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Travel insurance: How many holidaymakers do activities they aren’t covered for?

There’s an array of activities we like to enjoy during our holidays, but not all of them are covered by our travel insurance policies. How many of us have been doing things we aren’t insured for while abroad (without even realising it)?

Updated 13 July 2022  | 5 mins read

Saving for a holiday takes a lot of hard work and careful planning, so it’s only fair that you use your well-earned time away to let your hair down. When embarking on your break abroad, you’ll be looking forward to putting your feet up and doing whatever your heart desires.

However, what you do during your getaway can have big consequences on your travel insurance policy. There are several activities that your insurer may not cover you for, and some of them aren’t as wild as you might think.

We’ve analysed hundreds of policies to find out which common holiday activities can be excluded from insurers’ coverage, along with how many Brits are taking part in these popular pastimes [1]. If you’re interested to find out how much can be lost by indulging in these activities, and what you can do to ensure you remain protected throughout your time away, then read on.

How many travellers are doing uninsured activities?

Shockingly, nearly half (47%) of UK holidaymakers take part in an activity that may not be protected by their travel insurance policies.[1] This equates to a jaw-dropping 16.5 million policies at risk of having claims rejected due to the policyholder doing something they aren’t insured for.[2]

What’s particularly worrying is that many of us do this without realising it. Out of those potentially doing an uncovered activity, an incredible 42% said they didn’t know that these activities may not be protected by their insurer. This means there are 6.9 million policies where travellers could be doing something they aren’t covered for, without the policyholder even realising it.[3]

Interestingly, many travellers said they would have acted differently if they had known the activity would impact their insurance. In fact, 61% of those who could be taking part in an uncovered activity said that they wouldn’t have done it if they knew they might not be protected for it.[3]

This highlights that although holidaymakers wish to make informed decisions about how they spend their time away, they are often unaware of which activities are excluded from their policies.

Which activities may not be covered?

There are numerous common activities that may not be covered by your travel insurance policy. This can range from high-octane sports such as skiing, white water rafting and tobogganing, to adventurous lifetime experiences like hot air ballooning. Sometimes, even simple, carefree pastimes - like cycling - can be exempt from coverage by providers.

In fact, out of all the common activities that may not be protected by your policy, cycling is the one that’s enjoyed by most travellers. Over a quarter (26%) said that they’ve used their holiday to go exploring on two wheels, making it the most popular activity that may not be protected.

Activity Percentage of travellers who have done this activity while on holiday[1] Number of policies which offer cover [5]
Cycling 26% 888
Water sports (such as riding a banana boat, jet skiing, sea kayaking or white water rafting) 23% 597-881 (depending on the type of water sport)
Horse riding 16% 762
Winter sports activities (such as skiing, ice skating, sledging or tobogganing) 13% 640-890 (depending on the type of winter sport)
Riding a quad bike 6% 175
Hot air ballooning 4% 851

Water sports aren’t too far behind cycling on the list. Just under a quarter of our survey respondents (23%) said they relished some aquatic adventures during their break, making it the second most common uninsured activity.

This can include beach activities like sea kayaking or jet skiing, as well as more physical outings such as white water rafting. So, while a banana boat ride can be a great way to spend a sunny afternoon, it’s important to consider whether your policy will cover you for any mishaps before taking to the water.

Horse riding is the third most common uncovered activity, which has been enjoyed by 16% of all travellers. Winter sports activities (such as skiing and ice skating) are close behind, being selected by 13%. Taking to the slopes often isn’t insured by a standard policy, but this doesn’t mean you can’t get protection, as many providers offer specialist policies for those planning a ski holiday.

Hiring a quad bike, as well as enjoying a romantic hot air balloon ride can also be outside of your policy’s terms, activities which were selected by 6% and 4% of holidaymakers respectively.

Activities that aren't covered: How much could you lose?

If something goes wrong while you’re taking part in an uncovered activity (for instance, you get injured while on a bike ride), it’s likely that you’ll be unable to claim. This could be a costly mistake, as you’ll have to use your own funds to cover the expenses of any mishaps.

This means that millions of pounds worth of claims are at risk. According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the average value of a travel insurance claim is £1,042. Therefore, if everyone who took part in an uncovered activity needed to claim (as a result of something related to the activity), a whopping £17.2bn worth of travel insurance claims would be at risk of being rejected.[5]

Will I still be covered for other elements of my policy?

