Categories
Airport Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience Money Packing

The Ultimate Checklist for Traveling Abroad

Traveling internationally is an adventure best planned ahead of time, and not just when it comes to booking flights and packing. Sure, showing up at your gate sans passport or forgetting melatonin for your red-eye flight can put a damper on your long-awaited escape, but most of your preparation should be dedicated to ensuring health, safety, and financial necessities are covered. To save you some prep time, I’ve compiled this international travel checklist for your next long-distance journey.

Focus on Safety First

One of the easiest and most important items on an overseas travel checklist is also arguably the most ignored. Travel insurance and State Department alerts can be incredibly important in emergencies abroad, but many tourists bet they won’t become part of the small percentage of travelers who require evacuation assistance or protection from hotel or flight cancellations.

Subscribing to the State Department’s STEP alerts for your destination can help you stay up to date on upcoming and current travel restrictions, strikes, and areas of political unrest. Any alerts you receive will let you know whether or not to plan for some unexpected obstacles in advance.

Travel insurance can cost as little as a few dollars per travel day and cover anything from replacing a broken camera to emergency medical attention, potentially saving you hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars.

[st_related]Health Care Abroad: How to Find an English-Speaking Doctor or Clinic[/st_related]

Get Your Travel Documents and Credit Cards in Order

Make sure your passport and any necessary travel visas are up to date. Some countries require a passport to be valid for at least six months after your scheduled return, so make sure you won’t be turned away or delayed at customs because of an old passport. Not sure if you need a visa? See this list of every country that requires a visa for Americans.

Keep physical and digital copies of your passport and all your paperwork in case anything is lost, and give copies as well as your itinerary and contact numbers to family and friends whom you can contact in case of an emergency.

Notify your bank and credit card companies about your travel dates so they don’t deny your purchases, and ask about international ATM fees so you can find out which ones won’t charge you. It’s always a good idea to bring multiple cards in case one stops working.

Don’t underestimate how helpful a cell phone photo of your passport can be. Whether you have to go to the consulate and report it lost, or are just filling out a customs card and need your passport number, it will likely come in handy. Email the image to yourself to have an extra digital copy in case your phone runs out of batteries or goes missing. You may also want to bring a spare copy of your passport photo on your trip; having it handy will speed the processing of a new document.

[st_related]How to Take Your Own Passport Photo[/st_related]

Get Vaccinated

It’s best to get the necessary vaccinations out of the way as soon as possible since it can take a few weeks to build full immunity. Some also require multiple doses, which may need to be administered over days, weeks, or even months. Talk to your doctor about getting the CDC-recommended shots, as the protocol for vaccines varies by country. For example, dozens of countries require proof of a yellow fever vaccination if you’ve been to at-risk areas. A travel clinic can help you sort out which vaccinations and medications you might need.

Keep your vaccination certificate in your carry-on in case customs requires you to present it when entering the country.

[st_related]5 Weird Diseases You Can Catch While Traveling[/st_related]

Study Up on Your Destination

Whether you’re a travel app connoisseur or more of a paperback guidebook person, having some source of knowledge about your destination is invaluable. Read about the region you’re traveling to in advance to gain insight into important information such as currency exchange rates, useful phrases, tipping norms, appropriate clothing, and cultural/legal customs. It’s best to be prepared so you don’t land yourself in a compromising situation.

[st_related]How to Be Safe and Culturally Sensitive When You Travel[/st_related]

Make Sure Your Home Is Cared For

There’s nothing worse than realizing once you’re six time zones away that you forgot to stop your mail delivery or ask someone to water your expertly cultivated house plants. Make sure your daily tasks are covered before you leave, or appoint a trusty friend to do them for you.

You can find a house or pet sitter to do your chores if you’re willing to list your home on TrustedHouseSitters.com. Plus, you could find lodging through the site for your trip abroad if you’re willing to spend some time with someone else’s furry friends.

[st_related]Keep Your Home Safe on Vacation: 9 Essential Tips[/st_related]

Stay Connected

Want to stay in touch while traveling abroad? If you haven’t taken your phone overseas before, call your mobile provider to make sure it will work in the country you’re visiting and to ask about international phone plans that might be available. If your carrier’s plans are expensive, a mobile hotspot can be a cost-effective alternative.

Download the Necessities

Sometimes the most important thing you’ll pack is in your smartphone rather than your suitcase. Offline maps are your best friend when it comes to traveling with limited data or battery. You can find Wi-Fi in many places, but downloading offline maps through Google Maps or CityMaps2Go will allow you to follow your GPS without using up battery life and roaming data.

Downloading in-flight entertainment could also save you if your TV malfunctions on the long-haul flight. Streaming won’t be available without consistent in-flight Wi-Fi (which you shouldn’t ever depend on) but you can pre-download movies and TV shows through Amazon Prime, and music streaming service Spotify allows paying users to download tracks for offline use with the press of a button.

Don’t forget a portable backup charger. Watching hours of your favorite TV show is sure to drain your battery life, and there’s nothing worse than finally finding a Wi-Fi spot only to have your phone die.

[st_related]10 Secret Amazon Prime Perks You Probably Aren’t Using[/st_related]

Pack These Essentials

While the contents of your checked bag will largely depend on the climate you’re visiting, you’ll want most of your trip’s essentials on hand in your carry-on. Start with this international travel checklist of items to pack:

For more ideas, see this international packing list.

Consider taking photos of your packed suitcase (both inside and out) in case it gets lost. That way, airline employees will know what to look for, and you’ll know what was inside in case you don’t get it back and need to file a claim.

[st_related]Lost Luggage? Here’s What to Do[/st_related]

What’s on your international travel checklist? Share your tips in the comments below.

Pin the Checklist for International Travel

Good Walking Shoes for International Travel

For Women:

[st_product products=”295146,295138,295154″]

For Men:

[st_product products=”295186,295178,295170″]

More from Smarter Travel:

Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Health & Wellness

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting a Travel Clinic

Until recently I had never visited a travel clinic. But after going once, I’m a convert, and from now on will always go before I take far-flung trips.

After going to Thailand and meeting a handful of people with friends who had contracted malaria on their trips, I vowed to start making a visit to the travel clinic part of my pre-trip prep work before going to developing or at-risk countries. So, when my next trip to Colombia came up, I decided to follow through on this promise. When I researched online and checked out the CDC website, I found mixed opinions on whether to get certain vaccines. I knew what to do next: get a professional opinion on what exactly I needed for the areas I was headed.

I contacted my primary care doctor, who referred me back to the CDC website, and after explaining that I’d already done the initial research, they decided to schedule me for a yellow fever vaccine. However, the yellow fever vaccine at the time was on national backorder (which it usually is), and my primary care doctor would not have it in enough time to administer it before my trip. The wild-goose chase to find a yellow fever vaccine led me to the Harvard Vanguard Travel Medicine Department.

I made an appointment a little over a week before my trip. (Which is a big mistake, keep reading to see why). When I arrived, I met with a nurse who asked which areas I was traveling to and went over my immunization chart they had from my primary care office. Shortly after, the doctor came in and handed me a thick folder with information I didn’t even know I needed. She went over the Travax Traveler Health Report for Colombia, which included health concerns, requirements for entry (i.e. necessary visas, immunization requirements—some countries require proof of a yellow fever vaccine for reentry within a certain time period of entering their country if you’ve been to areas with yellow fever cases), recommended immunizations, travel advisories, general information (i.e. entry and exit fees, currency, unusual laws, driving laws, civil unrest warnings), embassy contact information, basic preventative measures, and finally a pre-travel checklist.

Access to Shoreland Travax reports are restricted to licensed professionals only, so you can only receive this information at a clinical visit.

[st_related]The Ultimate Checklist for Traveling Abroad[/st_related]

We also went over a detailed map of the country with at-risk areas for yellow fever and malaria and determined I should take malaria pills and get the yellow fever vaccine since I was going to a national park. She also recommended I get the typhoid vaccine since mine was outdated and gave me a prescription for traveler’s diarrhea medicine since most areas in the country are at high risk.

She also helped me register in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) and verified my travel insurance coverage through work with GeoBlue. I also got a handy over-the-counter travel medicine/product list to keep for future travels.

[st_related]The Ultimate Guide to Travel Insurance: Everything You Need to Know[/st_related]

Overall, I had a surprisingly pleasant experience and will make sure to visit the clinic before any travels to developing countries or destinations where I am unsure of what health and safety precautions I should take.

Things to Consider Before You Go to a Travel Clinic

The CDC website is a good place to start; however, the amount of information can be overwhelming and sometimes vague or conflicting. If your primary care office has its own travel medicine department, call them first and see what they recommend. In some cases (like mine) you may end up needing additional vaccines or prescriptions, so having an appointment or consultation is best in person so the doctor can order everything you need at the time of your visit. If your primary care office does not have a travel medicine department, call around and find a clinic covered by insurance in your area, as consultations and vaccines can be pricey if not covered.

Keep in mind that some vaccines can take up to six weeks to be active, so you will need to make your visit well in advance (something I will make note of for my next trip). Also, some vaccines cannot be given at the same time, or need to be given in doses, so it’s extra important to give yourself plenty of time in advance for the necessary vaccinations.

What to Bring With You to a Travel Clinic

A copy of your itinerary or at least a list of places you are going to as well as an updated immunization list if you are visiting a clinic outside of your primary care office. Also make sure to notify the clinic of any allergies, especially to medications.

What to Expect at a Travel Clinic

My visit was short and sweet. I got all of the information (and more) that I needed. My two shots were administered at the time of my visit and I filled out a card to keep with my passport verifying I had the yellow fever immunization.

