Health Our guide to travel insurance for seniors

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Will an age limit apply? Will my pre-existing medical condition be covered? Do I need insurance for a cruise? We answer the biggest insurance questions from older travellers.

For an older generation travelling more than any before it, finding reasonably priced travel insurance is a challenge. Some insurers won’t insure travellers over a certain age and some medical conditions aren’t covered. And there are often significant jumps in premiums from one age bracket to the next. 

It’s not all bad news, though. Natalie Ball, director of comparetravelinsurance.com.au, says the range of competitively priced travel insurance policies for seniors continues to expand, and many insurers have done away with age limits. Boomers, 1Cover, Fast Cover and Simply Travel Insurance have no age limits; 1st for Women and InsureandGo will cover travellers under 100; and Travel Insurance Saver will cover those under 99. RAC Travel Insurance is available up to 110.

There is also concern about whether or not pre-existing medical conditions will be covered while overseas.

“Travellers often fail to understand how these (pre-existing medical conditions) are defined and whether it’s worth declaring them at all,” Ms Ball says. “In fact, it’s essential that you are honest about your ailments as failing to do so could turn out to be extremely costly.” 

As a general rule, she advises, any condition that concerns you or that you’ve had treatment for in the past two years should be disclosed. If there’s a possibility you couldn’t afford medical treatment for that condition or any resulting complication, then disclose it. Your premium may increase but the cover could be invaluable. 

Michael Leary, RAC Travel and Tourism executive manager, says people sometimes assume they cannot get cover once they reach a certain age or they will need a letter from their doctor to say they are fit to travel, but these are not usual requirements for RAC Travel Insurance.

RAC Travel Insurance covers 38 pre-existing conditions. However, as with all insurers, these must be disclosed when purchasing a policy.

For conditions not on this list, RAC carries out a medical assessment by asking questions over the phone to determine whether additional cover can be offered. If the answer is yes, there may be an additional cost. If cover can’t be provided for a particular condition, a person is still eligible for insurance for claims unrelated to the condition or those linked to it.

Another concern for mature-age travellers is escalating cost. While there is no getting around this as insurers correlate age with risk levels, the good news is that smaller and therefore fairer age brackets have been introduced by many insurers. 

Historically, insurers hiked prices with every additional 10 years. Now, rather than banding travellers into decades, policies are more detailed. 

“It’s worth shopping around,” Ms Ball says. “One insurer may have a price jump at say, 75 years of age, whereas another may not increase their price until 77 years of age. 

“The growth in the number of seniors incorporating travel into their retirement plans, combined with a market flooded with competition, has seen insurers step up to meet the needs of savvy grey-haired consumers.” 

To obtain the most cost-effective travel insurance when straddling age brackets, try a travel insurance comparison site to research the options and compare base premiums.

Also keep in mind that, despite popular perception, pensioners’ discounts do not apply to travel insurance. Plus, some insurers will impose maximum trip durations of about six months on those aged over 80. 

While age obviously has a bearing on price, Mr Leary says it combines with pre-existing conditions, how long you are travelling and, importantly, where you are going. Some destinations, such as the US, have exorbitant medical costs and are priced accordingly by insurers.

When shopping around, it can also be worth becoming a member of certain clubs to take advantage of competitive travel insurance. 

Probus South Pacific and Rotary members (and their immediate family) can access Probus Travel Insurance plans. The retirees’ fellowship club offers three plans, with some covering many pre-existing conditions. 

It’s not just your age that insurers take into consideration. If you have a family member who falls ill or passes away while you are travelling, some insurers will cover the cost for you to get home but you may not be eligible for cover if the affected relative is over 85 or suffers from a pre-existing condition. 

Insurers that do not apply age limits to relatives in cases such as these (provided there is no pre-existing condition) include 1st for Women, American Express, Priceline, InsureandGo and Travel Insurance Saver, Ms Ball advises.

Mr Leary says RAC Travel is often asked by customers if their grandchildren can travel with them on their policy. RAC Travel Insurance does cover grandchildren free of charge if they are 25 years of age or under, not working full-time and travelling with the policy holder/s at all times.

Despite the cost and potential hassle involved with travel insurance as a mature-age traveller, it’s almost impossible to argue against the necessity of it. As Ms Ball points out, higher premiums can pale in comparison with the huge cost of medical expenses abroad. 

And that applies to cruising in Australian waters, too.

“It’s an incredibly common misconception that cruising around Australia is just the same as travelling on the Australian mainland,” Ms Ball warns. 

“On the contrary, many people don’t realise that once your cruise ship has left port, Medicare or your usual private healthcare provider will no longer cover you for hospital or medical expenses. 

“Even if you’re just cruising around Australia for a few days, make sure you purchase a Pacific policy, or a policy with added cruise cover so that you’re protected on board.”

Even though cruise ships have doctors on board, they are usually significantly more expensive than at home and can leave you significantly out of pocket if you don’t have travel insurance.

When shopping around, Ms Ball says you should watch out for any excesses and benefit limits that apply, as insurers increase the excess payable on medical claims for senior travellers, which could leave you with a nasty surprise come claim time. 

For example, a standard excess of $100 for medical claims can jump up to $3000 for travellers 80 years and over. 

So what if you are declined by a travel insurer? The best thing is to dust yourself off and try more companies with varied underwriters. 

And if you are still struggling? Ms Ball says most can find cover with All Clear Travel Insurance, a specialist medical insurer that will consider any pre-existing medical condition at an additional premium. 

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