The good news is that if you do take part in an uncovered activity, the other parts of your policy will be unaffected. It’s probable that your claim will only be rejected if it directly relates to the activity (for instance, an injury while jet skiing, if this is uncovered by your policy).

However, if you need to make an unrelated claim for something such as lost baggage or a flight cancellation, your insurer will likely payout.

How can I make sure I don’t do something I’m not protected for?

Always read the terms and conditions

Something as simple as reading your policy before you head abroad could save you from losing out on a claim. The terms and conditions of each policy can vary considerably, so although the insurance you had for a previous getaway may have provided cover for one thing, there’s no guarantee that your current policy will offer the same level of protection.

Therefore, it’s critical that you check what a policy will and won’t insure you for before you head to the airport. It might not be at the top of your to-do list when you’re preparing for your trip, but taking the time to familiarise yourself with your insurance could stop you from losing out on your claim.

Consider taking out a specialist policy

If you have your heart set on doing a certain activity during your trip, a good way to ensure you’ll be protected for it is by taking out a specialist policy. Many providers offer add-ons for those embarking on a certain type of holiday or experience.

Surprisingly though, out of those who did a potentially uncovered activity, only 11% said they’d purchased specialist insurance to protect them. This means that many won’t have had the cover required, despite it being widely available.

There is a broad range of specialist policies on offer, so whatever you have in mind for your trip, you should be able to get the cover you need. For instance, winter sports and ski travel policies are perfect for those planning a snowy escape, while cruise insurance is ideal for seafarers who’ve booked a trip across the seven seas. Meanwhile, sports travel insurance will cover you for more adventurous activities, such as jet skiing or bungee jumping.

There are plenty of insurance types available, so it’s always worth searching for the most appropriate policy for the kind of holiday you’re planning to enjoy.

About this data

[1] The percentage of travellers who do something they may not be covered for was sourced using a combination of Defaqto and YouGov survey data. First, travel insurance data from Defaqto was analysed to assess how many policies provide coverage for common holiday activities (a total of 897 policies were analysed). From this, we were able to identify which activities aren’t always covered by providers.

Then, via YouGov, we ran a survey asking UK residents if they’d participated in one of these activities while on a holiday. In total, 47% of respondents selected one of these activities. The survey was run on 17 May 2022. All percentage relating to the amount of people who have done these activities were taken from this YouGov survey.

[2] This figure was calculated by taking 47% (the percentage of UK holidaymakers who’ve potentially participated in an uninsured activity) of the number of insured holiday trips abroad in a year by UK residents.

The figure for the number of holiday visits abroad by UK residents (58.7 million) was sourced from the Office for National Statistics. The 2019 figure was used for this, as this is the most recent figure which is unskewed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and so gives a more realistic estimate of an uninterrupted holiday season.

We first took 60% of this figure, as this is the percentage of travellers who get insurance for their trips, according to our YouGov survey data from 1 December 2021. This gave us the number of insured holiday visits abroad by UK residents in a year. We then took 47% of this to find out the number of policies where travellers could be doing something they aren’t covered for.

[3] In our YouGov survey, we asked those who’d done a potentially uncovered activity if they knew these activities may be uninsured - 42% said they didn’t realise they may not have been covered. 61% said that they wouldn’t have done it if they knew they might not be protected for it.

This percentage (42%) was then applied to the number of travel insurance policies where someone may have done something they weren’t covered for (16.5 million). This gave us the figure of 6.9 million policies where travellers could be doing something they aren’t covered for, without the policyholder even realising it.

[4] This number was calculated by multiplying the ABI figure for the average value of a travel insurance claim (£1,042) in 2019/20 by the number of policies which could be invalidated as a result of doing an uncovered activity (16.5 million). Once again, this figure was selected as it’s believed to be the most recent data to be unskewed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

[5]The figures in this column show the number of travel insurance policies which offer cover for each activity, according to Defaqto. A total of 897 policies were analysed.

The figures for water sports and winter sports are presented as ranges, as the number of policies providing cover varies for each type of water sport/winter sport activity. Therefore, the ranges given show the minimum and maximum number of policies which will provide cover, depending on the specific water sport/winter sport in question.