Preparing for Your Trip

In addition to any prescriptions needed, this basic list for health and safety comes in handy for international travel:

  • Antihistamines: Benadryl, Zyrtec, or Claritin
  • Pain/Fever Relief: Asprin, Ibuprofen, or Tylenol
  • Insect Repellent: 30 percent DEET spray, and permethrin clothing spray
  • Anti-Diarrhea and Rehydration: Loperamide, Pepto Bismol, Pedialyte powder packets, Gatorade powder packets
  • Probiotics: Culturelle
  • Motion Sickness: Meclizine
  • Other Supplies: Hydrocortisone cream, flight compression socks, digital thermometer, bed net for mosquitos

We also have a handy first-aid packing list that you can download, as well as nine over-the-counter medicines you should always pack.

[st_related]5 Weird Diseases You Can Catch While Traveling[/st_related]

After Your Trip

Make sure you take all of the recommended doses of your prescriptions, as oftentimes it’s necessary to take them for a few weeks after travel. Watch for any signs of diseases, as symptoms can have delayed onset.

More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ashley_stravel for more advice on travel hacks and destination ideas.

Editor’s note: This story was originally written in 2015, it has been updated with the latest information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel In-Flight Experience Money Packing Passenger Rights

Your 11 Most Frequently Asked Travel Questions—Answered

As experts and media spokespeople, the editors at SmarterTravel get asked a lot of travel questions. How early should you book? Which booking sites have the cheapest fares? What’s the best way to avoid bag fees?

The good news is that we have answers. From pinpointing the best day of the week for booking airfare to selecting the best destination for your next trip, here are solutions to some of your most common travel questions.

How Far in Advance Should I Book?

man typing on laptop with a coffee in hand

Truth be told, airfare prices—which fluctuate constantly—are impossible to predict. However, there are a few strategies that will guide you to a good deal and minimize your risk of overpaying.

For domestic travel, you’ll typically find the best fares one to two months before your trip. For international itineraries, you’ll often want to start searching for fares a bit further in advance, especially if your dates are firm or you’re traveling at a busy time of year. Add an extra month or two for peak travel times like holidays or major events. Some destinations, such as Disney World during spring break or popular beach spots in August, require even more advance planning, so do your homework.

To help you figure out when to jump on a fare, set up airfare alerts through sites like Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site) or smartphone apps like Hopper (iOS | Android). You can put in your targeted trip dates and itinerary, and you’ll be notified when the fare drops.

How Can I Find the Best Travel Deal?

We’d love to point you definitively to a single booking site that always has the lowest possible airfares and hotel rates, but, unfortunately, that site doesn’t exist—and shopping around is always required. It’s best to check multiple types of sites before you book, including the provider’s own website as well as online travel agencies (think Expedia and Orbitz) and metasearch sites (like Kayak and SmarterTravel’s parent company, TripAdvisor).

To help you find the best sites to check, see the following lists:

One tip to keep in mind: The more flexible you are, the better the deals will be. Moving your trip a few months from a destination’s peak season to its shoulder season, for example, often means lower prices and smaller crowds. Flying out on a Tuesday or Wednesday rather than a Friday or Sunday can also save you money. For more information, see The Best and Worst Days to Fly.

How Can I Avoid Fees?

Yes, travel fees are pervasive and have wormed their way into every facet of travel, including flights, hotels, and rental cars. The good news is that many can be avoided. When it comes to flying, look for airlines that don’t charge fees for common services like baggage: For example, Southwest allows two checked bags for free, and some airlines will waive bag fees for frequent flyers or travelers who carry their branded credit cards. For more ideas, see 7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees.

Many hotel fees can be avoided if you simply say no to certain services. In other words, don’t touch the minibar or make in-room calls (buy your own snacks and use your cell phone instead). Other charges, such as resort fees, are trickier. It’s best to find out about the charge in advance and book with another hotel, or ask the hotel manager to remove it—he or she might say no, but it never hurts to ask.

When renting a car, read the fine print. Look for easily avoidable fees like early-return and fuel charges. Also, most agents will pressure you into buying a collision damage waiver (CDW), but you might already have collision coverage through your credit card or your own auto insurance policy. Always check in advance.

[st_related]9 Nasty Truths About Car Rental Insurance[/st_related]

What Are My Rights When Your Flight Is Delayed or Canceled?

airhelp

When you find yourself faced with a flight delay or cancellation, know that your rights vary depending on whether the situation is the airline’s fault (such as a mechanical delay) or due to some uncontrollable outside force (like a hurricane or winter storm). Every airline’s policy varies, but most state that for delays or cancellations within the airline’s control, passengers are entitled to be rebooked on the next available flight, possibly transferred to another carrier, or to receive a refund for the unused portion of the trip. Some lines will also provide meal vouchers, hotel stays, and ground transportation at their discretion.

When the situation is beyond the airline’s control, a refund is all that most airlines promise. However, for major storms, airlines have set a precedent for preemptively canceling flights in advance so you’re not stranded at the airport, and they will allow you to rebook within a specific time frame without penalty.

To learn more, see Flight-Cancellation Rights: The Ultimate Guide and Flight Delays: What to Do and How to Prevent Them.

Do I Need Travel Insurance?

To buy or not to buy: That is the question when it comes to travel insurance. It all depends on risk and your tolerance for it. In general, if you’re taking a relatively short trip and haven’t paid a fortune for it, you probably don’t need it. Plus, most airlines—and hotels, for that matter—will give you a refund or allow you to rebook when there’s a widespread storm or incident.

However, if you have put down significant nonrefundable deposits, are traveling at a risky time of year (such as hurricane season), have a potential medical condition, or are traveling to remote places where hospitals are scarce, travel insurance could be a good idea.

If you do opt insurance, make sure you know what’s included in your policy; most are very specific and won’t allow coverage to kick in once a storm is predicted or if you have a preexisting medical condition. You can also buy a policy that will allow you to cancel for any reason, but those usually come with a higher premium.

[st_related]Travel Insurance Coverage: 17 Things Your Policy Won’t Cover[/st_related]

How Do I Know When a Deal Is Really a Deal?

Sadly, not all travel deals are created equal. And while some are bona fide, others are nothing more than gimmicks, if not downright scams. Your best defense is to take the time to fully research a deal before handing over your credit card number.

First, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable supplier, especially when it comes to tour operators and promoters. If you haven’t heard of the company, check with the Better Business Bureau or United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) to make sure it is sound. Look for online reviews of the company on sites such as TripAdvisor or TrustPilot. Also, always compare prices across multiple suppliers. A deal might look good at first glance, but you may be able to beat the price elsewhere.

When it comes to hotel packages, price out inclusions like gift baskets or spa services separately to determine whether it’s cheaper to go a la carte. For example, many hotels offer individual room rates that are way cheaper than what you’d pay for the room plus the extras in a package. Remember: You can bring your own Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries (likely higher-quality ones, too).

Lastly, always read the fine print, with a particular eye on blackout dates and other restrictions. You don’t want to get a deal that you can’t even use.

How Do I Score an Upgrade?

man sitting next to empty comfort seat on the plane.

Everyone wants to vault to the front of the airplane cabin or that penthouse suite in the hotel, but most of us feel that an upgrade is out of reach. Not necessarily so. The best way to get upgraded is to join a loyalty program. While it’s hard for many leisure travelers to accrue enough miles for a free first- or business-class ticket, basic upgrades usually require fewer miles. For hotels and rental cars, points generally add up more quickly and you can get additional free perks just for being a member.

Another way to land a better seat is to look for deals; some airlines will launch short-term sales on premium seats. For more information, see First Class for Free: How to Get an Airline Upgrade.

With hotels, arriving late in the day can increase your chances of a better room, since the hotel might have vacant rooms to fill (and can subsequently open up a cheaper room for another paying customer). Also, at check-in, mention if you are celebrating a special occasion like a honeymoon or an anniversary. Check out How to Get a Hotel Upgrade for Free to learn more.

At the rental car desk, asking for an upgrade might work, but make sure you’ve weighed your options: A larger car could mean higher gas costs, which can quickly negate any benefit. In any situation, even with the airlines, it never hurts to ask; when you do, dress nicely, be specific with your request, and above all, be polite.

[st_related]11 Ways to Upgrade Your Next Trip for $100 or Less[/st_related]

What Can I Bring on the Plane?

This is such a complicated topic that SmarterTravel has a whole airport security FAQ to cover it. But here are the basics: In your carry-on, you can bring a single clear, quart-size plastic bag of liquid and gel items (such as shampoo, insect repellent, and sunscreen) in bottles of 3.4 ounces or less. If you need to bring larger quantities, you can put them in your checked bag—just make sure they’re well sealed to prevent messy spills. Exceptions to this rule include prescription medications, breast milk, and baby formula, which you can carry on in larger amounts.

The TSA has strict rules for items such as scissors, razors, sharp objects, and even wrapped gifts. To learn more, see the FAQ above or visit the TSA’s website.

What Should I Pack?

man packing suitcase for upcoming trip with gear spread out

Speaking of complicated topics … where do we begin? Of course, the answer depends on where you’re going and for how long, but you’ll want to start with SmarterTravel’s Ultimate Packing List, which has you covered with the basics you’ll need for just about any type of trip. If you want more specific advice, consider these lists:

You’ll also want to check out Ingenious Packing Tips Every Traveler Should Know, which includes information on how to pack for the TSA’s requirements, tips on saving space, a discussion of whether you should roll or fold your clothes, and clever tips from SmarterTravel readers. Trying to avoid overpacking? See A Traveler’s Guide to Minimalist Packing.

I’m Unhappy with My Seatmate(s) on the Plane. What Can I Do?

