Common travel insurance mistakes to look out for

TRAVEL MISTAKES: One in five need help on holidays, according to one insurer.
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TRAVEL MISTAKES: One in five need help on holidays, according to one insurer.

First piece of advice: read the fine-print. Second piece of advice: read the fine-print. Again.

It doesn't matter who your insurer is or how many times you've travelled, when you book travel insurance you need to read the fine-print to discover what you are and are not covered for.

Even after reading all of the tips and pitfalls in this story, you still need to read the fine-print. Every insurer is different. Every policy is different.

That's my bit of fine-print.

Of course, every traveller knows they really should get travel insurance. But plenty still don't. A recent survey by Fast Cover Insurance found that 40 per cent of people didn't bother, despite the risk of overseas medical bills and the chance of all manner of things going wrong. That's crazy.

And even for those who always buy a policy, it's not all plain sailing. There are pitfalls in travel insurance, things to look out for. So I've canvassed a few insurers for their best advice. 

YOU NEED INSURANCE

It's that simple. "Of the travellers we surveyed," says Dean Van Es, director at Fast Cover Insurance, "we found that one in five needed help while they were on holidays. It's not necessarily that they were getting in trouble, but they needed some assistance."

That's a pretty huge number, especially when you consider the amounts of money we're talking. "Say you're spending seven days in Bali," says Van Es. "The insurance for that, including our 24-hour emergency assistance, is $38.70. It's not much when you compare it to what you've paid for the holiday."

YOU'RE NOT COVERED FOR EVERYTHING

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It's a common mistake: you buy a travel insurance policy, and you think you're covered for absolutely anything. "This is the problem," says Phil Sylvester, travel safety specialist at Travel Insurance Direct. "As much as we implore people to read the policy wording, no one seems to do it. You're not covered for everything. There are conditions. But do we cover over 100 different sports and activities – you just need to check."

RECORD YOUR BELONGINGS

Even before you leave, if you've got insurance, make a record of all of those items that are insured. "Make a list of the things that you're bringing, particularly if you've got any high-value items," says Van Es. "Take a photo of them. It will help you get paid much faster. As an insurer we just need to establish that you owned it, and this goes a long way to showing that."

READ MORE: 8 mistakes Kiwis make when it comes to travel insurance

DON'T BE AN IDIOT

"When you sign up [for an insurance policy], it's essentially a contract," says Sylvester. "We're saying that we'll cover you for another unforseen that happens. But you're promising to act in a way that's not going to expose yourself to unnecessary risk. That's the crux of it. If you're thinking, 'Is this a good idea, is it a bit risky, can I get around it by doing another thing?' Then do the other thing."

That includes taking care of your belongings, says Van Es. "You need to keep your luggage within your sight. So if you're sitting at an airport and you walk away from your bag, you can't see it, that wouldn't be covered. If you leave it in a locked hotel room, that's fine. If you leave it overnight in an unlocked car, that's not fine."

DON'T DRINK AND CLAIM

Here's a trick: if you get stupidly drunk on holidays and injure yourself falling into a ditch, you probably won't be covered by your insurance. "A lot of people will have a few drinks when they're on holiday, and that's fine," says Van Es. "But if they make a claim and alcohol or drugs are shown to be a factor, then we may not cover that. If alcohol or drugs aren't a factor, then that's fine. So if someone has a few drinks at a bar and they're walking along the street and a motorbike hits them, then alcohol didn't play a part in that. You're covered."

DECLARE YOUR MEDICAL CONDITIONS

It might seem counterproductive, but this will actually help you in the long-run. "It's important that we know about any pre-existing conditions," says Sylvester. "A lot of people tend to think, 'Right, I don't have that condition any more because I'm taking medication for it.' If you're taking medication, then you have a pre-existing condition. And it might be covered. There are 43 pre-existing conditions that are automatically covered."

YOU CAN SCOOT…

Plenty of insurers won't cover you if you ride a scooter or motorbike overseas. Though some are more lenient. "For our policies, if it's 50cc or less and you have a drivers license, you can rent that and you'll have full cover," says Van Es. "If it's over 50cc you need a motorcycle license. That can be all the way up to 1300cc Harley if you want to do something like ride across America. We can cover that. But you do need to be licensed. That goes for the pillion passenger too – if you're on the back of a bike and the person riding isn't licensed, there could be a problem."

BUT YOU CAN'T SKI…

"With us you need a separate policy [for snow sports]," says Sylvester. "I think that's pretty standard. You need specialty cover for that. The thing to note there, and I think this is the same for most policies, is if you go outside the ski boundaries, or you ski on a run that has been closed, your policy won't cover you. Just follow the rules."

OR CLIMB.

"Things like climbing with ropes, you'd need a special policy for that one because it's a fairly dangerous activity," says Van Es. (Travel Insurance Direct has a similar rule.) "Also," adds Van Es, "if you're doing a fairly high-altitude hike, you'd want to check that your policy covers that. Most policies will cover up to about Everest Base Camp – that's as extreme as we get. If you're going more extreme than that you'll need a specialist policy."

YOU'RE COVERED FOR THINGS YOU DON'T REALISE

Read your policy – you might be surprised at what you're allowed to claim. "Car rental insurance excess fees are covered," says Sylvester. "So you know when you rock up to the car rental desk and they say, 'Do you want to reduce your excess by paying a bazillion dollars?' Don't pay that – you're already covered with your insurance.

"Bungy jumping used to be excluded by insurers, but now it's automatically included. Ziplining is another like that. Things do change over time. If you're not sure if a particular activity is covered, just give us a call and ask."

And there are plenty more. Check your policy.

Have you been caught out without travel insurance? Or have you tried to claim for something and been turned down?

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