I originally wrote this article for the February 2008 Wide World Books & Maps
Newsletter. If you click on the logo,
you will find yourself at Wide World's site where you can view or purchase great
travel books and gear.
Hedging Your Bet: What You Really Need to Know About Travel Insurance
choir I sing with is in the process of finalizing plans for a singing
tour of Spain. Weíre hoping to take a large (around 50 people) and
diverse group (ages 26 to 70 plus) to Europe for two weeks of tourism
and performances. Naturally, the arrangements are complicated and the
choir will be requiring a substantial up-front deposit. No problem, say
I, except for one thing. This trip will take place in the spring of
2009. Wait, you want me to give you a deposit for a trip 15 months away?
How am I supposed to know what the world (my world in particular) will
be like that far in the future? Which leads me to an inescapable
conclusion: Iím going to have to behave like a grown-up and buy some
travel insurance. Yes, it will be my first time to buy it. No, I donít
know much about insurance. Yes, you may be able to benefit from my
First Thing You Have to KnowÖyou can get travel insurance to cover
various kinds of problems.
Cancellation or Delay - Once I make a non-refundable deposit, Iíll
want trip cancellation coverage. That means Iíll buy enough
insurance to cover the money I canít get back if I have to cancel
the trip for some covered reason like breaking my leg or my elderly
mother getting seriously ill. As we get closer to the trip date,
Iíll have additional outlays like the full cost of the tour and a
plane ticket so Iíll want to add additional coverage to make sure I
can recover those expenses. Iím also planning to spend a few days on
my own in Europe after the tour is over, but Iím not adding any
coverage for that part of the trip because Iím not planning to
prepay any hotels or transportation for those days. I only want to
buy enough insurance to cover money Iíve already laid out and
probably canít have refunded.
Medical - I also want to make sure Iím covered for any medical
emergencies. Iím a healthy person, Iím not planning to engage in any
risky behaviors, and Iím traveling in a country with good medical
facilities so Iíll look for a budget amount of coverage: enough to
pay for treating a broken leg and making sure I can get back to the
States, for instance, which will keep my premium low.
Loss or Theft of Personal Property - When I travel I make a point of
never bringing things that I canít afford to lose like jewelry or
expensive clothes. On this trip, however, I will be bringing along
my latest toy, a Canon digital SLR. That means that I will be
looking for a policy that covers the loss or theft of personal items
so I can replace that camera if I need to.
Second Thing You Have to KnowÖyou may already have some coverage.
Before you commit to any travel insurance policy, you should check
to see what coverage you already have. First, check with your
health insurance provider. If youíre traveling in the U.S., youíre
almost certainly covered but if youíre going abroad you may not be.
Even if your policy does cover medical expenses outside the U.S.,
you may need emergency evacuation coverage to get you to a hospital
that can provide a certain standard of care. Next, call your credit
card company and get them to tell you exactly what coverage they
provide for things like car rentals or airplane tickets. Every card
is different so donít assume your Master Card covers you for
something just because your friendís did. Finally check your Home
Ownerís or Renterís policy to see if you are covered against theft
while traveling. Some do, some donít and you wonít know unless you
ask. Once youíve got all these answers, you can make an informed
decision about how much travel insurance you really need to buy.
Third Thing You Have to KnowÖREAD THE FINE PRINT!
Iíve spent hours perusing travel forums, talking to knowledgeable
people and reading advice articles and I have determined that most
of the well known insurance companies do an equally good job. If
youíve shopped at Wide World Books, youíve probably seen brochures
or maybe youíve noticed links to them on our website. We
recommend them because people in the store have used them and been
happy with their services;
there are also other good companies out there. Most of them
also offer round-the-clock assistance hotlines that can help you
find a new flight after a missed connection or an English-speaking
doctor to treat your weird rash. The trick, according to my
research, is not to choose the right company but to make sure that
you choose a plan that specifically covers your situation.
In my case, since Iím concerned about buying so far ahead of time in
an uncertain world, I will look for a plan that allows me to cancel
anytime for any reason. If you have a pre-existing medical
condition, look for a plan that includes a waiver for that condition
and be sure to buy within the prescribed time frame. If youíre
planning to go snowboarding, buy coverage that includes sporting
activities. You can go to an insurance comparison site like
www.insuremytrip.com to get an idea
of the different products out there but it is still your
responsibility to read the fine print. Almost all the complaints I
read on the travel forums came from people who thought they were
covered for something when a careful reading of their policy would
have shown they werenít. Of course, you canít insure against
everything, but you can make sure that youíre covered for the things
that worry you the most.
Fourth Thing You Have to KnowÖthe higher the risk, the more youíll pay
So how much is travel insurance really going to cost me? To get the
coverage I really need, since my trip is not very risky or expensive
and Iím still in a reasonable age bracket, my premium (as of this
writing)will be around $100. Some of the other choir members will
pay more because theyíre older or have health conditions. Theyíre
also much more likely to actually make a claim than I am so the
higher price seems reasonable. If youíre going heli-skiing in the
Himalayas, youíll pay a much higher premium but you may really need
that million dollar emergency evacuation benefit. The rule of thumb
with travel insurance is that you should insure anything you canít
afford to lose. For me, the bottom line is will you sleep better if
you know youíre protected? In this uncertain world you just have to
weigh the risk and then pay the price that makes you comfortable.