Picture: 123RF/RAWPIXEL
Picture: 123RF/RAWPIXEL

Probably one of the most important items on every traveller's must-have list is travel insurance.

Sales and marketing manager Simmy Micheli of Travel Insurance Consultants (TIC), which is underwritten by Santam, says that accidental injuries, rather than illnesses, account for more than half of the value of claims it receives.

Last year, for instance, the company had a R230,000-claim from a 43-year-old traveller who fell down stairs and suffered a concussion while visiting Zimbabwe, and a R650,000 claim from a 40-year-old who slipped at a pool in Mauritius.

Further statistics show that about 15% of claims are from travellers who cancel their prepaid trips and, here, the most common cause is a medical emergency.

One of the best benefits of a travel policy, Micheli says, is medical cover.

Seeking treatment for a fall or even a bout of flu overseas can be costly.

Seeking treatment for a fall or even a bout of the flu overseas can be costly. Something more serious could run into millions of rands — such as the R3-million claim from a 29-year-old traveller who had a stroke in the UK, and the R7.3-million claim from a
53-year-old visitor to the US who contracted legionnaires' disease.

Magcino Gule, senior manager for Travelsure at Old Mutual Insure, agrees that emergency medical cover should be the top priority when shopping for travel insurance. Travelsure offers cover from R5m to R50m on its leisure travel policies scheme, to cover medical expenses on travel outside SA.

Discovery Health Medical Scheme, for instance, has an international travel benefit which must be activated prior to departure. Cover for medical emergencies is $1m (about R14.45m) for each person per journey on its executive plan, and R5m on other plans. The benefit is not, however, available on all plans.

Free insurance via credit cards

Most credit cards provide some free travel insurance if you buy your flight tickets on the card. The cover varies but it is usually some limited medical cover and maybe some personal accident cover, according to Micheli.

It will generally not cover travel-related risks such as the cost of cancelling your trip, or losing your luggage. Hospitalisation for pre-existing illnesses is usually also excluded, she says.

Gule says credit card-purchased travel insurance often has tiered benefits and cover limitations depending on whether it's an ordinary, or a higher-end gold or platinum card.

In addition, travel insurance from your credit card may or may not extend to dependants travelling with you. It is, however, possible to top up your insurance with additional benefits, Gule says.

Graphic: NOLO MOIMA
Graphic: NOLO MOIMA

Risky activities

If you're an adrenaline junkie you must pay particular attention to the list of activities that insurers exclude.

Micheli says a good travel insurance
policy will include automatic cover for skiing and scuba diving, provided the diver is licensed, or accompanied by a licensed instructor, as well as for leisure and most competitive sporting events.

She advises you pay careful attention to what insurers cover automatically, what you can purchase to boost your cover and what is excluded entirely.

TIC, for instance, has simplified its sports cover to automatically include all leisure and competitive sporting events, except for seven instances where you will need extended cover and nine sports that are totally excluded. Excluded sports are hunting; sky-diving, cliff diving, free diving and cave diving; parachuting and hang-gliding; tow-in surfing; BMX riding and/or racing; motor racing of any kind; horse racing; white-water rafting (level 5 and 6); and climbing Mount Everest past the base camps.

Standard Bank's optional travel insurance, available if you purchase your travel tickets with a Standard Bank credit card, excludes 29 activities that are regarded as dangerous. These include travel on a motorcycle, horse jumping, parasailing, trampoline activity, wakeboarding and waterskiing.

Pre-existing conditions

Travel insurance generally excludes pre-existing conditions. So, if you have a pre-existing condition make sure you buy a policy with a pre-existing condition benefit.

Some plans, such as Hollard's Oojah travel protection, require you to provide information about pre-existing conditions, whereas others, such as TIC, do not.

There are also very specific terms and conditions for senior travellers that you must compare when shopping for travel insurance, says Gule.

Most policies have standardised cover for travellers up to the age of 70, and specific policies for travellers older than this. TIC offers cover up to the age of 85; Travelsure and Hollard's Oojah protect travellers up to the age of 81.

For travellers aged 70 and over, there will usually be exclusions for pre-existing illnesses, Micheli says.

Check your destination

Travelling the world is exciting but some destinations may be seen as risky, and your travel insurer may exclude cover for travel to certain areas, says Vera Nagtegaal, the executive head of insurance comparison website Hippo.co.za.

But even if you are travelling to a popular tourist destination, it is still vitally important to check with your insurer that your travel insurance is valid for all the destinations that you are planning to visit. If you fail to do that you could risk losing out on the benefits, she warns.


Travel cover tips

If you are travelling to a malaria area, make sure your policy covers tropical diseases. Also take note of:

Excesses on the various benefits;

  • Single-item limits on luggage;
  • Exclusions for hazardous activities;
  • Exclusions for participation in professional sports or organised sports events;
  • Exclusions for travelling against the advice of your doctor; and
  • Exclusions for leaving your belongings unattended

Keep the emergency contact details of your insurer and its emergency services number at hand, and save copies of your insurance and travel documents where you can access them. - Source: TIC