The one travel insurance mistake you should never make

If you want to keep your holiday happy, make sure you arrange your travel insurance early and avoid the common mistakes.
If you want to keep your holiday happy, make sure you arrange your travel insurance early and avoid the common mistakes. Photo: Getty Images

When you think of travel insurance claims you tend to think about dramatic accidents or illnesses that happen overseas, but sometimes things go wrong before you even pack your bags.

When a friend's mother got sick recently, my friend told me she'd need to take out a travel insurance policy in case she had to cancel her upcoming holiday.

I had to explain to her that it was already too late; she should have taken out a policy when she booked her trip (although I hope I put it more sensitively than that).

It's the simplest and potentially most galling mistake you can make with travel insurance: thinking you can book your trip now and sort out travel insurance later.

Insurance is designed to protect against the unforseen and once you know about something, you've missed the boat.

I've written often about the complexities of travel insurance and how you can get stung by the fine print but this is an easy one: as soon as you have parted with any money you should get your insurance.

Insurance is priced for the amount of time you're going to be away and there is no extra cost to take out a policy early, so you're insuring the time before your trip for nothing.

The executive general manager of SureSave Travel Insurance, Michael Callaghan, says travel insurance can not only cover you if you or a close relative gets sick but also if there is a natural disaster - provided there were no warnings about it prior to you taking out the policy.

Insurance can even cover you if your employer is rotten enough to cancel your leave (providing you are in full-time employment) or if you get called up for jury duty.

However, Callaghan warns that not all insurance policies including cancellation cover, so it is important to read the coverage details carefully.

Callaghan says Australians are slowly getting the message about buying insurance early, with an independent survey of 1000 travellers showing 62 per cent are now buying insurance at the same time as their trip; a 13 per cent increase since 2013.

Those who book through travel agents are most likely to be covered, with 80 per cent of these travellers buying insurance straight away.

Now that we've got that one sorted - online travel insurance provider InsureandGo says there are many other basic mistakes that travellers make with insurance.

For some, it is as simple as not getting the claim in on time: claims have to be lodged within 30 days of returning from your trip.

Others make the mistake of not buying cover for all the destinations they are visiting, including stopovers.

"If you travel to a destination that is not included in your cover, any claims made during that entire trip will be denied," says the claims and operations manager for InsureandGo, Julius Paramour.

Many avoidable mistakes relate to loss or theft of personal belongings, which is the most common (but not necessarily the biggest in dollar terms) category of claims, accounting for 38 per cent of all claims processed by InsureandGo in 2013.

Paramour says one of the most common reasons claims are rejected is that travellers fail to get a police report from a local police station.

"Without this official documentation, your claim will not be valid," Paramour says.

Another common reason for claims being rejected is travellers failing to provide relevant documentation, such as proof of purchase for goods.

While these are simple mistakes and easily avoided, a more contentious issue is the definition of "unattended" goods.

I think we all understand that if we leave our wallet in the back of a taxi, our travel insurance is not likely to cough up.

However, a colleague had her claim for stolen luggage rejected because she left it "unattended" by handing it over to a hotel staff member, without personally checking that the room it was to be stored in was locked and secure.

The people I have no sympathy for those who just don't bother.

The survey commissioned by SureSave found almost a third of Australian travellers did not see travel insurance as a necessity for every trip.

Nearly a quarter said they purchased travel insurance "only sometimes", while eight per cent said they "never or rarely" took out a policy.

Predictably, older travellers were the most likely to take out insurance, with Gen Y the most likely to take their chances.

Of those who "sometimes" took out insurance, deciding factors included whether they considered the destination to be "risky" and whether they would be away for more than a week.

Now that … is just stupid.

jane.fraser@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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