What is travel insurance?
Travel insurance is designed to compensate you if you experience major problems while travelling abroad and when you're on holiday.
Travelling without cover could leave you massively out of pocket if the unthinkable happens.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still disrupting and limiting international travel plans, insurance offers vital protection if you're planning a trip abroad.
But what is travel insurance and what does it cover? Here are the basics you need to know before you buy.
- Find out more: We’ve compared holiday providers’ Covid travel policies so you can check before you book
What are the different types of travel insurance?
The type of cover you buy depends on three things: how many trips you are making within the next 12 months, where you are going, and who you are travelling with.
Single trip vs annual trip cover
Depending on the number of trips you are making in the next year, you have two options: annual or single-trip cover.
Annual cover is usually the cheapest option if you're making more than two trips in the next 12 months, while single-trip cover can usually be more cost effective if you're taking one or two holidays.
With international travel still restricted due to Covid-19, you may be unsure of how many trips you will actually end up taking, so this might be a decision that's easier to make further in the future.
European, worldwide and USA cover
The distinction between European and worldwide cover might seem simple, but some travel insurers have different ways of classifying your journey.
For example, some European travel cover includes selected countries outside the continent. Meanwhile, some insurers have two types of worldwide cover, one that includes the USA and one that excludes it.
Make sure you check your policy carefully before you buy, to make sure your chosen destination is included.
Individual, couple or family cover
If you're travelling with your partner or your family, you have the option of covering everyone under the same policy.
This might work out cheaper but, if one of the travellers in your party needs specialist cover due to their age or medical conditions, it may increase the cost of the policy.
- Find out more: best and worst travel insurance
What are the benefits of travel insurance?
Travel insurance policies have a number of features that help cover you and your belongings while you're on holiday.
Our travel insurance policy scores reflect the breadth and extent of cover provided by policies.
Here are some of the most important.
Cover you'll need: Superior or Complete-rated cover
If you're planning to travel abroad during the pandemic, there are a number of ways the coronavirus could wreck your trip. Changing government guidelines, fresh lockdowns, self isolation and even catching Covid yourself before you travel, are among them.
Most insurers now offer some kind of 'Covid cover', but many don't cover the incidents mentioned above.
We've rated each policy's Covid cover on a scale from Basic (worst), to Low, Superior and Complete (best).
More on Covid cover
Our experts examined whether travel insurance policies would cover typical coronavirus-related incidents. Based on the results, we gave them a rating:
Emergency medical cover
Cover you'll need: £5m
Medical cover is a crucial part of your travel insurance policy, especially during a pandemic.
The amount you need may sound huge, but the cost of hospital treatment abroad or being repatriated to the UK for treatment could be many hundreds of thousands of pounds.
With no travel insurance, you would have to pay your own medical bills in a country like the US – and this could be very expensive.
Also, make sure you inform your insurer of any pre-existing medical conditions that affect you or a family member travelling with you, even if it seems minor or irrelevant.
By not being 100% clear (even if it involves a relative with a medical condition, in the case of cancellation cover), you run the risk that your insurer may refuse to pay out.
You'll also need to inform your insurer about any conditions that develop between taking out your policy and making the trip.
- Find out more: medical conditions travel insurance reviews
Cancellation, curtailment and missed departure
Cover you'll need: £2,000, or the value of your trip
Travel insurance will usually pay you compensation if you have to cancel or cut short (curtail) your trip for reasons such as illness or bereavement.
It's always important to check the terms and conditions of your policy to see exactly what is covered, however, as the circumstances in which you can make a cancellation or curtailment claim can be restricted.
For example many policies, even those that promise 'Covid cover', will have exclusions around Covid-19.
You should look for a policy that offers cancellation and curtailment cover of at least £2,000, which will include cover for any excursions you've already organised and paid for.
Your cover should also include the cost of getting you home. 'Missed departure' will cover you if you miss your flight/ferry due to public transport failure or an unexpected delay.
Personal belongings and money
Cover you'll need: £1,500
Travel insurance normally covers you up to a certain limit for lost or stolen baggage and belongings. As well as an overall limit for lost and stolen belongings, most travel insurance policies will limit what you can claim for single items and all valuable items. The maximum that most companies will pay out is between £200 and £500 per item, so be sure to bear this in mind when packing for your holiday.
You may want to top up your home contents insurance for possessions away from home if you're taking expensive gadgets, such as smartphones and tablets, watches or jewellery away with you.
Travel insurance policies also tend to limit the amount you can claim for lost and stolen cash, and travellers' cheques. Often the maximum is between £200 and £500, so check the terms and conditions of your policy and don't carry too much currency around with you.
Personal liability cover
Cover you'll need: £1m
Personal liability is an important, if rarely used, feature of travel insurance. It covers you in case you face legal bills, which might arise in the event that you accidentally injure someone else or damage their property while you’re abroad.
Cover for sports and activities
Standard travel insurance policies may not cover activities such as skiing.
Make sure you know what a policy will cover and add additional cover if necessary.
How do I claim?
Insurance is the one product that you buy hoping you'll never have to use it. But if disaster strikes, claiming needn’t be a hassle. Follow our steps for making a stress-free travel insurance claim.
Know what you can claim for
When it comes to cancellation, insurance will only pay out for money you can't claim back through other means. If you need to cancel or rebook your holiday, check with your accommodation and transport providers for refunds first (see 'Other ways to protect your holiday' below).
Pack your insurance documents
Your insurance documents are as important to your holiday as sun cream, flip-flops and sunglasses, so make sure they are safely stashed in your luggage.
The documents will outline exactly what you are and aren’t covered for, and will have your policy number and the emergency contact details of your insurer if you need to make a claim.
Keep all your receipts if you're delayed
Severe delays at the airport are incredibly frustrating, especially if you're counting down the seconds until you can sun yourself on the beach.
Many insurers will reimburse you for food and drink, and sometimes even accommodation if you're delayed, so remember to keep all your receipts to show your provider as proof.
You usually also need proof of delay from your flight or tour operator. It's much easier to get this at the time of the delay, so find a representative and ask them for written confirmation.
The same goes for lost luggage. If you arrive on your holiday but your bags haven’t made the trip, you can also claim back expenses for essential items.
However, make sure you check your claim limits. Your insurer won't pay out if you buy a range of fancy expensive goods to tide you over until your luggage turns up.
Find out more: how to claim on your travel insurance
How else can I protect my holiday?
Although you should always buy travel insurance when you go away, it isn't the only way to protect your holiday.
The following protections work alongside travel insurance, and shouldn't be considered as alternatives. There are some protections that only travel insurance can provide.
Follow our checklist
The Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have made foreign travel far more complicated than before.
Our checklist runs through everything you need to consider, from tests to quarantine to passports.
- Find out more: our holiday checklist
Section 75 and chargeback
Where possible, book all flights and holidays worth more than £100 with a credit card, even if you're just paying a deposit.
If they get cancelled and you don't get a refund, or the provider goes bust, you're legally entitled to claim the money back from your card provider.
Chargeback is a similar but weaker voluntary scheme applying to debit cards and credit card payments under £100. Again, contact your bank or card provider.
- Find out more: how Section 75 works
Flexible booking policies
Some travel providers have flexible booking policies, allowing you to change your booking free of charge before you travel. It's worth getting acquainted with the booking terms of your provider in case you have to cancel or postpone your holiday because of Covid-19.
To help, we’ve compared holiday providers’ Covid travel policies so you can check before you book. Our Which? Holiday Checker makes it easy for you to find out which providers offer the best flexible booking options, and which ones could leave you out of pocket if circumstances change.