Buying Travel Insurance Online? No Time for Haste

Misunderstanding or minimizing the content of travel insurance policies is one of the most frequent causes of claim denials—more so since online applications are gradually eliminating the advisory role of trained sales agents.

Quick and easy online applications that can be completed in 5-10 minutes may fit conveniently into our busy schedules, but if they encourage carelessness or lack of attention, they can invite catastrophic consequences.

Let’s look at the case reported recently in the British newspaper The Telegraph—of an English family that took a leisure trip to Berlin and on the way home found that their return flight had been cancelled for the day. Because the husband and son had urgent reasons to return to London, they took alternate and circuitous flights to get home as quickly as possible, encountering several hundred GBP in additional airfares.


Bought in haste? That’s trouble

The husband told the newspaper reporter that he “hastily bought” travel insurance the night before their departure and assumed that would cover their last-minute rerouting.

Well, it didn’t. Because, as the husband told the media, he hadn’t ticked off a box offering an optional coverage benefit that would have provided up to £500 for travel disruption on the journey home.

The media loved the story, and even though the insurer had no obligation whatsoever to pay up—it did, just to quell a public relations disturbance. In the end, the £500 would be shuffled back to other travellers through increased fees.

What happened here? The problem was obvious as soon as the lead traveller admitted he “hastily bought” travel insurance the night before the departure: the worst possible way to buy insurance or any other substantially priced product. No time to read even a summary of benefits or exclusions, let alone some of the key fine print that every applicant should read—especially after purchasing online without the help and advice of a trained and licensed agent familiar with the product being sold.

The traveller’s complaint that the travel disruption option was offered in a small box within the context of a larger policy is not persuasive when claimed by a customer who admits he bought “hastily” at the last minute, and only noticed the clause concerning a disruption option benefit when reviewing the policy after the misfortune had occurred.


Online doesn’t forgive negligence

Online purchases of travel insurance are here to stay. They offer convenience to busy people. They can be facilitated in the home, with other family members available for comment, and—in effect—they expand access to coverage to many people who perhaps have no regular travel or insurance agent to deal with. But there is still no substitute for the advice and guidance of a trained professional suggesting the best product for the individual needs of his or her client.

Given the absence of such personal assistance, online purchases require diligence by the customer.  Normally, online purchases are supplemented by emails or return documents outlining the main benefits, exclusions, and supplementary options being offered. These should be reviewed. This is a contract, and contracts cut two ways. Contracts are nothing more than a listing of conditions to which both parties agree and accept.


So your trip is booked. Next up? Travel insurance.

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