Last-minute travel insurance

If you’re rushing off on an overseas holiday, booked only this morning, don’t forget you still need travel insurance.

Key points

  • 97% of last-minute travel insurance policies will not include cancellation cover, so read the fine print if purchasing a policy in a hurry
  • If you already have an annual travel insurance policy or a multi-trip policy, you don't need an additional last-minute insurance policy
  • Post-departure travel insurance can be bought while you're abroad, but you may pay a higher premium than if you'd bought a policy prior to your trip

There are few things more exhilarating than spontaneously hopping on a plane for a last-minute holiday.

But there are also few things more upsetting than when something goes wrong abroad - that is, unless you have travel insurance

When do I need travel insurance?

It’s a good idea to take out a policy as soon as you start booking any part of your holiday as then you have some protection for your booking.

When something happens that prevents you from travelling, it’s a double disaster if you can’t even reclaim the money you spent.

Our research shows that 58% of  people who booked single-trip travel insurance through GoCompare last year arranged it within a week of their departure and 27% booked it on the actual day of departure.

On 14 March, 2017, GoCompare analysed 869 single trip travel insurance policies, and it found that 97% of policies wouldn’t include cancellation cover if you bought the policy on the actual day of departure.

Around three quarters of policies provide £1,500-worth or more of cancellation cover and the Association of British Insurers has revealed that almost a third of travel claims relate to cancellations.

The sooner you have the cover, the sooner you’re protected.

Of course, buying last-minute travel insurance is still far better than going without.

Buying travel insurance on the day of departure

So you’re almost at the airport and you realise you don’t have insurance - can you still buy it?

How about sitting in the airport lounge, or on the plane via your phone before you take off?

The answer is that it depends very much on the insurer.

Some insurers insist you must have purchased your cover before you leave home, others will allow you to buy protection while at the airport but not once you’ve passed through security.

A rare few let you buy via your phone even while you wait to get on the plane.

A good travel insurance policy will cover:

  • Medical care
  • Repatriation
  • Lost luggage
  • Delays and disruption

Be aware that certain providers won’t insure you if you’re over 85, and that if you’ve packed a camera, tablet, or any other expensive gear, you may need a separate gadget insurance policy.

Post-departure travel insurance

If you decide you need insurance once you’re abroad then you’ll need to buy via a specialist provider and possibly pay an additional premium for the privilege.

That’s known as ‘post-departure travel insurance’.

Don’t forget - your cover only begins once you have bought the policy and it will not cover a situation you already know about.

But, missed flights usually won’t be covered - if you’re running late heading for the airport then buying a policy at that point won’t provide any protection for missing your flight.

Check you’re not already covered

Not everyone needs to worry about buying travel insurance at the last moment.

If you already have comprehensive annual or multi-trip travel insurance in place, for example, then you will not need a last-minute policy.

Some insurers insist you must have purchased your cover before you leave home, others will allow you to buy protection while at the airport but not once you’ve passed through security

And some packaged bank accounts come with family travel insurance too, although you will need to check they provide enough protection for your needs – many will exclude winter sports or undeclared medical conditions.

If you’ve left your insurance to the last minute then you may be tempted to rely on your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) instead, assuming you’re travelling within the EU.

However, even with a card you still need insurance.

Our research shows that almost seven out of 10 holidaymakers believe their EHIC will mean they get free emergency medical care and 7% think it will cover the cost of an air ambulance.

In fact, while you need an EHIC so you can access health services in Europe, the benefits are far less comprehensive than that and certainly won’t cover the cost of getting you home.

The drawbacks of last-minute travel insurance

By taking out travel insurance at the last minute you run the risk of missing important cover.

For example, if you have a medical condition, or if someone in your party does, then buying at the last minute will make it harder to find a tailored policy.

It’s also possible that buying insurance so late will mean the insurer scrutinises any claim extra carefully to make sure you had protection in place in time.

That won’t be an issue for honest claims but it might cause slight delays.

With post-departure travel insurance it’s likely that you would have to prove the reason for your claim happened after you had taken out the policy, which may be tricky.

Clearly it’s best to buy cover in advance and the earlier the better.

Stay covered

Nisbah is a mother of three and the writer behind Five Adventurers, the 2016 winner of the Trespass Best Travel Blog award.

She well knows first-hand how important insurance can be.

“Over the years we have had numerous incidents while away and travel insurance has been a vital part in helping us. 

“Now we have a son with a medical condition it's even more important and I would never consider travelling without it.”

Nisbah’s top tips for safe spontaneous travel:

  • Travel on the spur of the moment may be all kinds of brilliant, but you still can’t afford to ignore your admin.
  • Here are Nisbah’s essential to-do list before travelling abroad – it shouldn’t take long to get it sorted.
  • Travel insurance is always the first thing we take out and if anyone has an existing medical condition then make sure that is declared
  • Have copies of the passports and other documents with you, and also have a copy on email / Dropbox in case of an emergency such as if you are separated from your luggage or have lost your documents
  • Notify your bank that you are travelling to ensure they do not block your card (this has happened to me!)
  • Let your neighbours or family know you are going away so they can keep any eye on your house
  • Just remember, you are only protected from the moment you book the cover.

Whether you’re planning a last-minute getaway or a perfectly planned break it’s best to buy your insurance when you book your holiday and not rely on last-minute travel insurance.

by Felicity Hannah