“My son and I are very ill. The doctor advised us not to travel tomorrow. What do I need to do so I’m not caught out by a technicality when I claim?” I asked down the phone.
After much checking of policy details by the insurer, this is what the woman in Copenhagen said: “Your policy does not cover cancellation because of illness. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding with the broker.”
It was the weekend in the UAE and said broker was not contactable, so I had called the mother ship, for all the good it did me.
Once the meds had kicked in, our fevers much reduced and our spirits higher, we tossed a coin and decided that whatever side it landed on, we were going on our trip.
It wasn’t just that I had sunk many a shiny dirham on a very special holiday that was about an hour’s flight away compared with eight hours back to the UAE. The clincher was that we would be looked after. I had booked a catered chalet and it was exactly what we needed – somewhere better than home. If we weren’t going on the trip then I’d need to sort out a place to stay and sustenance, while feeling terrible – and quickly. Plus I’d be out of pocket with the pre-booked holiday and needing to pay for the alternative. We flew.
Once settled, we decided to pick up ski equipment – also paid for – just in case we were up to doing a few runs on a slope at some point. “Do you want to take out insurance with your ski hire?” “There is an excess if your equipment is lost or stolen, but it’s a quarter of the cost of replacing it – which you’d have to do if you don’t have insurance.” “Oh no, I don’t need that.” I said “I’m covered.” Having been burnt on the first claim, I’d gone through the policy again.
But I thought I’d check with the insurance provider just in case.
It turns out that, yes, I am covered for theft, and yes, I did take the policy out specifically to cover a ski holiday after a detailed discussion with the broker, telling him exactly what we’d be doing, and that I did not need any medical cover as I have that sorted separately. It turns out that the policy I was sold is heavily weighted towards medical cover and little else – the other bits include cover for flight delays, theft, lost baggage, but something tells me that, should I need to claim, it would be challenged. I needed to buy cover for the equipment.
Insurance companies make a lot of money off us. But I am at a loss to know whether they are worth it outside of medical cover.
When the woman in Copenhagen was answering my questions, I asked her to suggest policies that include cancellation because of illness, for future reference. I was told they had a myriad that did, and that she could not possibly suggest any then and there.
So where does this leave me? Fighting insurance companies is a challenge at the best of times – when ombudsmen can take on our cause. As for us UAE residents, there are official routes we can take, but I don’t believe they are worth the effort, heartache and stress that go with it.
Over the year ending in April 2014, the UK Financial Ombudsman Service received, on average, 43 complaints a week. It ruled in favour of the consumer in more than half of them.
From what I read, their advice is common sense – keep copies of correspondence. Take pictures of any incident.
But I’m looking at the step before that – the actual details of policies. The farce is that I decided to use the broker that provides my medical cover – they know what I’m already insured for. I know the head of the company and had reached out to him – I wanted their expertise, advice and knowledge. It’s disturbing to be in this situation, having sent lists of everything I could think of – checking the policy really does cover them – and still getting it wrong.
So, here’s a by no means comprehensive list, but some of the things to look out for if you’re planning a ski trip:
• Piste closure and weather cover. What if pistes are closed, either because of a lack of snow or blizzard conditions?
• If yes, when does it kick in? And what percentage of lifts need to be closed? Some companies want every single lift to be closed.
• Do you need to be a minimum number of metres above sea level for the company to pay out?
• Is off-piste covered? How many metres from the run?
• Loss, theft or damage to equipment and compensation for additional hire costs.
• Cancellation costs. There is usually an upper limit, and it might not cover the cost of your holiday.
We all know that we should check what policies cover us for, but I didn’t think of cancellation because of illness.
I’m putting this down to yet another – potentially very costly – life lesson. I hope you learn from my mistakes. My hope is that by the time you read this, we will have enjoyed at least a couple of days hurtling down mountains on a pair of planks.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org