Travel trap in fine print

By Anna Rushworth

Micah Swann doesn't believe in insurance. Photo / Janna Dixon
Micah Swann doesn't believe in insurance. Photo / Janna Dixon

Taking your camera or laptop on your travels or a business trip could be risky if you've booked your insurance over the internet.

A study of the small print of the travel insurance offered by Air New Zealand, Pacific Blue and Jet Star reveals none of the three airlines' policies cover electrical equipment such as cameras, laptops and video cameras if they are damaged in the plane's cargo hold.

That's because they can be easily damaged if they are not packed properly by the traveller, or if there is turbulence.

Consumer NZ is warning that airline online bookings are not user friendly enough to inform buyers what sort of insurance they are agreeing to buy.

All three airlines that service the domestic market have insurance policies available when you book tickets online.

But rather than choosing to "opt in", buyers have to "opt out" of the insurance policy or pay the extra money.

In the case of Pacific Blue and Jet Star, the cost is $9 return.

Air New Zealand charges $10 one-way, making the insurance bill on a return domestic ticket $20.

Travel Agents Association chief executive Paul Yeo said consumers had to remember to tick the insurance box on the airline's website if they wanted to opt out of the system, something he recently forgot to do when booking tickets online with Air New Zealand.

Yeo described the system as revenue gathering in a competitive market. "I think selling insurance on the internet with airlines is a lovely cash cow.

"Airlines are moving towards maximising extra revenue beyond their airfares. As the airfares are coming down they're looking at recovering money elsewhere."

Research writer for Consumer NZ, Jessica Wilson, said the most important thing when booking online travel insurance was to read the terms and conditions carefully and understand what the policy covers.

"Policies will always have exclusions and you need to know what these are. For example, insurance offered when you book a domestic ticket with Air New Zealand, Jet Star or Pacific Blue doesn't provide cover if you simply change your mind about travelling."

Wilson said the problem with the insurance side of online travel was that the sites were not user friendly.

"The opt in box doesn't always tell you what you're being covered for," she said.

"It should be an option to opt in rather than opt out."

New Zealand Insurance Council spokesman John Lucas said consumers booking flights online had a right to ask for the full copy of the insurance they were agreeing to and paying for.

Airlines defended the automatic insurance system their websites offered.

Jet Star said customers who wanted more insurance cover could always change their cover while booking their tickets online.

Air New Zealand recommended that electrical goods should be covered by home and contents insurance.

EXTRA COST NOT WORTH THE HASSLE

Micah Swann is so protective over her laptop she doesn't let it out of her sight when she travels.

After spending $2500 on it just last October, the thought of it being damaged scares her.

She doesn't take out insurance when she takes short trips between Sydney and her home town of Napier because she doesn't see the point.

"I don't believe in travel insurance. It's an extra cost and they're just trying to scaremonger you into it," the 21-year-old said.

"No insurance is going to cover the same as what you paid for it."

Swann said the small print for insurance cover was a worry.

She stores her laptop on board her flights instead of putting it in her check-in luggage.

TIPS FOR BOOKING TRAVEL AND INSURANCE ONLINE

* Shop around and compare prices: even if you don't make bookings online, use the internet to find good fares. Take these to a travel agent and ask them to match or better them.

* Check prices with suppliers: you can sometimes get a cheaper deal by contacting the provider directly instead of using "discounted" rates on websites. It pays to double-check.

* Make sure you know whether and how your booking can be changed, and what this will cost.

* Safety online: when you're using a credit card online, make sure the site is secure before you enter your card number and other details. In particular, look for the padlock in the status bar (lower right-hand side) and "https" in the web address.

- Herald on Sunday

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