Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Nationwide travel insurance: not free, not insured

This is not about food but about travel. Travel insurance to be precise. Which is really boring. Insurance is boring. But it's necessary. Any of you that have a Nationwide account will have seen that they offer free travel insurance with their card. This covers Europe and Israel. Cool, you think. I also used them because I liked the fact that Nationwide is still a proper building society.
Usually I pay for an annual travel insurance which costs between £80 and £100 a year. This means you are covered for any impromptu trip and is cheaper than getting separate insurance for every trip.
I went to the USA and Mexico this year. This time, rather than getting my usual annual travel insurance, I called Nationwide and asked what the situation was about travelling to the States. They charged me £80 extra to be covered. I wasn't expecting to make any claims so I was happy with that.
I was surprised not to receive any kind of booklet detailing what I could claim for, nor was I told on the phone of the insurance claim limits. I had booked this trip very last minute so I didn't have time to pursue it.
Unfortunately, as will happen in life from time to time, this trip was full of incident.  I was robbed of money, camera, glasses, iphone at my hotel room while I was asleep which wasn't a very nice feeling. I was hospitalised twice with dehydration and sunburn partly due to a reaction with my medication. I dropped my other camera on the concrete floor.
You could say it was a bit disastrous although I had a great time. Still, hey, I was insured. So everything was covered right?
No. My first morning in Mexico, I discovered I'd been robbed in the night. I called the Nationwide travel insurance emergency number to let them know. A hatchet voiced woman spoke harshly and unsympathetically. 'You won't be covered. If they weren't violent then you aren't covered.'
I gaped: 'But thieves...er...they aren't always violent. What do you mean? I have to be attacked?'
'Did they smash the door or window in?'
'Not covered'
I subsequently realised that the thieves had climbed over the balcony, (we found the footprints in the dust), that a workman had left a ladder next door. Unfortunately I'd paid in advance for the hotel so we had to continue to stay in the same place. Creepy.
On the route home I try to buy a present, some perfume, for my daughter at Duty Free. After several tries my Nationwide card is rejected at each turn.
I put some money on my skype on my iPad, because I don't have a phone anymore, and call Nationwide in England. My card is being rejected, why?
The woman says 'We could see that you were using in the United States and Mexico, so we blocked it'.
'But I called you to say I was going away beforehand. I've also taken out your travel insurance so you could see it was me travelling.'
Woman: 'I'll reinstate your card. It may take a while'
I return to the UK. I have no phone. In fact I have no phone for over two months, all the while paying my phone contract.
Taking a deep breath, I call Nationwide insurance.
Another call centre woman 'You aren't covered for most of that. The most you can claim for cash is £250. The most you can claim for stolen goods is £400. And there is a £50 excess on every part of your claim.'
I'm shocked at how little the Nationwide insurance covers and that by paying £80 extra, I was not covered for any more, except for geographically,  than the 'free insurance'. If I'd known, I would certainly have gone to another insurance company. Four hundred pounds to cover your belongings is very little. Most people have a phone that cost more than that. I complain that I wasn't made aware of what I was covered for.
I get a very defensive response, all about they shouldn't have to let people know.
Eventually: 'Would you like to make a complaint?'
The Nationwide complaints guy writes to me several weeks later, complaining that I haven't answered the phone and that they are completely in the right and I am completely in the wrong and that my complaint is dismissed. I still have no phone. So of course I haven't bloody answered the phone.
It takes me, between work and other trips, two months to gather together the extensive paperwork for my claim. I'm not allowed to email anyone, there is no email address, it has to be by letter.
These are the documents:
Proof that I went abroad at all: flight records. (But you know I was abroad, I told you, you blocked my credit card. Nationwide guy: 'Nationwide insurance doesn't collate information with Nationwide'.)
Proof from my phone company that I possessed a phone
Proof that I didn't have phone insurance
Proof that I had a camera.
Proof that I had glasses.
Proof that I had a glasses case.
Proof that I had withdrawn the stolen cash, which was difficult, as some of it was dollars from a previous trip, some was given by my dad.
Proof of the two medical incidents.
I also send the taxi bill to the hospital.
And the local doctor's bill, written on a scrap of paper, who said I should go to hospital.
Proof of the theft.
The police report (for which I had to pay a bribe of 100 pesos)
A repair estimate for the broken camera, they wouldn't replace it. (The repair costs 2/3rds of the replacement value but of course it's actually my time, and the lengthy time for repair, and the travel there and back, that also counts. But in insurance terms, my time counts for nothing)

I send off the claim with detailed explanations. I send it registered.

