Is travel insurance worth it? You might already be covered by your credit card or health insurance. But whatever you do don't fall ill in the  US

First it was only Ryanair but now Aer Lingus are doing it do – refusing to let you go past go without first of all being confronted with a travel insurance option.

But is travel insurance worth it? And do you need it?

In short yes – if you get sick or have a serious accident while away the costs are frighteningly expensive.

The most common claims under travel insurance are for cancellation and curtailment of trips.

But the most expensive claims are for hospitalisation and repatriation of patients. The top three reasons for hospitalisation, according to one insurer VHI, were accidents (trauma), infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases.

If you are travelling to the US where there is no national health care system, it is no-brainer to get cover.

VHI told us it had one couple recently whose baby fell ill in the States who clocked up a claim worth $190,000.

In all in 2010, it paid out €4.3m for medical claims in the US, €3.5 million for claims in Spain and €0.5 million for claims in Portugal. T

So the benefits far outweigh the costs.

But before you take out a policy for your next holiday here are a few things for your check list

1. Shop around

Fierce competiion for price but choose your insurance on the basis of cover, particularly if you are travelling to the US where a medical emergency will cost you dearly. Also don’t be lured into a false sense of financial security by the Europe-wide cover health cover offered by the European Health Insurance Card, which has replaced the E111 form. If you have an accident boating or sking and need to be repatriated you will not be covered.

One consumer who contacted RTE recently who had an accident in Cyprus had to fork out €12,000 to return home for hospital cover following emergency treatment on the island. The price covered the cost of being accompanied by a nurse and the cost of six seats which were removed to make way for his hospital bed.

The National Consumer Agency advises you to compare health insurance on the cover and not the cost. A few euros saved in Ireland.

The level of cover offered by travel insurers varies widely.

For example Ryanair insurance offers medical expenses of up to £2.5m (€2.7m) while VHI offers cover up to €5m plus another €2m if you need to be repatriated. Bank of Ireland’s travel insurance has medical emergency cover of €6.4m.

2. Don’t double insure - health insurance and credit cards often offer insurance abroad for basics

That said, there is no point in double insuring – your health insurance may already include cover for illness abroad and your home insurance may cover the loss or theft of items when you are away. Remember if you are travelling to a European Union country you can avail of local emergency services for no cost under a Europe-wide scheme. But you may not be covered for repatriation.

Health insurers offer cover abroad so it is important to ring first to check the level of cover.

Has your credit card got travel insurance?

Your credit card may have travel insurance either as a freebie attached to lure custom or for a small annual fee.

But again check the cover before you go particularly the medical cover and cover in the case of cancellation.

Bank of Ireland’s Platinum credit card, offers comprehensive family travel insurance cover including medical expenses of up to €6.4m and cover for holiday abandonment of up to €2,500. The bank charges an annual fee of €76.18 for the card.

It acts like a normal travel insurance with personal accident cover of up to €200,000 and medical and other expsenses of up to €6.4m. It also covers for other common complaints such as holiday abandonment, theft and holiday cancellations.

3. Get the European Health Insurance card – formerly the E111

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) replaced the E111 form and a number of other 'E' forms including the E128, making it easier for you to get medical care quickly and easily if you are in European Union on holidays. It is evidence that you are part of a health insurance scheme administered by another state in the EEA/Switzerland. To obtain healthcare with the Card, you can go to the nearest public system doctor, public hospital, or other public treatment centre and present your Card.

Public health care systems vary from country to country, and few countries pay the full cost of health care for holders of the Card, so there may be some element of co-payment for the services you receive.

Currently, the EEA comprises the 27 member states of the European Union together with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. Your European Health Insurance Card is valid for use throughout any of these countries and in Switzerland.

Like the old E111, the European Health Insurance Card only entitles you to the state-funded health care scheme in the country in which you are staying. It will not cover any of the costs involved in transporting you back to Ireland.

Every individual member of the family or group will require their own card.

Each European Health Insurance Card will be valid throughout the EEA and Switzerland for up to 2 years.

You can apply for the card online via the HSE website at this address.

And for more information on claims go to Citizens Information website.

4. Don't fall ill in the US

Remember there is no free health care in the US as there is in most European countries.

Health insurers offer a certain amount of health cover if you fall ill abroad but make sure you read the small print before you go.

VHI says it always recommends customers take out separate travel insurance because the health cover abroad is capped at between €65,000 and €100,000 depending on the policy. This would not be adequate if you needed hospitalisation in the US for example.

Quinn Healthcare covers up to a maximum of €100,000 for accident and emergency while abroad but again it advises anyone who goes to the states to take out separate travel insurance. “€100,000 wouldn’t cover you for very long in the US,” it said.

And if you are travelling to the US, it is a no-brainer to have insurance.

VHI said it had one couple recently whose baby fell ill in the States who clocked up a claim worth $190,000.

5. Don't have a pre-existing conditions

Study the terms and conditions carefully, particularly if you have a pre-existing medical condition. Many insurance companies will not cover for this, so if you have an on-going condition, make sure you get a policy with an insurer who does.