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Archive for April, 2008

Travel delay – know your rights

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Lost bags, cancelled flights, Terminal 5 problems, it is a wonder that people continue to travel when beset by difficulties such as these.  But what can you do when confronted by the  inevitable travel delays that these problems create?   For those flying from UK airports and who suffer delays or are stranded, then it’s useful to know what rights you have.   Under the European directive of Air Passenger Rights, all EU operators have a duty of care to passengers and should be responding to claims for delay by providing at least food and drink vouchers for those caught up in the delays at the airports.   The only snag is that, as with so much EU legislation, what is given in one hand is often taken away in the other.   Under these rules the airline can claim protection for delays relating to, yes that’s right “weather” amongst others.   The protection the airlines have is a sting in the tail for passengers as losses from “Weather, Air traffic problems, Security & safety, Political unrest and Strikes are reasons why an airline will not pay out compensation to travellers.   So all WASPS have a sting in their tails!    So what about travel insurance?   Under the delay section of a policy, most insurers will give some benefit for periods of delay faced at the airport.  Do check your individual travel insurance documents as some of the cheaper basic covers do exclude this protection.

Airline failure fears

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Eos, the premium airline that flew between London and New York, has just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move that appeared to signal the end of cut-price executive-only flights across the Atlantic.  The American carrier’s flights have been suspended, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at Stansted and John F Kennedy airports.  The grounding of Eos follows the collapse of Maxjet last December and the announcement that Silverjet, which operates from Luton, is seeking a bailout from new investors.  The nightmare scenario for any holidaymaker is being stranded when their airline or tour operator goes out of business.  Although it isn’t an everyday occurrence, these situations do happen with little or no notice so it is important to ensure that your travel organiser can provide sufficient evidence of security for the refunding and repatriation of customers in the event of insolvency.  So how do you you protect yourself when an airline or tour operator goes bust?  Who or what is out there?  Some insurers offer Passenger Protection Insurance sold separately or Dynamic Packaging Protection as part of a travel insurance policy but always check the small print if this is offered because these are quite often restrictive in their cover.  You can reduce the risk further by organising your travel through companies and agents covered by ATOL or who hold bonding through an approved body, such as ABTA or AITO.   ATOL stands for Air Travel Organiser’s licensing and is a protection scheme for flights and air holidays, managed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and protects the customer from losing money or being stranded abroad when a tour operator goes bust.  All licensed firms have to lodge bonds with the CAA so that, if they go out of business, the CAA can give refunds to people who can’t travel and arrange for people abroad to finish their holidays and fly home.  And ABTA?  Members of the Association of British Travel Agents are required to provide financial protection for their customers which means that you can book your holiday knowing that if an ABTA member fails financially while you are on holiday, you can continue your holiday as planned.  If your holiday has not started, then you will receive a full refund or be given help to make alternative arrangements for the trip to proceed. Likewise AITO, or Association of Independent Tour Operators to give it its full title, require their members to protect their customer’s money in the event of an AITO member going into liquidation.

Adrenaline junkie – check the small print!

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Checking the small print in your travel insurance policy to see that you are covered for what you intend to do whilst on holiday is essential before you go.   A great report in this week’s Times shows holidaymakers plunging into Devil’s Pool, which is reputedly the most dangerous swimming pool in the world.   As the Times reports “for the thrill-seeker looking for the ultimate holiday snap….perched on top of Victoria Falls on the edge of a precipice, 360 feet above oblivion with almost 40,000 cubic feet of water gushing past your ears every second”.   As one partaker of this sport said, “it was better than bungee jumping” and that “being in the Devil’s Pool is a serious adrenalin rush.”   If you intend to do this or any extreme activity for that matter, then perhaps it would be wise to check that your travel insurance policy covers you before you dive in.    Most, if not all, travel insurance policies, will exclude certain activities, known in the trade as ‘Hazardous Activities’.   Swimming does not normally fall into that category of course but an insurance provider might have a word to say about this particular swimming pool.  It is very important to choose a travel insurance provider who tries to give as much information to their customers on what activities are, or are not, covered and what may be done if the right procedures are in place and the correct safety precautions taken.   So some good advice is to check your travel insurance policy before you go away, and again perhaps, just before you jump in!   Not that this should necessarily deter all but the faint hearted to try out what appears to be the ultimate in swimming experiences, up there probably with shark diving.   But don’t get too carried away, not just by the strong current, as you may need to use that travel insurance you bought after all.