SmarterTravel readers often write in with travel questions about airplane seating dilemmas. “I have severe allergies to animals. What are my rights if I am sitting by someone with an animal?” asks one reader.

“I was recently seated next to a large person whose body overhung the armrest and crowded me,” writes another. “What can be done in this situation?”

Generally speaking, your best bet is to approach a flight attendant discreetly and ask if there are any available seats to which you could be moved. In the case of animal allergies, even if no seats are free, the airline staff might be able to find a non-allergic passenger who’s willing to switch with you. Bring up your concerns early—because once the plane has taken off, the flight attendants will have much less flexibility.

For more information, see the following resources:

What Are the Best Travel Destinations, and How Do I Know If They’re Safe?

There’s no single right answer to the first part of this question. It really depends on factors like your personal travel style and when you plan to travel. But there are a few tricks to identifying a great hot spot.

If affordability is a priority, look for destinations with new airline routes or hotels; providers will often release introductory rates at a discount, and you can be among the first to check things out. Additionally, keep an eye out for destinations making a comeback from natural disasters or political unrest; it can take time for tourists to return, even after the place is safe and open for business again, and the low demand can mean great deals for those who are willing to visit.

If you want to go where the excitement is, look for locales with big events, such as major sporting competitions, festivals, and museum openings. Check with the local tourism bureau to see what’s on; you might even stumble upon corresponding deals and packages.

SmarterTravel frequently publishes inspirational lists of places to travel for just about every interest. Check out Top Travel Destinations for 2020 or browse the site’s Destinations section to learn more.

As for safety, your first step is to research your destination on the U.S. State Department’s website. Here you’ll find important travel advisories and information about crime, health concerns, and other safety issues for every country around the world. Pay attention to the details before writing off an entire destination; it may be perfectly safe as long as you steer clear of certain problem areas. Keep an eye on news headlines in the lead-up to your trip so you’re aware of any last-minute issues.

If you have specific concerns, consider posting questions on travel forums such as TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet. Destination experts and locals can often offer up-to-the-minute updates from the ground.

Traveling? Consider Bringing These:

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=air]

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Anne Banas and Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

Categories
Airport Security

What to Do When an Airport Protest Affects Your Travel

Protesters stormed Barcelona’s El Prat airport last week, angered by the imprisonment of Catalan separatist leaders. The airport protests resulted in 45 canceled flights, stranding travelers and generally slowing operations at the airport. Protests like this one occur in airports around the globe regularly, always bringing up an interesting conundrum for unsuspecting travelers: What are your rights when protests affect your travel?

Airlines

Protests are typically classified as force majeure events in an airline’s contract of carriage. “Force majeure” events are anything beyond the airline’s control, such as (in United’s contract of carriage) “meteorological or geological conditions, acts of God, riots, terrorist activities, civil commotions, embargoes, wars, hostilities, disturbances, or unsettled international conditions.”

[st_related]Flight-Cancellation Rights: The Ultimate Guide[/st_related]

“Riots” and “civil commotions” are the operative terms here, either of which would cover any protest or demonstration substantial enough to affect travel. In these cases, traveler’s rights are somewhat limited. Airlines are not liable for force majeure events so they aren’t technically obligated to do anything; but that would be a bad look, so they do typically work to re-accommodate passengers in some form.

That said, passengers in these cases may have to push for anything more. United, for example, says it “may re-accommodate passengers on another available UA flight” or find alternate options on another carrier or mode of transportation. But additional assistance, such as a hotel room, “will not be furnished when such interruption is due to circumstances outside [its] control.” I’m not picking on United here—this is typical of most airlines, and so serves as an example. Long story short: An airport protest is no different than a hurricane, at least in terms of your rights as an airline passenger.

Travel Insurance

Unfortunately, most travel insurance policies won’t cover you if an airport protest, or any other protest, impacts your trip. Allianz insurance, for example, lists “civil disorder or unrest” as an “unforeseen event that travel insurance does not cover.” Allianz and other travel insurance providers also distinguish between “civil unrest” and terrorism, with the latter defined (from an insurance perspective) by a specific event. Here’s an example from Allianz:

You’ve just arrived in Cairo and are preparing to depart for a grand Egypt tour. Then a riot breaks out in Tahrir Square as protesters and police clash. Terrified, you retreat to your hotel room and begin making plans to fly home. Will travel insurance cover your trip cancellation because of the riot?

No, because civil unrest is not the same thing as terrorism. Allianz Global Assistance’s travel insurance defines terrorism specifically as “when an organized terrorist group, as defined by the U.S. State Department, injures or kills people or damages property to achieve a political, ethnic, or religious goal or result.” Terrorist events don’t include general civil protest, unrest, rioting, or acts of war.

Allianz adds, “if a strike or unrest results in your carrier or tour operator ceasing services for 24 hours, then that could be considered a covered reason for trip cancellation.” Basically, a protest alone won’t trigger your insurance, but cancellations resulting from the protest might. Bottom line: Read the fine print of your insurance policy before you buy, as always.

Of course, for added protections you can add a cancel-for-any-reason option (CFAR) to their policy, which is exactly what it sounds like. This kind of add-on coverage is expensive, but offers far more certainty when a disruption occurs. CFAR is not a magic bullet, however. They may not reimburse the full amount of your expenses, and some CAFR add-ons carry stipulations when it comes to filing the claims.

Readers: Have you ever had a vacation or trip disrupted by a protest? Comment below.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=air]

Categories
Booking Strategy

Does Travel Insurance Cover a Missed Connection Involving Two Airlines?

Despite all the technical advances, air travel remains subject to occasional sudden delays, a situation not likely to change very fast. And unless you get a single flight from your starting point to your final destination, delays of more than a few minutes can sometimes cause you to miss a connecting flight. But there are some conditions that can complicate things.

A reader once asked, for example, if it’s smart to buy the cheapest fare when it’s two separate tickets on two different airlines:

“If I buy two separate tickets, on two different airlines, and the first flight arrives too late to make my connection, would travel insurance cover the costs of re-arranging my trip?”

The short answer: It’s unlikely. While no insurance companies seem to specifically cover this kind of missed connection, some policy protections could apply. Here’s what you need to know.

The Two-Ticket Problem

Let’s say that, on a connecting itinerary, your first flight is delayed so much that you miss your connection. On a through ticket, you’d have no problem—your connecting airline would put you on the next available flight without added charge. And, depending on the circumstances, one of the airlines might even pick up the tab for meals or an overnight accommodation.

But if you have two separate tickets on two different airlines, neither airlines is responsible for the other’s delay, and therefore not responsible for rebooking you. Over the years, I’ve heard from quite a few readers who faced such a problem. Yet as the airline system continues to fragment, it’s more likely than ever to find that the lowest airfare is two separate tickets.

[st_related]Does Travel Insurance Cover Terrorism?[/st_related]

Unfortunately, for various reasons, several important airlines do not interline and write through tickets with any others, or they may interline with only one or two other lines. That includes airlines carrying significant numbers of travelers both in the U.S. (Southwest) and Europe (Ryanair and EasyJet), along with such smaller lines as Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, and many, smaller European and Asian lines. If you want to connect to or from these lines, you’ll have to buy two tickets.

Nor can you count on the airline that caused the delay to help you, either. Contracts specifically say that an airline isn’t responsible for scheduled arrival or bears no financial liability for any loss you suffer because of a late arrival.

Does Insurance Help?

Travel insurance companies haven’t yet developed a standard “solution” to missed two-ticket connections. QuoteWright, a leading online travel insurance agency, confirmed as much.

Typically, travel insurance policies cover missed connections under either “interruption” or “delay.” But policies differ in their definitions and limitations on which “perils” apply. Some policies kick in only if the delay extends more than a set period, anywhere from a few hours to as much as 12 hours.

Some bundled-package policies include a separate “missed connection” benefit, but that benefit is, at best, problematic in the case of a missed two-airline connection. Many of those policies specifically limit the missed connection benefit to missed cruise departures. And dollar limits can be as low as $250. According to QuoteWright, insurance companies adopted special missed connection coverage as a way to limit liability under the broader interruption or delay coverages.

Policies that do cover airline-to-airline connections limit application to connections that adhere to the minimum “legal connection times,” an obviously meaningless concept in two-ticket connections.

All in all, as far as I can tell, missed airline-to-airline connection coverage is a coverage that the insurance industry has largely missed.

[st_related]Travel Insurance: The Ultimate Guide[/st_related]

Defending Yourself

When one-ticket travel doesn’t work, you can protect yourself, at least some of the time:

  • Never book separate-ticket connections with less than a three-hour connecting time. Two-ticket trips can require reclaiming and rechecking your baggage, at a minimum. At worst, you may also have to exit and re-enter security at different terminal buildings.
  • Buy insurance, but buy a policy that (1) has a broad coverage of interruption, delay, or missed connections, and (2) provides a benefit high enough to pay for a replacement ticket and possibly an overnight stay at your connecting airport.
  • Even though you may look at insurance options and prices through an online agency, before you buy, speak with an agent—or exchange emails with an agent—who can confirm that the insurance provides coverage for your specific itinerary.

Clearly, the added risks are sufficiently great that you shouldn’t buy a two-ticket itinerary unless the cost difference between that and a through-ticket itinerary is excessive, or unless you just can’t buy a single-ticket trip. And if you have to buy two tickets, pad your schedule accordingly.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2010. It has been updated to reflect the most up to date information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Money Senior Travel Travel Technology Travel Trends

How to Buy Travel Insurance When You Have a Pre-Existing Condition

Whether—and how—travel insurance covers pre-existing medical conditions remains a source of uncertainty among many travelers. This question I once received from a reader is a case in point:

“My husband and I will fly to Venice on October 6, where we will stay two weeks. I bought our airline tickets last February. My husband is diabetic, managing it with medication, and he just had surgery, after which he is doing well. Can we still purchase trip-cancellation insurance including medical evacuation?”

