CONTEMPLATING A VACATION in the era of Covid inevitably involves a slew of “what ifs” that could force you to cancel and potentially lose the money you put down. Most travel experts recommend insuring any trip that costs more than a few thousand dollars. From there, it gets complicated. Policies range from simple “check the box” protection that airlines push at checkout to comprehensive plans that cover all manner of mishaps, like a ski accident or an airline shutting down. Industry officials say the majority of claims filed under these policies are for trip cancellation, typically when the traveler or an immediate family member gets sick or injured before the trip. Premiums range from 5% to 10% of the total trip tab.
Who should buy travel insurance?
“It’s not for everyone,” said attorney Jeffrey Miller, a travel law expert at Florida Atlantic University. “A 25-year-old going to Las Vegas doesn’t need travel insurance,” he said. A 55-year-old with an ailing parent back home should consider it for a trip like a cruise, which requires a hefty deposit upfront. Among the factors affecting price and coverage, he said, are a traveler’s age, the type and length of the trip and even where the person lives, since these policies, like other forms of insurance, are regulated by individual states.
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Some airlines have continued to waive change fees to make rebooking easier. But anyone making deposits in advance for big-ticket items like a safari or a cruise faces steep cancellation penalties as they get closer to departure.
“Suppliers are weary of making exceptions,” said Gwen Kozlowski, president of Exeter International, a luxury tour operator.
If Covid disrupts my trip, will the insurance policy cover my expenses?
To an extent. “If you get Covid before traveling, you’re generally covered if you have to postpone or cancel,” said Ms. Kozlowski. But a typical plan would rarely cover cancellation if a country closes its borders, or the State Department issues an advisory for your destination.
If you test positive for the coronavirus while traveling, a trip delay clause may cover some expenses you rack up waiting for the all-clear to return home—typically up to $200 a day.
Simply citing fear of catching the virus won’t get you off the hook, unless you buy a much more expensive “Cancel for Any Reason” (CFAR) policy. These plans, as they’re known, can cost 40% to 60% more than basic insurance, and the coverage often pays out only 50% to 75% of your total expenses, compared with the full cost paid by regular policies.
How do I choose the best policy?
To save time sifting through the details, aggregators like SquareMouth.com, TravelInsurance.com and InsureMyTrip.com sort through offerings from dozens of providers based on search parameters. Travel agents can also help you identify some of the loopholes in policies. Diana Hechler, president of D. Tours Travel, in Larchmont, NY, advises clients to read the fine print carefully during the grace period most insurers offer—you usually have two weeks after you buy the policy to get your money back if you change your mind. That’s when you can still add clauses like a pre-existing condition waiver. “Think about every possibility,” she said. Some policies even include a “pet clause” that gives you a full refund if your labradoodle gets sick. Some premium credit cards include some form of trip insurance, covering cancellation and interruption, but read the terms carefully; there may be limits on what you can collect if things go wrong.
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Appeared in the February 12, 2022, print edition as ‘Do I Really Need Travel Insurance?.’