EHIC does not replace travel insurance

Monday, April 21st, 2008

With around 25% of people travelling abroad without travel insurance, it is worth asking why?   One reason is a view that the new EHIC, short for European Health Insurance Card, will provide cover in case of needing medical treatment abroad.   Yes, up to a point, so do you actually need to take out travel insurance?   Well, simply put, you need both if you are planning to travel abroad.   One does not replace the other.   First of all what is EHIC?  The EHIC replaced the old E111 form in 2006 which is no longer valid.   Do make sure you get your EHIC before you travel.   Application forms are readily available from Post Offices and you can also apply online through the Department of Health website or by telephoning 0845 606 2030.   EHIC is valid throughout the EU and a number of other countries, namely Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechenstein.   Should you be suddenly taken ill or have an accident in any of these countries, then the EHIC will entitle you, in most cases, to free, or at a reduced cost, necessary medical treatment.   Do remember, however, that an EHIC does not cover you for all the medical costs that you can incur or for your repatriation – it is not an alternative to medical insurance and to go abroad without appropriate medical cover, as provided by most travel insurance policies, is probably as close to playing ‘Russian Roulette’ as you can get.  Furthermore, an EHIC does not cover you outside the areas described and although the UK has mutual agreements with many countries, these arrangements don’t cover all expenses you can incur.   You may have to pay thousands of pounds in medical costs, a prime example is the USA and Canada where medical treatment is expensive and, increasingly, there are many other countries that fall into this category.   So we do recommend that before you travel that you always arrange travel insurance with health cover that is adequate for your destination.   The FCO advises that the level of cover should be at least £1 million for Europe or £2 million for the rest of the world but most travel insurance policies now offer cover beyond these figures and £5 million is becoming quite standard and even higher figures are commonplace.   As with all insurances where health cover is required, there may be restrictions because of a particular medical condition for example, which may result in a higher premium to be paid.   At the end of the day though, what you are paying for is ‘peace of mind’ and that is why it is so important to make sure you get cover before you go.

Cheap is not always best.

Friday, April 18th, 2008

More and more of us are doing our shopping on the internet.  We do so for the convenience but the main reason continues to be the innate desire to find the best deal.   The success of sites such as e-bay is evidence of this.   The travel insurance market is no different but you need to be ‘savvy’ in your search and the increasing number of price comparison sites can often be a hindrance rather than a help.   Why is that?   Well, simply these sites highlight the ‘headline grabbing’ figure, not to mention that many only show insurance providers that pay them a commission, so the consumer is often given a confusing and false picture.   So can you find ‘cheap travel insurance’ on the internet?  Most definitely yes, but you do need to check that what is being offered will provide you with the cover you need.  When looking for cheap travel insurance, there are some simple rules to apply.  Do your homework.  Firstly, know what you want.  Are you looking for a policy to cover you for just one trip or if you are going to travel more than once, then why not consider an annual multi-trip travel insurance policy instead?  That could save you money over the year.  Then read the policy schedule.  Most internet sites are good at giving an instant quote – that is what they are designed to do but fewer provide easily accessible information to indicate what the policy covers.   At the very least, you should look at the policy schedule.  This is the table that shows the level of cover against various risks.  Choose a policy that satisfies your needs.  The areas that cost the most in a travel insurance policy tend to be cancellation, personal effects and medical cover.  If you are booking long in advance, then cancellation cover is a must (normally around the £3000 figure is sufficient) as this safeguards you if you have to cancel because of, say, a close family illness or being called for jury service, to name but two examples.  If however, you are taking a last minute holiday, then perhaps cancellation cover is not as necessary so you could reduce your premium considerably by choosing a policy with limited or no cancellation.  Likewise, reducing your baggage cover can see your premiums nose dive.  When it comes to medical cover, the FCO recommends a level of £2 million as being more than adequate, so perhaps you don’t need to buy the policy that offers £10 million.  Next check the small print.  Very few of us take the time to read the small print but the ‘devil is in the detail’ for sure.  Ask yourself some key questions.  Is where I want to travel covered by the policy, for example, is Egypt in Europe or Rest of the World as definitions do differ from company to company?  Am I covered if caught up in a terrorist incident?  Do I need to produce a police report if I have money or personal effects stolen?  What about hazardous activities?  Am I covered to bungee jump on my trip for instance?  Make a list of simple questions relating to your trip and then check the policy.  So is there such a thing as cheap travel insurance?  Most definitely there is but the simple rule of thumb is that the cheaper the policy, the more restrictive it is likely to be.  But you can help yourself by knowing what to look out for and wherever possible tailoring your insurance to your exact needs and that way make your travel insurance cheaper.

Travel assistance when abroad

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

WHAT TO DO IF IT ALL GOES WRONG WHIST ABROAD ON HOLIDAY

People often ask what they should do if they get into difficulties abroad and who they should contact.  A comprehensive travel insurance policy is there to give you that ‘peace of mind’ in the event of a medical emergency, airport delays and loss of personal belongings but, when abroad, you may become the victim of an incident and you need to know who to turn to in your hour of need.  Medical Assistance companies tied to your travel insurance are a first port of call and, if you are on an organised holiday, then the tour operator is likely to have a resident representative at the resort.  More and more people are now opting to be ‘independent travellers’ and when things do go wrong, you need to know what to do in an emergency.  The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London also provides excellent advice for travellers and you are strongly advised to log on to their website at www.fco.gov.uk/travel before you go.  They can also be contacted by telephone on 0845 850 2829.  Similar levels of advice to non-UK nationals can be obtained from their respective Consulates, Embassies and High Commissions though the FCO website is also a source of good general travel advice to anyone travelling abroad.  For UK nationals travelling abroad, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will do everything they properly can to help British people in difficulty abroad. If you get into difficulty or trouble, you can contact British Consular Staff around the world who may be able to help.  It’s always worth getting travel insurance cover and checking you have the address and telephone number of the local British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate before you travel.  Your rep/local guide, hotel/guesthouse or local police are likely to have this information.  The UK consular operation covers most countries but not all and in these countries, you may be able to get help from the consulate of another EU member state.  Also, Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada may provide certain consular services to British nationals in countries where the UK is unrepresented.