The short answer: You can buy TCI and medical evacuation (medevac) insurance that will cover cancellation or an evacuation required by your husband’s diabetes—as long as you can show it was totally controlled up to the time of departure. But probably not for potential complications following the surgery. It would cover both of you for any other health problems that arise during your trip.

[st_related]How to Buy Travel Medical Insurance, the ‘Other’ Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Sound confusing? The jargon around travel insurance for pre-existing medical conditions is. Here are the pertinent details that travelers with one should know about buying travel health insurance, up to and including medevac insurance.

What Is a “Pre-Existing Condition”?

Most travel insurance, including medical evacuation and trip cancellation, excludes pre-existing medical conditions as a “covered reason” for paying on a claim. Here’s how one insurance company defines that exclusion:

“‘Pre-existing condition’ means any injury, sickness or condition for which medical advice, diagnosis, care or treatment was recommended or received within the 180-day period ending on your date of departure. Conditions are not considered pre-existing if the condition for which prescribed drugs or medicine is taken remains controlled without any change in the required prescription.”

Another company says it this way:

“An illness or injury that you, a traveling companion or family member were seeking or receiving treatment for or had symptoms of on the day you purchased your plan, or at any time in the 120 days before you purchased it. You, a traveling companion or family member are considered to have an existing medical condition if you, a traveling companion or family member:

  • Saw or were advised to see a doctor
  • Had symptoms that would cause a prudent person to see a doctor
  • Were taking prescribed medication for the condition or the symptoms, unless the condition or symptoms are effectively controlled by the prescription, and the prescription hasn’t changed.”

Some policies do not even include the allowance for conditions controlled by medication, but many do. The typical exclusion period ranges from 90 days to 180 days. In my reader’s case, as I noted, a typical policy would cover her husband’s controlled diabetes but not complications from his recent surgery.

Insurance companies are serious about the definition of the “medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment” limitation. If you so much as called a doctor about a possible problem, the insurance bean counters could deny a claim.

[st_related]Travel Insurance: The Ultimate Guide[/st_related]

Waiving Pre-Existing Conditions

The good news about exceptions for pre-existing conditions is that many travel insurance companies waive that exception if you buy the insurance shortly after making your initial travel arrangements. Here’s how one company puts it:

“If your plan includes this coverage, you, a traveling companion or family member can have an existing medical condition and you will still be eligible for all coverage and assistance services, as long as:

  • You purchased your plan within 14 days of making your first trip payment or first trip deposit
  • You purchased trip cancellation coverage that covers the full cost of all your nonrefundable trip arrangements
  • You were a U.S. resident and medically able to travel on the day you purchased the plan, and
  • The total cost of your trip is $20,000 per person or less.”

Depending on the company, the purchase deadline for buying the insurance ranges from seven to 14 days. As far as I can tell, you don’t have to pay anything extra to get pre-existing conditions waived: Just buy the insurance on time.

[st_related]8 Vital Things You Need to Know About Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Health Problems Must Be Unforeseen

Even when they waive the exception for pre-existing medical conditions, almost all policies limit coverage to “unforeseen” medical problems. If you can foresee a problem at the time of buying, insurance is void. As a corollary, you must be fully capable of traveling at the time you buy the insurance.

Buyer’s Guide

Pre-existing conditions are apparently the biggest source of problems between insurance companies and travelers. Given how easy it is to have the whole problem waived, it seems to me to be a no-brainer that anyone interested in medevac or trip-cancellation insurance should buy the insurance within the specified seven- or 14-day period after making the first trip payment.

Beyond that, I continue to recommend that travelers check one or more of these travel insurance agencies’ comparison sites, enter their trip details and coverage requirements, and select the least expensive policy that meets their needs:

These independent agencies sell policies written by all the major insurance underwriters. Price comparison and policy selection is a snap: The site displays a long list of policies and their detailed terms.

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2009. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Travel Trends

Does Travel Insurance Cover Weather Problems?

Big weather events like storms—and the many airline cancellations that result from them—always raise the question of the extent to which your travel insurance can help to recoup lost bookings when bad weather hits. Otherwise put as: “Does travel insurance cover weather problems?” The short answer is that some types do. But you’ll find lots of variation: Policies vary substantially in what they specify as “covered reasons” to provide payment.

What to Look for in Travel Insurance If You Want Protection from Weather Problems

You have to take a close look at the fine print details about the travel insurance’s conditions surrounding weather problems before you buy. Three different coverage types usually apply if you want your insurance to cover weather problems:

Trip Cancellation/Interruption (TCI)

Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, or TCI, covers expenses caused by delay or cancellation that you can’t recover from your airline or hotel. TCI policies typically include a laundry list of “covered reasons” that qualify for this benefit, and almost all include at least some coverage for weather-related delays and cancellations:

  • Better policies promise, simply, that the insurer will pay, in the words of a top policy, because of “inclement weather causing delay or cancellation of travel.” That’s pretty straightforward: If weather problems cancel or delays your trip, the insurer pays.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, other policies hedge their coverage. Quite a few pay the cancellation only for a delay lasting at least 24 hours; quite a few also limit payout to “weather that causes complete cessation of services of your common carrier for at least 24 consecutive hours.”
  • The main exception is that a disruptive weather event must be unforeseen at the time you buy the insurance. If the National Hurricane Center has already located and named a possible upcoming storm, insurance purchased after that time would not cover a weather delay.
  • Policies don’t agree on definitions of “weather.” I haven’t seen any policies that would have covered last year’s extended West Coast forest fires and smoke as covered reasons.
  • According to John Cook, president of travel insurance agency QuoteWright, “total” doesn’t mean that an airline has to shut down its entire system; it refers to service in the areas on your itinerary. Still, “complete cessation” is an unsettling loophole.

[st_related]Does Travel Insurance Cover Terrorism?[/st_related]

Airlines almost always waive ticket-change fees and fare increases for travelers on canceled or delayed flights and allow them to rebook on later—and sometimes earlier—flights. But those waivers severely limit the time frame to rebook and the time frame to take an alternate flight. If you can’t, or don’t, want to rebook and fly within those narrow limits, you face the likelihood of a change fee, a fare increase, or both. And airlines don’t let you rebook to a different city, even if it’s relatively convenient: Milwaukee instead of Chicago, for example, or Oakland instead of San Francisco.

“Delay” Coverage

Most bundled trip insurance also includes a “delay” benefit: payment that covers your incidental expenses when you’re caught in a delay. As with TCI, delay coverage kicks in for a variety of circumstances, such as a traffic accident en route to a terminal or a natural disaster, and most include delays due to weather.

Typically, airlines are not responsible for covering food and lodging expenses you incur due to a weather delay, a hole that travel insurance can fill. Typical coverages range from $100 to $250 per day; most establish a minimum time threshold of five to 12 hours. If you want this coverage, look for a policy paying at least $200 a day; $100 is not likely to cover an overnight stay plus meals. But many credit cards provide similar delay benefits at no cost, so you may not need a separate policy.

Missed Connection Coverage

Many bundled policies also cover cases where you miss a connection. As with delay coverage, policies vary: Total benefits range from $250 to $2,500. Most policies are limited to connections missed by three hours or more, and some low-end policies don’t cover missed connections at all. Normally, airlines take care of missed connections due to weather; this coverage is geared more to missing cruise and tour departures, but it can also apply to separate-ticket flights on different airlines.

QuoteWright has posted a comprehensive table listing weather-related benefits and limits for 32 different policies from all the big suppliers. It also shows ratings of those policies for their weather coverage: Top-rated policies include Travel Insurance Select from USI, CSA’s Custom Luxe, and Travelex’s Travel Max. If you’re considering weather insurance, try comparing those plans.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=air]

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Health & Wellness Security Travel Trends

Does Travel Insurance Cover Terrorism?

Given recent headlines, you might wonder: Does travel insurance cover terrorism? And the short answer is, “Yes, but…” with some important variables in that “but.”

Most trip-cancellation or interruption travel insurance includes “terrorism” as a named peril and a “covered reason” for benefits when you might want to cancel or change a trip to a destination that suffers an attack. But whether and how insurance covers you for terrorism depends on two important elements in the insurance policy’s fine print: How the insurer defines “terrorism,” and what kind of “terrorism” event triggers coverage. These critical details can vary from policy to policy.

Does Travel Insurance Cover Terrorism? It Depends on Your Definition of ‘Terrorism’

Surprisingly, the big travel insurance issuers are not in lockstep about defining “terrorism.” A random check of policies from the main insurers reveals some major differences. Several companies define terrorism simply as “an incident deemed an act of terrorism by the U.S. Department of State” or a rough equivalent. But other companies modify that with extra requirements.

Many policies require that the terrorism event be committed by “a person acting alone or in association with other persons on behalf of or in connection with any organization of foreign government which is generally recognized as having the intent to overthrow or influence the control of any other foreign government.”

Many travel insurance policies specifically require a State Department official warning for American travelers not to travel to the destination country or city suffering a terrorist attack. Some policies exclude “civil disorder.” Some require that the terrorism event result in loss of life or major property damage in order to be eligible for travel insurance coverage.

[st_related]Everything You Need to Know About Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Two factors stand out in the fine print for the question of whether travel insurance covers terrorism or a terrorist attack. Almost every travel insurance policy requires formal recognition by the U.S. State Department that an attack is defined as an act of terrorism. But in some cases, the act has to be traced to an organization or individual having an intent to overthrow the control of some government. Either factor could presumably deny coverage in cases many of you would consider to be “terrorism.” And “civil disorder” can often look a lot like terrorism.

