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Travel insurance explained

Get to grips with the basics of travel insurance, from the different types of cover to the most important features.

In this article
Coronavirus (COVID-19) travel insurance update Types of travel insurance
Benefits of travel insurance How to claim on your travel insurance

Coronavirus (COVID-19) travel insurance update


The spread of coronavirus has resulted in considerable disruption to travel plans. It has also caused some insurers to make changes to their policies.

We've reviewed travel insurers' COVID-19 cover - find the full results here.

You can find the latest updates and advice in our dedicated Which? coronavirus information hub.

Travel insurance is designed to cover major mishaps while travelling abroad and when you're on holiday.

Travelling without cover is very risky and could leave you massively out of pocket if the unthinkable happens.

But what is travel insurance and what does it cover? Here are the basics you need to know before you buy.

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 trip and single-trip cover.

Annual cover is usually the cheapest option if you are making more than two trips in the next 12 months, while single-trip cover can usually be more cost effective if you are taking one or two holidays.

European and worldwide 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 African countries, such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

Meanwhile, some insurers have two types of worldwide cover, one which will include the US and some which will exclude 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 are 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 bring the cost of the policy up.

Some insurers let you travel independently on a group policy, but check with your provider before you travel.

Benefits of travel insurance

Travel insurance policies have a number of features that help cover you and your belongings while you're on holiday. Here are some of the most important.

Emergency medical cover

Cover you'll need: £2m for Europe and £5m worldwide

Medical cover is a crucial part of your travel insurance policy. The amount you need may sound huge but the cost of hospital treatment abroad 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 to 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 payout.

You'll also need to inform your insurer about any conditions that develop between taking out your policy and making the trip.

Cancellation, curtailment and missed departure

Cover you'll need: £3,000

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.

You should look for a policy that offers cancellation and curtailment cover of at least £3,000, which will include cover for any excursions you have 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 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 refrain from carrying 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 should you accidentally injure someone else or damage their property while you’re abroad.

Other features

Other policy elements often contained in travel insurance products include personal accident cover, legal expenses insurance, sports equipment insurance, and cover for disasters or unexpected events.

How to claim on your travel insurance

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.

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.

Don’t delay your claim

Even if you don’t think that your claim is particularly urgent, make sure you tell your insurer as soon as possible. Many policies will have a time limit for claiming, so your best bet is to call your provider straight away.

Making swift contact is even more important if you need to make a medical claim because many providers insist that you check with them before you get treatment.

However, use your discretion if you're seriously injured. Don’t delay a trip to the emergency room because you're trying to find out if your insurance covers you.

Report crimes as soon as possible

Speed is also of the essence if you're a victim of crime. If any of your belongings are stolen, make sure you tell the local police immediately.

Your insurer will want a crime reference number before you can pursue a claim, and the conditions of some policies mean that you must report a crime within 24 hours.

If it's not possible to get over to the police station, tell your holiday rep or hotel manager, and ask them to help you put together a written report.

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 do 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 will not pay out if you buy a range of fancy expensive goods to tide you over until your luggage turns up.

Don’t lose out if your airline goes bust

Travel insurance may also help if your airline goes bust, especially if you have bought flights and hotels separately, rather than a traditional package holiday.

Scheduled airline failure cover helps you get a refund or an alternative flight if your airline goes bust.

If you have bought a package holiday, your operator should arrange alternative flights under the ATOL scheme.

You should also check to see if your cover includes Financial Failure Protection – cover for if you have a non-package holiday to protect you against hotels, villas and campsites becoming insolvent.

Speak up if you have a claim rejected

If an insurer rejects your claim, it doesn’t mean the end of the road. Raise a formal complaint with the insurer and, if your claim is denied for a second time, or it hasn’t been resolved within eight weeks, take it up with the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Raising a complaint is free, and the Ombudsman will adjudicate and provide a ruling.