In the meantime, the American hospital starts hassling me with invoices. I gave the American hospital my insurance details at the time so they could invoice directly. I'm guessing they tried to invoice Nationwide and got no response. This is why many hospitals abroad will not accept your medical insurance folks, because our insurance companies will do everything they can to not pay.

Several weeks later, I get a phone call from a creature called Alex, a guy who works at Nationwide. Alex says he won't pay most of the claim. I complain once more that I was never sent a leaflet, that I was unaware that I was basically not covered for any belongings. He says, I think, none of this is in writing so it's hard to follow, £300 is the largest single claim you can send in, up to £400 and that he will only pay a proportion of that for reasons I cannot remember/understand because each item has it's own exclusion. You need a degree to understand how to claim on insurance.
He absolutely refuses to concede that perhaps Nationwide should explain to people how little they are covered for: 'that would take too much time'.
He absolutely refuses to concede that perhaps Nationwide should send a booklet detailing their travel insurance. 'You have admitted yourself that perhaps you got a booklet when you first took out the account, 20 years ago'. and 'it would be too expensive to send information'.
Every time I try to move on with the conversation, saying that I have a lot of work today, that I don't have time to argue with him, he batters me verbally, refusing to back down. He threatens to hang up if I don't shut up and listen to him yell at me. Because he's the boss right. I'm just the paying customer. He accuses me of yelling at him but I'm raising my voice just to try and finish a sentence without interruption from him.
I try to get him to talk about the rest of the claim. Eventually he says they won't pay the medical bills, he says that I must pay it first then get refunded, minus £50, by Nationwide. They won't pay the Mexican medical bills at all. I'm shocked and frankly, I'm starting to feel very angry. He, on the other hand, is clearly having fun. He's got the upper hand, he's enjoying this.
In the end, the phone call is so stressful and upsetting, I hang up. I can literally feel my blood pressure rising, making me ill, and it's not worth having a stroke to deal with this immoral man.
Because bullying people for a living, as Alex does, is immoral. Yes I'm sure there are many fraudulent claims on insurance but I think it's quite clear that my claim isn't. Nationwide starts from a position in which you are a liar, a cheat, a thief. Nationwide doesn't think, this person is a valued customer who has paid for a service and that this service should be as stress free as possible. The fact that you are making a claim in the first place, means that you have been through something unpleasant.
And actually, I'm sure Alex doesn't think I'm a fraud. He's doing this because he's paid to beat people down, no matter what. He's paid by Nationwide insurance to do this. To argue, to stress people out, to do everything he can to not pay out. He's paid to do this by phone, when you have no time to get away, to think it through, when it would be less stressful and less time consuming to do this by email.
It was like being in court or something but he's the judge and jury and executioner.
As I put the phone down, I burst into tears. I'm not a cry baby by any means but I have so much else to do, I can't cope with this.
I don't have the money to pay £2k medical bills and I certainly don't trust Nationwide insurance to pay me back. So I will ignore the hospital bills. What else can I do?
I paid out, believing that, at the very least, my medical care was covered by Nationwide insurance.
I feel very lucky that this was my first claim since 1989 on travel insurance. I had no idea how bad it was. How you are treated like a criminal even when they have the proof in front of them.
I now have a phone which I bought second hand from someone on Twitter (another nightmare, they didn't mention the phone was locked to Orange who took a leisurely 5 weeks to unlock it).
I still don't have any glasses which were prescription.
I've paid the camera repair bill, because I needed a camera sooner than the 8 to 10 weeks suggested by Nationwide. (It's been longer than that now). He wants proof of this. The estimate for the same amount was not enough. His phonecall to the camera repair people was not enough either.
The moral of this tale is: don't rely on Nationwide travel insurance, you won't be dealt with fairly. And they are not free. Even when they say they are.
This is a time when many people are going on holiday. Has anybody had any good experiences with travel insurance? Who do you recommend? Do you usually get annual travel insurance? Is that better or worse? Call centres are the bane of modern life I believe. They hate their jobs and they hate you the customer. Do you agree? Please let me know in the comments. 