Travel Insurance and a Terrorist Attack: What Triggers Insurance Coverage?

As with definitions, policies vary somewhat in how they describe an event that triggers coverage. Several travel insurance policies simply require a “terrorist incident that occurs within 30 days of your scheduled departure date in a city listed on the itinerary of your or your traveling companion’s trip.”

But many include more specific limitations and variations about how travel insurance covers terrorism.

A few policies reduce that 30-day time limit to 14 or even seven days. A few add that travel insurance coverage for a terrorist attack is valid only if a destination city had not suffered an attack within the past 30 days. The standard “in a city” statement is pretty vague, too. Some travel insurance policies specify geographic limits, saying the terror attack must have occurred within  a 50-mile or 100-mile radius of a city on your itinerary.

[st_related]Travel Insurance Coverage: 17 Things Your Policy Won’t Cover[/st_related]

A few travel insurance policies deny coverage for terrorism if your travel supplier offers a substitute itinerary. And some shift the condition of a government announcement to this portion of the contract.

Travel Insurance and Terrorism: The Take-Away

All in all, trip insurance coverage for a terrorist event can vary substantially among different issuers. Some travel insurance issuers incorporate varying language in different policies. Some low-cost travel insurance policies do not cover terrorism at all.

Clearly, if you’re interested in cancellation or interruption travel insurance that covers terrorism, you have to compare policies carefully. The typical online insurance-comparison search systems generally don’t allow filters for the degree of detail you might want. Instead, you have to look at the “details” or “full policy” pull-downs for each policy for the information you need.

Alternatively, if you want a definitive answer to the question of whether your travel insurance covers terrorism, you can pay extra for cancel-for-any-reason coverage (ranging from terrorism to weather to illness to missing a connecting flight) and leave the go/no-go decision entirely up to you.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=air]

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness

Hurricanes and Travel: What Your Options Are When One Threatens Your Vacation

Do you know what to do if a hurricane strikes your vacation destination? The course of action for canceling a trip and/or trying to get a refund vary depending on the trip. From buying travel insurance to rescheduling flights, here’s everything you need to know about hurricanes and travel.

Airlines

All airlines follow the same general pattern. If your scheduled flight to/from an airport within a specified impact zone within a stated period is cancelled due to a hurricane at either end of the flight, you have two general options:

  • If you want to get on with your trip, you can rebook an available seat to the same destination in the same cabin with no change fee and at the same fare, within a limited time, usually just a few weeks. If you want to reschedule a flight beyond that date, you face paying at whatever the going fare is at the time—and maybe a change fee. Airline policies generally say you “may” be subject to a change fee rather than you “will” be charged, but that sort of vague proposition doesn’t help with post-hurricane planning. My guess is that most travelers “will” have to pay. In effect, you’re no better off than if you had cancelled the flight, yourself.
  • If you want to abort your trip, you are entitled to a full refund, even on a totally nonrefundable ticket.

Airlines have become quite pro-active in severe weather events, cancelling trips as soon as a threat is recognized rather than waiting until the event actually hits.

Although all airlines follow the same general policy, details differ. The most significant detail is how much time the airline gives you for a replacement flight without triggering a fare difference or change penalty. Even the most generous of these policies is too tight for many trips. If your cancelled trip was to visit friends or relatives, for example, presumably they would need more than a couple of weeks to recover from any substantial damage to their homes or disruptions of their lives. And local hotels and resorts may well take months to recover.

Obviously, if you need to get to your destination ASAP, even up to a week or two late, and if your original ticket is at a good fare, take the airline’s no-fee, short-term rebook option. The downside may be limited availability of replacement seats. But if you don’t have a great fare you want to lock in, by all means, forget about immediate rescheduling and get your refund: You have a lot more flexibility about rescheduling.

[st_related]How to Get a Refund on a Nonrefundable Ticket [/st_related]

Cruises During Hurricanes

Hurricanes can hit almost any Atlantic, Caribbean, or Gulf coast port. If you’re on a cruise scheduled to leave from an impacted seaport, or scheduled to visit an impacted port, presumably your cruise line will reschedule your cruise for another time, reschedule your itinerary, or offer you a credit toward a future cruise.

Unlike airlines, cruise lines have wide loopholes in their contracts that allow them to change itineraries without your right to a refund. Accordingly, they’re unlikely to offer an actual refund, instead limiting you to a future cruise credit. And that can be sticky: Some cruise credits require that you rebook a substitute sailing within six months, which is not practical for many travelers.

Given how stingy cruise lines are when dealing with irregular operations, consider trip-cancellation insurance (TCI) when you buy a cruise, even if you don’t normally buy it.

[st_related]How to Avoid Caribbean Hurricane Season[/st_related]

Hotels and Vacation Rentals

No rules or regulations other than general contract law cover your rights with hotel and rental bookings. And big hotel chains and resorts may or may not make proactive cancellations and re-bookings due to severe weather. An inquiry to one giant hotel chain asking specifically about cancellations and refunds returned a bland statement about support for victims and nothing at all about cancellations and refunds. A website statement at HomeAway, the giant vacation rental agency, simply suggests you contact property owners or managers.

Clearly, I found nothing specific or even reassuring from any hotel or vacation rental source. That means, realistically, you’re on your own to negotiate the best deal you can with the property. Although you should get a full refund, the supplier might not offer it, instead offering credit toward a future stay. Fighting in court may or may not be justified by the amounts involved. Instead, buy TCI.

[st_related]Travel Insurance Coverage: 13 Things Your Policy Won’t Cover [/st_related]

Travel Insurance and Hurricanes

TCI can minimize financial risks of having a hurricane hit your flight, cruise or vacation destination. Natural disasters such as hurricanes are a “covered reason” for cancellation on almost all policies, and they pay whatever you can’t recover from an airline, cruise line, hotel, or vacation rental. TCI is especially important in the case of a cruise, resort, or vacation rental, where your right to a refund, if any, is limited by a supplier’s typically unilateral and self-serving policies

One problematic area in TCI is common to most policies: Typically, TCI policies limit coverage to circumstances, even covered reasons, that are “unforeseen” at the time you buy the policy. So if you buy TCI when a tropical depression in the Atlantic or Gulf has already headed toward landfall somewhere along the coast, maybe even with a diagram from the National Weather Service, “foreseeable” is problematic. And if you wait to buy it until after a hurricane or major storm has been identified or named, insurance won’t cover you.

For maximum protection and minimum risk, buy TCI as soon as you make a substantial nonrefundable payment, and buy it from a third-party insurance agency, not from the airline, cruise line, or tour operator—the coverage is better. If you really want to minimize risk and be in full control of your options, buy a “cancel for any reason” TCI policy.

What to Pack for Your Next Vacation

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=air]

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Airport Budget Travel Health & Wellness Money Travel Scams

12 Travel Insurance Gotchas You Need to Know

“Do you want insurance?” When you book a flight, you’re likely to get that question from an agent, or to see it beside a digital ‘check’ box you might ignore. And it’s often fine to pass over: Lots of travel insurance is, in fact, either unnecessary or overpriced—or both.

But certainly, there are times when travel insurance really is a good idea. Like:

  • Trip-cancellation insurance (TCI): You need it any time you have a prepayment that is larger than you can afford to walk away from if you unexpectedly have to cancel the trip.
  • Trip-interruption insurance (TII, almost always bundled with TCI): You might need it if you’re traveling someplace where having to return home unexpectedly would cost you a lot in extra fares and fees.
  • Medical insurance: You probably need it if your regular health insurance doesn’t cover you adequately when you’re out of the United States. That includes everybody on Medicare plus many others.
  • Medical evacuation (medevac, often included with medical): You might need it if you suffer a sickness or injury that requires special transport—helicopter or private jet, for example—to a hospital or home, often not covered by conventional medical insurance.

And with any kind of insurance, you have to worry about hidden gotchas that can leave you high and dry, even if you thought you paid for top-notch coverage. Insurance companies hire agents who are experts at figuring out reasons not to pay claims. Here are the main trouble spots to keep in mind before you buy, and how you might be able to minimize your risk of being duped.

[st_related]Everything You Need to Know About Travel Insurance[/st_related]

‘Named Peril’ Insurance

Travel insurance is typically “named peril” insurance, which means that it covers only those contingencies and individuals specifically named in its contract. Conventional TCI/TII and medical/medevac policies all contain laundry lists of occurrences that the insurer will accept as reasons for cancellation; these are listed as “covered reasons” and vary from policy to policy. This gotcha rule is simple: If it isn’t named, it isn’t covered. And check policies carefully, as named perils vary from policy to policy.

‘Covered Reasons’

Covered reasons—the named perils each policy covers—typically include a wide range of sicknesses and accidents—breaking a leg or coming down with pneumonia, for example—that could befall you, your traveling companion, or a close relative at home. But they also usually include unexpected events such as a fire at your home or a call to jury duty. And they generally include force majeure events, at either your destination or at home, that would prevent you from traveling: hurricanes, floods, fires, political events such as terrorist attacks, and default of a travel supplier. But they seldom include anything even remotely foreseeable, such as elective surgery, or risky behavior, such as downhill skiing.  And they exclude self-inflicted injuries.

Minimizing the risk: Buy a “cancel for any reason” policy, but see item seven for gotchas in those.

Financial Default

Most TCI/TII policies cover default of a supplier. But the definition of “default” is pretty narrow: namely, if the supplier quits business entirely. Some policies cover just “bankruptcy” rather than “default,” which can be a problem since many failed suppliers never get around to filing bankruptcy. Also, the default condition does not apply if a supplier has to cut back operations due to a financial problem but stays in business. Other coverages in the policy may include these instances, but you can’t be sure. And default policies never cover default of the supplier from which you buy the insurance.

