On average, the addition of insurance to a trip can bulk up a vacation’s cost by nearly five to ten percent, according to Allianz, one of the world's largest travel insurance providers.
Still, that advance investment can save you a pretty penny if unforeseen activities disturb your plans. The purpose of travel insurance is to protect your financial outlay and curb any unforeseen expenses— especially since many personal health care plans are not always accepted overseas, and neither is Medicare.
Among the most important aspects of a policy is trip interruption coverage. That’s triggered if someone in your covered party becomes sick or injured and the trip has to be cut short—it will pay for unused portions of pre-paid travel expenses and also take care of the cost of last-minute transport back home.
But there are additional options, too. Depending upon the type of trip you take, this guide can help you decide the type of insurance that best fits your needs.
If you’re just driving to visit grandma…
Something like AAA Roadside Assistance is your best bet as it covers common issues like flat tires or car breakdowns. If you’re renting a car, many credit cards already come with inclusions for rental car insurance, but iffy drivers can purchase more at the rental counter (if their credit card terms allow you to purchase more—some require you to decline it). If you travel short distances and infrequently, forking over for pricier insurance plans may not be necessary.
If you’re taking the family to Disney World…
Travel and park tickets are expensive, so it’s wise to have a backup plan in the event your trip is disrupted. Some of Allianz’s most popular plans, the OneTrip Prime Plan and the OneTrip Premier Plan, cover children 17 and under for free when they travel with a parent or grandparent. Some Allianz policies are available for those with pre-existing conditions as well.
If you’re setting sail on a cruise…Many cruise companies offer insurance as part of the package if you reserve through the cruise line. Any insurer can protect you in the event of a flight delay, but solving problems may be slightly more streamlined if you buy directly from the cruise line, which will handle flying you to the next port of call and making sure you catch up to the ship. Just make sure, if you buy via the cruise line, that the actual underwriter is a third party and not the company that sold you the vacation itself—because if the vendor fails and stops answering the phone, you’ll be able to reach someone to make a claim.
If you’re traveling overseas…In other countries, you’ll likely be out of the range of your medical plan. Consider purchasing comprehensive coverage that speeds up any type of return travel plans or on-the-ground assistance. Allianz, for example, can guarantee payments for medical treatments so customers do not have to pay for care out of pocket. Another benefit of travel insurance is that policies can come with on-the-ground support to assist with language translation and any necessary payments in the local currency.
If you’re headed to the Caribbean during hurricane season…
Trip cancelation insurance can reimburse prepaid, non-refundable deposits for things like airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, tours, and cruises. Many insurance companies, credit cards, and even hotel and airline companies provide policies like these. Some resort companies, like Club Med, already have their own plans in place to provide a future credit in full to use in the event of a hurricane.
If you're going somewhere you worry about the hospitals…This is important for countries where you may feel less comfortable with the standard medical care. Annual membership or per-trip supplements are offered by companies like Medjet. Typical travel insurance provides transportation to the nearest hospital or appropriate facility, whereas this type of supplement arranges air medical transfer to the patient’s hospital of choice—regardless of whether the attending doctor deems the transport to be necessary—as soon as a member has been hospitalized more than 150 miles away from their home. This extra assurance is especially important for travelers who want to be seen by their own doctor or at a facility that they believe to be superior or more familiar.
If you’re going with someone who might need extra care…No matter where you’re going, if someone in your party is older or prone to potential doctor care, trip interruption and cancelation insurance can be a savior. Emergency medical care and transportation is especially important overseas since most domestic health care plans are not accepted elsewhere. Medicare won’t cover medical expenses abroad, and a medical transfer can range in cost from $20,000 to more than $100,000. This is where supplemental protection like Medjet can come in handy.
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If you’re planning a safari or a wild adventure…
It’s important to consider the remote locales of many overnight camps and lodges. Consider Flying Doctors, which is part of the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) and is based on the idea of bringing care directly to the patient where possible rather than transporting the patient to a hospital. Many luxury safari operators (such as Elewana Collection) cover this fee on behalf of guests to allow for swifter assistance.
Medjet is also known for assisting members who have been hospitalized in far-flung destinations and getting them back to their home country quickly, with no claim forms or deduction—which is especially valuable for people who are on safari or exploring other wild locations.
If you’re headed off the beaten path…Supplemental protection to an existing travel insurance plan, like those offered by AAA or Allianz, might be wise. Normal travel insurance will transport those in need of medical assistance to the nearest facility, but you need something additional to be transported back to your home hospital of choice. When it comes to higher-risk adventure vacation activities (motorcycle, sky diving, or bungee jumping injuries, for example), some insurers have exclusions, but it varies by company. Medjet doesn’t exclude most activities, making it better for remote destinations and adrenaline vacations.
Most insurance plans cover pre-existing medical conditions if the plan is purchased within a specific window of time before departure, depending upon the company. When it comes to supplemental coverage to other insurance plans, Medjet has no pre-existing medical condition exclusions for travelers under 75.
If you’re worried about social unrest…
Many travel insurance policies will not provide full coverage if the place you’re going is on the list of government “do not travel” warnings. MedjetHorizon comes in handy because it can provide immediate in-country response from reputable sources for everywhere except the most extreme places: U.S. Department of State Level 4 countries like North Korea and Syria. That coverage includes security services and crisis response assistance if a member gets caught in situations like terrorism, kidnap for ransom, wrongful detention, natural disasters or—more likely than any of those—is the victim of a violent crime..
If you travel constantly…
Consider buying an annual subscription to a travel insurance policy (yes, they exist) and adding medical evacuation protection from them (if available) for extra security. These are only a few hundred dollars, which for people who travel constantly can be a literal life saver; many corporations may provide this type of policy for their own employees who travel for work.
Other considerations to keep in mind
It’s important to purchase a travel insurance policy from a reputable and trustworthy provider; the US Travel Insurance Association website maintains a comprehensive list of active members who adhere to industry standards. The sites InsureMyTrip and SquareMouth round up free quotes from various companies for you to compare.
Typically, travel coverage must be purchased prior to or immediately after confirming a travel reservation. You can’t wait weeks or months after making your booking—get your plan right away. Allianz has a Cancel Anytime plan that will provide a full refund of pre-paid, nonrefundable trip costs when canceling for a covered reason. If canceled for any other reason (even because you simply changed your mind), it will refund 80 percent of the trip cost. This service, which is also available through travel agents, generally costs 50 percent more than a standard policy.
Coverage almost always excludes injury related to drug or alcohol abuse. Some allow you to pay for an upgraded service for assistance to cover outlier events like political or security threats (MedjetHorizon is one example that does). Allianz’s OneTrip Prime Plan covers trip cancelation if a terrorist event happens within 30 days of your scheduled arrival, but not if one also happened in the same area within 30 days prior to purchasing your plan.
You may already have some general travel insurance through credit cards you use to pay for travel, so it is wise to familiarize yourself with the fine print so you don’t double pay for the same type of coverage.
No matter where you go, always carry a copy of your proof of coverage in an obvious place like a purse or a wallet, where it will be found quickly by emergency responders should you become incapacitated. There have been cases of tourists being denied treatment simply because medics didn’t locate their proof of coverage in time.
For more on planning travel insurance, including options for lost luggage, see our article Travel Insurance at a Glance.