Part of the fun of traveling is encountering the unexpected. But when your flight’s delayed, you come down with an illness, or a family emergency cuts your trip short, the unpredictable becomes a lot less fun. And trip interruptions often cost money.
That’s where travel insurance can come in.
Do you need travel insurance? And how do you pick from all the insurance options out there? Read on to find out.
What is travel insurance?
Like most other insurance plans—health, car, renter’s, etc.—travel insurance is a purchase you make to protect yourself in the event of a risk or loss. These protections have a pretty wide range depending on your plan.
You can get reimbursement for a canceled flight or lost luggage, medical care for an unexpected illness, or coverage for any damaged rental equipment, among other benefits.
Standard policies shouldn’t cost more than five to seven percent of the total cost of the trip. You may pay extra for any additional benefits you choose.
Most policies offer a “package” deal with several common areas of coverage, like trip cancellation and baggage protection.
Read the policy’s fine print so you know exactly what’s covered and what isn’t. The details will change depending on your insurer and your specific policy.
Does your credit card offer this insurance?
Maybe! Many credit card companies extend their user benefits to travel coverage, including rental car coverage, if you use your card to fund the travel.
Your card details should tell you the two things you need to know:
- The covered circumstances where travel protection kicks in.
- The dollar limit on coverage.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has especially generous limits: a $10,000 limit per trip and a $3,000 limit on lost luggage.
Where should you get travel insurance?
Need coverage beyond what your credit card provides? Go through a reputable independent insurance company. Look for one with a Better Business Bureau accreditation and/or membership in the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (this label shows up on the website or you can ask about it).
Your best bet is to talk to a sales representative in person, on the phone, or online. This way you can go over any specific concerns you have about your trip. Get a sample copy of the policy you’ll be buying.
As with credit card insurance, go over the fine print to see what’s covered, what’s excluded, and what the dollar limits are. And don’t wait until you’ve taken off! Most policies require you to make the purchase before your trip.
Insurance comparison sites function as online brokers, giving you quotes from a variety of carriers so you can make the best choice.
They’re similar to websites that let you compare flight and hotel pricing. You enter your trip details and compare pricing options side by side. The sites rate carriers based on customer reviews and in most cases will drop poorly reviewed companies from search results.
Some good sites to start with are:
Travel insurance companies
These are some of the best-reviewed companies out there. Most let you pick from a variety of plans at different price points.
Allianz Global Assistance
Since Allianz is owned by a huge parent company, they have the resources to offer lower rates than others in the industry. They offer the following:
- Pick from annual, single trip or multi-trip plans, with three options each for domestic and international trips.
- You can tack on a medical plan too, covering up to $10,000 for treatment and $50,000 for emergency transportation.
- Free coverage for children 17 and under.
- A rental car damage policy in case of the unexpected.
Generali Global Assistance
International travelers take note: Generali Global Assistance has policies offering up to $250,000 in medical coverage and $1 million for evacuation. You can:
- Choose from three levels of plans: Standard, Preferred, and Premium. The priciest plan has medical perks including a pre-existing conditions waiver, “cancel for any reason” coverage, and access to a global physician network around the world.
- Get 24/7 assistance around the world with any plan you pick.
Travel Guard provides more choices than most carriers, with three levels of plans and the option to customize a plan of your own. You can pick the coverage areas you want without having to pay for extras. TravelGuard also offers:
- Coverage for pre-existing condition waivers.
- Rental car collision insurance.
- An annual plan for frequent travelers and business travelers.
- $10,000 in medical expenses (up to $50,000 with pricier plans) and $100,000 for emergency evacuation.
Travelex offers three tiers of plans depending on your budget.
The Travel Select plan comes with $50,000 in medical coverage and reimburses you for 100 percent of a canceled trip. It also covers any minors traveling with you for free.
TravelSafe is known for its reasonable pricing. Like other plans on this list it offers three options for different budgets and coverage requirements.
If you’re traveling with valuable electronics you can add an extended personal property package.
TravelSafe offers medical insurance, including group and long-term insurance.
World Nomads is a favorite company among travelers for their low prices and extensive coverage of adventure activities at no extra cost. This is the rare company that lets you insure a trip after you’ve left home.
Coverage levels are basic with few customizations. You can:
- Pick from the Standard or Explorer plans depending on how active you plan to be.
- Get medical coverage up to $100,000
- Insure your personal belongings for up to $3,000.
Medical travel insurance companies
Most insurance companies above will include a medical plan or provide it as an option. But if you want to supplement the coverage or buy a medical plan instead of a traditional plan, some companies specialize in travel medical insurance.
Medical plans can cover a single trip, multiple trips, or a long-term traveling stint with monthly payments.
Prices vary based on details like your age and trip length. In general, however, look for a company with a $100,000 medical coverage limit or higher. Medical expenses can add up unexpectedly.
MedJet Assist is a great option for remote global travelers, since they offer evacuation and transportation from just about anywhere.
They also don’t rely on insurers for hospital selection, giving you more options far away. Their services include round-the-clock assistance and interpretation if needed.
IMG offers a variety of medical plans with the perks of everyday health insurance, like doctor appointment coverage. It’s recommended for long-term travelers or expats.
Specialized policies are available for adventure athletes, marine crew members, and other groups.
Before you get coverage, hit a comparison site and figure out what level of insurance will work for your trip. Whether you need a basic policy or extended coverage, you should be able to find something that fits.
Where shouldn’t you get travel insurance?
As a rule, it’s best not to get insurance from travel agents and providers themselves, like airlines, cruise lines, and tour operators.
Their plans are both pricier and more limited. They may not include full cancellation refunds, for instance. And policies become useless if the provider goes out of business.
Online travel agencies like Expedia, Orbitz, and Priceline aren’t the best choices for insurance either. Their policies don’t provide much coverage and often collect extra fees, ramping up the price for you.
What should you look for in travel insurance?
A good policy will cover all the basics
- trip cancellation and interruption
- lost luggage
- rental equipment
Additionally, the best providers will offer 24-hour emergency services and be valid in most countries in the world.
Some plans even include medical travel insurance, though you can buy medical policies separately. International travelers may not be able to access their domestic insurance policy (if they have one) so medical insurance is key.
Travel insurance is a must for those who travel frequently. But, you may not know where to start looking. Luckily, there are plenty of options out there, from credit cards to travel insurance companies.