Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

The real cost of not having travel insurance for your holiday

Travellers can find themselves with hefty bills if they fail to cover medical emergencies, baggage loss or delays

Diba Kazi and her husband Tausif Mohammed paid almost Dh10,000 in medical bills for her uninsured mother. Reem Mohammed/The National
Diba Kazi and her husband Tausif Mohammed paid almost Dh10,000 in medical bills for her uninsured mother. Reem Mohammed/The National

Diba Kazi and husband Tausif Mohammed always welcome family to Dubai with open arms – but rue the day they allowed her parents to visit from India without travel insurance, an omission that cost them some Dh10,000 in bills.

Mr Mohammed, 37, an Indian analyst who has lived in Dubai for three years with Ms Kazi, 36, an airline IT worker, and their five-year-old daughter, says travel insurance for his in-laws would have cost just Dh300.

“When they came here, we didn’t think much about insurance – my parents-in-law are 58 and 62, quite healthy with no signs of something going wrong and [they] travel frequently.”

No traveller is immune to travel-related risks. Getting a travel insurance policy should be at the top of your holiday checklist.

Ambareen Musa, Souqalmal.com

A 2018 survey by comparison site Souqalmal.com found that 50 per cent of UAE residents never buy travel insurance yet one in 10 experienced an incident while travelling. A further 26 per cent only bought a policy occasionally.

On top of that, UAE residents are big travellers. According to a 2018 study from RSA Insurance, one in four made five to 10 trips in the last two years and 9 per cent more than 20 trips – excluding trips home. A quarter of travellers in RSA’s research had a bad travel experience.

A lot can go wrong even on a week-long trip abroad, says Ambareen Musa, chief executive and founder of Souqalmal.com. “You could lose your luggage, succumb to a bad case of food poisoning, have your passport stolen or be sued for damages by a third party," she says. "No traveller is immune to travel-related risks. Getting a travel insurance policy should be at the top of your holiday checklist.”

Indeed, says David Harris, director of distribution at RSA, “Most of the claims we receive from travel insurance are related to medical emergencies, baggage loss and delays and cancellations.”

Ms Kazi's mother Atiya Kazi, for example, fell ill in Dubai during a trip away from her home in India. She had been in the emirate for a week when she started to feel feverish. She assumed it was a common cold and took over-the-counter medications, but postponed her next flights to Portland, US, to see her other daughter as a precaution.

During that time her son-in-law, Mr Mohammed, checked with some insurers if it was possible to get cover for his relatives – but was told it was too late as his mother-in-law’s sickness would now be treated as a pre-existing medical condition.

The elder Ms Kazi then proceeded with her trip to Portland where after a week she was unable to breathe properly. Her Portland-based daughter paid $400 (Dh1,470) for a doctor’s consultation and Ms Kazi was given medications for a urinary tract infection. Mr Mohammed’s wife, Diba, 36, decided to fly to Portland for the weekend and bring her parents back to Dubai where treatment would be cheaper than in the US - a flight that cost Dh1,200, even with her discount as an IT worker for an airline.

Ms Kazi's mother became unwell during a trip away from India to Dubai and the US. Reem Mohammed/The National
Ms Kazi's mother became unwell during a trip away from India to Dubai and the US. Reem Mohammed/The National

The couple took Ms Kazi senior straight to hospital upon arrival, where she stayed in the emergency ward for four days. Once she had been released, Ms Kazi flew back to Pune in India with her husband and daughter and spent another week in hospital – this time around, with her costs covered.

The time Ms Kazi spent in hospital in Dubai cost Dh4,500, while the additional Portland flights cost Dh1,200 and the three one-way tickets to Pune Dh3,500 – almost double what Mr Mohammed would normally pay, as he had to buy tickets on busy flights at the last minute. His bill came to Dh9,200, as well as the Dh1,470 his sister-in-law paid in Portland.

As well as medical costs, losing luggage can ruin a trip overseas. A recent baggage report from international airline IT provider Sita, showed that almost 25 million bags were mishandled last year. “These situations are a daily occurrence,” adds Mr Harris.

A “basic, no-frills” travel insurance plan includes emergency medical expenses, personal accident benefits and lost passports or travel documents, Ms Musa says, and generally costs Dh50, or even Dh20 for a basic single-trip plan,. A premium, all-inclusive policy could cost Dh150, plus extra for add-on cover such as winter sports, golf, cruises or terrorism, she adds.

Another consideration is wedding cover. Myrdith Leon-McCormack, the editorial director of US-based World Bride magazine, says for any destination wedding overseas, getting insurance “shouldn’t even be a question”. “Get it and get the deluxe package,” she adds. “There is too much at stake.”

Abu Dhabi resident Jennifer Castro-Agostinho claimed back Dh20,000 on insurance when a wedding trip went wrong. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Abu Dhabi resident Jennifer Castro-Agostinho claimed back Dh20,000 on insurance when a wedding trip went wrong. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Australian co-ordinator Jennifer Castro-Agostinho, 45, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 13 years, is certainly glad she took out both travel and wedding insurance in 2007 when she married late husband Pedro. She was able to claim back Dh20,000, having taken out Dh1,700 Axa Gulf annual multi-trip insurance for two people, plus a £49 (Dh227) wedding policy with Confetti.

Two weeks before they were due to get married in Sydney, Australia, her husband’s leg swelled up with cellulitis and, after several days in hospital, he had to use crutches to walk.

Although they did not change their wedding plans, they upgraded their flights to business class as Mr Agostinho needed to stretch his leg out, and cancel a booked stopover in Brunei. And when the airline then lost their luggage, they had to buy additional clothing for a pre-wedding photo shoot. The claim Ms Castro-Agostinho made to Axa Gulf was for Dh23,922, of which around Dh20,000 was accepted.

“I believe in the mantra that if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel,” she says. “Insurance is definitely a godsend. We didn’t have to use the wedding insurance but it’s huge peace of mind for a small premium.”

Travel expert Gaurav Sinha, chief executive of branding agency Insignia, says travel insurance is “invaluable to all” but tends to be an “after-thought in most travel decisions”. He also warns that terms and conditions can be “convoluted”, leaving many people still struggling to get “a dime back”. In Ms Castro-Agostinho’s case, the key to securing a payout was having the right documents – from receipts and airline emails to a doctor’s report and a property irregularity report for delayed baggage.

Sarah Pickford, a personal travel consultant for travel company Travel Counsellors, says travellers must have good-quality travel insurance “100 per cent of the time”.

“People often believe that as they are travelling to their home country, they are fully protected, and that their international medical insurance, issued in the UAE, covers them for all medical issues abroad. But that is rarely the case,” she warns.

Mr Mohammed admits that, with hindsight, the family were “stupid” not to take out travel insurance – especially as he and his wife have it. “Insurance is pretty cheap but it’s not just what I spent – there were long-distance calls, losing sleep waiting for time zones to match. There were way too many things to worry about and all that stress was not just worth it," he says.

“Going forward, whether our parents want insurance or not, we’ll get it. It was a big lesson learned for us and everyone else involved.”

Updated: July 9, 2019 02:51 PM

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