Experts from travel insurance are warning that millions of holidaymakers are taking an unnecessary gamble with their holiday costs by forfeiting valuable cancellation cover.

According to research based on their own customer data, more than half (56%) of the holidaymakers who purchased their travel insurance through last year arranged their cover within a week of their holiday start date.

This includes 9% who arranged their cover on the actual day of departure. Furthermore, just 16% of travel insurance policies purchased last year were bought more than a month ahead of the trip.

Cara Fortune, campaigns manager from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's ‘Know Before You Go' team, said: "Booking a holiday can be costly and while it's great to have a trip to count down to, it can be tempting to postpone things to the last minute. Our advice is to start early and plan carefully. It is always worth spending a bit of time to make sure you have the right type of travel insurance for your trip."

According to the research, 96% of single trip policies provide some level of cancellation cover which starts as soon as the policy is purchased, not on the date of travel, offering valuable protection against events affecting holidaymakers before they leave home.

According to figures from the ABI, around 34% of travel insurance claims made by UK holidaymakers are for costs related to cancellations, with an average claim value of around £700; this is second only to the average medical costs claim of £900. However, insurers will only consider claims if they are prompted by events travellers could not have known about before buying their insurance. Therefore, the sooner they buy the policy, the more likely it is they'll be covered if something happens between booking their holiday and going on their trip.

Cancellation cover enables holidaymaker to reclaim the costs of their holiday, up to the cover limit and minus any excess, should certain circumstances arise before going away. These may include a serious illness or injury affecting someone in the travelling party or a close relative, such as a parent, child or sibling, who isn't travelling but with whom they would like to remain at home.

Having a serious fire or flood at home may be another reason why you might want to cancel or postpone your holiday, but may be covered for under your travel insurance policy. Also, you can't usually refuse jury service because of a holiday booking, but if you didn't know about it before you arranged your insurance you may be able to reclaim some or all of the costs of cancelling or postponing your trip.

Alex Edwards, travel insurance spokesperson at, said: "Most people book their holidays several months ahead and it's often a major financial commitment. Having to cancel the trip for personal reasons could see them losing thousands of pounds if they don't have the benefit of cancellation cover provided by a good travel insurance policy. Unfortunately our research has revealed that more than half of UK holidaymakers are taking an unnecessary gamble that only something which happens within a week of their holiday will cause them to cancel it.

"You can't insure yourself against circumstances you were already aware of. For example, if a family member becomes seriously ill in the lead up to the holiday you can't then take out travel insurance with the intention of cancelling your trip. Similarly, you can't learn about potential serious disruption to your holiday plans, such as that caused by civil unrest or natural disasters, buy a policy and then expect to be able to claim if you then decide to change your plans. The insurer will check when you could have reasonably become aware of the potential disruption, and if it was before you arranged your travel insurance an insurer may decline a claim.

"It's wise to arrange your travel cover soon after you book your holiday rather than leaving it until just before you go. That way you'll benefit from any cancellation cover provided by your policy as soon as you buy it, giving you several months of valuable cancellation protection in the lead up to your trip."

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