After a spate of alcohol-related accidents abroad, holidaymakers are being warned to check whether they are insured if under the influence of alcohol
The parents of teenage holidaymakers are being urged to check whether any travel insurance they have covers them for alcohol-related mishaps following a steep increase in youngsters seeking help from the British embassy in Spain.
UK teenagers holidaying in Majorca and Ibiza are responsible for a huge increase in the number of tourists taken to hospital in the Spanish islands, according to figures from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office released last week. Majorca has seen a 132% increase in the number hospitalised over the two years to the end of March 2012, while Ibiza has seen a 40% increase. Many of the Spanish island cases involve UK teenage holidaymakers falling ill or having accidents while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, according to consular staff. Others came about as a result of riding quad bikes and mopeds.
Many of those who contacted the British embassy in Spain either did not have travel insurance and found the medical bills were higher than they expected or had insurance which was invalidated.
“We witness many cases where people have invalidated their policy – perhaps by not declaring a pre-existing medical condition or not checking their policy covers a particular activity, such as hiring a moped,” said minister for consular services Jeremy Browne. “Unfortunately they are then surprised that the Foreign Office cannot pay for their bills and flight home.”
The attitude insurers take to drink-related incidents differs widely, as revealed by recent research from the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA). It looked at the alcohol-related clauses in 20 leading travel insurance policies.
“We think travellers will be surprised that there is such a variety of exclusions within policies and they need to understand what level of alcohol could invalidate a claim. If excessive, it almost certainly will,” said Graeme Trudgill, BIBA’s head of corporate affairs.
Admiral refuses to cover any claims “arising directly or indirectly from your drug addiction or solvent abuse, excessive alcohol intake, or you being under the influence of drug(s).”
PJ Hayman is slightly more liberal. Its policy says: “We do not expect you to avoid alcohol on your trips or holidays but we will not cover any claims arising because you have drunk so much alcohol that your judgment is seriously affected.”
Saga applies a more technical approach, refusing any claim “arising directly or indirectly from you having a blood alcohol content level that exceeds 0.19%, this being the equivalent of you having consumed eight units of alcohol in a single session”.
Robert Sharp, technical claims manager for travel, at Aviva, which does not cover any claims that have arisen from drug, solvent or alcohol abuse, said: “The principle of an insurance policy is that it is there to cover you for unexpected events. There are exclusion clauses in the insurance policy related to drug and alcohol use because, if you are under the influence of substances or alcohol that impair your judgment, it could be argued that you are not in a position to take appropriate care of yourself and therefore any accident could not be considered unforeseen.”
Policyholders need to check the general exclusions section of their policy wording before they travel to find out which approach is taken by their insurer. Either way, the onus is on insurers to prove the level of alcohol a policyholder has consumed, says Trudgill. Insurance companies will usually get this from medical or police reports, but if these are not available and the amount of alcohol consumed cannot be proved, an insurer must meet the claim (assuming no other conditions have been breached).
Trudgill cites a case involving a young man on the way back from a day-long overseas beer festival who stumbled on to a train track on the way home and was badly injured. His insurer had to pay the medical bills as there was no documented evidence of alcohol having been consumed.
Many holidaymakers heading for EU destinations often make the mistake of assuming they will be covered for any medical costs by carrying an EHIC card (formerly the E111 form).
In fact, this only covers basic medical costs, typically those that would be met by the NHS over here – and only in state hospitals.
“Travellers should be warned that many Spanish hospitals in particular do not seem to honour the EHIC,” said Trudgill. “Also, ambulance drivers will often take people to the one of the country’s private hospitals, where costs will not be covered by the EHIC.”
According to the FCO, the cost of a rehydration drip in the Spanish islands can be in the region of 695 euros (£542), while recent figures from insurer Axa show that repatriation can cost around £30,000 for an air ambulance back from Spain. It is still important to have an EHIC however as, aside from the costs it will cover, some insurers will waive or decrease excesses on their policy if a policyholder is carrying it.
It’s not just the young who are putting their health – and wallets – in danger. The FCO report, British Behaviour Abroad, which is compiled annually from worldwide cases needing consular assistance, also noted that there has been an increase in cruise-ship visitors to Spain since the Arab Spring. Many of these tourists are older people, some with existing medical conditions that will not be covered by travel insurance.
The number of hospitalisations reported to consulates was higher in Spain than anywhere else, but Greece and Egypt have seen significant increases.
Finding great deals on travel insurance means knowing the cover you need and understanding excess
1. Never buy from a travel agent, tour operator or airline
This will almost certainly cost you more.
