I’ve had the misfortune of having to make many travel insurance claims – I travel a lot – and I’ve never had a travel insurance claim refused.
It probably helps that I used to be a lawyer. A consumer protection lawyer, to be exact. So, reading fine print and knowing my rights is kind of my bag.
Yet still, even for me – the lady that used to live and breathe legal paper work – filling in a travel insurance claim is painful.
I’ve just filled in another claim, this one courtesy of coronavirus and an emergency repatriation. I also have an existing claim in the works thanks to getting dengue fever a few months previous. Two claims on one trip is a record even for me.
However, with this latest flurry of paperwork, it seemed like a good opportunity for me to talk you through what I do to make a successful claim. The devil is in the detail, but it is usually just a case of taking your time when you fill in your form.
Of course, every travel insurance policy is different. As are the circumstances surrounding every claim (bet you didn’t rupture your ACL on a remote island in the British Virgin Islands while limbo dancing, and have your suitcase stolen on the same trip?).
In this post I’ll give you my step by step guide to filling in your insurance claim. You’ll be relieved to know that for the most part I have a ‘fill-it-in and let the insurance company deal with it’ attitude to making a claim. That means I’m not about to ask you to ready your entire 7,493 page policy from cover to cover (why are they so long, why, why, why?) though there are some bits you should check.
Note: this relates to filling in your paperwork when you get home. There might be things you need to do while you’re away like get a police report for stolen items or doctor’s reports for medical claims. I’ve written a couple of other posts about insurance here:
1. Essential starting point: time and patience
Making a claim is a long-assed process so you need to be realistic about filling in your claim. This isn’t a quick 5-minute job while you’re getting the kids ready for school. This is a proper piece of work. Set aside at least an hour, sometimes more, depending what you’re claiming for, and, crucially, make sure you’re in the mood.
Ok, fair enough, nobody’s ever in the mood for legal paperwork work but you’re more likely to have some patience on a Saturday afternoon when you’ve got the promise of a glass of wine at the end, compared to sitting down at 9 p.m. while you’re trying to eat dinner after a long day at work.
2. Prepare for password rage
There’s every chance your insurance claim will require you to send documents or access accounts that are online. I have a few password saving pieces of software installed (Last Pass is the most reliable) and still I’m not immune to the ‘password not recognised’ message. Take a deep breath. And if you do change any passwords in the process, make a note of them in a secure place. Sod’s law say that if you don’t, you’ll definitely need to reset them again.
3. Get hold of your insurance policy
The next thing you need to do is get your insurance papers together. I’m assuming you have access to the internet and email -you’re reading this online, so it seems a fair assumption.
First, try to find your policy. Here are a few places it might be:
- printed out and neatly filed under ‘important documents’ on that easy to reach shelf – well done you.
- filed on your laptop or phone under ‘Travel Insurance’ (this is me) – also well done if it’s you.
- you bought it online so there is likely a confirmation message in your emails somewhere – do a search and check your junk and trash just in case.
- lodged with your bank – many banks offer a free policy with your account. You may need to contact the bank to find out more.
- no flipping idea? – can you at least remember the name of the insurance company? Check your search history if it was a recent enough purchase. Have a look on the insurance company’s website and, failing that, contact them – they might have a record of you and your policy.
- even less of an idea? Check your credit card and bank statements – there should be a record of the transaction.
If you’ve already contacted your insurance company: it’s possible due to a medical emergency or some other reason that you’ve already contacted your travel insurance. In that case, great. You’ll have a jump start on a few of these steps, most likely having already checked the validity of your claim and you’ll probably already have a claim number, too.
4. Find your travel insurance policy number
Assuming you’ve managed to track down your policy, the first bit of information you’re going to need is your policy number. This will be important and is usually quoted in the first batch of communication. It might be your unique claim number for the duration of your claim or you might be given a new, different claim number. Either way, you’ll need your policy number to get started.
5. Grab a note-taking tool (pen and paper works fine)
Two of the most frustrating parts are 1) how long the claim process takes – think months not weeks; and 2) how the insurance company usually waits until all the details have drained from your brain before asking follow-up questions.