Minimizing the risk: Get a policy with the broadest definition of “default,” and never buy insurance through your travel supplier.

Destination Problems

Most policies allow you to cancel for weather or similar reasons only if your airline stops flying to your destination or your hotel is “uninhabitable.” For example, as long as your golf-resort hotel is habitable, the insurance won’t cover cancellation because the golf course is unplayable. And weather-based cancellations are generally not valid if you buy the insurance after a major storm at your destination has already been identified or named by the National Weather Service. Similarly, civil unrest and crime at your destination are typically not covered unless the State Department has actually issued a warning. 

Minimizing the risk: Get a policy with the broadest definition of “destination problems,” but recognize that you can’t completely avoid this risk.

‘Preexisting’ Medical Conditions

Most ordinary TCI/TII and medical insurance excludes coverage for a preexisting medical condition: a sickness or condition for which you received treatment within a certain period, usually 60 to 180 days, before you purchased insurance. Depending on the policy, this can mean a condition for which you showed symptoms that would have prompted a reasonable person to seek diagnosis, care, or treatment; for which care or treatment was given or recommended by a physician; or that required the taking of prescription drugs or medicines.

Minimizing the risk: Most insurers waive this exclusion if you buy the insurance within a short period of time—a few days to two weeks, depending on the policy—from the date that you make your first prepayment or deposit. This protection costs nothing, and it avoids the most common cause of disagreements between travelers and insurers.

‘Forseeable’ Conditions

Even if you take advantage of a preexisting-conditions waiver, an insurer can still deny your claim for a loss due to a preexisting condition that is foreseeable at the time you buy the policy. If, for example, a close family member has previously been diagnosed with late-stage terminal cancer, you probably can’t cancel your trip because that person suddenly gets worse or dies. You won’t be covered if a travel warning is in effect for your destination when you buy the insurance. And you must be able to travel at the time you buy the insurance.

Minimizing the risk: You can’t change these rules; just be aware of them.

[st_related]How to Buy Travel Insurance When You Have a Pre-Existing Medical Condition[/st_related]

Cancel for Any Reason Conditions

Many insurers now offer an optional “cancel for any reason” or “cancel for work reasons” policy addition. For many travelers, unexpected work demands are the most likely reason to cancel, and these policies avoid that risk. Similarly, if you want to cancel because of civil unrest in your destination, you can.

But these policies are a bit different from ordinary policies: They only allow cancellation up to 48 hours prior to departure, some offer only 75 percent or 90 percent coverage, and most are more expensive than conventional policies. Legally, some jurisdictions do not even consider them “insurance.” 

Minimizing the risk: You can’t do much beyond what is allowed in the policy.

Secondary Coverage

Many elements of travel insurance are secondary, meaning the policies pay for only what you can’t first recover from your suppliers and your other insurance. With TCI/TII, you have to seek as much of a refund as you can from your airline, resort, cruise line, vacation rental, or whatever. With medical expenses, you have to claim from your own insurance first (if it covers you where you are), and you might have to front the money for emergency care on the spot and later claim reimbursement from your own insurance. With personal effects (like clothing and toiletries), baggage, and such, you may first have to claim from your carrier and your own insurance. 

Minimizing the risk: Some policies provide primary medical, personal-effects, and other coverages—much preferred to secondary policies.

Improvising

TCI/TII and medical/medevac insurance both require that you follow the rules. Specifically, that means you have to let the insurance company make all the necessary arrangements, including choosing the physician and hospital, arranging return transportation, and lots of other details. The travel-insurance industry is full of legends about travelers who made their own arrangements—and didn’t get paid. 

Minimizing the risk: Easy—just do what the policy says.

Less-than-Full Payment

If you cover less than the full cost of your trip—even if you just “round down” your prepayments—some policies will invalidate the entire coverage. Most policies require that you cover the total nonrefundable portion of your trip, including payments that really don’t worry you, and a few require that you cover the total trip cost, including refundable deposits. 

Minimizing the Risk: Check the fine print of any policy you’re considering, and avoid those that require you to cover refundable payments.

Age-Based Pricing

Most TCI/TII and medical/medevac rates depend on your age. Rates start to rise rapidly for travelers 70 and over.

Minimizing the risk: The big online insurance agencies automatically price your quote to your age—and unless you pay a lot, you may have to give up the waiver of preexisting medical conditions. Also, some policies that are not age rated impose a maximum age. Supplier waivers are usually not age rated, so even if their coverage is inferior to third-party policies, they may be your only practical choice if you’re in your 70s or older.

Expecting Miracles

Like most insurance, TCI/TII is about money and only money. It can’t preserve your vacation or arrange or pay for an alternate trip. And because so much TCI/TII is secondary, even if it covers your claims, you could be paying out of pocket for months and might have to pay up front for any substitute arrangements.

Minimizing the risk: Even if you buy insurance, have a “plan B” in mind in case something goes wrong with your original trip.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_newsletter]

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Budget Travel Health & Wellness Money

How to Buy Travel Medical Insurance, the ‘Other’ Travel Insurance

No one wants to imagine being sick or injured on vacation; but if the worst happens, it pays (literally) to be prepared. Medical travel insurance can save you considerable hassle, time and money, and offer you peace of mind if you encounter health problems while traveling. But it’s also somewhat separate from most standard forms of travel insurance. While most common—and commonly needed—travel insurance is trip-cancellation (TCI) protection, you should certainly consider medical risks when you’re looking at your travel insurance options, up to and including emergency medical evacuation (also called “medevac”) assistance.

Who Needs Travel Medical Insurance?

The quick answer to that question is: Anyone who isn’t covered by their regular medical insurance when they’re traveling. More specifically, that means:

  • Anyone whose regular health insurance/HMO doesn’t pay for services outside the U.S. There was a time when most private health insurance—and most HMOs—covered you (and emergency medevac assistance) wherever you went, but that’s no longer the case. With relentless cutbacks in benefits in recent years, many standard health insurance programs will no longer cover medical bills in foreign countries. And most do not cover medevac.
  • Any senior dependent on Medicare. Medicare will not pay for anything outside the U.S. Even if you have a Medicare supplement that nominally covers foreign travel, benefits are so meager that you might need additional insurance.

[st_related]How to Find an English-Speaking Doctor Abroad[/st_related]

Everyone should check their health insurance and travel insurance’s overseas medical benefits before leaving the country for a trip. If coverage is either slim or nonexistent, you likely need travel medical insurance.

It’s also worth noting that the medical benefits in many travel insurance policies are secondary, which means the insurance pays only for what you can’t claim from your regular health insurer/HMO. On the off chance that you already have good foreign-country coverage, additional travel insurance is probably a waste of money.

Bundled Medical Coverage

Almost all travel insurance bundles include a combination of TCI and medical benefits. For example, for a two-week trip to Europe the least expensive bundled policy might be a few hundred dollars (total) for two people. This usually covers a few thousand dollars in TCI plus somewhere around $50,000 in medical/dental emergency costs per person, and $50,000 in medical evacuation expenses per person. That’s about the minimum coverage: If you think you need more, you could buy a policy providing TCI plus $100,000 in medical emergency and $500,000 medevac per person for slightly more money.

But if you don’t want the TCI, you can buy just the medical coverage, and adjust according to your needs. On a sample trip I tested, I could buy greatly reduced coverage ($5,000 medical, $25,000 medevac) for about $100 total. Or, conversely, I could pay $195 for $100,000 in medical coverage, per person, plus unlimited medevac costs.

For travel to developed countries, my opinion is that $50,000 in medical and $50,000 medevac would more than cover any foreseeable risks. Travel to less developed areas, however, might call for slightly higher limits. It’s ultimately your call.

[st_related]Everything You Need to Know About Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Yearly Medical and Medevac Coverage

If you travel a lot, you might consider buying medical/medevac insurance by the year (or per six months) rather than per trip. A low-benefit policy for frequent travelers offering about $10,000 in medical and $25,000 in medevac on each trip can cost about $100 per year (for one person). A more generous travel medical insurance policy covering $100,000 medical and unlimited medevac per trip costs about double that for one year (for one person). These policies are designed for travelers who make several short trips each year; policies for long-term overseas trips or extended business assignments might be priced differently.

Medevac: The Fine Print

Most medevac policies I’ve seen call for transport to either the nearest appropriate medical facility or back to the U.S., depending on the circumstances. Typically, that means you start at a local or regional hospital. The insurance pays for transport back to the U.S. only when, in the opinion of the attending physician, local/regional facilities are inadequate.

When you need medevac, the insurance company calls all the shots. That means you must, from the beginning, make all arrangements through the insurance company or its local agents. If you jump the gun and make your own arrangements, chances are the insurance company won’t cover them.

Can Your Credit Card Help?

Several premium credit cards provide lesser travel medical insurance in an emergency in a foreign country. Although the language in the card literature might seem to promise a lot, what you typically get is a referral to file claims, and not any genuine assistance.

The fine print for the AmEx Platinum card, for example, says, “Whenever you travel, have peace of mind knowing that you have 24/7 medical, legal, financial, and other emergency assistance while traveling more than 100 miles from home. We can direct you to English-speaking medical and legal professionals and arrange for a transfer to a more appropriate medical facility, even if an air ambulance is required.” Note that it says “arrange for,” not “pay for.” What you get is help in making arrangements; the cost of those arrangements goes right on your credit card bill, unless moving you is deemed “medically necessary.” As far as I know, most other cards operate the same way.

