

“I set off on my five-month trip around the world in February 2011. I already had a travel insurance policy with my bank but when I checked the fine print, I realised that it only covered trips of 90 days or less. So, after shopping around, I took out a new single trip policy.

“It wasn’t the cheapest deal that I found but it came with some comprehensive benefits including a 24/7 emergency assistance number – useful as I was travelling alone – and there was no excess to pay, which was appealing as I wouldn’t have to dip into my already stretched budget should anything go wrong. As it turned out, two things did.

“I travelled through South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji without even thinking about the travel insurance documents safely tucked in a pocket of my rucksack. However, when I arrived in America, they prevented my dream trip from becoming a nightmare.

“I contracted an 'acute upper respiratory infection with bronchospasms' in San Diego and after battling with it for a week, I visited the local emergency doctor. I was charged for my appointment as well as for the antibiotics and the inhaler I was prescribed. I kept all of the paperwork and receipts and claimed the money back on my travel insurance when I arrived home.

“Feeling better two weeks later, I was in a jazz bar in San Francisco when my handbag was stolen from the back of my chair. It contained all of my valuables – my passport (which I’d taken out for ID purposes), my bank and credit cards, my camera, my mobile phone and $90 in cash.

“I reported the crime to the local police station, cancelled my cards and my mobile phone contract and arranged an appointment with the British Consulate to discuss the possibility of receiving an emergency passport so I could make my flight home in three days’ time.

“When I was home on schedule (thanks to my emergency passport) I set about getting my finances back on track. After I sent all of my paperwork off, my insurer Cover-More refunded most of my costs back to my account, including my medical expenses and the sum for my emergency passport. The only part of my claim I lost out on was for my mobile phone – although the policy made it clear it that mobile phones were excluded from the cover.”

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If you are going away on an extended break, make sure you check how long your policy covers you for. And while it can be tempting to choose a policy purely based on the price – almost a quarter of you (23%) said this was the most important factor when choosing a travel insurance policy in a recent poll – don’t forget to look at the comprehensive benefits too.

Rick Madden, 36, Manchester

“I twisted my knee on the first day of my snowboarding holiday and now read my policy wording very carefully”

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When Rick went to Méribel in 2010 for an action-packed winter sports holiday, he didn’t expect to come home with an unhappy triad (an injured knee) and to have to take two weeks off work following an operation.

“Watching a boardercross event on the first day of my skiing trip I wanted to get a good view so I went a little off piste. When it was time to leave, I went further off piste to get to the lift but it turned out that the weather conditions weren’t great, meaning that the snow was lumpy and I ended up with my board digging into a lump of ice. I was thrown off, twisted my knee and banged my head.

“It took a while for me to come round but I managed to get back to the resort medical centre to consider my treatment.

“I rang my insurer AXA when the medical centre told me that it would be €100 to see a doctor and that I would most likely need an MRI – for which the doctor couldn’t confirm the cost. AXA told me that they would cover the medical expenses but as I would have to go to the nearest hospital for the MRI, they couldn’t guarantee that I would get the cost of an ambulance or taxi fares reimbursed. As I was going to have to pay upfront, and wasn’t entirely sure that I would get my money back, I stuck to painkillers for the week and waited until I returned to the UK to get treatment.

“I tried to claim a refund for my unused lift pass in resort, but discovered that I couldn’t as I should have taken out extra insurance when I bought it.

“I was also unable to claim for my ruined holiday as, to do so, I had to provide a medical record to prove I was injured while there. I put the whole thing down to bad luck and tried to enjoy the après ski… on one leg.

“The whole incident has made me look carefully at all wording in my policy documents and I am more cautious about going off piste – the medical centre told me that if I had been found off piste and unable to recover myself, I wouldn’t have been covered at all. I also make sure that I take out specialist ski insurance for peace of mind.”

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Whether you are a snowboarder like Rick or a skier, it is important to take out adequate winter sports cover and to check for exclusions - such as a maximum number of ski trips per year, avalanche closure and emergency transport to and from hospital. Find out more in Jessica Bown’s article ‘How to stay safe on the slopes’.

And it’s not just winter sports that you may need extra cover for on holiday, as Mark Hooson explains in his article ‘Are you covered for your action-packed holiday?’

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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