Travel bugs: When hunting for insurance delivers a pregnant pause

Pricewatch: Pregnancy cover and cancellation over a bereavement leave travellers fuming

Laya Healthcare  has no travel insurance policies which would offer a safety net to pregnant women once they hit the 26-week mark. Photograph: iStock

Laya Healthcare has no travel insurance policies which would offer a safety net to pregnant women once they hit the 26-week mark. Photograph: iStock

 

“I have travel insurance with Laya,” starts a mail from a reader called Niamh from Meath. She has an annual MultiTrip policy which cost €65.40 and she bought it in October last year.

“As I am pregnant, I inquired by email to double-check I would be covered for any maternity-related illness on two upcoming short breaks to London and Paris. I will be 26 weeks pregnant when I travel to Paris.”

She was less than pleased when Laya told her that she would “not be covered for any medical expenses relating to pregnancy if you are more than 26 weeks pregnant at the start or during your trip”.

I know this is a niche market but us pregnant women can’t just be grounded for three months before birth

She asked if it had any policies that would cover her and was told that the company had no travel insurance policies which would offer a safety net to pregnant women once they hit the 26-week mark.

“Surely it is discriminatory towards pregnant women as most are deemed fit to travel by their doctors up until much later in pregnancy,” she says. “I know this is a niche market but us pregnant women can’t just be grounded for three months before birth.”

We contacted Laya to find out more. “If a member is 26 weeks pregnant or more, they will not be covered on their travel insurance for any medical expenses relating to pregnancy during their trip,” a spokeswoman said.

She added that if a member has health insurance with Laya Healthcare (or indeed any provider) “they may be covered for inpatient emergency medical treatment abroad up to 34 weeks pregnant, subject to their scheme and level of cover, as well as terms and conditions outlined in their policy.

When we asked why there was a cut-off limit of 26 weeks, she said it was “based on an assessment of claim risks by our underwriter”.

She also said the restriction was “stated on all insurance product information documents and in the policy booklet”.

Laya is not alone in imposing restrictions of this nature on pregnant women although we did find policies that would extend our reader’s window of travel by two weeks. One such company is Good To Go Insurance – goodtogoinsurance.eu.

It points out that “pregnancy is not a medical condition, so you are able to travel until you are quite late into your pregnancy”. Its policies include emergency medical expenses cover for pregnancy and childbirth from week 0 to week 28 inclusive for a single pregnancy and 0 to week 24 inclusive for a multiple pregnancy while women are away.

From the start of week 29 to week 40 for a single pregnancy, or 25-40 for a multiple pregnancy, “there is no cover for claims relating to normal pregnancy and normal childbirth or cancellation, however, medical expenses and cancellation cover will be provided for multiple complications that may arise”.

Bereavement

And staying with travel insurance, we have another story that is – we believe – troubling.

It comes from a Dublin reader called Sheelagh. “I am writing this email in complete frustration at the hoops my travel insurance provider is making me jump through. My son bought and paid for a holiday for me and his dad to Portugal on 15th of April, 2019. I took out travel insurance with Chill Insurance.”

Sheelagh’s mother passed away three days before she and her husband were due to travel, and the flights and hotel accommodation had to be cancelled. “On a positive note, Ryanair came up trumps with a lovely email of condolences and immediately refunded the flight money to my son. The only information required to do this was the Death Notification Certificate from the hospital.”

It was a different story when it came to getting a refund for the hotel accommodation. “The claim form was sent from Mapfre Assistance Agency Ireland and the claim is still ongoing,” she says. “Firstly I filled out the long cancellation claim form and enclosed booking invoices, certificate of insurance, medical certificate filled out by Mam’s GP, death certificate and cancellation invoices.”

She says she “honestly thought all this information would be sufficient for the claim”. She was wrong.

“I am devastated to receive another letter from Mapfre Assistance Agency Ireland which now requires the A&E admission form when Mam was admitted to hospital.”

She describes as “inhumane the hoops the travel insurance provider is making me jump through. Mam was not on my travel insurance but obviously her death was the reason for the cancellation. One would have thought the death certificate was final enough to say that she died of pneumonia in hospital. This is wearing me out at a time when I am still grieving the death of my mam.”

We contacted Chill and a spokesman said he was “sorry to hear about the passing away of Sheelagh’s mother”.

He said this was “not the type of experience we want to leave our customers with” adding that the company was “investigating the query urgently”.

Care hire

“This is a cautionary tale about car hire in Mexico,” starts an ominous mail from a reader called Philip James.

“We have heeded Pricewatch’s advice in the past and bought the car hire excess insurance from AIG for €50 and it has saved us considerable expense when hiring in Europe,” it continues.

“Before embarking on a lengthy trip in the spring we bought the slightly more expensive North American cover costing €89 from the same company. That worked fine in the United States.”

Philip says he had had been warned before the trip “that Mexican car hire companies would only accept a credit card in the driver’s name for the car rental and deposit, that is, no debit card and no cash.”

He had given up his credit card during the recession and there wasn’t time to get one from his bank.

“I switched the reservation to my son’s name who said that he did have a credit card and not to worry. At the Avis desk at Cabo airport we discovered that to book the car without purchasing additional cover would require a deposit of close to $3,000 [€2,715] on my son’s card.

