One of the biggest complaints travelers have about travel insurance is that it doesn’t pay out when they expect it to. In nearly all of the cases we’ve seen over the years it comes down to the traveler not understanding what their plan covers and, more importantly, what it doesn’t.
Travelers buy travel insurance for all kinds of reasons:
‘I’m worried about terrorist attacks and want to be protected.’
‘My parents are elderly and I want to be able to get home if they need my help.’
‘If I get hurt or sick, I don’t want to worry about paying a huge medical bill.’
‘My job has been a little ‘weird’ lately and I’m worried about layoffs.’
To be sure you actually have the right travel insurance for your trip, follow these steps with the plan you already purchased or want to purchase. Check your plan within the review period so you still have time to cancel your policy (for a refund) or make changes to get the coverage you need.
1. Do a quick health review
If you’ve been to the doctor recently – is that condition likely to recur? If you visited the doctor for migraine headaches in the past few months, for example, and that condition reoccurs on your trip, your medical care while traveling might not be covered.
Because the condition is considered pre-existing and most travel insurance plans exclude medical care for pre-existing conditions. A traveler who has a pre-existing condition can purchase a plan with coverage if they purchase it soon after their first trip payment or buy the optional upgrade. Some travel insurance plans cover pre-existing conditions automatically if the plan is purchased early. No travel insurance plans cover losses due to mental health issues or suicide.
Very Important: be warned that the exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions apply not only to the traveler but also to family members and travel companions. Most people don’t have the full details of another’s health history, but if a close relative or business associate’s state of health leads to a decision to cancel your travel plans, that cancellation may not be covered if the cancellation was due to a pre-existing medical condition.
2. Check your destination
To get the latest health and security information about where you’re going, you have a number of sources outside of the standard media coverage.
To find out the latest travel safety information – including warnings about the potential for terrorist actions, see the State Department Website.
To find the latest health information – including information about recommended vaccines the latest outbreaks, see the Traveler’s Health section of the CDC Website.
Check out our topic on the Best Places for Travel Health and Safety Info for more details.
3. Check your travel mileage
How far you travel factors into a number of travel insurance benefits. Most travel insurance policies limit the coverage unless a traveler is going a certain distance from home. For example:
If you’re traveling abroad, you are likely to be outside your health insurance network on your trip. That means you won’t have benefits for emergency medical treatment without travel medical coverage.
If you’re traveling within your home country, the benefits for medical evacuations and repatriation may not be in effect.
The key is to be sure your destination is far enough to warrant the coverage you’re paying for.
4. Know your trip activities
The activities you do on your trip could render your coverage invalid. Travel insurance plans typically exclude a number of activities that are considered more hazardous than say running along the beach in the dark. Specifically activities like parasailing, hang-gliding, mountain sports, diving and more are excluded from the typical plan unless you purchase an upgrade.
Some travel insurance plans are designed specifically for adventure travelers, but even if you’re a typical traveler and don’t plan on doing anything potentially dangerous, you could run into a unique opportunity to do something adventurous on your trip.
Take out your travel insurance policy documentation and read the section labeled ‘Exclusions’ to know which activities could cause your policy to be useless. You don’t want to find out that rock climbing is a non-covered activity after you fall and get hurt. Know ahead of time.
5. Double check the dates
In the chaos of planning a trip, the dates may get shuffled around a little so you can get the best airfare or meet a friend while waiting for a connecting flight. The key is to double check that the dates you are traveling are the dates you’re covered for with your travel insurance plan. Everything has to match up correctly if you later have to make a travel insurance claim.
The same is true for the traveler’s ages, names, etc. Scrutinize the details and call your travel insurance provider as soon as you identify a discrepancy so the change can be made ahead of time. Once you depart, these changes can’t be made.
6. Verify your layovers
Travel insurance coverage for trip delays and missed connections comes with the standard caveat that you gave yourself enough time from the start. If you schedule a multi-stop flight with tight connections and the first flight is delayed for an hour due to mechanical repairs, you could throw off your entire trip.
Even worse, if the delay means you incur a loss and want to make a claim on your travel insurance plan they will verify that you had enough time to make your connection.
7. Check the policy limits
Every insurance plan has limits applied to the coverage. The baggage limits, for example, may not be enough to fully reimburse you for a lost bag and it’s contents (depending on what you’re taking with you). Where the limits really get sticky are when it comes to medical and evacuation coverage. Specifically, you want to have enough coverage to pay for these events should they occur, but you don’t want to pay too much for coverage you may never use.
It’s a tricky balance, but luckily our travel insurance comparison tool offers some suggestions based on your age, your destination, etc. to help you determine how much travel medical and evacuation is enough.
8. Don’t make assumptions
Don’t make assumptions about your travel insurance coverage. Many travelers read that their policy covers trip cancellation, for example, and assume it means the plan will cover no matter what causes the cancellation. Or, they read that their plan covers travel delays but they don’t understand that the delay must meet a minimum number of hours.
If you have a specific concern, read your travel insurance policy (or the description of coverage) before you buy or or soon after so you understand your concerns are covered.
If you’re worried about the possibility of losing your job, for example, and you want to be sure you can cancel your trip and be reimbursed your non-refundable trip costs, make sure that job loss is listed as a covered reason and that your length of employment meets the requirements (usually at least a year is required).
Getting the right travel insurance takes a little bit of thinking, some research, and a careful review of the policy you choose. It’s not hard, but it does take a little effort on your part. See the 9 Most Expensive Travel Mistakes You’re Likely to Make for more details on what to watch out for.