Age discrimination - Unfair policies taking older travellers for a ride
Older travellers are being held back by additional hidden costs and restricted choices when purchasing holiday essentials such as travel insurance and car hire, new Which? research has found.
Older people have long been charged higher premiums for their travel insurance, with advancing age a recognised risk factor that can push up prices. However, Which? obtained figures from Moneysupermarket.com which show that since the pandemic, the amount older travellers are paying has risen disproportionately when compared with other age groups.
For a single trip policy covering a week’s getaway to Spain, those aged 25-54 would on average have paid around £7.98 in 2019, while in July this year, they paid an average of £10.65, an increase of 33 per cent. While undoubtedly a significant rise, older age groups have borne the brunt of even steeper increases, with the amount paid by the 85+ age group rising an eye-watering 169 per cent, from £40.15 in 2019, to £107.99 in 2022. Those in the 75-84 bracket have likewise witnessed substantial price hikes, with policies rising on average by 60 per cent.
While prices cannot be expected to remain the same indefinitely, and age discrimination is lawful in some situations, Which? is concerned that recent price rises for older travellers are disproportionate.
The Lowmans, aged 82 and 79, found themselves among those caught out by steep price hikes this summer. When Thomas Lowman’s 14-day cruise to Norway was cancelled in 2020, Staysure gave him a voucher for £303 for his unused travel insurance. In June, the Lowmans tried to use the voucher for a two-week Mediterranean cruise, but their premium had shot up to £865, and they were unable to obtain a refund.
Unfair price increases are far from the only barriers facing older people as they seek adequate travel insurance, however. Which? recently scrutinised 199 travel insurance policies and discovered that as many as 190 of these (95%) set a maximum age threshold for new customers.
For those who have existing travel insurance policies as part of a packaged bank account, many find themselves left without cover when reaching a certain age, often 70 or 75. While a minority of banks, such as Nationwide, NatWest and RBS, will allow you to keep your travel insurance policies once you hit this point, customers will be subjected to an annual fee of between £65 and £75 for the privilege.
Car hire is another area in which older travellers are likely to be short-changed, with many companies burying age restrictions in their terms and conditions documents.
Avis, Budget, Enterprise and Hertz, for example, only ask prospective customers to confirm whether they are over 30 when booking online, meaning drivers could be at the desk before discovering prohibitive age restrictions apply. Similarly, when Which? used website Rentalcars.com to find a car rental for an individual aged 75-79, researchers were still presented with results that on further investigation, had age limits that would prevent them from being eligible.
To add to the confusion, age restrictions can often vary between locations, even when using the same company. Budget, for example, sets different age limits depending on whether you’re hiring a vehicle in the mainland UK, Northern Ireland or the Shetland Islands, while visitors to Jersey and Isle of Man will again see different age restrictions in place. Even those companies that do accept older drivers often require a prohibitive amount of paperwork, or else add on ‘senior driver’ fees.
At Belfast Airport for instance, Budget’s small print requires drivers aged 75 and over to produce a plethora of documentation, including a letter from their doctor to state they’re in good health, as well as a letter from their insurer as evidence they’ve not been involved in any recent accidents – documents which will undoubtedly take individuals significant time and effort to obtain. Even then, they may still be required to undergo a driving assessment before being able to collect their keys.
80-year-old Ian Sanderson found himself caught out by these restrictions in May this year, after booking his Budget car rental via Easyjet. He had not spotted the auto-filled ‘age 30-69’ button on the booking form, and on arrival at Budget’s Belfast Airport desk was unprepared to offer the necessary paperwork. “I had only booked the car a few days before, so it’s unlikely that I would have been able to obtain a letter in time even if I had been aware of this requirement,” he told Which?.
Ian then spent a further £500 to rent a car from Europcar instead, which didn’t require extra paperwork. CarTrawler, easyJet’s car hire partner, refused to refund Ian at the time. It was only when Which? got in touch that it reimbursed £390 of his original £490 payment as ‘a gesture of goodwill’.
Fees for older drivers are also often exorbitant. For a fortnight’s rental from Malaga airport, broker DoYouSpain.com advertised rentals from firms with senior driver fees ranging between €60 and €252. In Malta, Sixt charges an additional €6.50 per day for those over 70.
Which? has also found evidence of older travellers being penalised because of digital exclusion. Those in older age groups who may lack technological skills will likely end up paying more as a result. Saga, which offers insurance exclusively to the over 50s, charges as much as 30 per cent less for those who book online.
Airlines including British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet all charge customers more to amend a booking by phone, while Ryanair passengers will pay an additional £55 to check in at the airport. Even renewing a passport costs £9.50 more if using a paper application.
Guy Hobbs, Editor of Which? Travel, said:
“Legally, companies are often within their rights to adjust their prices and policies on the basis of age, if they have a justifiable reason, but we’re increasingly seeing cases where the outcomes for older customers seem disproportionate and unfair.’
“If you are an older traveller, it’s important to shop around and compare the rates on offer, as there’s likely to be a great deal of variation between providers, both for insurance and car hire. It’s also worth seeking out firms that offer preferential rates for the older traveller.”
Advice for older travellers:
Advice for older travellers:
– Shop around for travel insurance, and never just auto-renew. See which.co.uk/65cover for advice or let the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (Biba) put you in touch with a broker who will shop around for you: biba.org.uk/find-insurance.
– Seek a specialist if you have a health issue. Government-backed MoneyHelper lists insurers who specialise in covering people with medical conditions: moneyhelper.org.uk/insurance.
– When you hire a car, always input your age and beware of car hire companies or brokers that don’t ask for it. Before you book, scour the T&Cs for age limits, older driver fees, and any location specific conditions.
– Some hotel chains offer preferential rates for older customers. Marriott gives a discount to guests aged 62 and over. Other big chains offer a reduced rate at some hotels, such as Radisson, IHG (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza) and Best Western (but not its UK hotels). Select the ‘senior’ rate when booking.
– If you’re not tech savvy, choose an airline that doesn’t penalise you if you book flights or amend bookings by phone, such as Tui, or Which? Recommended Provider Jet2.
Rights of Reply:
A Staysure spokesperson said: “‘In the case of Thomas Lowman, there were several factors that contributed to the increase in price of his policy. Firstly, even though their medical history had not changed, the customer had answered the medical questionnaire differently to the previous time, which changed the medical score that resulted in a rise in cost. This, combined with a different destination and the fact that both customers were slightly older, meant that the price of the policy had increased. Mr Lowman received a voucher of £303 which was for the full price of his original policy and remains valid until 30th March 2023.”
In response to Mr Sanderson’s story, a Budget Spokesperson said: “While we do not have control over the refund process, as the booking and payment was made through EasyJet’s car rental site, we are pleased to hear that they have provided Mr Sanderson with a partial refund. “
In a statement on age policy, a Budget spokesperson said: “Our maximum age limit can vary according to vehicle and country, so it is crucial that customers read the location-specific T&Cs before booking. We also advise anyone over the age of 75 who may be unsure of the guidance, to contact our customer support team before making their booking for a full overview of the documentation required.”