“However, my son’s card had a credit limit of $1,000. We offered the credit card of my son’s girlfriend, but they insisted that it could only be the credit card of the named driver. They offered a descending level of deposit for an ascending level of additional insurance. In the end he had to pay $500 for additional insurance and accept a €500 deposit on his card.

“So, for car hire for a week of about $150 we paid an additional $500 for insurance. What looked like an attractive car hire price of $150 ended up costing $650.”

He says the lesson he would like to share with us all is that “with the car hire excess insurance, you must have a credit card in the driver’s name and have enough of a credit limit on the card that you can handle a block of approximately €3,000 and still have space for any other expense you may want to put on the card.”

Ryanair car hire


Niall Rabbitt sent us an email while he was on holiday in Fuerteventura. It had to do with car hire and our friends at Ryanair. 

“I’ve been determined to make this a stress-free time for myself and my mother and, in this spirit, dealt with our car rental problem that arose when we arrived,” he writes. 

As my mother always says, if it is too good to be true, then it probably is. And she was right

“I’m quite certain that I am not alone with this problem as I witnessed numerous other passengers ahead of me in the long line arguing with the unfortunate and generally polite clerks at Gold Car rental in Fuerteventura airport.”

He says that an hour after joining the queue he was very aware that it could be a stressful situation so he decided “that I would not take the car that I had booked for what I can now see was a ridiculously low-priced €82 for two weeks”. 

He says he has been travelling to Fuerteventura for a number of years “and loves the relaxed feel of this beautiful, barren, cool-breeze island. I normally rent a car for €200-€300 so was surprised to see the price of €82 for a Ford Fiesta for two weeks advertised on the Ryanair website. 

“For the past few years I have organised my own car hire insurance before I leave Ireland and have year-round insurance, so I decided to book this unbelievable bargain.” 

So far so good. But things are going to take a turn. “As my mother always says, if it is too good to be true, then it probably is. And she was right. 

“The passenger in the car rental line ahead of me who had been on my flight from Shannon fought a good fight at the car rental desk but to no avail. He was expected to take the insurance that the car company provided that added €200-plus to the original car that he had reserved, also at €82 and a deposit of €1,100. He became very angry and was stressed out trying to talk through a hole in a window between himself and the agent. I was next and decided to cut my losses.

“I had originally booked a car with no deposit needed for €239 with Pluscar – one of the local Fuerteventura rental agencies – and gave them a quick call to say I would, after all, be taking their car. In the meantime Ryanair Car Rental is sending me warning emails about lack of insurance and asking for statements of proof of insurance to be sent in within five days for a car I did not hire. I believe they are telling me that there is no chance of a refund of my hard-earned money. 

“By the way, Ryanair is still advertising these unbelievably low prices. But there you go. You should listen to your mother. Maybe some of your readers will listen to mine.” 

We contacted Ryanair, who led us on long and winding journey that ultimately shed little light on what happened next.

First the company sent this statement: “The below issue is being resolved with the customer directly. Can you please contact Ryanair’s car hire partner CarTrawler directly, who will provide you with a statement?”
We pointed out to the airline that our reader’s interactions had happened on a Ryanair platform and as such it was its responsibility to deal with problems.

We simultaneously contacted Car Trawler.

We then got a follow-up response from the airline’s external spokesman, which was as informative as the first. 

“Ryanair have asked me to explain that it is their partner, Car Trawler, who manages the Car Hire platform,” he said.

“Ryanair have shared the following statement from their side: ‘We have asked our car hire partner Car Trawler to liaise with this customer directly.’ Ryanair have said that If you reach out to Car Trawler’s PR manager she will provide you with a statement.”

Then we got the following statement from Car Trawler: 

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. As a company, we have strict processes and procedures in place, in the interests of all customers, to monitor quality of our car rental suppliers on an ongoing basis. This is to ensure their levels of service are up to our quality standards. We encourage our customers to get in touch with us directly should they have any questions for our team at any stage of their booking.

“It is our company policy not to discuss specific cases with anyone other than the customer themselves, who we will reach out to directly.”

Roaming charges

A reader call Ray looks after his company’s accounts and the phone bills of employees. He sent us an email after noticing an unexpected roaming charge on one such bill earlier this summer.

“It would seem that any phone or data usage on the Rosslare-Fishguard ferry is deemed ‘data usage while roaming outside the EU’ and it resulted in a charge of €25.02 for a return journey,” he writes.

If you do not want to use the satellite phone services and pay accordingly, you should turn your phone off as soon as you get on a boat

He spoke to the company’s phone provider and was told there was a “Maritime Roaming Rate” in the terms and conditions at a rate of €8.18 a minute. “According to my colleague who had incurred the charge it was a WhatsApp on the way out and a few on the way home.”

Ray says that when he mentioned it to friends and associates “none of them [bar one] knew of its existence. Perhaps it is an item for mention in one of your articles?”

It is something we have highlighted in the past but it is certainly worth revisiting. Generally speaking, passengers can access mobile phone networks close to shore and do not pay any additional charges but once they find themselves on the open seas, they have to go through satellite services which are not covered by EU-wide roaming charges which are in place to cut the often alarming costs of using mobile phones abroad.

Passengers should get a text alert warning them that they are using a satellite phone service at sea and the text should detail the costs attached to using it. However, too many of us ignore such text messages. The best tip is that if you do not want to use the satellite phone services and pay accordingly, you should turn your phone off as soon as you get on a boat.

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