SHOPPING around for the cheapest travel insurance can slash costs by as much as 87 per cent. A survey of insurance packages on offer reveals that premiums for a family taking a seven-day holiday in Asia can range from $280 to $2,160. For a single person taking a trip to the US, the cost of cover can start at $200 and ranges through to $1,100. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents are presently preparing for Christmas holidays away from the territory. Forgetting to take out insurance cover - or attempting to cut costs - could leave an individual open to unlimited costs from loss or accident. Travel insurance is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the insurance industry with a fivefold growth in the number of Hong Kong residents seeking cover in the past five years. Even the most careful traveller may encounter the frustrations of lost or delayed baggage, travel delays or an unexpected illness or accident. Paying to be flown home from the United States on a scheduled airline flight with medical professionals, for example, could cost upwards of $550,000. The typical package covers not only accidents but also trip curtailment or cancellation, lost money or baggage, travel delays and even personal liability compensation to a third party. Those comparing travel insurance packages should consider the cover that best suits their needs rather than the cheapest premium. Policy exclusions - circumstances where the policyholder is not covered - also should be taken into account. Some policies exclude claims for personal conditions such as pre-existing illness or pregnancy, while others exclude claims for injuries incurred while engaged in 'hazardous' activities such as rugby, bungee jumping or skiing. A high loading, as much as double or triple the cost, can be levied for winter sports. The amount of excess also should be a factor in choosing a policy. The excess is the first proportion of a claim required to be paid by the policyholder and typically ranges from $100 to $200. Almost all insurance companies provide a 24-hour telephone service to provide information about products. The Blue Cross TravelSafe policy is offered in three combinations, all of which are competitively priced. It offers the cheapest rate for a single person visiting the US and a couple visiting Europe and includes a payment for hijacking. Commercial Union Assurance offers the Travel Right policy, which includes a standard and extra package. The 'extra' provides about double the amount of coverage. Both policies include substantial payments for personal liability cases. Commercial Union also offers a help line which allows you to check visa requirements, exchange rates and the climate before you take a trip. Eagle Star's Travelplus is offered in three categories and can provide cover on a daily basis rather than longer terms. Eagle Star offers no payment in case of trip curtailment, but can boast the cheapest rate for a family visiting Asia. TravelSurance is the policy provided by Hongkong Bank and underwritten by Carlingford Insurance. This gives access to Carlingford's worldwide assistance network, available through a 24-hour telephone service. Union Insurance's policy covers follow-up treatment up to three months after the return to Hong Kong.