Gap Year travel – be safe

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

The very tragic news from Ecuador is an unwelcome reminder to us all that, as well as the undoubted life enriching experience that a gap year gives to most people, there will inevitably be some level of risk attached.   That is no reason not to take a gap year because similar accidents can and do happen closer to home but gap years do generally involve extended travel to remoter parts of the globe and thereby lies the problem.   According to the FCO, over 200,000 people in the UK, of all ages, are now taking gap years or sabbaticals abroad with India, Peru and Tanzania currently the most popular places for gap year placement.   The UK Government has also recently announced a £10 million scheme to offer 18 to 25 year old from less advantaged backgrounds the opportunity to undertake placements living and working in developing countries. This means that the trend to take a gap year is set to grow even more and one estimate puts the global market to be worth a staggering £11 billion pounds by 2011.   So how do you reduce the potential risks involved?   The FCO offers very useful advice on their website at www.fco.gov.uk/travel and they do keep up to date travel advice information on most, if not all countries.   What is still surprising though is that 25% of all travellers go abroad without adequate travel insurance but why take this unnecessary risk?   Although travel insurance will not prevent something happening to you, it can certainly help to reduce some of the stresses in the aftermath.   Medical expenses including repatriation, loss of baggage, legal assistance, and curtailment are just some of the essential benefits that come with most policies and it is now possible to buy tailored policies from specialist providers to cover almost every combination of gap year.

Travel insurance for holidays at home

Friday, April 11th, 2008

The recent credit crunch has also seen the Euro soar to record heights against the Pound so holidays to Europe will be more expensive this year.  For a family of 4 travelling to Spain for a fortnight, it has been reported that the cost of the holiday will be over £700 more than last year as a result of the different exchange rate.  Is this year then, the time to look at taking a break in the UK rather than travel abroad?  Well certainly worthwhile considering but the same rules apply to holidays in the UK as they do elsewhere, do make sure you are properly covered in case of emergencies.  Travel insurance, for example, is not always thought of as a necessity if you take a break in the UK, being so close to home and under the safety net of the NHS should you have an accident but travel insurance covers much more than medical emergencies.    It is a fact that most people buy travel insurance for trips and holidays abroad but these policies do generally provide cover for travel within the UK, though do check the small print rather than assuming that this is always the case.  So is travel insurance that covers holidays in the UK worth considering?  It can be very useful to have insurance should you subsequently cancel a trip, say for illness, as your holiday costs will be reimbursed subject to any excesses to pay.  Your personal effects will probably be covered too which is an important point to consider as theft and loss is not just confined to holidays on the ‘Costas’ – these things happen at home too.  What you will almost certainly not be covered for will be for medical emergencies and expenses as insurers argue that the NHS is available for such instances and will point out that travel insurance is not a substitute for private medical insurance.  One final word of  advice though is do check the small print as many, if not most, insurers do require you to have proof of booked accommodation for a minimum stay of normally 2 nights away for the policy to be in force so the Sunday ‘trip out’ is definitely outside this definition.

Civil unrest – what you need to do

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Whilst most holiday destinations are generally strife free, it still pays to check before you travel.  The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has up to date advice on all countries and to log on to www.fco.gov.uk/travel is a wise precaution, particularly if you plan to travel to parts of the world off the beaten track.  Take one destination in the headlines at the moment – Tibet.  With the run up to the Olympic Games this summer, not only is the FCO cautioning against travel to Tibet but the Chinese authorities are placing entry restrictions on tourists hoping to visit this province and other neighbouring provinces within China with a significant Tibetan population.  Should you become caught up in what is neatly termed, civil commotion or civil unrest, you need to be aware that most travel insurance providers include this as a general exclusion in their policies.  The impact of this is that you may not be as well insured as you think you are.  If in doubt, do check with your travel insurance company before you travel and look at your policy wording.  Generally, medical expenses and medical repatriation will be included but if you want to be covered for all eventualities then you will have to pay an increased premium for this.  Thankfully the chances of being caught up in these types of incidents are still very slight, and even when they do strike, they tend to be away from the main tourist destinations.  So if you do plan to visit Beijing and take in the Olympic Games this summer but also take in other parts of China, do look at your itinerary and check with your tour operator beforehand who may be able to offer alternative destinations away from the troubled areas.  For the independent traveller, be wise and avoid those areas where a heightened tension exists.