The Smart Traveller’s Guide: Which travel insurance is best?

So, you’ve reached the twilight years of your life. You’re probably retired, maybe with a lot more time on your hands. The time that many older Australians choose to spend seeing the world and, of course, our own backyard! And whilst wisdom and experience come with age, so too do a few unwanted bits and pieces. One of these is an increased risk of health issues. The question is … do these health issues have to stop you travelling and having fun? The answer is no, they absolutely do not! Consider these factors on choosing which travel insurance is best for you.

First things first – travel insurance
Once you have booked an international trip, the next item to tick off the to-do list should be getting your travel insurance sorted.
Many travellers still choose to ‘take the risk’ and go without insurance to ‘save money’, but according to the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.”
This is savvy advice, regardless of whether you are travelling to an exotic location or one that you perceive as ‘safe’. Some of the most expensive places to seek medical care are the USA, Japan and parts of Europe.
Some people use the excuse that they don’t get travel insurance because they believe insurers don’t payout.  However, according to Smart Traveller’s travel insurance cheat sheet in 2012-2013, approximately 90% of claims (over 200,000) were paid, and the claims that are denied are often due to a misunderstanding of the policy by the person who bought it.

Why purchase your travel insurance early?
Because as a senior traveller, the increased risk of medical issues also means an increased risk of having to cancel or postpone your trip … adequate travel insurance will mean that you do not waste the money you have spent on pre-booking flights, cruises, accommodation etc.

What to consider when choosing a travel insurance policy
You only have to type “travel insurance for seniors” into Google and you’ll see an astounding number of different providers. How do you know which one is best for you?
Well, there are a number of things to consider.
Travel insurance policy pricing is generally based on your destination, your length of stay and your age. Beyond that, you generally have a choice of three levels of cover – budget, mid-range or comprehensive.
Once you hit 60, arguably one of the most important considerations in choosing a travel insurance policy is the level of medical coverage.
Many insurers will include some pre-existing medical conditions free of charge. Common conditions include osteoporosis, cataracts, mild diabetes or high blood pressure.
While insurers operate in different ways, in other instances you may need to get your GP to fill out a form stating that you’re fit to travel. There are additional chronic (but manageable) conditions that may be covered with such a form, although these conditions often attract a surcharge and are subject to the requirements of the relevant insurer.
However, there are generally some medical conditions which, not surprisingly, you are unlikely to be able to get coverage for. These include cancer, cardiovascular disease, mental illness, recurring or chronic pain and a diagnosis of a terminal illness.
Such diagnoses may not stop you from travelling or getting travel insurance for non-related claims, such as theft, trip delay or other health issues … it just means that the insurer is not willing to absorb the risk in relation to those particular health conditions.
Remember that travel insurance exists to protect you in unforeseen circumstances.
Importantly, be sure that you consider what an insurer says in relation to pre-existing medical conditions (and exclusions that apply) and take all steps you consider necessary in relation to those conditions and obtaining cover for those conditions.
One type of trip to be aware of is cruising within Australian waters. Did you know that Medicare and/or your private health insurer will not cover you for any medical incidents that occur once you have left port? So in getting a quote you would need to identify your destination as ‘Pacific’ (or equivalent), even if you were, for example, doing a cruise that circumnavigated Australia.

How do you know what the ‘right’ travel insurance policy is?
Shop around. Take your time to research available policies carefully and thoroughly and get the one that you consider best suits your needs.
Always read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS)! You might want to focus on certain sections within a PDS, including (remember they may have different titles depending on the insurer):
•    The Table of Benefits (a summary which can make comparisons easier);
•    Pre-Existing Conditions (what is covered);
•    General Exclusions (what is not covered);
•    The Definition Table (to ensure there are no misunderstandings in relation to policy wording); and
•    The Claims Section (what to do in the event of a claim and what evidence will be required).
Also, be sure that the activities you expect to be doing are covered – if you are a fit and active senior, you may wish to indulge in activities that may or may not be covered … so it’s always best to check!
You may also like to use comparison websites and online review sites. However, ensure that you are obtaining an unbiased view from the site. Some collect commissions from the insurers that are compared. Others may only provide information about a small section of the travel insurance market that they compare.

Travel insurance for budget-conscious seniors
Whilst budget policies are available for older travellers, the eligibility cut-off age is generally lower than that for more comprehensive policies.
Also, cheaper policies often have larger excesses, or long exclusion lists, limiting what you can do on your holiday and are likely to provide less thorough cover.
Buying directly with an insurer online is normally cheaper than using a travel agent, as agent commissions may significantly increase the policy price in some instances.
A number of insurers will also allow elderly travellers to include up to 10 dependent children or grandchildren on their policy for no additional cost. Who qualifies as a dependant will be subject to the terms and conditions of the relevant policy.
One way that you may save money (depending on your requirements) is to purchase an annual multi-destination/multi-trip policy, which can be cheaper than buying individual single trip comprehensive policies.
Having said this, Canstar recognised the Worldcare comprehensive policy as providing outstanding value in its 2014 travel insurance star rating report, awarding the policy a five-star rating for all 11 of the evaluated destinations for single travellers, 10 of these destinations for couples, and 8 for families.

A final note
Be sure to record your policy number somewhere that you can access during your travels – perhaps email it to yourself or save it in your phone. Also, make sure your insurer gives you a reverse charges phone number to contact them in the event of an emergency. Notify them within 24 hours if you do need to make a claim.
But the most important thing, wherever you go and whatever you do, is to have fun! Life’s too short!

Bronwyn White

Bronwyn White is a travel and tourism industry professional with more than 30 years of experience.  Her special interest is helping retirees, semi-retired baby boomers enjoy the dream of travel.  She loves to help them plan and get the most out of this time.

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