Trip insurance is something I get so many questions about and there seems to be much confusion surrounding it.
The general idea is that policies are designed to protect consumers by giving them refunds in the event of illness to the traveler or immediate family member, or to provide a refund in the case of company, tour operator or airline default.
The year 2018 is on track to see a record number of Americans traveling outside the United States. With fare wars and deep discounters expanding routes, that means many who never or seldom travel abroad will be taking to the skies this year.
About one in seven people will end up injured or ill requiring medical attention while outside of our borders, according to Consumer Reports. For many of us, our health insurance does not travel with us — or if yours does, it may only cover you at a higher “out of network” provider rate.
So the first thing to do is to find out if yours covers you abroad and at what rate. This is key info you need to research before you take a trip.
If you find you are covered, be sure to consider possible exclusions (war, terrorism, natural disasters and adventure sports) and to determine if pre-authorizations will be required for medical treatment abroad.
Often, you’ll find your own insurer’s coverage isn’t as robust as you’d like it to be. That’s when you start to consider supplemental travel coverage.
Here are the basics of trip and travel insurance
When do you need it?
These policies should always be purchased when you are taking a cruise, a tour or traveling on a trip that requires pre-payment of thousands of dollars.
What kind of coverage does it offer?
Policies are designed to protect consumers by giving them refunds in the event of illness to the traveler or immediate family member, or to provide a refund in the case of company, tour operator or airline default. However, some policies won’t cover preexisting conditions, so be sure to find out about that point if it’s relevant to you.
How much does it cost?
Policies generally cost about 5% of the total cost of a trip, but it can be worth it. But note this well: Consumers should always purchase a policy independent of the cruise, tour or vacation planner.
Never purchase the trip protection plan from the trip organizer. They are designed to protect only the company and not the consumer. Always pay deposits and final payments by a real credit card and never by debit card or personal check.
Meanwhile, if you get a policy, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to pay if you need medical care abroad. “Most foreign healthcare providers require payment in cash or by credit card when you receive treatment,” Consumer Reports says.
Where should you get it?
You can comparison shop for trip insurance that suits your needs at InsureMyTrip.com. I've long talked about this insurance broker as a good shopping option, and Consumer Reports says they sell more than 1,178 plans from 30 insurance companies.
In addition, the magazine recommends that you check out the oddly named SquareMouth.com, which offers access to a smaller number of plans and providers.
Should I pay extra for medical evacuation insurance?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the cost of medical evacuation in excess of $100,000. If you're traveling to a developing country, you might consider this kind of policy as a hedge against the possibility of a huge medical bill should you need to be airlifted out of there to a nearby nation with better medical facilities.
Medical evacuation insurance will also help foot the bill for getting you back to the U.S. The cost of that can range $10,000 to $50,000 if you need to travel with medical equipment and a nurse, according to Consumer Reports.
Other good things to remember when traveling
Remember to keep a cool head
Flight delays are sometimes an unavoidable fact of life when you’re traveling. Yet so often, they’re more of an annoyance or a nuisance, not a disaster. My advice is to try to keep perspective. Let little hassles roll off your back, if you can.
If you miss a connection or are delayed with a flight cancellation, do not stand in line at the airport. People will queue up for a tenth of a mile to talk to a “customer no-service” representative and it does no good. Get on the phone or online and see what you can accomplish instead.
Know your rights when bumped from a flight
Have you ever been bumped from a flight? There are some things you should know in order to maximize your compensation. Airlines will typically offer a guaranteed seat on any flight to the highest level members of their frequent flyer program. That means they are going to be asking for volunteers willing to give up a seat.
The offers vary by airline. If you are a volunteer, it will be free tickets or a voucher for a dollar amount like a gift certificate. But many airlines restrict the way you can redeem those vouchers. So if it’s a choice between a voucher and a certificate for future travel, take the certificate.
If you are involuntarily bumped from a flight, they are required to give you cold, hard cash if you ask. It will be up to 400% of what you paid for your ticket, with a hard cap of $1,350. That’s if you are forced off the flight to accommodate a frequent flier. That’s when it’s a case of, “Show me the money!”
Read more about your rights as an airline passenger at Transportation.gov.
More travel stories on Clark.com:
- Airline baggage fees: What you'll pay on United, Delta, American, Spirit & more
- Report: Hotel tubs, hot tubs may be swimming with harmful bacteria
- Clark's secret to finding the cheapest flights possible