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Travel agents fail customers on travel insurance

Which? reveals poor selling and high prices

Many travel agents sell potentially unsuitable policies and offer poor value for money on travel insurance, warns a new Which? report.

Travel agents uncompetitive on price

All the travel agents visited by undercover Which? researchers were uncompetitive on price. One travel agent quoted as much as £80.99 for insurance on a two-week trip to Spain for two – a Which? Best Buy policy would have cost as little as £20.

Over half of travel agents failed to give adequate information

Cost wasn’t the only factor to raise alarm bells with the experts at Which?. Some 17 of the 29 travel agents visited failed to provide even the most basic details about the insurance policies they sold. Independent travel agencies performed better overall, with nine out of 14 meeting the Which? benchmark. Just three of the 15 chain branches of travel agents met the same criteria.

Pre-existing medical conditions, documentation and cooling-off periods

Few of the 29 travel agents checked that the cover available under a policy would be sufficient for the customer, other than to cover the cost of the holiday itself in the case of ill health-health prior to leaving. Six of the travel agents failed to enquire about pre-existing medical conditions at all, while not one explained the significance of failing to declare pre-existing medical conditions.

Less than half of the travel agents gave researchers a copy of the insurance policy to take home, and only six mentioned the 14 day cooling-off period within which the customer could cancel the policy and get a refund.

Travel agents must train their staff properly

Rochelle Turner, head of research for Which? Holiday, commented: ‘Not surprisingly, you expect travel agents to be experts in all aspects of booking a holiday, but our research shows that’s not always the case when it comes to insurance.

‘The recent disruption to flights has demonstrated just how important it is to have adequate cover. If travel agents want to sell insurance, they must train their staff properly so customers can feel confident they’ve bought the right policy. Otherwise, they should stop selling it altogether and leave it to the experts.’

How we assessed travel agents

In March and April 2010, undercover researchers from Which? visited 29 travel agent branches, including three branches each of Co-operative Travel, First Choice, Going Places, Thomas Cook and Thomson, plus 14 independents. The researchers asked for travel insurance alongside a two-week beach holiday in Spain for a couple in their late 50s.

To pass the Which? test, travel agents should, as a minimum:

  • Explain what the policy covers and what it excludes, and provide customers with a copy of the policy itself so they can digest the information fully.
  • Ask whether anyone covered by the policy has any pre-existing medical conditions – these are often excluded from the cover.
  • Make sure the policy is suitable. For example, some have an upper age limit.

Get great cover at the best price with Which? Best Buy travel insurance

To be a Which? Best Buy, travel insurance policies must offer excellent cover at the most competitive price. All Which? Best Buy policies offer at least:

  • £2m of medical cover
  • £1,500 for baggage/personal belongings and lost/stolen money cover 
  • £1m personal liability cover
  • £3,000 for curtailment/cancellation
  • 24-hour emergency helpline and legal expenses cover.

To find the latest Best Buys, read our Which? travel insurance reviews. And to find out more about travel insurance, read our guide Travel insurance explained.

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