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When to buy travel insurance

Do you need travel insurance for your trip? Is travel insurance worth it? And, if yes, when is the right time to buy cover?

These are questions holidaymakers regularly ask about this sometimes-overlooked travel essential. We’ve answered them here and shared what you need to think about before you take any kind of trip to make sure you’re amply protected when you go.

Posted: 28/1/2022 | By Darren Williams

Woman wearing backpack walking at the airport pulling wheeled luggage behind her

Travel insurance: why and when to buy it

Whether you’re taking a short break, travelling for work, planning a two-week getaway or taking a year out to see the world, travel insurance can give you the reassurance you’re protected against different events and disruptions, however unlikely they may seem.

Holidays are usually a big investment you work hard for and look forward to all year, so why wouldn’t you want to safeguard them in case unforeseen events put your trip at risk?

Travel insurance is a way to protect against cancellation and disruption. It covers you for the possibility of damage to or loss or theft of your belongings, from passports to suitcases. It can also help you recover certain costs you incur from incidents while you’re away, or if you need medical assistance and even transport home (known as ‘repatriation’) in an emergency.

When to buy travel insurance can depend on the trip or trips you're taking and the kind of policy you choose to suit them. Usually, though, it's best to get cover in place for your holiday as soon as you've booked or made a financial commitment to it.

That’s especially important if you’ve paid, in full or with a deposit, for flights, accommodation or a package deal, and if you’ve pre-booked any activities or excursions for while you’re there.

Buying travel insurance when you book your break means you’re covered straight away for certain events that could mean having to cancel before your planned departure date and the knock-on effects that might have.

Protect what matters when you go with good travel insurance

When should I buy single-trip travel insurance?

Single-trip travel insurance usually suits people who only travel infrequently. With it, you’re protected in the event of cancellation from the moment you buy your policy. The policy start date needs to be that of your actual trip, but the cover starts right away.

The same usually applies to specialist types of travel insurance like cruise cover and winter sports cover for activities like skiing and snowboarding. Cover usually starts on these policies the moment you buy them, too.

This means, however far in advance you buy your travel insurance, you’ll be able to recover the costs of your holiday (minus any excess) if it’s cancelled for certain reasons outside of your control. Just check the policy terms.

When should I buy annual multi-trip travel insurance?

Annual multi-trip travel insurance policies are a little different. They’re worth considering if you’re thinking of taking more than one trip in the course of 12 months. An annual policy may work out cheaper than buying individual single-trip policies for each of the trips you plan to take.

Another important difference is that cancellation cover on multi-trip policies typically begins on the policy start date you choose, rather than when you buy the insurance – unless they’re the same date, that is.

If in doubt or you’ve already paid out for or booked parts of your trip, it’s worth choosing a start date that ensures your cancellation cover starts right away. And make sure you always read the policy details closely before you buy to make sure you’ll be covered for what you need when you need it.

When should I buy family travel insurance?

If you're travelling abroad as a family, it makes sense to take out insurance that covers you all from the moment you book your trip. Especially if you have children, as the potential risks and reasons to make a claim either before or during your trip can increase.

Often, it’s not necessarily a case of looking for and buying a dedicated family travel insurance policy. Instead, standard travel insurance policies will give a quote for the number of people travelling. That could be an individual, a couple, or two adults plus typically 1-8 children aged 18 or under. They must all be living permanently at the same address. You just list them in the policy.

Always read the policy details to make sure your specific family requirements will be covered, especially if any of your group will be travelling separately.

Woman packing her suitcase

When to buy cover for a UK holiday

It might be tempting to think you don’t need travel insurance for UK breaks. If you’re driving or catching public transport, for instance, there’s not the worry of delayed flights or some of the other issues and disruptions more likely with overseas rather than domestic travel.

That said, UK travel insurance still provides a range of protection that can be important if you’re enjoying a short break or staycation on home soil. For example, your accommodation may be cancelled for reasons beyond your control. If that happens and your policy includes cancellation cover, you may be able to make a claim. It may also cover you for delayed or cancelled domestic transport – not just travel by plane.

When to buy cruise cover

We’ve mentioned cruise cover already but it’s worth exploring here why it’s so important to have specialist travel insurance for such trips.

A standard travel insurance policy won’t usually include cover for some of the potential issues you might face during or in the run-up to a cruise. But buying cruise cover as an add-on or a specialist policy you pay a bit more for should protect you not just against cancellation but also interruptions or changes to the cruise itinerary and missing your departure from a port.

It can be a lifeline if, for instance, you’re confined to your cabin or miss out on excursions you’ve booked for reasons beyond your control. It could even cover the costs of having to be airlifted from the ship for medical treatment on the mainland.

Cruises are quite often booked months in advance of the dates on which the ship will set sail. So buying your policy in plenty of time before your planned departure can help safeguard against unexpected events or issues that might delay the trip or cause it to be cancelled altogether.

What if I’ve left it late to buy travel insurance?

Don’t worry. While getting covered early means there’s one less thing to do as you get closer to your trip, you can still get travel insurance in place if your holiday’s almost here. You’ll find plenty of insurers who can get you covered providing you haven’t already left home to start your trip. But make sure you check the details of the cover their policies provide to make sure it’s got everything you need.

What isn’t covered by travel insurance?

Another reason to check the policy wording closely is to see if there any exemptions that apply that mean you wouldn’t be covered in some circumstances. Typically, these include changing your mind about traveling, or engaging in reckless behaviour in transit or while you’re away that leads to difficulty, injury or loss – including being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Leaving your belongings unattended can also be classed as reckless and, if you do, they’re unlikely to be covered by your policy if something happens to them.

If you travel against the advice of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) it’s likely you’ll invalidate your policy – unless you’ve bought cover that specifically allows travel against this advice. To be sure, check the FCDO advice closely and the fine detail of what your policy will cover. And make sure you declare any pre-existing medical conditions when you apply as your cover could be void if you don’t but try to claim as a result of them.

Remember to research whether you need any add-on or specialist cover, too. For instance, higher-risk activities like extreme and winter sports, such as skiing or snowboarding, aren’t usually covered on standard travel insurance policies. And most regular policies only provide limited cover for gadgets so think about the value of all the devices you’re taking and check if you’ll need extra gadget insurance.

Don’t leave it to chance

When it comes to choosing travel insurance, there’s a lot to think about – and that’s before you even get into planning and preparing everything else about your trip. So why leave it late or to chance?

By buying your travel insurance policy as soon as you’ve booked your trip, it’s one less thing to worry about. And you’re one step closer to that much-deserved relaxing time away.

Interested in travel insurance?

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