Sunday June 06 2010

IT'S all kicking off this week, and we're not a part of it (thanks, Thierry). At least we might have the sun loungers to ourselves on holidays this year, with all the Germans at the World Cup. So whether you're adopting a team and travelling to catch some of the action in South Africa, or holidaying elsewhere, here are some money and hassle-avoiding pointers.

Adventure junkies and the small print

"One of the many fabulous things you can do in Cape Town is actually abseil down Table Mountain," reminisces Brian McNeilis, of the Irish Brokers Association, who visited South Africa during the last rugby world cup.

But your average travel insurance policy won't cover abseiling or a host of other "hazardous pursuits" -- or "aerial activities", as they're called in insurance-speak, not unless you're paying through the nose.

"Shark watching or going cross-country in a jeep, touristy things like that are usually fine," says McNeilis.

"But for most adventure sports, my view is your insurance probably wouldn't cover it at all, or if it does it will double your premium." Relatively tame pursuits such as windsurfing, surfing, and scuba diving above a certain depth, tennis, and trekking are often covered.

But as you go more high octane, for example kitesurfing, paragliding, abseiling, potholing, etc, the price hikes up by 50 to 250 per cent, and that's per activity. Ordinary worldwide annual multi-trip travel cover costs between €50 and €90 per person, whereas provision for cave rafting and so on runs into the hundreds.

A range of insurers such as getcover.ie and back- packertravelinsurance.ie offer hazardous activity cover and backpacker policies that will factor in some white water rafting and a few bungee jumps.

Insurers are very specific in naming the activities allowed for and at what level and circumstances, so carefully check the small print as there can be some surprising inclusions and exclusions. Getcover.ie might insure you to do anything from heli-skiing to high diving for the right price but it won't, at any price, insure that seaside holiday favourite, banana boating.

"Price is not the critical thing here," says McNeilis. "There are huge variations in cover levels." For instance, personal accident cover levels vary hugely between €10,000 and €45,000, and medical expenses between €1m and €10m. Policies that cover activities such as paragliding can have greatly reduced medical cover, up to half that of your standard multi-trip.

Travel cover is usually better bought from an insurance firm or a broker than a travel agent, an airline or a bank.

Hedge against ash clouds

Travel insurance won't cover another ash cloud blitz, which prompted Paddy Power to offer odds to give you some crack at making money if the worst happens. At volcanobetting.com you can put a bet on your departure airport closing on your travel date due to volcanic ash from now until August.

Depending on your travel dates some odds are at 20/1, meaning a winning €50 bet gives you €1,000 -- which might take the sting out of a delayed or cancelled holiday.

Excess craziness

All the major car hire companies are up to this infuriating excess cover lark. You're hiring a car at your holiday destination and it's standard, only to be told you're liable for excess of anything up to €1,500 if the car is damaged, even if it wasn't your fault.

But your cheery car hire staffer might tell you that you can insure yourself against the hire firm choosing to expose you to hundreds in excess -- by taking out its own insurance for an extra €100 or so for a fortnight!

If you want to protect yourself from getting hit for a huge excess in case you have a scrape, take out your own excess insurance before you go on holiday as it's way cheaper.

Typical costs for a one-off policy covering Europe are about €20 a week or €28 a week for worldwide cover. It could be twice that if you buy over the counter on the spot when you're hiring the vehicle. "If you rent a car a few times a year, then an annual policy will save you even more money," says broker John Geraghty of LA Brokers. Annual cover starts at €59 for a European policy and €90 for worldwide cover.

Providers of this type of cover include Blue Insurances, AXA, the AA, LABrokers.ie and Aviva.

Avoid drama with motor rescue

If you're bringing your own car on holiday, about €50 worth of this could save you any autobahn breakdown drama horrors and local repair and rescue costs.

Annual cover gives you access to a 24-hour call-out number for breakdown assistance in most of Europe. It covers either fixing your car on the spot or towing to a garage, plus alternative travel arrangements, emergency accommodation and emergency driver and vehicle recovery to Ireland.

Policy prices start at €49 up to €88, available through the AA, Aviva and Axa, Blue Insurances and Hibernian. Aviva includes this in much of its car insurance cover. The AA is most expensive by far, but covers any car.

Cheap shots

Even for a trip to an urban long-haul destination, for example Capetown or Johannesburg, travel vaccinations are recommended beforehand.

There's a good €50 or more in the difference in what clinics charge for vaccinations, and the cheapest we found in Dublin was the Travel Health Clinic at €145 all-in.

The price goes down to €130 each if you're travelling in a group. Outside Dublin, the medical centre in Gowran in Kilkenny does it all-in for €125.

The Travel Medical Bureau has branches nationwide and charges €160 for the same package, or €140 for two or more people. Medmark in Dublin, Cork and Galway charges €190 for the same package, or €170 for two or more people.

WHERE THE MOBILE phones ROAM

Making and receiving mobile calls goes down by 10 per cent everywhere in the eurozone from July 1, and receiving calls drops 22 per cent.

Service providers will also have to stop charging you to access your voicemail messages from that date, which can cost up to 50¢ a minute. No matter how crazy you go watching football footage on your iPhone you won't get a shock bill, as also from July the operators must have an automatic limit in place. When you hit that, you'll get cut off. It's set at €50 from July, unless you arrange a higher one with your provider.

Further afield than Europe you can still work up a hefty bill fairly quickly though, so checking with your provider before you go for package deals could save you as much as 70 per cent.

Although O2 is charging €2 a minute for making or receiving in Australia and over €1 a minute for South Africa, its travel package can knock that back to a flat 30¢ to make calls and zero to receive them. There's a connection fee of approximately €1 but it's still a big saving.

Vodafone has its Passport package, where you pay 79¢ connection fee and the same rate as at home after that, and there is its World package with flat discount rates for set regions.

Data roaming is still astronomical with all providers -- anywhere between €5 and €10 per MB. You'll get a fair bit of web usage for that, although this will depend on what you're doing as match highlights on YouTube will eat into it quickly enough.

Beyond Eurozone

"Taking out cash at the bank machines when you're travelling means you're charged bad currency exchange rates and bank charges," says France Roche of Marathon Sports Travel. Inevitably, you're going to have to take out some cash, but he suggests you take some currency with you as well. The same goes for the poor exchange rate when you're using your credit card in restaurants and for shopping, but at the same time you don't want to be carrying rakes of cash with you so some plastic use is probably unavoidable. "Have enough cash on you in case you get into trouble -- say 50/50 cash and card use. The main thing is to judge the level of money versus convenience."

Most credit cards don't charge you for taking out cash if you put money on the card, but watch out. "If your account is in credit then not all credit card companies will cover it, if it's stolen," says Roche.

Don't get landed with a whole load of foreign currency you can't get rid of when you come home, he warns. "The Brazilian real is a closed currency, meaning you can't change it for euro back at home. It's the same with loads of South American countries."

Roche's travel agency is sending some lucky travellers to South Africa next week, but not in the droves hoped for if Ireland was in the World Cup.

"We briefly considered suing UEFA for loss of earnings for the Thierry Henry decision," he says ruefully. "If we were in it, people would have begged, borrowed and stolen to get there."

Maybe next time.

We're not bitter about it, that's the important thing.

Sunday Independent