For years you've heard it drilled into your consumer brain: Always buy travel insurance for major trips.
But ever since Covid-19 travel restrictions receded, even minor trips may involve big problems.
Airlines and airports are halting operations without warning, political skirmishes are changing the landscape of no-go destinations, and, oh yeah, you could still get sick with Covid when you're scheduled to travel.
Given how unreliable travel has become and how easy it is to get stranded between point A and point B, our new travel insurance advice could very well be simplified to three words: Always have it.
There's actually a type of travel insurance that you only have to buy once a year. Multi-trip insurance will cover you, no matter where you go, for the length of the policy's validity period, which is usually a year.
Buy this type of insurance once, and you'll be covered for all your trips for a full 12 months.
Will I save money using multi-trip insurance?
That's something you have to calculate based on who you are and what your travel habits are.
"The cost of single-trip products are often based on two factors: the age of the traveler and the cost of the trip," said Daniel Durazo of Allianz Travel Insurance, one of the largest players in the business. "So as those factors go up or down, so does the cost of travel insurance."
According to Durazo, single-trip policies often cost between 5% and 10% of the total cost of a trip.
On the other hand, annual multi-trip policies are usually offered at a flat rate, "meaning your cost may not increase with age and trip cost," Durazo said.
Once you possess multi-trip coverage, you don't have to report each trip you take to your insurer, like you do with single-trip policies. You're simply covered for the year, no matter where you go.
All of the insurance industry experts we spoke to estimated that you'd need to take at least three to five trips in a year for the expense of a multi-trip policy to be worth it.
Can I travel all year with a multi-trip policy?
You can take multiple trips, but you can't remain on the road for months at a time. With an annual policy, coverage for each trip will expire after a maximum number of permitted days.
Lynn Pina of Pennsylvania-based GeoBlue, which sells annual travel insurance products, says that "most policies [only] cover trips up to 30 days [apiece]." (However, one of the company's premium products, GeoBlue Trekker, will cover trips lasting up to 70 days.)
After time's up on a trip, travelers on an annual plan will have to return home and then leave again for the clock to reset for the next trip. If you can't get home in between journeys, many insurers will also sell you add-on plans to cover the extra days.
Consequently, multi-trip insurance is better for leisure or business travelers and not designed for expats or long-term backpackers.
How can I compare prices and coverage of single-trip policies vs. multi-trip policies?
You don't have to track down a bunch of insurers to compare prices. That can be done quickly.
There are several one-stop online insurance marketplaces where you can plug in your details to see what numerous companies will offer. InsureMyTrip, Squaremouth, and QuoteWright have all been in business for many years. Check those and you'll be able to survey the major players and compile a thorough list of options.
Those websites can also handle quotes for multi-trip insurance, so you won't have far to go to compare prices and inclusions.
Will multi-trip insurance cover cancellation?
Not automatically. You have to make sure you buy a policy that has trip cancellation coverage. For example, Allianz's most affordable option, AllTrips Basic, will not cover cancellation, but the company's upgraded policies, like AllTrips Premier, do cover cancellation.
If you want the ability to decide unilaterally that you don't want to take a trip you bought, you must ensure that Cancel for Any Reason (called CFAR) coverage is part of your policy. Not all insurance offerings automatically include a CFAR clause.
Some upper-tier multi-trip plans will also cover everyone in your household, even if you travel separately. Maybe you can split costs with family members.
Will multi-trip insurance cover lost luggage?
Multi-trip policies tend to cover baggage loss, but only for a small amount and only for checked baggage.
That might not be a deal-breaker, though, because many credit cards automatically include such protection if you pay for travel with them. You might already have free baggage coverage.
Will multi-trip insurance cover rental car insurance?
That's another thing your credit card may already cover, but many multi-trip policies still throw it in. All of Allianz's annual plans do, and the coverage is good for $45,000 in rental car collision damage.
Will multi-trip insurance cover medical expenses?
Not all annual policies do. Some require Americans to have primary medical insurance back home and will only deal with medical situations that are classified as emergencies.
"The benefits of these plans vary but most typically cover medical expenses, trip interruption, and medical evacuation costs," said Pina of GeoBlue. "Some may even cover preexisting conditions for medical services and medical evacuation."
You just need to seek out the specific medical coverage for your needs.
"If your prepaid costs for an international trip are for items that can be rescheduled [for free], like airline tickets, consider a travel medical plan that provides coverage for medical expenses that will not be covered by your domestic health insurance," said Pina.
Even if your policy offers limited medical inclusions, make sure it at least includes Covid-19 coverage and access to a doctor around the clock via a telehealth service.
How much should I travel in a year to make a multi-trip policy worth the money?Pina advises, "Although rates and coverage vary by the customer’s age and company, travelers who will be out of the country 40 or more days on multiple trips during a 12-month period will usually be best served by a multi-trip plan."
Then again, buying a multi-trip insurance policy that lasts an entire year could give you an excellent excuse to take a lot more trips.
Just don't forget to carry a copy of your proof of coverage whenever you travel. Keep it close at hand, where it can be found quickly should you become incapacitated. There have been terrible instances of travelers being denied lifesaving medical treatment simply because first responders couldn't locate proof of coverage in time.
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