  1. Shocking; very sorry to hear that. I have annual insurance via BA, who do at least tell you what you are covered for in detail, but I have been lucky enough not to use it. My rare excursions into claiming insurance in the UK have been a little better than yours, but not much. Basically insurance companies are anxious to take your money, but are not so keen on giving you money back when you make a claim. Still, this one sounds exceptionally bad. Well done for publicising your experience. Andy

    1. Thanks Andy. I realise this is not as rivetting a read as say, reading about a lovely cake but you feel so powerless dealing with these people, I had to let others know.

  2. Do you have home contents insurance? As they will normally cover those sorts of items, and will share the cost with the other insurer.
    Sadly those limits are very standard for travel insurance, as much as it sucks.
    I recommend direct insurance from Europ Assistance or Mondial Assistance who (at least they used to) will pay hospitals/invoice directly at the time of your treatment, rather than expect you to pay and claim.

    1. I do Gina, with Nationwide as it happens. In fact Nationwide travel insurance spent a considerable amount of time trying to get me to claim all of this on my home insurance, which I was reluctant to do as it would increase my yearly premium.
      And also, I've paid for this travel insurance, why shouldn't I be able to use it?
      Nationwide travel insurance gave me the information for the hospital to invoice directly. As I said in the piece, I suspect the hospital are now hassling me because Nationwide have ignored their invoices. The Mexican hospital refused my insurance, saying, we've had problems with that insurance company before, they never pay out.

  3. Blimey,poor you. I wouldn't mind being told what I was and wasn't covered for but it's how they treat you on the phone isn't it? It's like you are nothing, you have no choice. I once complained to a well known insurance company about my home insurance renewal fee and said that I looked online and found it cheaper ... and with them! They even argued that so I emailed it to them while on the phone and they still told me I was wrong! So I asked them to write something down if I spelled it out. C-A-N-C-E-L-L-A-T-I-O-N. They replied "you will have to pay a fee for that"! I hung up.

    1. Yes this is a long line of companies (and insurance and mortgage companies are the worst) who treat their existing customers like shit. All their resources are poured into new sales. Once they've got you, they don't care about you.

  4. Alex sounds like a stand up kind of guy!?! Well done you for removing yourself from the situation but how are you going to reach a conclusion on it all?? You've definitely made me think about my insurance, I'll be double checking it before I go anywhere again!

    1. I don't know. I really don't want to go through any more awfulness. Why can't they behave like reasonable people? I've lost so much money through what happened. Why are they pretending to be an insurance company?

  5. Send this post to the people at Guardian/Telegraph/etc money. They may well be able to help. Good luck xx

    1. What about Watchdog, BBC1 and You and Yours, R4? Also, put in a complaint to the Insurance Ombudsman.

  6. This is a bit sad to read :( I thought better of them. I have an account with Nationwide, but I've never used the free insurance as I'd been warned that most of them don't cover much. I insured through Nationwide in 2010 for my working holiday in Australia though. The policy itself was underwritten by LV. Nationwide and LV have since gone their separate ways, but the care I got from LV when it all went wrong was absolutely outstanding (I had to be flown home with back problem/ suspected lupus). Recommend LV for travel insurance and in fact I've just insured with them again. Hope you get some of this sorted. I'll tweet it and help spread the word! Might make someone there with some customer service values get in touch.

    1. Thanks Alexandra. I shall try them next time.

  7. First of all, my deep condolences on your terrible experiences! Second, perhaps you should "self insure" by placing your payments that would have gone to that insurance company instead in a bank account earmarked for travel emergencies. Third, since you have so much documentation already mustered, is there something in the UK such as the US's "Small Claims Court"? Here's Wikipedia on the subject (they say there is something like that in the UK) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_claims_court. You sound like you are ready with your situation and your documentation to avail yourself of such a court. I wish you the very best to both heal on all levels and to achieve justice. Christina in the USA (who hates all such corporate blood-suckers such as insurance companies!)