How to Choose Travel Medical Insurance

The medical risks you face when traveling outside the U.S. are hard to quantify. Basically, the chances of facing a major medical problem are small—very small, for medevac—but the financial consequences of a serious event are potentially quite large.

Fortunately, travel health insurance prices are not bad. As with all travel insurance, my suggestion is that you check with one or two of the online travel insurance agencies, enter your personal details, trip details, and the coverages you want, and select the least expensive policy that meets your needs. Some of the major agencies include InsureMyTrip.com, Squaremouth, and QuoteWright.

What to Wear on Your Next Trip

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Money

8 Vital Things to Know About Travel Insurance

Will you regret not buying travel insurance? Sometimes costly and often confusing, travel insurance coverage might seem like a trip-planning technicality that’s all too easy to ignore. But Murphy’s law is Murphy’s law, and a good policy could afford you priceless peace of mind. Below are a few things to know about travel insurance before you purchase coverage, including which policies might work best for your type of trip, which policies could be completely useless, and how to shop for the best plan.

You Might Need It

[st_content_ad]Is travel insurance worth it? That’s the big question for any traveler considering travel insurance. Here’s my general rule: If you’re taking a long, expensive, or ambitious trip to a far-flung destination, travel insurance could be a smart choice. If a natural disaster or sudden illness were to ruin your travel plans, would you lose a great deal of money? Is this the trip of a lifetime? Have you been saving for this getaway for years? Are you traveling to a place with poor local healthcare facilities? Are your accommodations and plane tickets costly and nonrefundable? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you’d do well to seriously consider a plan.

Policies generally cost 5 to 15 percent of the total cost of a trip, depending on the age of the traveler, the level of coverage, and your trip details. If a good policy fits within your budget, it certainly can’t hurt to guard your health and your wallet against calamity.

[st_related]Travel Insurance: What You Need to Know[/st_related]

Your Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance Might Offer Sufficient Coverage

If it’s simply your valuables you’re worried about, travel insurance might not be your best bet. Although many travel insurance policies include coverage of stolen or lost items, your belongings may already be covered by homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

Most homeowner’s and renter’s policies will cover your belongings even if they’re off premises, though you may be limited to 10 percent of the total value of your coverage. If you have a policy like this, travel insurance policies that include coverage for baggage or personal items could be unnecessary. Consumer advocate and SmarterTravel contributor Ed Perkins advises, “Buying a bundled policy is clearly overkill if you just want property coverage.”

Your Credit Card Might Be Enough

Check your credit card’s travel protections, too. According to Ed Perkins, “Several premium credit cards include baggage coverage, provided you pay the entire trip cost with the card. The American Express Green Card, for example, covers replacement cost, not just depreciated cost, and it even covers up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage. This is a no-charge extra. Many Mastercard and Visa credit cards also offer similar benefits, depending on the issuing bank.”

[st_related]5 Common Travel Insurance Questions, Answered[/st_related]

Trip Cancellation Insurance Only Covers Select Reasons

Trip cancellation insurance is a good coverage option when you’ve paid a substantial amount of money for a getaway and wouldn’t be able to comfortably absorb the financial loss if your trip fell through. If things don’t work out, you’ll at least get your nonrefundable, prepaid travel costs back.

It’s important to note, though, that you’ll only get a payout if your travel plans are canceled for reasons listed in the policy. For example, the OneTrip Cancellation Plus plan from Allianz Travel covers trips canceled for a range of reasons, including illness or injury to you or a travel companion, the loss of your job, and a natural disaster that prevents you from getting to your destination. Not on the list? If your family member has a baby, if you get a new job voluntarily and can no longer take the time off for vacation, or if your pet falls ill.

You can protect yourself against any conceivable reason for cancellation with a cancel-for-any-reason policy.

Read the Fine Print

This one’s a given, but it’s one of the ultra-important things to know about travel insurance: Read the fine print. In the unlikely event that you’ll have to use your travel insurance policy, you want nothing to come as a surprise. For example, depending on the policy, hurricane coverage doesn’t apply if you buy the insurance after the storm in question has been named; that’s a bit of (seemingly arbitrary) fine print that could essentially nullify a policy purchased too late. Take the time to read the details of your plan and become familiar with the documentation you might need when submitting a claim. Take note of coverage limits and exclusions.

Many travel insurance plans come with a review period; this is a grace period during which you can look over your policy and make adjustments.

[st_related]Travel Insurance Coverage: 17 Things Your Policy Won’t Cover[/st_related]

You Might Be Covered Under Your Current Health Plan

Check your health insurance policy to see whether you’re covered for medical care in a foreign country. Some plans offer full coverage abroad; others offer spotty coverage; and still others, such as Medicare and Medicaid, don’t provide much medical coverage outside of the U.S. at all.

If you lack adequate medical coverage overseas, consider a travel insurance policy with primary or secondary medical coverage. A primary policy will function as your go-to coverage in the event of accident or illness, whereas a secondary plan can be used as a backup to a health insurance policy that offers limited overseas coverage.

An Evacuation Plan Could Be a Good Idea

Some insurance plans are evacuation plans; that is, in the event you need medical care, your insurance provider will pay for the costs of getting you to a hospital. If you suffer a serious illness or accident while abroad in a remote location, the most expensive component of treatment will likely be evacuation. Depending on where you are, it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly you to a hospital or your home country for emergency treatment; an evacuation plan will cover these costs.

There are two things you should know about this benefit: First, evacuation policies may only cover the costs of transportation to the hospital—not your medical expenses. Second, you may not be able to choose your hospital. While some policies offer a “hospital of choice” option that allows you to pick a preferred hospital, others don’t and will simply take you to the nearest facility deemed appropriate by the insurance company. As always, read the fine print.

[st_related]How to Get Travel Insurance in Under 5 Minutes[/st_related]

Aggregator Sites Can Help You Shop

An easy way to compare plans when shopping for insurance is to use an online agency that functions as an aggregator. On such sites, you’ll enter details about yourself and your trip and get a results list of suggested policies. Check out sites like InsureMyTrip and Squaremouth, both of which allow users to perform side-by-side comparisons of different travel insurance plans and to read customer reviews.

What to Wear on Your Next Trip

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_newsletter]

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Miles & Points Money Passenger Rights Travel Technology Travel Trends

Citi Cuts Travel Card Benefits Including Car Rental, Trip Insurance

Do you rely on a Citi travel card for perks like insurance and lost baggage protection? You might want to take a look at your card’s newly updated benefits: Citibank is sharply reducing the travel add-ons, dropping a slew of protection benefits on all the cards that previously offered them.

[st_related]The 13 Best Car Rental Booking Sites for 2019[/st_related]

As of September 22, 2019, buying with most Citi cards will no longer cover car rental insurance, trip cancellation insurance, worldwide accident insurance, delay protection, baggage delay protection, and medical evacuation assistance, along with several other non-travel benefits.

Dropped Citi Travel Card Perks

You can see what’s currently still covered here, and here’s the full list of what’s changing:

  • Worldwide Car Rental Insurance
  • Trip Cancellation & Interruption Protection
  • Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance
  • Trip Delay Protection
  • Baggage Delay Protection
  • Lost Baggage Protection
  • Citi Price Rewind
  • 90 Day Return Protection
  • Roadside Assistance Dispatch Service
  • Travel & Emergency Assistance

These cuts are obvious game-changers for many travelers, who will undoubtedly change their pattern of credit card use in return. Travel experts are speculating that the move is due to the high costs Citi incurred by recently obtaining a lucrative Costo partnership. Maybe so, maybe not, but the reason for the change is really not relevant to travelers: If you no longer get the benefits you need, switch to one of the many cards that still offer them.

The big question is whether any other card issuers will follow Citi’s lead. I’ve often noted that nothing spreads faster in the travel industry than a bad idea; isn’t that how Basic Economy came to be?

There’s no way of predicting how the other giant card issuers might respond—by copying Citi? Or perhaps instead they’ll poach frustrated Citi customers instead. In any event, if you regularly rely on your credit card for rental-car protection and other travel benefits, keep a sharp eye out for possible changes.

Below is Citi’s official statement on the changes.

citibank travel card changes

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=car]

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Budget Travel Health & Wellness Money Outdoors Passenger Rights Senior Travel

5 Common Travel Insurance Questions, Answered

Whether or not you ultimately need or buy travel insurance, it’s a good idea to consider circumstances that could require insurance from the outset of your planning. Answering these five common questions about major financial risks of travel might help you determine whether you need insurance.

Travel Insurance Question #1: What Could Go Wrong?

[st_content_ad]There are two main worst-case answers to this travel insurance question: First, you have to cancel a planned trip ahead of time. This could be for a variety of reasons: Maybe you, your travel companion, or someone important at home gets sick or is injured; maybe a hurricane or a terrorist attack hits your destination before you’ve left; maybe something else you didn’t foresee occurs. Obviously, you have no way of predicting the chances of any such event, so know that the chances of this happening are ever-present.

Second, you could have to abort a trip after you’ve started it. The same reasons that could make you cancel in advance could also make you return home early, which could incur extra costs. In an extreme case, you could be so sick or injured that you require airlift to a hospital or back home.

[st_related]The One Word That Could Negate Your Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Then there’s some smaller stuff. You could lose expensive personal items on your trip, or they could be stolen. Or, you might have to cover expenses during an extended airline delay or hotel mishap.

Travel Insurance Question #2: How Much Could I Really Lose?

