Travel Comment

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Shop around and save on insurance

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Travel insurance is a must, and no traveller should head off overseas without it, right? Right. But are we held captive by an insurance industry which takes advantage of our fears to keep policy prices high?

The industry would object to such suggestions. It is a competitive area of commerce and the normal forces of supply and demand will keep pressure on prices.

But a letter to Travel last week from John Windle raised an interesting point.

"While we were living in England we were able to take out an annual travel insurance which covered us both for £165 ($450)," he wrote.

"That was five years ago. Now we are living in New Zealand we find it extremely difficult to get an annual policy and find that travel insurance costs are prohibitive.

"We are going on a Caribbean cruise in February, followed by some time in Chile and Brazil, with a round-South America cruise in between. That's a total time away of about six weeks, depending on return flights, and our insurance quote is over $800.

"Admittedly we are in our early 60s, but with no pre-existing medical conditions. We feel we are being over-priced ...

"On our return from Europe earlier this year we were talking to an Australian lady, who was a lot older than us, and she had an annual insurance which was costing her A$400 ($460).

"If the Aussies can do it, why not the Kiwis?"

You can see the point: paying more than $800 for six weeks cover will take a big chunk out of anyone's travel budget. But can New Zealanders buy more economical policies that will cover two, three or four trips over a 12-month period?

As always, shopping around is worth the time and trouble: annual travel policies are available in New Zealand and the Windles could do a lot better by getting on the internet and searching for a bargain.

The best pure insurance company deal is probably offered by Southern Cross Travel Insurance, which has a "frequent traveller" policy allowing as many trips a year as you like, with a limit of 90 days per journey.

For the Windles - a couple in their early 60s and with no pre-existing conditions - the total insurance cost for their planned trip would be $841. That's a little over their present quote - but would give them "free" extra cover for the remainder of the year if they had further travel plans.

Moving to a "full global policy" (covering the US, Japan and Antarctica) would push the annual price to $1050.

But they would get a 15 per cent discount on both policies if they were Southern Cross Healthcare members - trimming the cost of the 12-month policy to $714 for the two of them (and bringing the global policy down to $893). Now the A$400 paid by the Australian woman doesn't look so cheap.

The two other big players in the New Zealand market, State and Mike Henry, are part of the IAG group, and their coverage is, on the surface, more expensive.

But no two insurance policies give the same cover and it always pays to compare conditions before making your choice.

As thousands of New Zealanders are aware, the cheapest way to "buy" travel insurance is to use the upper-level credit cards and charge cards - assuming you have the credit background and limit to play the game.

Book your travel - or a decent chunk of it - on your gold card and you will be automatically covered for that overseas trip, so long as it fits within the specified time frame.

No fuss, no bother, no forms to fill out - and no fee (outside the annual fee for the card, generally around $80).

The Windles traditionally relied on that method with their Westpac Visa gold card, but the rules were changed last year, reducing maximum trip cover from 120 days to 35 days. Why?

A Westpac executive explains: "It was becoming very expensive to continue to provide the 120-day level of coverage relative to what we charge customers for the card, and most travel is for less than 35 days per trip." However, Westpac's "titanium card" still offers 120-day cover.

ASB Bank, ANZ and National Bank still give 90 days' free insurance for their gold card holders on each overseas trip (often accompanied with the right to buy an additional 90 days' cover if you're away for six months at a time).

The policies give excellent protection, and the top-level (and more expensive) "titanium/platinum" cards go one step further.

It's the old story: take advantage of a competitive market. If your bank or insurance company isn't delivering, find one that does.

- Bruce Morris

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