Buying a little peace of mind: What to look for in travel insurance as more vacationers seek coverage


Under COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty, many Americans canceled vacations or pushed plans out, but that’s shifting this year with an uptick in travel.

Now, as families return to planning future getaways, they’re more likely to consider travel insurance.

In an August survey, travel services company AAA found that one-third of U.S. travelers say they are more likely to buy travel insurance for their trips through the end of 2022, specifically because of the pandemic.

Travel insurance can protect against financial loss if you’re forced to cancel, delay or interrupt a vacation or other travels. It also can offer protection during a trip for an urgent medical issue, emergency evacuation, damage to personal property and even if a death occurs.

“Now especially, more people are asking about travel insurance because they don’t know with the current climate, the pandemic, events happening around the world, what happens if their trip gets canceled again,” said Erin Rogers, store manager for AAA Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

She recommends travel insurance even for a road trip domestically and especially for travel into another country. As another example, a Disneyland trip adds up with ticket costs and hotel stays, she said.

“A lot of people say ‘I’m healthy as a horse – I never get sick,’ ” Rogers said. “Well, accidents happen, too.”

She said AAA agents work with Allianz for travel insurance, which can go as far as getting interpreters or finding an English-speaking doctor in a foreign country and reimbursement of clothing costs if bags are delayed. Some packages might cover a situation if a close relative at home falls ill and you’re the primary caregiver.

“Every travel insurance company is different on what they cover,” Rogers added.

“When you’re comparing, you should be looking at what it covers, who it covers, does it cover any epidemic coverage, what are the pre-departure benefits, post-departure benefits, and does it cover any pre-existing condition you might have? Those are all questions you should be asking when comparing different plans.”

It pays to do your homework, said Kenton Brine, NW Insurance Council president. He said travel insurance can be of great value, but not for everyone or in all cases.

“A couple of keys are to make sure you know what’s covered and what’s excluded – some companies’ policies have been updated to address the coronavirus pandemic, for example,” Brine said.

“It is a good idea to see what your own auto and/or homeowners’ policies cover. For example, you may not need to purchase coverage for a rental car if your own auto policy provides coverage. Your homeowners or renters insurance policy typically covers your personal possessions – luggage and items inside it – though your policy deductible will come into play depending on the amount of your loss.”

Any trip that is worth $5,000 or more is a good candidate for travel insurance, said Derek Wing with PEMCO. He agreed it’s also a good idea if you’re going abroad or will be taking a longer journey with lots of stops. “That’s more opportunity for something to go wrong.”

Reuters recently wrote about a trend of COVID-19 travel insurance becoming a vacation staple.

The AAA survey on travel insurance also found that the pandemic has changed a number of travelers’ perspectives.

Its report said an ability to cancel a trip and get a refund is by far the most frequently cited benefit of travel insurance, with 69% of travelers saying this is most important to them when considering travel insurance for an upcoming trip. AAA said travelers should look into travel insurance policies that include a “cancel at any time” component, which could offer more flexibility.

While travel insurance policies have historically not covered epidemics or pandemics, in response to shifting consumer expectations, some providers have started to introduce plans that cover some losses due to COVID-19 or other epidemic diseases, AAA said.

Certain international destinations may require visitors to carry travel insurance to help cover any unexpected medical costs that might happen while visiting.

Some COVID-19-only travel policies allow you to visit countries that require travel insurance. Such benefits typically include treatment up to $100,000, testing costs or unexpected lodging related to quarantine, Wing said.

He said other examples of travel coverage might be:

• Interruption or delay. That covers you if you get sick before a trip or if a loved one passes away and you need to cancel. If the reason you’re canceling is listed on the policy, you can get 100% back on nonrefundable deposits.

• Medical expenses and transportation. That would be unrelated to COVID-19 if you get sick or injured and need to be evacuated.

• Travel assistance. This can help if, for example, you lose your passport, miss a travel connection or lose luggage.

Expect to pay 4% to 10% of the cost of your trip for travel insurance, he said, and the more it covers, the higher.

When researching, online sites such as squaremouth.com can help to compare quotes. An experienced travel agent can help, as well.

Rogers also said the cost range typically quoted is based on four questions: Where are you going? How long are you going? How much did you pay for the trip? How old are you?

If there is COVID-19-specific coverage, people need to understand that fear of getting sick isn’t covered, Rogers added, such as if a country suddenly has a spike in cases.

There might be basic coverage levels that cost less but likely wouldn’t cover major medical or evacuations, she said. Peace of mind is a consideration.

“You’d hate for people to put future travels in jeopardy because they’re still paying for say a medical mishap or something that could have been covered on a previous trip,” she said. “It’s to protect not only the person but also protect your investment into the travel.”

Rogers also gets asked when travel insurance should be purchased. She recommends the same day you book a trip “because you never know.” Plans might get shattered by a broken ankle or a car accident right before travel.

“Another common question is when does my travel insurance start?” she said. “It’s usually as soon as you walk out your front door to travel. That’s something else to check.”

In case a medical event occurs, you should ask ahead which companies would receive first and secondary claims, the travel insurance company or your personal medical insurance? Travel companies such as Allianz are billed first, she said.

The personal finance site NerdWallet also explores the topic of such coverage and when it’s needed in the article ”Is travel insurance worth getting?”

Before buying, you can find other consumer tips on a travel insurance page from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner Washington State.



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