The best insurance policies for Australian travellers

Are you adequately covered? Choosing a travel insurance policy can be painful. Illustration: Michael Mucci
Are you adequately covered? Choosing a travel insurance policy can be painful. Illustration: Michael Mucci 

At last, some help with choosing the right travel insurance.

On a scale of one to ten, trawling through travel insurance policies would have to get a zero for enjoyment. You do, however, get points for perseverance. Making sense of all the clauses and exclusions is the equivalent of a reverse one-and-a-half somersault with tuck.

The good news is that the cost of travel insurance has fallen over the past year, according to data provider Canstar, which has reviewed 166 travel insurance policies to rate the best options for Australian travellers.

Canstar found that the average premium for a single overseas traveller is well under $200 for 21 days, even for the United States, the most expensive destination for insurance.

A family taking a three-week holiday in Australia can be covered for about $170, while a couple taking a break in Bali will pay less than $250 for three weeks.

"For the protection it provides, the cost of travel insurance is cheap," Canstar says.

But the problem with travel insurance is that having the wrong policy is almost as bad as having no insurance at all.

If your policy excludes a particular activity, medical condition or situation that applies to you, you can find yourself with a big fat problem or a big fat bill.

So you can't escape reading the fine print, but Canstar has at least narrowed the field.

Best cover for international travel

Canstar rated Southern Cross and 1Cover Travel Insurance as offering the best overall value for international travel insurance.

Southern Cross was given five-star ratings for all categories of international travel, with coverage up to $25,000 for luggage and up to $50,000 for cancellation and loss of deposit.

1Cover was recognised for having unlimited cover for overseas medical expenses and cancellation expenses, with the added bonus of coverage for domestic services and pets if your return home is delayed.

Canstar found that New Zealand, Indonesia and the US were the most popular overseas destinations for Australian travellers last financial year, accounting for one-third of our international travel.

The best insurers for New Zealand, according to Canstar, are 1Cover, Good2Go, Insure and Go, Kango Cover, Southern Cross, Travel Insuranz and Worldcare.

If you're headed to Bali, travel insurance is still cheaper than for any other overseas destination.

Canstar reviewed policy options for a couple travelling to Bali and found the best options were 1Cover, Columbus, Insure and Go, Kango Cover, Southern Cross, Travel Insuranz and Webjet.

For the US, where medical bills can be costly (1Cover reports the case of a woman who suffered a brain aneurysm whose medical expenses exceeded $1 million), Canstar found the best options were 1300 Insurance, 1Cover, Insure and Go, Southern Cross and Travel Insuranz.

Best for domestic travel

Virgin Australia and new entrant Insure and Go were joint winners in the domestic category, with Canstar finding they had good coverage for low premiums.

Medical expenses, which are all-important for overseas policies, do not apply for domestic travel so the focus was on coverage for items such as cancellation fees, luggage and personal effects lost or damaged.

Virgin Australia has no excess on claims and covers up to $50,000 worth of travel and accommodation expenses if your trip is disrupted.

For singles or couples travelling in Australia, other providers to consider are 1300 Insurance, Columbus and Medibank, while families might also put Suncorp on their shortlist.

Things to watch

Travellers must look carefully at exclusions when assessing travel insurance policies, according to Canstar editor in chief Steve Mickenbecker.

Exclusions are the subject of most complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which receives more than 500 complaints a year about travel insurance.

Mickenbecker says common exclusions include irresponsible behaviour and loss or injury suffered while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Unattended baggage is another common exclusion from policy coverage, along with pre-existing medical conditions and adventure activities such as motorbiking and skiing.

Can't get cover?

Getting travel insurance can be a real battle if you have a pre-existing medical condition, making it almost impossible for some people to go overseas.

Insure and Go is trying to position itself as the insurer for the hard-to-insure, with promises that all medical conditions will be considered.

General manager Sebastian Kaisin says the company will cover "the large proportion" of medical conditions and will provide a quote based on a simple online questionnaire.

Kaisin says most travel insurance providers require a detailed medical certificate at the time the policy is purchased but Insure and Go only requires documentation if a claim is made.

Oops, forgot

If travelling through or flying out of Sydney, you have one last chance to get travel insurance, through a kiosk offering on-the-spot policies. The kiosk is located in the international terminal, after check-in and customs, and can be used any time of the day or night, with staff on hand to help from 6am to 9pm.

Policies are provided by ACE Insurance and include coverage for medical expenses, luggage, delay and rental vehicle excess, with an option for winter sports coverage.

It might not give you the same protection as a carefully researched policy, but it is certainly better than nothing.

jane.fraser@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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