Solution: write it all down as you go along, starting with your policy number. It might seem like extra admin, but future you will be grateful.
As ex-lawyers go, I’ve gotten pretty sloppy with paperwork so my ‘important insurance notes’ are as likely found on the back of an old piece of junk mail. It doesn’t matter. Write it all down and store it somewhere you can find it later. Under your pillow if that’s what it take.
6. Figure out the claim process
Typically, travel insurance companies want everything in writing. Although you might have to make a quick call to get the company to send you a claim form, most forms are now available for download or even completion online. It’s worth reading the requirements for how to fill in the form and stick to it. Most companies aren’t hugely strict (blue versus black pen) but find out:
- what you need to fill in (printed form? online form?); and
- how you need to submit your claim (by post or can you email)?
Given a choice, my preference is a printed form that I fill in by hand, photograph on my phone and send by email. I then forward any necessary supporting documents as separate emails.
Why this preference?
- it’s quicker and cheaper than post;
- if I’m investing this much effort, I don’t want to be working online where the system might crash
- there always seems to be more scope for providing supplemental information/supporting documents (like my handy travel claim spreadsheet I prepare for each claim);
- I have more confidence that my emails have been sent and read; and
- it’s easier for me to keep a copy (compared to screenshots of an online form) – the lawyer in me likes the visible paper trail.
You’ll absolutely have to provide some supporting documents but we’ll get to that. For now, get hold of your claim form.
Another tip is to follow the process. It’s tempting to try to skip steps but THEY WON’T LET YOU. All those unfilled in sections on your form will keep haunting you until you’ve done your homework. Start at the beginning and work your way through. Yep, it’s painful but it’s also the most productive way of getting your money back as quickly as possible.
How long does a travel insurance claim take?
I’ve currently got £3,000 worth of costs sat with my insurance company (across the two claims). At a time when my income has crashed to almost nothing (has anyone actually told that virus it’s an arsehole?), I could do with that money in my bank. But I’m not holding out any great hope for a quick payment. Past insurance claims have typically taken 3-4 months before money comes through.
I made my dengue claim in January and I’m still waiting to hear back. My repatriation claim, at a time when travel insurance claims are probably at an all-time high, I’m honestly not expecting to hear back for upwards of 6 months. Your insurance might be better or quicker but I’m trying to share my honest experience so you try not to rely too heavily on the money coming in soon. In all likelihood, it won’t. If it does, drop a comment with your insurance company name below so I can use them for my next trip.
7. Get your start and end dates straight
For your average claim, you’ll need to figure out these important dates:
- start date of your travel insurance policy;
- end date of your travel insurance policy (if it’s a free, ongoing annual cover e.g. with your bank, there won’t be an end date);
- date when things first when wrong on your holiday (first event you’re claiming for);
- date when things were fixed (last event you’re claiming for);
- any relevant dates in between – for example, claiming for dengue fever, I had to cancel a week of my trip while I lay in bed. The ‘in between’ dates were the dates I was supposed to fly to Puerto Rico, check into a hotel there etc.
If it’s just a one-off event like a stolen camera, you’ll only have one claim date. If you got sick it will be from when you got sick to when you were better and picked up the rest of your trip (or went home).
Just double check – do the ‘dates when things went wrong’ fall within the dates of your policy? If so, great, your policy will be valid.
Speaking of validity, all insurance policies have some standard requirements e.g. that you took out the policy before you started your trip (there are some exceptions), that you started and ended your trip at home, you’re resident of the country where you bought the policy and are registered with a local doctor etc. Personally, I don’t work my way through the insurance company’s checklists (I’ve still got too much Game of Thrones to watch). I fill in the form as required and let them worry about it.
