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The upcoming holiday travel season is fraught with uncertainty — a predicted spike in COVID cases, soaring gas prices and inflation. Can your travel insurance keep up?
“It’s important to understand any exclusions to your policy,” says Christina Tunnah, general manager of marketing and brands at World Nomads. “So grab yourself a cup of coffee and spend some time reading through the policy details.”
Do you need to read your entire travel insurance policy? Yes, you do. But as you face the uncertainty of the upcoming holiday travel season, here are a few things that are worth reading twice.
Remember, travel insurance doesn’t cover everything.
“To keep rates affordable for everyone, travel insurance products include a list of covered situations as well as a list of things that just aren’t covered,” explains Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz Travel Insurance. “So take the time to learn about your policy’s covered reasons and exclusions.”
Watch for health insurance gotchas
The most overlooked aspect in travel medical insurance is pre-existing conditions, according to Joe Cronin, president of International Citizens Insurance. “Some policies will not cover medical care if it is related to a pre-existing condition,” he warns. However, some travel insurance companies will cover a waiver for a pre-existing condition if you buy the policy within 14 to 21 days of making an initial deposit, so make sure you review the pre-existing conditions language before you buy a policy.
Look for triggers
Triggers, or qualifying statements, are a mainstay of travel insurance policies, according to Angela Borden, a product strategist at Seven Corners. “For example, many plans on the market allow travelers to cancel a trip and receive reimbursement for their trip expenses if they are involuntarily terminated or laid off from their employment,” she says. But this type of trigger typically includes a qualifying statement around the length of employment.
“This can range from as little as one continuous year to as long as five continuous years,” she says. “If you were not aware of this requirement, and you were laid off from a job you held for only six months, the trigger would not apply, and there would be no coverage for reimbursement of insured trip expenses.”
Your coverage may not take effect immediately
You may have to wait for your coverage to kick in. “With some benefits, like travel delay, baggage delay, personal items loss, and a missed connection, there are usually amounts of time that must pass before coverage will apply,” explains Beckah Ripley, operations and marketing manager at Yonder Insurance.
For example, a delay must be at least 6 hours (and up to 12 hours, or even more, depending on the policy) before you qualify for reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses like extra hotels and meals you incurred during the delay.
Read the cancellation part — again
“The most overlooked item is a covered reason to cancel a trip,” says John Rose, chief risk and security officer for ALTOUR, a travel management company. He says travelers assume that they are always covered and will get all their money back if they have to cancel.
“But they must read the fine print and clearly understand what is and is not covered,” he adds. “You can’t cancel and get back all of your money because you’re afraid to travel. In fact, most policies have zero coverage if someone cancels for fear, like COVID or war.”
Rose also says you might not be covered if you have to cancel your trip because you got sick. It depends on the policy you purchased. And the only way to be sure is to — yes, you guessed it — read the fine print.
Tip: Your policy certificate will come as a downloadable PDF. Open the document and use the search function to find “covered reasons,” advises Damian Tysdal, publisher of CoverTrip.com. “This makes it easy to find the right section to read.”
What if you want to cancel for any reason?
You can do that, says Pallavi Sadekar, head of operations at VisitorGuard.com. It’s called a “cancel for any reason policy, and it will refund between 50% and 75% of your prepaid, nonrefundable expenses. “However, for cancel for any reason, the policy requires you to ensure the entire nonrefundable trip cost and not just a portion of the trip cost,” she adds. It’s also more expensive than regular named-peril policies, costing roughly 10 percent of the cost of your trip.
Be aware of what’s not in the policy, too
If your winter trip is more adventurous, you need to pay attention to not just what’s in the policy but what’s not in the policy. For example, some base plans offered by Faye Travel Insurance cover skiing, snowboarding and surfing at no extra cost. “But for the thrill-seekers looking to skydive, heli-ski, bungee jump or heli-snowboard, you’ll need to purchase an add-on to your plan for additional protection,” says Doron Samish, vice president of product at Faye. Adventure and extreme sports supplementary coverage can increase the cost of your travel insurance plan by 35 to 45 percent, but it also includes medical coverage for injuries you might sustain.
Know what you need to file a claim
“That’s the number one thing,” says Chelsea Capwell, a spokeswoman for TravelInsuranceMaster.com. “You don’t want to wait until it’s too late to find out that you should have held onto those receipts or important documents for a successful claim.”
The fine print will tell you what you need to file a claim. Capwell recommends you take a few minutes to read the requirements. That way, she says, you know what documentation is required if you have to file a claim, saving you unnecessary time and hassle you don’t need during the holidays.
Look for other exclusions
Comb through your insurance policy to look for exclusions (words like “except” and “not covered” will reveal them). “For instance, some companies may require that the policyholder first calls them to get approval for a travel emergency to be covered,” says Jiten Puri, CEO of the Canadian travel insurance site PolicyAdvisor. “Or some travelers who go south in the winter may decide to try out surfing, only to find out that it’s not covered under their plan — and by then, it may be too late.”
The only way to find these important exclusions is to read the policy. It may be boring, but it could save you a lot of money.
Check the other fine print
Travel insurance isn’t the only thing that covers you when you travel. For example, you may have coverage if you paid by credit card. Similarly, your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance may cover you.
“Many travelers don’t realize that they can get additional protection through travel providers,” says Marcus Räder, CEO of Hostaway, a vacation rental management platform. “For example, Airbnb offers AirCover booking protection and a check-in guarantee. If the property you rent for your vacation isn’t what you paid for, you’re entitled to a refund through this service.”
It’s always worth checking the company’s service guarantee along with your regular travel insurance coverage.
Read your policy again
No one likes to read contracts (unless maybe you’re a contracts lawyer). But the more expert advice you get on the fine print, the more you realize you probably should read the travel insurance contract — from start to finish. That way, you’ll understand the basic terms and benefits. “You need that before you set off on your holiday trip,” says Beth Godlin, president of the Aon Affinity Travel Practice.
“Consumers should not be afraid to call their travel insurance provider with any questions,” she adds, noting that you have a two-week “free look” period, after which the policy becomes nonrefundable. In other words, read the policy as soon as you can.
Warning: This isn’t the year to skip the fine print
Travel experts say whatever you do, don’t gloss over the fine print during the upcoming travel season.
“The surge in demand for holiday travel we’re seeing increases the likelihood of canceled flights,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.com, a travel insurance marketplace. “So it’s crucial to read the flight cancellation fine print and understand what your policy can and can’t do for you.”
With the busy Thanksgiving travel holiday only weeks away, this is the perfect time to check your travel insurance fine print to make sure you’re covered for any eventuality. Because this holiday season, anything could happen.