2. Decide on the cover you need before finding deals on comparison sites
Taking your iPad with you on holiday? That £10 cheapo one-week cover is useless when you realise it has a £250 excess and a single item limit of £150, so it won’t cough up. Which? recommends travel policies should cover medical expenses of at least £2m (Europe) or £5m (worldwide); at least £3,000 for cancellation; and at least £1,500 for baggage and belongings cover.
3. Be sensible about the excess
That is the amount that you, the policyholder, has to pay towards any claim. If, for example, you claim for £600, and the excess is £150, the insurer pays out £450. If you set the excess high, the policy will be cheaper, but may not be worth having.
Moneysupermarket.com, warns some policies charge an excess “per benefit section”. “For example, if you were mugged, you could be charged £75 excess on the medical costs plus a £50 excess for loss of personal effects. Other policies charge just one excess per claim, which can work out much cheaper,” it says.
4. Check what is already covered by your home insurance policy or bank
Home policies often include insurance for personal possessions when away from home, so you can opt out of having baggage cover and save money. You may also have a credit card or current account that includes travel insurance but check that the cover is sufficient for your needs – such “free” insurance can sometimes be very basic.
5. Choose annual cover if you travel more than three times a year
According to Moneysavingexpert.com, if you travel three times or more a year (or twice or more if one trip is to the US) then getting an annual policy that covers the entire year’s travel for one fee is likely to cost you less than buying separate single-trip policies. But note that annual policies won’t cover backpackers on extended trips: they usually cover trips up to a maximum of 31 days.
6. Egypt is in Europe, but the US is not in the world
You don’t need to buy a worldwide policy for much of north Africa: as Egypt, Morocco and Turkey come under Europe in most deals. But watch out, some “worldwide” policies exclude the US and Canada.
7. Look out for age limits and medical exclusions
Many policies, particularly the cheapest, will not insure anyone aged over 65, however fit and active. Most standard policies will also not cover any pre-existing conditions. So, for example, if you are asthmatic and suffer an attack on holiday that requires medical treatment, your policy will not pay out. Tell your insurer about any ongoing medical conditions and answer questions honestly. Some insurers may then agree to cover certain conditions for a small extra premium or, if your condition warrants it, refer you to a specialist insurer.
8. Even horse riding is adventurous
Many policies exclude “risky activities”, which can be horse riding, scuba diving, jet skiing or mountain climbing. If you are going on a skiing holiday make sure the policy includes comprehensive winter sports cover.
9. Independent travellers should opt for scheduled airline failure cover
If you tend to make your own flight and accommodation arrangements, rather than booking a package, it’s important your insurance includes scheduled airline and end-supplier failure cover, which protects you if an airline, villa company or ferry firm goes bust after you’ve booked your holiday. Note that even five-star policies may not cover airline failures.
10. Get an EHIC card
If you are heading to Europe, get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which gives you access to state-provided healthcare, at a reduced cost or sometimes free, when temporarily visiting an EU country, and also Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Some travel insurance policies will waive the excess for medical claims if you use your EHIC to get medical treatment while travelling in the EU. The easiest way to apply for, or renew, an EHIC – which is valid for up to five years – is at ehic.org.uk. Alternatively, you can call 0845 606 2030 or pick up an application form from the Post Office. You’ll need to supply the NHS or national insurance number, surname, forenames and date of birth of applicants.
Best value travel insurance deals
To give some idea of the best value travel policies on offer, we got quotes from Moneysupermarket.com for four scenarios: a family annual multi-trip policy for Europe; a family single trip policy for a fortnight in Corfu; an individual annual, multi-trip policy worldwide including the US and Canada; and an individual single-trip policy for a fortnight in Thailand. Each prompted quotes from dozens of insurers and the results can be found in the table below.
We searched for the cheapest policy which provides at least £2m (Europe) or £5m (worldwide) medical expenses cover, £3,000 cancellation cover and £1,500 baggage cover. We also highlight our editor’s pick, the one we feel provides the best value in terms of comprehensive cover, range of benefits and low excesses.
On the family annual multi-trip Europe policy, for example, Virgin Money’s Essentials policy, which insures people up to age 65, provides the cheapest premium at £42.57 for the minimum cover we requested. For those willing to pay a bit more for lower excesses and more extensive cover, including catastrophe cover, and scheduled airline cover of £1,500 each, Insurefor.com’s Premier late-booking policy, which caters for anyone up to age 74, offers what we think is the best value at £55.15.