8. Check that what you’re claiming for is covered
There is a balance to be stuck when it comes to checking your insurance covers whatever it is you are claiming for. On the one hand, you don’t want to waste a huge amount of time filling in forms when your insurance doesn’t cover your loss. Example: I once went through an elaborate claim listing details and finding receipts for every item in my missing suitcase only to find I wasn’t covered because – guess what – many insurance policies only cover you if your suitcase is literally stolen from right under your nose. Mine was in checked-luggage with a boat company and, nope, that wasn’t included.
Therefore, it’s worth having a quick look at the relevant section of your policy.
If the thought of reading the legal document terrifies you, I suggest these alternatives:
1) do a quick check of the summary of your policy. Most will have a one-page sheet listing what you’re covered for e.g. baggage but not cell phones; medical but not dental. That kind of thing. It usually also sets out the maximum value of the cover.
2) you could just go ahead and claim anyway. All you will have wasted is a few hours, and it will pay off if it turns out you are covered.
9. Find your outbound and return flight tickets
Your travel insurance might be an exception but most will ask for proof that you actually took your trip and this usually means a start and end ticket. If you did something a bit different (maybe you crossed the border by car), check what your travel insurance company requires and what they will accept.
10. Work your way through the easy bits of the form
There’s going to be some of those easy questions (name, date of birth, etc). Get them filled in first because soon enough you’re going to hit the meaty bit. The bit that requires the words ‘supporting documentation’ * shudder *. Don’t worry. Grab a coffee. A handful of biscuits. I’m here for you…
11. Fill in the details of your claim
This is the bit where every claim differs. Indeed, the medical claim I made a few months ago for dengue fever was different to the claim I’m making now for coronavirus repatriation. However, while some bits will be different (medical documents were needed for my dengue fever), a lot of the costs are the same – changed flights and hotels. Here’s how to fill in this part of your form without losing your mind…
12. Start with a rough chronology
Easy peasy if you’re claiming for one event e.g. dropping your expensive DSLR in Italy because your instinct was to save your gelato. (Good life decision, btw, but only if your insurance covers you).
If the thing you’re claiming for ran across a few days, grab your scrap of paper…ahem, nice notepad and scratch out a quick history of what happened. For my curtailment claim, the chronology is quite complicated. I had travel booked for 4 countries over the next 2 months which I had to cancel. I also then had new bookings to get home (I say bookings because one of my emergency flights home got cancelled).
13. Put it all in a spreadsheet (I have a template)
No, don’t click off! Seriously, I credit this spreadsheet with helping me get my claims paid relatively quickly. The spreadsheet is geared to travel insurance claims where you have had your trip disrupted in some way.
By helping the insurance company see what happened, it makes it easier for them to tick through what you can and can’t claim for. At the end of the day, your travel claim isn’t assessed by some corporate giant. It’s some poor sod, probably not paid the best salary, who has to sit down and remotely piece together what happened based just on what you supply. You, and a million others.
Also, this spreadsheet process will be hugely helpful in letting you spot the gaps in your claim. More than once, it’s helped me remember things I would have forgotten to claim for – like taxi receipts.
The spreadsheet is free and can be found on Google Docs here. Just save it to your own files and delete my examples for filling it in.
14. Tips for sending supporting documents
I had about 15 emails and various screenshots (showing my cancelled flights) for my recent coronavirus claim. I had more for my dengue fever claim because I had myriad doctor reports and blood test results to show as well. This is the most painful part for me, gathering all these documents together. Here are a few tips.
- Keep all the supporting documents in the same place (for the sake of future you) – set up an email folder or flag colour or print them out;
- You often get more than one email confirming things like flights. Make sure any booking confirmations you send include the price paid, not just the flight details – it’s all about the money;
If you’re forwarding the documents by email:
- Add your policy or claim number to the header of each email – it’s likely they’re going to a general ‘claims’ inbox so it will make it less likely that different parts of your claim will get separated/missed if you add your policy or claim number;
- Send them all to the same and correct email address. Seems obvious but the initial contact email and the claim department aren’t always the same – I’ve made this mistake and it delayed my claim by months;
- Make sure you also forward any attachments with booking emails e.g. payment receipts.