    1. I don't think one can self-insure adequately against American hospital bills. But thanks for your comment Christina

  8. http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/

    Make a complaint through the Financial Ombudsman. They should be abe to help you.

    1. Really? Spend more of my precious time trying to get justice? From an ombudsman who are probably on the insurers side....in my experience of ombudsman

    2. They are completely independant and would say thay are more likely to give you the consumer the benfit of the doubt.

      Time is a problem but I would lodge a complaint if you have it.

      Call 0300 123 9 123

    3. Ok I'll give it a go thanks anon

    4. Don't dismiss the Ombudsman. I just had a fruitful experience with the Local Authority Ombudsman against a London Borough. And this was my second good experience with the LA Ombudsman.

    5. The ombudsman suggestion was great. They fought the battle for me and helped considerably.

  9. Appalling. Really sorry to hear your experiences. Sounds like you were on the receiving end of more violence from Nationwide than from the thieves. Thanks for publicising this - will avoid them at all costs and advise my friends to do the same.

  10. I've never claimed. My uncle, who is very rich, self-insures. He figures that they exist to make money out of you, over the course of your life you will pay them more than you ever get back, so it's worth it to him to just pay out if something goes wrong. But he can afford to.

    My parents came here a couple of years ago with a new laptop. En route they put it back in the laptop backpack but must have forced it a little too hard and the tiny USB mouse thing wrecked the USB port. All four USBs were on the same side of the laptop and none of them would work, rendering their brand new laptop worthless. Their insurance paid out, but I think that may have been their contents rather than travel insurance.

    On the same trip Dad fell ill and had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. The insurance company denied his claim, citing a pre-existing condition (he had gallstones, but the doctor advised they were nothing to worry about at this stage). They refused to pay for an earlier flight back or an upgrade to business class so he would be more comfortable. They had to stick to their original plans and go back via a week in New York (can you imagine if complications arose there??). He was very uncomfortable in economy. Then his insurance broker (who had been on holiday at the time) got on the case and secured a full payout and compensation.

    Moral of the story: always use a broker. I don't but probably should...

  11. If you don't have a Twitter account, now would be a great time to get one and send a tweet about what happened to you. Nothing seems to get corporate attention more than a nicely worded tweet about how crappy their product/service is.

    You poor woman. No one should ever have to go through something like that. You can accept when certain things are not covered, but no customer service rep should hold you hostage on the phone, just to extract any pitiable amount of schadenfreud.

    1. I did tweet about it quite a bit and so did others. @asknationwide responded asking me to get in touch. But they did that when I complained on Twitter about their treatment of me when my hotel was robbed. I got in touch and they basically said, behind the scenes of course, tough luck.
      In fact wouldn't you think Nationwide would comment on this blog, and try to sort it out. But no. They are happy because their objective has been achieved.

  12. Kerstin, it's a terrible story, really sorry to hear!

    Like you say, insurance is useful and necessary. I also used to buy independently, per year but then i got it also 'free' with a bank account with Barclays (no longer on offer, it was year ago). They sent plenty of leaflets, booklets, tear up cards and phone numbers / emails. I had to claim a few times actually and I always found them professional, polite and effective. We got refunds on a few things from missed flights due to illness to replacement broken phone. I had some problems with my house content insurance, when I had to claim an expensive item of technology that flooded underwater. They did not recognised it as covered, I complained on various grounds, and got money back and an apology and also the excess fee waived. This was also via Barclays and in this case also they were professional, precise and in the end, kept me as a customer and a happy one too.
    I'd like to think not all companies are like Nationwide! Hope you can get somewhere, maybe worth seeking legal advice?