The most common financial loss (without travel insurance) is prepayments. Even if you have time to cancel, your financial risk depends on how you arranged your trip: You typically have to prepay in advance for many, if not most, big-ticket trip components—a cruise, vacation rental, resort stay, tour package, and such—and incur substantial penalties if you cancel. In some cases, you may get nothing at all back, but even if you can get a partial refund, it may be less than half of what you paid if you cancel shortly before departure. That refund may also be limited to a voucher for future travel, rather than cash. Your out-of-pocket risk could be thousands of dollars.

Then there are extra travel expenses that pop up in an emergency. If you have to abort mid-trip, arranging an early flight home could entail cancellation fees and higher last-minute fares or change fees.

The most extreme loss could be the cost of an emergency medical transport. Travelers face potentially disastrous charges for emergency healthcare issues that occur abroad—your U.S.-based health insurance typically won’t cover these. There’s no way to estimate your exposure here; you just know that while it’s unlikely to happen, it could be a very big loss.

[st_related]Travel Insurance: The Ultimate Guide[/st_related]

Travel Insurance Question #3: What Kind of Coverage Do I Need?

TCI: Trip-cancellation insurance (TCI) covers prepayments that you can’t recover if you have to cancel a trip in advance. TCI is a “named peril” insurance, which means it pays off only when you cancel for one of the covered reasons specified in the policy’s fine print. Typical TCI provides coverage with sickness and accidents, but is more restrictive about other possible reasons to cancel. “Named perils” in TCI policies typically vary depending on the type of trip you’re insuring: Tour, cruise, and such, with different destination-related perils. Although most policies exclude injuries suffered in risky activities such as skiing, you can buy policies that specifically cover those perils. I recommend TCI that has a “cancel for any reason” provision: It can be more expensive, but at least you maintain total control over the decision about whether to cancel.

TII: Trip-interruption insurance (TII) covers the costs of an early return by normal means. It also covers single-supplement costs for a tour or cruise, in the case that your traveling companion has to return home but you complete the trip by yourself.

Medical and Emergency Evacuation: Medical and Emergency Evacuation insurance (Medevac) covers costs of hospitalization and medical treatment when you’re traveling. It covers the costs of extraordinary transportation assistance, from the site of an accident or onset of sickness, to a hospital, and back home.

[st_related]9 Nasty Truths About Car Rental Insurance[/st_related]

Travel Insurance Question #4: How Much Will It Cost?

Most travelers buy bundled policies with TCI, TII, and Medevac as components of a comprehensive travel insurance package, which often includes some of the small stuff as well. You need to buy a separate policy for each individual trip. Typical packages start at around five percent of the total trip cost for a bare-bones policy, and can cost as much as 15 percent for a gold-plated policy. Prices vary not only by coverage amounts, but also by your age and where you’re going. Rates for seniors age 75 or over are much higher than those for young and middle-aged travelers.

The typical insurance bundle includes enough Medevac that most travelers don’t need to buy extra. But, if you don’t need the TCI or TII, you can buy Medevac-only for about half the price of a bundle. If you travel a lot, know that you can buy Medevac coverage by the year rather than by the trip.

[st_related]How Annual Travel Insurance Could Save You Money[/st_related]

Travel Insurance Question #5: Is It the Only Option?

No. You can avoid or mitigate risk without buying separate trip insurance in a variety of ways:

  • Premium Credit Cards: You may already have enough risk coverage for a trip. Some premium credit cards include sufficient insurance. Your regular health insurance may cover you while you’re traveling, even outside the country. Medicare doesn’t work outside the U.S., but supplements in Group C and higher include modest foreign-travel coverage.
  • Book in Pieces: Avoid cancellation penalties by booking cancel-friendly trip components separately, rather than through a third party with a hard deadline on cancellations. Your main risk is an airline ticket-change fee, which is often unavoidable once it’s been 24-hours after you’ve made the booking.
  • Cancellation Policy Waivers: Cruise lines and tour operators sometimes offer an alternative to TCI/TII in the form of waiving their cancellation penalties. It’s often cheaper than true insurance, but it’s also a lot less comprehensive. I recommend this mainly for seniors who would otherwise have to pay punitive rates for insurance.
  • Personal Item Losses: Your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance might cover loss or theft of items you take on a trip. To boot, your credit card may cover some of the small stuff such as lost baggage and flight delays.

[st_related]How to Get Travel Insurance in Under 5 Minutes[/st_related]

Overall, you should always consider insurance when you can’t avoid making big-dollar prepayments and deposits that carry big cancellation penalties—especially when you have to pay well in advance. If you can’t afford to walk away from those penalties if something goes wrong, you probably need TCI/TII. And depending on the nature of your trip, you may need extra Medevac. But on most trips, true insurance can often be an unnecessary expense that just gives you peace of mind.

When you do want insurance, I recommend to buy it through a specialized travel insurance agency. These agencies all post online search systems where you input your personal and trip details and what kind of coverages you want. The system searches policies from dozens of insurance and returns your options in an easy-to-compare display. Among them are insuremytrip, SquareMouth, and TravelInsurance.com.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=air]

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Shannon McMahon contributed to this story.

Categories
Booking Strategy Travel Technology

How to Get Travel Insurance in Under 5 Minutes

It’s dangerously easy to forget about travel insurance. Between the stress of packing and the excitement of travel, something as unexciting as travel insurance is typically the last thing on a traveler’s mind. On a recent trip, I forgot about it until I was at the airport, and had to use my phone to buy coverage at the last minute. The experience taught me that trying to crack the enigma of travel insurance using the airport’s sub-par free Wi-Fi is no small task.

Buying on the fly shouldn’t be so hard. So I decided to time and test the mobile websites of some of the best names in travel insurance to find out which providers offer the easiest last-minute, mobile-device-based buying experience.

For each test, I used the same scenario: A one-week trip to London for one 23-year-old female traveler, estimating a total trip cost of $2,000. I started my timer as soon as I clicked on the link from the search engine and ended when I was brought to the payment page. Times may vary depending on your trip details and internet speed, but these results will give you a general sense of what to expect from each provider.

How to Get Travel Insurance in Under 5 Minutes

Allianz

alliance insurance mobile screenshots

The Allianz homepage opens straight to a form that lets you put in all your information and is easy to use. After filling in details about the trip, I simply needed to enter my home address before I was brought to the payment screen. It was easy to review the plan I was purchasing, and Allianz was one of the quicker websites to use.

Price: $68 for OneTrip Prime
Coverage: Trip cancellation, trip interruption, emergency medical, emergency medical transportation, baggage loss/damage, baggage delay, travel delay, missed connection, change fee coverage, frequent traveler loyalty plan, 24-hour assistance
Time Spent: 2m 40s

Berkshire Hathaway

berkshire hathaway mobile screenshot

The Berkshire Hathaway mobile website seems user-friendly, beginning by simply asking for your destination, but it’s actually pretty time-consuming. For each question, a new page has to load, which can be frustrating if you’re accessing the page through a weak Wi-Fi connection. Aside from this, the mobile site is quite clear and makes it easy to compare the prices of different packages; however, finding specifics on those packages will take additional time.

Price: $44 for ExactCare
Coverage: Trip cancellation and interruption, trip delay, missed connection, baggage coverage, medical expenses, emergency evacuation, repatriation of remains, accidental death and dismemberment
Time Spent: 2m 55s

World Nomads

world nomads mobile screenshots

On the World Nomads mobile site, pages load quickly and it is very easy to plug in your information. However, I was initially confused by the page where the site listed my two coverage options. It wasn’t immediately obvious what the details were for each plan; it just listed two of them with a “buy” option for each. I hit the back button in case I missed something, and my information hadn’t been saved on the initial entry page, so I had to fill it all out again. The second time through, I realized that the coverage details were lower down on the results page. The standard coverage plan is a little on the expensive side, but it specifically covers numerous adventure activities. Overall, World Nomads is a solid option for the forgetful adventurer. 

Price: $69.62 for the Standard package
Coverage: Various adventure activities, medical emergency and evacuation, 24/7 emergency assistance, emergency dental treatment, trip cancellation and interruption, trip delay, baggage and personal effects, baggage delay, accidental death and dismemberment
Time: 4m 54s

UnitedHealthcare Global SafeTrip

safetrip mobile screenshot

If you’re looking for travel insurance with medically-specific coverage, you might turn to SafeTrip, which offers plans specifically geared to medical and evacuation emergencies in addition to coverage for trip cancellation and lost baggage. The cost was shockingly low until I chose the optional trip cancellation insurance and put in the cost of my trip, which made the policy more than 10 times more expensive.

The coverage options are easy to understand, with a side-by-side plan comparison, but there were quite a few screens to go through, and the site loaded more slowly than others I tested. In the end I spent more than five minutes getting from the first screen to the payment screen.

Price: $12.72 for SafeTrip 1 without trip cancellation coverage, or $132.72 with it
Coverage: Medical/accident coverage, medical evacuation and repatriation, 24-hour assistance, accidental death and dismemberment, optional trip cancellation, lost/delayed baggage protection
Time: 5m 41s

Seven Corners

seven corners mobile screenshots

The Seven Corners homepage starts you off with some quick and easy questions, and there weren’t too many screens to click through. However, aside from a bunch of optional coverages such as rental car damage and “cancel for work reasons,” which I could accept or decline, I couldn’t find a description of exactly what my plan included without having to download a PDF brochure (which isn’t ideal if you’re on a slow connection or paying for your data). The PDF wasn’t optimized for mobile, so I had to squint and pinch the screen to enlarge in order to read all the details. This plan was also more expensive than most of my other options.

Price: $76 for RoundTrip Elite
Coverage: Trip cancellation and interruption, trip delay, missed connection, emergency medical expense, emergency evacuation and repatriation, lost luggage, baggage delay, accidental death and dismemberment
Time: 4m 21s

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=air]

Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.