15. Keep a copy of everything
Nothing slows down a claim more than inconsistent information. There’s every possibility your insurance company will come back with queries. Not only will it be quicker for you to check the details if you have a copy of your claim somewhere, it will help you avoid supplying inconsistent data (your brain remembers that hotel was about $600 so you put $600 on the follow up documentation…except you originally put $482.32 on your claim form – see the problem?)
If you’re filling in your form online, take screenshots at each submission/’next’ stage. Save those screenshots somewhere.
16. One last check before you send
There’s a temptation to just get it all sent off. Take an hour. Have a cup of coffee. Re-read it. You’ll almost certainly spot a mistake.
Fix it and then you can finally hit send.
17. Set a follow-up date
I always make a note of the date sent in my calendar and then set a reasonable follow-up date. What’s reasonable will depend. Now, during a peak in travel insurance claims, I’m going to give it eight weeks before I chase. And it is worth chasing. Yes, the insurance people say ‘please don’t’ but if months have gone by and you’ve heard nothing, I’d send a quick follow-up (another reason I like to submit by email – I have the contact email ready for the chasing process). There have been times my papers have been ‘forgotten’.
I’d also give an immediate follow-up if you don’t get an email or on-screen confirmation that your claim has been submitted. You don’t want to wait two months only to find your paperwork was never received.
Does claiming affect future premiums? Travel insurance doesn’t appear to work the same way as house and car insurance. Each year I shop around for the best price for annual travel insurance and I’ve not once been asked whether I’ve made a previous travel insurance claim. If you are still worried because you don’t want to move company, phone your insurance provider and ask.
How do claims work? If you’re interested in the mechanics of it – it’s a simple contract. You buy the policy and the insurance policy sets out the contractual terms of the cover. A very basic example is:
Clause xxx: if you drop your camera, we will give you up to £1,000 but you’ll have to pay us the first £50 of your claim (called an excess). However, if you leave your camera on display in an unlocked car and it gets stolen, we won’t give you a penny. To get your money, you have to fill in our form.
An insurance policy is made up of many, many clauses like this covering all kinds of things that might go wrong on a trip from health issues to theft to natural disasters. When you submit a claim, your insurance company basically looks to see whether what happened to you (and what you’re claiming for) falls within the list of things that are covered. If it does, it will pay you the amount set out in the policy. In principle, it’s all very simple. It just involves a heck of a lot of admin.
Is travel insurance the same as medical insurance? Possibly. As explained above, it will depend on the wording of your policy. Most travel insurance policies do cover you for medical costs while you’re away. However, there will also be a list of exceptions – mainly for pre-existing conditions or if you hurt yourself while doing an excluded activity e.g. jet-skiing while riding a donkey. In lots of cases, you can pay more to include these exclusions on your policy (not 100% sure on the donkey bit) but you have to do it before you go.
Coronavirus travel insurance claims
I’m hugely time pinched at the moment, seeing as I run a Prosecco tour business in Italy, which has been devastated by the virus. So, I’m working night and day. For that reason, I spent time reading the small print of my policy to check that my claim for cutting my trip short is valid. And it is, my policy very clearly says so.
I therefore went online to start the claim. However, when I selected the reason for the curtailment as ‘coronavirus’ I was given an auto response that my claim wasn’t valid. I tried 3 times more, including putting ‘other’ as the reason for my curtailment. Still, the same auto-response: not covered.
Trying to suppress my fury (and worry – it cost me £2,000 to get home), I called the insurance company. After one hour on hold, the call was disconnected. After a further 40 minutes in a chat queue, I finally got hold of a human (not physically, obviously) and the lady reassured me I was covered after all.
Why did the system tell me otherwise? A fault, she explained.
Now, I’m not about to fling out an accusation that insurance companies are engaging in a ‘first response = denial’ of all claims but…errr…that’s what happened to me. Seems a rather convenient online fault given it will likely stop a lot of customers submitting what would otherwise be a valid claim.
My take home advice from this – unless you bought your policy at a time when Coronavirus was clearly excluded, get that travel insurance claim in.
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