    1. Thanks, it's great to hear a good story. I will definitely check out Barclays.

  13. Kerstin, you're not shouting into a void. I really enjoy reading your blogs, Mexico trip and Danish cheese were lovely.
    Really sorry to hear about your troubles with the Nationwide. They are just about to trash the interest rate on an ISA I have had with them for years... and thinking of taking it elsewhere.... I wish you well with the Ombudsman/Guardian.... worth a go... Aj

    1. Thanks AJ, it really is heartening to get comments. Comments have definitely gotten less since now people tend to RT on twitter (which is great too).
      Yes I need to be strong and tackle them again as keep getting letters from the American hospital. Nationwide need to behave fairly to customers.

  14. Man - wow - this totally blows! I feel so sorry for you and angry for you too. Bastards. You put it all very clearly and I totally feel your frustration. Keep fighting is what I say! Don't give up and I'll also make sure I don't bank with Nationwide - not that I do....xxx

    1. Thanks CC: as a bank I've found them ok but as insurers, they are pure evil.

  15. This is an incredibly old post but have been sick for ages and just catching up on your blog! Anyway - just for future reference, as you asked for good experiences - British Mountaineering Council travel insurance is fantastic. We've always used it as barely anyone else will cover mountaineering, off piste skiing etc, but they also have basic travel policies which are much cheaper. It's pricier than the average but we have claimed several times and always refunded without issue.

    Also does R4 still do that money program? They are usually pretty good at getting payouts from banks/insurers... (maybe too late now and you've put the whole thing behind you)

    1. Hi Emily,
      A belated reply. Hope you are better now. I wonder if they also insure non mountaineering people?

  16. Hii….Thanks for sharing this nice article. Insuranceis very necessary things in our busy life. It will prevent financial risks.Keep posting.....

  17. Best comment I got from Nationwide was a phone message 'this is Yvonne calling as requested' - no return number, second name, what a bunch of cunts

    1. Yes I know. What is their problem with using email? I like email not phones, that way it's all in writing.

  18. I stick with LeisureGuard. They specialise in insuring older people, e.g. my mum and dad, but they give good prices for me and the wife too (£75 each). Well happy with them. When my dad made a claim last year, they were so easy to deal with. Give them a check.

    Awesome blog by the way.

  19. Man - wow - this totally blows! I feel so sorry for you and angry for you too. Bastards. You put it all very clearly and I totally feel your frustration. Keep fighting is what I say! Don't give up and I'll also make sure I don't bank with Nationwide - not that I do....xxx

  20. I've been f****d over with their travel insurance too!
    Seems you aren't covered if you travel to stay with family.
    Lost my iPod on a train.
    No cover as was with family.
    That isn't an insurance policy it's s joke! A joke that isn't funny!!

    Spoken to like I was shit, told that a previous colleague lied and then told if I want to speak to a manager it will take up to three days


  21. Thanks for this, I was about to open an account with them for the insurance, I won't bother. I never believed their ads about how customer friendly they are while paying chief cex two million plus.

    As to your troubles, go to the ombudsman. Believe me, they are NOT on the side of the insurance companies

  22. Thank you for sharing your story, that sounds really stressful! I hope a lot of other find and read this to find out how bad they are!

    I have just had a terrible experience with Nationwide insurance and I like you hadn't brought travel insurance thinking I was covered. They also became very defensive and aggressive on the phone, totally unnecessary and un-professional as I really remained very calm. I can only think there lack of emotionally control is because 1. They are used to making customers unhappy and are therefore are unhappy 2. They actually know they are in the wrong so get defensive.

    They waste so much of our time to gather proof only to dismiss it regardless. I want to report them to the Insurance Ombudsman but it requires more of my time so am still deciding if it's worth the stress and hassle on point of principal.

    Thankyou for your post

  23. Just read through all of your comments I am with nationwide and am just about to put in a claim for an aborted holiday due to husband becoming unwell will report back with how I get treated. I have to say I had an issue with Lloystsb a few years ago and the Financial ombudsman was brilliant and got it sorted in a matter of hours

  24. I am just about to start a claim with nationwide for an aborted holiday due to ill health will report how I get on. Re financial ombudsman they are great and totally independent I used them about 10 years ago when I had big long drawn out issue with Lloydstsb problem was sorted same day !!


I would love to hear what you think of this post! I try to reply to every comment (if there is a delay, I am probably away from an internet connection or abroad)