Can I get last-minute travel insurance?

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 12 December 2022  | 3 min read

If you’ve just booked an impromptu holiday and are heading off at short notice, you can still arrange travel insurance before you go - even on the day you travel.

Similarly, if you forgot to buy travel insurance for a trip you booked some time ago, and only realise your mistake just before you leave, it’s still not too late to get covered.

Key points

  • You can buy a last-minute policy on the same day as you travel, even if you’re already at the airport
  • Watch out for waiting periods on policies that you purchase close to your departure date, you won’t be covered until it ends
  • If you’re already on your trip when you realise you’ve not organised travel insurance, you can buy a specialist ‘post-departure’ or ‘already travelled’ policy, but it’ll come with restrictions

Do I need travel insurance?

Whenever you go on holiday, it’s sensible to take out travel insurance.

It can help you should something unexpected happen.

Ideally, you should buy travel insurance as soon as you’ve booked your trip. That way, you’re covered if you have to cancel because of an injury or illness that stops you travelling, or if your travel company goes bust, for example.

On your holiday itself, travel insurance can cover medical expenses if you fall ill or have an accident, plus pay for the cost of transporting you back home if needed.

And if your luggage is lost, delayed or stolen, it can cover the cost of replacing any essential items.

When would you need last-minute travel cover?

Perhaps you booked a holiday some time ago, but simply forgot to buy travel insurance until you were about to head off. Or maybe you picked up a last-minute bargain and need cover quickly to travel that day or the next.

Providers will have their own rules and cut-off points after which they won’t offer cover. But there are plenty that will insure you up to the moment you depart.

How late can I book travel insurance?

It’s possible to buy last-minute travel insurance right up to the day you travel. Some insurers will even allow you to purchase a policy when you’re already in the airport.

However, with policies bought very close to departure, there may be a waiting period - perhaps 24 hours or more - before your cover comes into effect and you can make a claim.

This is to ensure people don’t book a policy to cover incidents that have already happened or when they know they’ll want to make a claim. For example, if their flight has been cancelled, or they’re too ill to make the trip.

Does travel insurance start the day you buy it?

You’re normally covered for cancellation from the day you purchase a travel insurance policy. Then, the other parts of the policy, like medical cover and replacement of lost or stolen luggage, kick in on the ‘start date’ when you begin travelling.

However, if you buy a last-minute policy close to or on the day of departure, it may not come into effect for 24 hours or more and won’t necessarily cover you for cancellation.

Can you buy travel cover at the airport?

Some insurers will offer you last-minute cover, even if you’re at the airport waiting for your flight, as long as you haven’t been through customs or left the UK.

If you’re already on your flight, or abroad, you’ll need to purchase a specialist post-departure policy.

Buying travel insurance when you’re already abroad

Even if you only realise you’ve forgotten to buy travel insurance when you’re on the plane or you’re already on holiday abroad, you can buy specialist post-departure travel insurance, but only from a select few companies.

It’ll cover you for all the things travel insurance usually does - your medical expenses, repatriation, lost property and so on.

But in some cases, you may have to wait for a period of 24, 48, or 72 hours for the policy to begin. Again, this is to protect the company from fraudulent claims where people only buy travel insurance when they’ve already encountered a problem or fallen ill on their trip.

The exception would be if you were to claim for an injury caused by a serious accident in the waiting period. The insurer may accept your claim if a person with no connection to you can independently verify they witnessed the accident.

All other claims made on the policy are likely to be scrutinised carefully by the provider. You may have to provide additional proof that your claim happened after you had taken out your policy and the waiting period ended.

After-departure travel insurance is also likely to cost you more than policies bought before your trip starts.

Pre-existing conditions

Travel insurance that covers pre-existing conditions is invaluable if you have a health issue that could flare up at any time and cause complications. It’ll pay out if you need to cancel before the trip, for treatment related to the condition while you’re away, or for travel home early (or later) to the UK if your pre-existing health condition makes it necessary.

However, many insurers won’t include cover for pre-existing conditions in a last-minute travel insurance policy.

Where can I get last-minute travel insurance?

You can easily search online for companies that offer last-minute policies.

Every provider will have their own cut-off point for how close to departure they’re willing to cover you. But there’ll be plenty of providers that’ll offer you a policy right up to the moment you set off on your trip.

The main thing is that you’re insured, or you risk being seriously out of pocket if you need to make a claim.

Why should I buy travel insurance in advance?

It’s best to buy travel insurance as soon as you’ve started paying for your holiday.

That way, you’re protected should something happen before you go which means you can’t take the trip.

Cancellation benefits start as soon as you pay for the policy. So if you need to cancel the trip due to illness, the holiday company going into liquidation or there’s travel disruption, for example, you won’t lose all the money you’ve paid out for the holiday.

Can I extend my travel insurance from abroad?

Yes, many companies will allow you to do this as long as your current policy hasn’t yet expired and the total length of your trip won’t exceed their limit.

Usually, it’s also the case that any illness or injury you incurred in the initial travel period won’t be covered in the extended travel period. That’s unless you applied for the extension before the illness was diagnosed and the injury occurred.

If your current insurer is unable to extend your cover, you’ll need to go to a specialist insurer.

What if I have annual cover?

Annual travel insurance policies cover you for all the trips you take over the course of a year.

They can be a good option for frequent travellers and for those who often book trips on impulse at the last minute.

You only need to buy travel insurance once to cover all your trips for the whole year, as long as each destination you book is included. And each trip will be covered for cancellation from the moment you book it (even if your departure date is the same or next day), because your annual travel insurance policy will already be active.

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