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Travel Helpdesk: Is travel insurance a waste of money?

Many Irish people don’t bother with travel insurance, but it can be the difference between financial security and financial misery

When it comes to travel insurance, it matters when you take out a policy.

It should be the first thing to pack. Many Irish people don’t bother with travel insurance — particularly for short trips and European breaks. But if you cancel a holiday or cut it short or need an air-ambulance, it can be the difference between financial security and financial misery. An annual policy, which costs not much more than €100 for a family, can save you tens of thousands of euro and endless heartache. A serious heart attack in the US will easily cost €200,000, while a hip replacement in a private UK hospital will cost €30,000. Even minor surgery done privately in many EU countries is €20,000.

Don’t rely on your health insurance. It should cover treatments overseas but has limits. If a trip gets cancelled or your bags are stolen or you are the victim of a crime, you will get nothing back from your health insurance company.

Timing is everything. When it comes to travel insurance, it matters when you take out a policy. Many people think they’re as well off holding off until just before a trip. But close to 40 per cent of claims are made before travel with illness and death the most likely reasons for cancelled holidays. And without wanting to be too gloomy, bad things can happen at any point in the lead up to a trip.

You get what you pay for. If you’re planning to take two or more trips annually, get a multi-trip policy, and look at top end ones rather than the cheap as chips options as the difference in cover between an annual policy that costs €80 and one that costs €130 can be quite striking.

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Always check what is covered. Some cheaper policies do not cover travel rearrangement expenses, accommodation and cancellations relating to “natural disasters” outside of weather disruption. If you want travel disruption cover, you will have to pay more for it, although such an add-on might only cost €15.

Know what you need to do. If you are making a claim, you need to inform the insurer as soon as you realise you can’t go on the trip or need to cut it short. And always tell the police and get a report if you are the victim of a crime overseas. If you don’t you will not be entertained by an insurer. And make any official complaint quickly. If you leave a police report for longer than 24 hours, insurance companies might view your claim with scepticism.

Look at the exclusions. You’d be surprised how many things are not covered. In terms and conditions that can run to 30,000 words, there are many get-out clauses for companies. Pay attention to them. You don’t have to read the full T & , but a handy tip is to paste them into a word document and do a word search for things like “excluded”, “not covered” and other variations. It gives you a sense of the cover you don’t have that you think you do.

Have a travel question or topic you’d like us to feature? Email travelhelpdesk@irishtimes.com.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor