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What should I be considering when taking out travel cover?

Complaints in respect of Travel Insurance Policies are usually due to the limitations of cover which  only become apparent when a claim arises.

It must be noted that the circumstances and the places where these policies are taken up are not conducive to detailed inspection of the policy and the people charged with the actual issue of the insurance are often not qualified or competent or, for that matter eager, to discuss details of limitations of cover.

The situation becomes even more unsatisfactory and carries a greater potential for subsequent discontent when the travel cover takes the form of an additional "freebee" attached to a bank credit card and apart from the small print which is issued to the credit card holder when the card itself is issued, there is little reference to its details until the need for a claim arises.

Most travel cover is divided into a number of sections, the most usual of which are Emergency Medical and related expenses, Personal Liability Cover, Personal Accident Insurance and Baggage and Personal Assets Cover.

The premium paid for the insurance is usually separate for each section.  By paying a larger premium the maximum liability of the insurer and the maximum indemnity given may be increased. All insurers have available brochures which give the details of the policy and also contain details of the limitations on cover, and indeed in the case of some insurers, it is possible to obtain a brochure containing a comprehensive summary of the 'Master Policy' on which all the insurance is based.

The problem is that the insured never looks at all these in detail. If the insurance is attached to the insured’s credit card, the information is available at the bank.  If bought through a travel agent, or some other outlet, the brochures are available there, but the Insured seldom asks the travel agent for a sight of the brochure. The travel agent, in turn, very seldom deems it necessary to run through the details of the cover and all that is usually discussed is the level of cover that the insured would like under each section and the amount of the premium he or she is prepared to pay.

To the insured, perhaps the most important sections are those which deal with the possibility that during his or her period of travel a disabling illness can occur, which is going to cost vast amounts of money in a foreign land and additional costs in returning home and other associated expenses. How many insureds are clearly and simply informed otherwise than through the brochure that they may have no cover at all under this particular heading if they are over a certain age? How many understand clearly that the policy is not going to help them in respect of cardiovascular trouble if in fact they have experienced heart troubles beforehand? How many appreciate that if they are of a certain age they may not be covered for cardiovascular illness even if they have not experienced it before? Or that there is no cover for any 'chronic' illness?

All these are simply examples of limitations or exclusions which careful examination of the policy would reveal and there are many others.

In regard to the Personal Accidents cover, this is usually limited or excluded if you are over a certain age and does not cover you unless an accident results in death or permanent disablement within twelve months of the injury, or permanent disfigurement as defined in the policy. There is also sometimes a misunderstanding as to what is an 'accident' in terms of the policy or what is 'permanent disablement'.

With regard to baggage loss, some policies may exclude liability or baggage loss once your plane arrives at its destination even though the baggage never turns up on the carousel.

Strictly speaking, from a legal point of view it often does not help you after the event to contend that you never realised what the limiting conditions of the policy were. The insurer's answer will be that they were available to you and you knew from the brochures and documents that you could obtain them and that you chose not to do so.

As our law stands at the moment, there is only one way in which you can give yourself some protection and perhaps avoid assuming that you are totally covered when you are not and, that is, to take the trouble to look at the brochure and to look at the main conditions of the policy at the time that you want to apply for the cover and find out whether you are covered and to what extent you are not covered. The older you are, the more complicated your previous medical history, the more you have been subject to heart trouble and the more recent any physical disabilities or sicknesses may have been, the more likely it is that you will not enjoy full cover and you need to know about that beforehand.

With some policies there are facilities whereby for an additional premium risks, which are generally excluded, may be assumed by the Insurer.

There may also be some travel policies which give a greater degree of protection than others.

At the very least, you need to know clearly beforehand what risks you are not insured against under such a policy so that you can make an informed decision as to whether you can afford to take on those risks yourself.

Even if the strict legal provisions of the policy entitle the insurer to reject, there can sometimes be strong equitable considerations which could persuade it to take a more lenient line to consider some sort of payment. Particularly where there is any possibility of misunderstanding or ambiguity, insurers may treat claims more sympathetically and there are cases where the Ombudsman has been able to exercise persuasion in this regard. None of that, however, alters the fact that it is as important in this area of insurance as any other for the insured to know what he or she is insuring against and for the practical reasons which are set out, this is unfortunately an area where the insured, all too often, does not take these precautions.