How to avoid travel insurance traps

Owen Humphreys/PA

Travel insurance should be high on the holiday checklist yet a staggering four million Brits have never brought cover for an overseas trip. While those that always buy insurance may assume they are protected in the event of problems abroad, many continue to be stung by the niggly small print.

So what should you check to avoid being caught without cover when you need it most this summer?

If only buying travel insurance was as simple as picking a policy and jetting off on your adventure. In truth policies are full of exclusions and strict requirements that you must adhere to make a successful claim should anything go wrong on your trip. If you can't face studying every word of the small print be sure to look out for these traps in the policy wording before you buy and certainly before you travel.
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Evidence of belongings
To avoid fraudulent theft claims, insurers require proof that you have actually owned the items you are claiming for. Most insurers request receipts showing proof of purchase, but if you no longer have these you'll need to provide photographic evidence. A simple way to do this is to take pictures of valuable items as you pack them and print the photos or upload to a computer to keep them safe before you travel.

Full disclosure
Failing to disclose pre-existing medical conditions is a well known blunder to void any type of insurance, but did you know the same applies if you fail to give complete medical details about dependants travelling with you, as well as those left at home? Be open from the outset, and although medical conditions may increase the cost of your cover at least your family will all actually be covered should illness strike.

Go for broke
Recent years have seen many airlines hit financial difficulty and millions of holidaymakers left high and dry without their holiday and the hard-earned they've cash paid for it. Cover for losses incurred from the financial failure of an airline or hotel is not included as standard in most travel insurance - in fact only one in six policies cover it – so be sure to find one that does if you want this peace of mind.

Don't check in valuables
While airlines have a degree of responsibility for items in their care, most insurance policies won't cover valuable items if they have been checked into the hold with your baggage. So keep items such as cameras, jewellery and cash in your hand luggage, and in the event of this going missing get a report from the airline as soon as you can.

Reasonable care
In the event of needing to make a claim for theft, you must prove that you have taken 'reasonable care' of your belongings. If you fall asleep poolside and wake to find your handbag gone, or leave the hotel room unlocked allowing an opportunist thief to take your holiday spends, the insurer may well refuse to pay out. Be vigilant with security, always keep an eye on your belongings and take advantage of the hotel safe.

Under the influence
We all do silly things after a holiday cocktail of too, but expect to struggle claiming if you have an accident or lose valuables while drunk or under the influence of drugs. Claims are examined case by case, but if a medical report suggests alcohol was a contributing factor to an injury or illness, it is likely to invalidate your claim. Of course there's no need to go completely teetotal holiday, just enjoy your alcohol responsibly.

Get a police report
Attempting to claim for being a victim of crime will be nigh on impossible without reporting it to the local police and getting the all important reference number. Your insurer may stipulate a time frame in which the report must be made and you should attempt to contact the police as soon as possible. If for any reason it is not possible to obtain a police report, obtain other proof of the loss, such as a letter from your hotel.

Prove delays
If you have been left waiting at the airport for an unreasonable amount of time, you can make a claim providing you have proof in the form of a letter from airline to confirm the delay or cancellation. Similarly, if you miss a flight due to a delay in public transport such as busy or train, you'll need prooft that you left in good time and that situation was out of your control.

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How to avoid travel insurance traps

If you are a victim of a strike, or any other event beyond the airline's control (including ash clouds!), they must offer you a refund (in which case it's up to you to find a way home) or an alternative flight. While you are waiting for the flight you have the right to food and refreshment and accommodation.

If you are on a package holiday, your tour operator is entirely responsible for looking after you until you get back to the UK.

This is more likely to happen due to the financial crisis, but in some situations you are covered. 

If you pay by credit card and it's over £100, you'll get a refund from the card company. 

Your travel insurance may well cover you too, but check before you go.  

Talk to the airline, and if it is temporarily misplaced they should arrange for it to be sent to your accommodation, and you should be either given cash to cover the essentials in the interim.

If it's completely lost you must wait 21 days and then make a claim for compensation. If you are travelling as part of a package you can claim costs from your operator.

If you are travelling within the EU you need an EHIC card, which gives you access to public healthcare. However, this won't necessarily be free, and if you need extra services such as accommodation for a carer, a helicopter home or a delayed flight, you could end up seriously out of pocket.

The only protection that will guarantee you will be looked after without running up a horrendous debt is by having travel insurance - which often covers up to £10 million of costs.

The most common form of theft is pick-pocketing, followed by theft from a car and bag snatching. Meanwhile, 752,000 of those surveyed had items stolen from their hotel room or villa.

If you have anything stolen, your only protection is insurance. You need to tell the local police immediately and get a crime reference for your travel insurer.

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