One size will never suit all passengers

Travel insurance policy fine print can be confusing and is a source of great frustration for many, so we've asked companies the key questions.

WHEN I wrote in these pages recently about the challenges of finding the right travel insurance policy, I was bombarded by emails from readers.

Questions and complaints flowed into my inbox (joined by the occasional happy-ending endorsement of insurance), indicating that many travellers struggle to find a policy that suits, or have had trouble getting a claim paid.

A few readers said they had become so distrusting of travel insurance that they had decided to go without it.

"I simply assume that they will not cover you when you want them to, so are better off avoiding them altogether," wrote one traveller. In search of answers, I collected the most common complaints and issues and put them to some of Australia's biggest insurance providers. Keep reading next week for more.

Less-than-perfect health

Many travellers say they find it hard to grasp the definition of a "pre-existing" medical condition and whether it qualifies for automatic coverage. A source of confusion is the fine print about automatically covered conditions, such as how recently you have received medical attention for that condition.

"Different insurers take different approaches to existing medical conditions," says the marketing manager for CoverMore Travel Insurance, Lauren Cacciola.

"Some only cover a handful of non-serious conditions, some require the customer's doctor to complete assessment forms, some providers won't cover existing medical conditions at all."

Cacciola says CoverMore's policies are designed to cover as many pre-existing conditions as possible and there are "only a handful" that require a medical assessment.

The customer service manager for Travel Insurance Direct, Alison RexPaulin, says any traveller who is unsure should pick up the phone.

"Any decent insurer will be able to come back quickly with the answer, enabling the traveller to decide if the policy is right for them," she says.

A spokesman for CGU Insurance warns that travellers should always err on the side of disclosure.

"If you make a claim and your insurer then finds out you lied about your history, you may find the policy becomes void," he says.

The best-laid plans

Apart from medical cover, one of the biggest reasons to take out insurance is to cover cancellations and delays, yet many travellers say they are never sure what they are and are not covered for.

Insurers say it generally comes down to whether the delay or cancellation was caused by the airline or transport provider or by events beyond their control.

In the case of a mechanical failure or rescheduled flight, for example, the airline will generally take responsibility for travellers' alternative arrangements so insurance policies will not pay out.

Natural disasters or weather-related delays, on the other hand, will generally be covered by travel insurance, as long as the traveller was not aware of the situation before they began their travel.

"A tip is to buy your policy as soon as you have paid any holiday costs, to make sure you are covered," says RexPaulin.

For other causes of cancellation and delay, provisions vary from policy to policy. The corporate affairs manager for AAMI, Reuben Aitchison, says in the case of the recent riots in England, travellers insured by AAMI were able to claim additional accommodation and transport expenses if their arrangements were disrupted.

Family duties

Another common problem reported by travellers is coverage if the need arises to return home to care for relatives. While most insurers will cover travellers who have to cut their trip short due to the illness or death of a close relative, many impose an age limit or other coverage restrictions.

One reader found that even though his 93-year-old father was still fit enough to be living at home, his insurance company would not cover for relatives aged more than 75. Others found they could only get coverage for relatives living in Australia or New Zealand.

The chief executive of Allianz Global Assistance, Ian Norris, says travel insurance policies are priced according to the potential costs incurred and return flights home are "a measurable and known cost for the insurer".

Insurance companies can also have difficulty in obtaining access to medical information from other countries, he says.

Some insurance providers, such as AAMI and CoverMore, say they do not place any restrictions on the age of relatives.

Falsely accused?

Perceptions that travel insurance companies are always "looking for a loophole" are not borne out by the statistics, providers say.

"CGU pays in excess of 98 per cent of claims we receive, as do most other insurers," says a spokesman for CGU Insurance.

AAMI spokesman Reuben Aitchison says part of the problem is travellers mistakenly believing they are covered for all scenarios.

"If an insurance policy covered you for absolutely everything, it would most likely be unaffordable," he says.

Read: Shop around online for insurance