Travel cover shock for pregnant women
Travel insurers are telling women who fall pregnant after booking a holiday either to travel or bear the entire cost of cancelling the trip – regardless of whether the area is medically safe.
The Telegraph was alerted to this by a reader who was denied a claim when she became pregnant ahead of visiting Ethiopia, where there is a heightened risk of malaria.
Our research found that alongside her travel insurer, Insure & Go, at least two other major companies would refuse payouts in this situation, even though travelling would endanger the unborn child. These firms covered only “complications” of pregnancy, which typically require medical attention.
By contrast, others said that they would pay out for cancellation if a doctor had advised the pregnant mother not to travel.
Experts say there was such a variety between policy documentation that the nuances could be hard to spot.
Sarah Pennells of financial website SavvyWoman.co.uk said: “People think that when you buy travel insurance, you buy peace of mind. But that is not the case – you are buying a payout in certain situations that are stipulated in the terms and conditions.
“It is not always easy to find that information, which varies considerably among insurers, even if you scan through the documents. Some insurers don’t mention pregnancy cover in their policy documents at all.”
Direct Line and LV said they would not pay out if someone cancelled a holiday due to pregnancy, unless a complication or medical condition was diagnosed. By contrast, the Post Office said a traveller would be able to make a claim if she was not aware of the pregnancy when the holiday was booked. Aviva runs a similar policy if a doctor has advised against travelling.
Hannah Prosser, 34, was shocked when Insure & Go refused her travel claim, having been advised not to travel. Mrs Prosser, herself a GP working in London, was due to fly to Ethiopia with her husband. According to guidelines issued by the Royal College of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, pregnant women should not travel to malaria-endemic countries, because they are twice as likely to contract the disease as non-pregnant women. Malaria infection in pregnancy carries significant risks to mother and baby.
“We planned to visit two friends who were volunteering in Ethiopia,” said Mrs Prosser. “We booked in mid-December and I found out that I was pregnant on New Year’s Eve.”
Insure & Go said she was not entitled to any refund on flight costs totalling £550.
Mrs Prosser said: “I have been left feeling quite confused.
“It seems that women of child-bearing age should either not book holidays to countries endemic of malaria in case they fall pregnant, or they should ignore the advice of their doctors and risk the many complications of travelling.”
“I had read the terms and conditions but I did not cancel just because I was pregnant, it was because of the malaria risk. I made what I felt was a responsible decision.”
A spokesman for Insure & Go said: “Mrs Prosser claimed for cancellation on the basis that she had been advised against travel by her GP due to the risk of contracting malaria while in Ethiopia. The medical documentation supplied by her GP stated that the reason for cancellation was pregnancy.
“Mrs Prosser’s policy provides cancellation for specific reasons, as outlined in the terms and conditions, and pregnancy alone (unless over 32 weeks at the time of travel) is not an insured reason for cancellation.”
The spokesman said the insurer was considering reviewing its stance on this issue. “However, at this time we must stick to the terms and conditions of our policy,” the spokesman said.
Mrs Prosser took her complaint to the financial services ombudsman, who rejected her case. She can now ask for a review. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said that since travel insurance is primarily designed to cover the cost of emergency medical treatment for unexpected events, a normal pregnancy and childbirth would not be covered.
Andrew Woolgar, policy adviser at the ABI, said: “Some travel insurance policies would allow you to cancel your holiday if you discover you are pregnant after booking your holiday and the trip is scheduled to take during the final stages of the pregnancy, or if your GP advises that you are not medically fit to travel due to a pregnancy-related condition.
“It is important that customers check the terms and conditions before booking the trip to make sure they have cover that meets their needs.”
Most airlines will allow a customer to fly during the early stages of pregnancy, providing she is medically fit to travel and is travelling within the airline’s guidelines.
Most airlines will not allow women to fly after 36 weeks of pregnancy, or 32 weeks if you are pregnant with twins.
Some insurers will require a “fit to fly” letter from a mother-to-be’s GP or midwife.
Cancelling due to normal childbirth is not covered by travel insurance. Check what counts as a premature birth as some insurers have an earlier cut-off date than others.
When travelling as a family, check what age is considered the cut-off point for children.
Some policies insure children up to the age of 23 or 21 if they are in full-time education; while others have a cut off age of 16.
Often insurers will not cover children travelling on their own – even though most airlines will let children travel alone from the age of five.
Some policies cap the excess “per incident” and others do this “per person”, so if a family of four were to claim for lost luggage, it could amount to four lots of excess deducted from the payout.