Why you might not have the cover you think if you’re ill on holiday

How the small print cost me £450.

I was having a lovely time on holiday in California last year. I’d spent a year of my degree studying out there, so it was good to check out old haunts and see what’s changed.

But then, somehow, I injured my back. The pain was such that I knew we’d need to cut short our holiday – meaning we’d need to buy new plane tickets.

I’d taken out travel insurance, so I called up the claims line to find out what I needed to do. Fortunately I didn’t need to seek medical treatment in the USA (an extra cost I would have had to pay and then claim back on my return), but I did need to see a doctor as soon as I got home.

Armed with this info we managed to book onto an Air New Zealand flight leaving from LA for London in just a few hours – at a huge cost of £650 each. It turned out the plane was near empty so I nabbed a row to myself, dosed up on ibuprofen, and tried to not move!

I got home the next day, saw the doctor and began the process for making my claim. This in itself was a right faff. Forms needed printing and filling in, and then the doctor had to confirm that it was necessary for me to return home early. This took forever, largely down to mistakes by my surgery (You also have to pay for this, and usually can’t claim that cost from your insurance). After months of wrangling I was finally ready to submit our claim.

I was confident my flight would be covered, along with a hotel we couldn’t cancel, though we weren’t sure Becky’s would be on her separate travel insurance. When we finally did hear back it was quite a surprise.

Becky’s new return flight was covered, but via my policy rather than her’s. They classed it as a medical expense since I couldn’t have travelled on my own. Great.

However, my new flight was rejected. It turned out additional costs were only covered if I’d had to stay out longer. By coming home early, they assessed my claim on curtailment, which only covers unused parts of the trip.

So yes, my original return flight was refunded, but since I’d booked that on budget airline Norwegian month in advance it was some £450 less than the last minute ticket I’d booked to get home. That’s not loose change.

Ok, overall I probably wasn’t out of pocket as we’d have spent roughly the same on the hotel, food and drink for the few extra days we’d have been away.

Even so, it didn’t seem fair. Looking again over the policy documents I still think it’s a harsh interpretation. It’s not massively clear in the wording that there’s a distinction.

Making sure you don’t lose out too

It’s always going to be difficult to ensure you don’t also get caught out by the small print – especially when there’s so much of it. But even if you read much of it, as I do (and it is painful), there’s a good chance the wording won’t be crystal clear. And the end result could be you not getting the payout you expect.

So here’s what you need to watch for at the very least.

Have you got an up to date EHIC?

If you’re travelling to Europe most insurers won’t pay out for medical costs if you don’t have a European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC.

This gives you access to state provided health care at your destination. You’ll pay the same as locals which will either be free or far cheaper than without the card. But it doesn’t cover private care, or extra costs such as flights home.

If you have one, check the expiry date. Millions expire each year, and many don’t think to check their card is still valid.

If you need a new card you shouldn’t pay for one. Apply direct and it won’t cost a thing.

At the moment it’s not known if EHICs will still be valid after Brexit on 29th March 2019.

Get your travel insurance as soon as you’ve booked your holiday

If you are ill and need to cancel your trip before you leave but don’t have insurance… well you’re screwed.

So don’t leave it til the last minute.

Don’t get the cheapest policy

Yes of course you don’t want to overpay, but getting the cheapest insurance will probably mean you aren’t covered for as much as you may need.

And sadly the only way to really know is to go through the policy documents. Read as much as you can, but at least read the summary page to see the different limits.

Check the excess

The excess is how much you pay before the insurance company pays out. For my claim it was £60. So that was deducted from the money they send through.

You can make your excess higher, and bring down the cost of the insurance policy, but it’s worth thinking about why you might claim.

A few years ago, Becky had to get antibiotics while we were in Canada. The cost was £80 (it’s often not cheap!), but the excess was £100. So there was no point claiming.

Watch out too for separate excesses for different parts of the insurance or multiple claims, allowing the insurer to charge two (or more) lots of the excess.

One thought on “Why you might not have the cover you think if you’re ill on holiday

  1. EHIC doesn’t always work. My husband had an accident last year in Majorca but when we showed the card to the doctor he didn’t want to know. Since 2008 many parts of Spain Greece and France refuse to accept the EHIC card. I know they are supposed to but for financial reasons they won’t.


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