Who Needs Travel Insurance? You Might
Before buying it, ask yourself these 5 key questions
A few years ago, I took my grandson to Thailand and Bali. We had a great time climbing precariously steep temple stairs, crawling around in a cage with young tigers and wading into a river to bathe elephants at a remote preserve. Having travel medical insurance gave me peace of mind, although it turned out that we didn’t need to use it.
A few months later, traveling on the Irish island of Inishmoor, I fell and broke my left forearm at the doorstop to a café. The mainland was an hour away by ferry. I was lucky. It was a hairline fracture, and I didn’t need emergency evacuation. But it reminded me that fate is fickle — and I was just a stumble away from needing to use that travel insurance.
Travelers spend more than $2.2 billion a year on insurance policies, according to Carol Walsh, executive director of the US Travel Insurance Association (UStiA). In 2014,152 million Americans purchased travel protection products — and one in six had travel plans interrupted by illness, weather or other problems, according to a UStiA survey.
Here’s what to consider before buying travel insurance.
Do you really need it?
“That depends on your circumstances — and how much you can afford to lose,” says Marcia Ervay, an agent at Baker Travel, Inc., in Ithaca, New York. She advises buying travel insurance if the trip costs more than you want to lose, if you or others have a medical condition that might force a cancellation and if your trip is to a remote area with poor medical facilities.
Kim Goldstein, manager of the Richmond, Virgiinia, travel agency Journey Inc., recommends travel insurance for every journey, especially a trip abroad. “As a travel agent, I always buy travel insurance and encourage my clients to get it,” she says. “It’s not going to cover every weird scenario, but it offers support when you’re traveling abroad. That’s important if you have something go terribly wrong.”
“I had a client call me the night before they were to travel: His wife developed a bad sinus infection, and they had to cancel a massive, expensive international trip,” she recalls. Thanks to travel insurance, she says, her clients were able to get back all their money.
What kind of travel insurance should you get?
The two basic types of travel coverage are 1) trip insurance for cancellations, interruptions and delays from illness or bad weather (and also for baggage loss or delays) and 2) medical coverage for treatment or evacuation to a medical facility.
There is a whole menu of coverage options and rates, so travelers can mix and choose what they need, Ervay says. For example, if you are visiting the capitals of Europe, you probably won’t need coverage for an air ambulance, but cancellation coverage for pricey hotels could be important. Conversely, it’s probably a good idea to have evacuation and medical coverage if trekking in the jungles of Thailand.
What’s (already) in your wallet?
Check first to see what coverage you already have. Most health insurance policies will cover emergency treatment wherever you are, but it’s wise to check for exclusions. (Medicare may not cover certain medical needs outside the United States). Premium credit cards may cover rental cars, lost or delayed baggage and flight cancellations, but only if you paid for your trip with that card. Typically, these perks don’t cover transportation to a better medical facility, an air ambulance or the added costs of changing a return ticket.
If you cancel your trip, are you covered?
If you cancel a trip, you usually need a reason such as illness, and documentation to prove it. If you suspect you might have to cancel a trip for another reason, such as an ailing relative or a pending job change, you might consider getting a policy that covers “cancellation for any reason,” but that can be costly.
What does your coverage include (and exclude)?
Your policy may not cover injuries related to sports considered high risk or extreme (such as parasailing, sky diving and bungee jumping). Ask about adding extra coverage if you or your kids are the adventurous types.
Check for other exclusions as well. Does the policy cover the entire trip, including airfare, hotel, shore excursions, sightseeing and pre- and post-touring? If a tour provider goes broke, does it cover your losses? Online resources such as www.InsureMytrip.com and www.squaremouth.com make it easy to compare plans and rates from third party providers.
Travel agents agree it’s essential to read the fine print. “Make sure you understand what you are purchasing," said Walsh, “and if you have any questions about what is or isn’t covered, ask the company directly.”
Says Ervay, “My biggest fear is that people think they are covered, and they are not.”