Mystery Shopper endeavours to find cover for his holiday in Canadian bear country

Toothbrush, pants, else? Oh yes, travel insurance. If only it were that easy. Well, it is, providing your pre-existing medical condition doesn't decide to play up.

If this is a worry for you, make sure you read the small print. Most travel insurance policies carry carefully worded exclusions under the heading Medical.

I thought it might be interesting to compare how a general insurance broker and a travel agent differ when procuring a quote. So, I head for the high street to see what's on offer.

My first port of call is Anders Travel, a small, independent agent handling Worldchoice holidays. My dream holiday - 28 days in Canada, hiking the wilds of British Columbia.

The only two snags being the odd grizzly bear and my wife's heart condition. However, these cards remain firmly up my sleeve until called upon.

First of all I discuss flights. A helpful Simon Rickwood finds me an extraordinarily cheap deal, Gatwick to Vancouver. Worth making a note of. Clutching the details, I ask about travel insurance.

Bear countr
Our yearly policy is about to expire. What would it cost just to cover the period we're away? Producing the Worldchoice Travel Insurance document, Simon recommends Premier Cover provided by AXA.

He suggests I read the conditions carefully to ensure that all intended activities are covered. This is the perfect cue for me to raise the bear issue. I tell him that we plan to hike in bear country.

He points to the section on activities allowed within the policy, in particular the word 'hiking'. I am tempted to point out that a 12ft tall grisly might have difficulty discerning the tiny print, but decide against such flippancy.

Simon says that if I have any queries concerning possible exclusions of a medical nature, I should ring the number which he carefully circles with a biro. I decide to surrender my one remaining card, the queen of hearts.

I bring up my wife's coronary condition and ask if it presents any problems. Simon reads out: "We will not provide cover if you have: ever had any respiratory condition, heart condition, stroke or cancer...etc."

I give my best disappointed look. Simon matches it with an equally concerned look. He suggests I contact the British Heart Found-ation. It's bound to know if there are any companies prepared to handle such risk.

"In case I should have little joy, how much would Worldchoice insurance set me back?" I ask. After confirming that my wife and I are in our early forties he checks his scale and says we can be insured for £56 each. "What about IPT [insurance premium tax]?" I ask.

"It's included," he says. "For an extra £10 we can have an excess waiver," he volunteers. Looking closer at the summary I notice that where applicable the excess never exceeds £75.

I say that I will confer with my wife and get back to him if we are interested. Accepting his card I don my cycle helmet and disappear up the high street.

Next port of call - Insurance Options of Hove. I notice a sign on the door. It states that the office is temporarily unmanned. No sooner have I unlocked my trusty Ridgeback when a man with an equally cumbersome set of keys starts to open the door. I express my relief and follow him in.

He apologises and says that he has been left to man the fort on his own today. I sense his annoyance and determine not to make his burden any greater. I come straight to the point.

I tell him my wife and I will be holidaying in Canada and ask him quote me for 28 days travel insurance. Without asking any questions about the holiday, he goes straight to his web source, in this case, and prints off a quotation for its Plan 2 which includes personal effects and money which works out at £72.40 for each of us.

"Is there anything else I need to be made aware of?" I ask letting out the rope a little. "Not really," he replies. "It's a pretty comprehensive policy covering you for most risks." At this juncture I decide to throw in 500lb of angry fur...with teeth.

He raises an eyebrow and hazards that any decent policy offering cover for hiking trips will honour the dangers therein. Having clearly not ruffled his feathers in the slightest I bring up my wife's heart condition. "Ah, that's different," he replies. "I've yet to find an insurance company willing to cover heart conditions."

"Surely, there must be someone," I protest.

"Not that I know of," he replies.

"Not even at a higher premium?"

"Not even at a higher premium."

"So what do people do in such circumstances, chance it?" I inquire.

"I'm afraid I can't comment of that," he returns.

"Okay, well, thanks anyway," I throw in lamely. "What's your number if I decide to take up the policy?" He scrawls his name Ian Ratcliffe along with his mobile number at the top of the quotation and hands it to me. I head for the door and look at my watch. The encounter lasted a whole 4.5 minutes.

Well the gauntlet is down. I'm determined to find a policy friendly to pre-existing medical conditions. I opt for an appropriately named All Clear policy offered by Bishopscourts Insurance and reach for the phone once again. I explain that I am trying to find insurance for someone with coronary artery disease.

A chirpy Kerry Maslin takes me through a medical warranty. I wade in by describing my hypothetical friend as a 41-year-old smoker, diagnosed, on two medications and awaiting further treatment.

When I mention a 28-day holiday in Canada, Kerry draws a deep breath. What's wrong, is it the bears I wonder? It turns out that due to the cost of medical care, Canada is one of the most expensive destinations to insure for.

No wonder Canadians are so healthy. Are you ready for this? A fairly standard policy offering up to £5m on life and £150,000 on the condition itself with and excess of £50 would only cost a mere £764.98. It looks as if it could be a caravan in Cornwall for my friend this summer.

But what about the bears? There is nothing for it but to chase up the people at World-choice and see what they have to say. I put the question to Amy who really isn't sure whether their policy extends to bear infested territories. She agrees to inquire further and get back to me.

Half an hour later she rings with the joyous news that providing I stay within national park limits and abide by the guidelines on bears which means, incidentally, putting ones food in the plastic containers supplied, all will be well. The call of the wild beckons.

In conclusion, if I were going to take out travel insurance through either Anders Travel or Insurance Options, I'd probably go for the former. The policies are much alike.

In spite of this I feel Anders Travel seemed more responsible and helpful. Now if I do come face to face with a grizzly and her cubs, let's hope she's the one with the heart condition. IT