Having spent the past few years travelling from Asia to America, studying and working overseas and having been caught out once or twice, I wanted to share some salient advice on travel insurance:
Sun cream…check, insurance…check, bum bag that will conveniently get lost at the airport…check (thanks Mum). To all intense and purposes you’re prepared for that much-anticipated trip. However all is not what it seems. That sacred document you have photocopied and stowed away in your locked suitcase may not be worth the paper it’s written on. As some holidaymakers are finding out, the travel insurance policies they have taken out do not actually cover the activities they are going to be partaking in whilst away. In fact, their holiday insurance bans partying.
Travellers could be hit with thousands of pounds worth of medical bills if they get injured simply by going to a party or playing games on the beach. According to www.thisismoney.co.uk ‘Experts say insurers are increasingly refusing claims made by young people who visit events that could put them at high risk — this includes all-night parties in Thailand and night-clubbing in Ibiza.’ Similarly, victims of muggings may find they have no cover if they take large amounts of cash to areas with high crime rates. 1 Even more worrying though, hidden clauses in holiday insurance may render the policy null and void if you hurt yourself during something as innocent as a game of rugby.
This warning comes after 23-year-old Steven Duck was locked in a two year battle to have his medical bills paid by his insurer Direct Travel, after he was attacked at a full moon party in Koh Phangan in 2009. As reported by thisismoney.co.uk, Mr Duck recalls: ‘I’d just arrived when a woman brushed by me and I felt a sharp pain in my arm. I saw she was holding a syringe and there was a green liquid oozing from my arm. I shouted: “What have you done? What have you stabbed me with?’’ I started to feel very strange, extremely unwell and disorientated.’1
Steven was rushed to hospital in Bangkok where he was told he was at risk of contracting HIV and the doctors administered drugs to counteract the virus. As well as the horrific side effects of the medication, Mr Duck was saddled with a £2000 medical bill which he paid using a credit card.
Once back at home Steven Duck put a claim into Direct Travel for the expenses he had incurred. However he was informed that no payment would be made due to a clause in his policy which states that they are not liable for injuries received ‘while under the influence of drugs not given by a doctor’.
Furthermore Direct Travel are purported to have implied that Mr Duck may have taken the drugs himself, despite there being no solid evidence to corroborate this claim. Mr Duck vehemently denies this allegation.
Following this decision Mr Duck appealed to the Financial Ombudsman Service who, over a two-year period, twice ruled that Direct Travel should recompense him. They determined that he was entitled to his medical expenses as well as additional interest due to the inequitable nature of their original ruling.
Despite this, Direct Travel refused to pay up until last month after a two year long battle. Although finally covering the medical costs incurred, the insurance company refused to compensate Mr Duck for the cost of cutting his holiday short.
According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, unprovoked attacks on Western tourists such as experienced by Steven Duck aren’t unusual in this area of Thailand. They report that these attacks are particularly common around the time of the Full Moon parties, despite their popularity with backpackers, warning that druggings, muggings and assaults have been known to occur. 2
As Bob Atkinson, spokesman for Travelsupermarket comments ‘Unfortunately, some insurers will throw up their hands in horror if you attend some kinds of parties,’ He adds ‘They will consider some events to be full of drugs and alcohol — even if you haven’t taken any yourself. As a result, they are likely to enforce medical exclusions very rigorously. It’s vital to check and double-check the terms and conditions of your policy and make sure you look at advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).’ 3
So what’s the answer to avoid being hit by a hidden clause or an unseen exclusion? You should always thoroughly read the terms and conditions of the policy you are thinking of taking out and make sure it provides you with the adequate amount of cover. Remember to always read the wording of your chosen policy carefully to ensure that no hidden exclusions apply. It is common place for insurers not to cover drink and drug related incidents, however cheaper insurers may apply much more stringent conditions, such as the partying ban. Similarly cheaper policies can often fail to cover you for certain activities that you may be planning to engage in. Acts of terrorism are another common exclusion so if possible you should make sure you avoid such policies. For more information and advice about travel insurance you should visit the FCO website at www.fco.gov.uk/travel
If you take heed of this rather unsavoury tale then there’s no reason why you can’t tick off that checklist and feel secure in the knowledge you’re covered against all eventualities. The only thing left to do is keep those documents safe, perhaps in the bum bag, which will stay firmly locked in your case, never to see the light of day.
You can also follow the FCO on Facebook www.facebook.com/fcotravel or Twitter www.twitter.com/fcotravel.