Thinking about traveling and pondering the best way to protect your investment? Cue the shark music and be afraid. Be very afraid.
I am mixing movie metaphors (“Jaws,” 1975, “The Fly,” 1986), but it’s to put you on high alert: What you thought you knew about travel insurance may not be true anymore. The pandemic has turned everything on its head, including the way to protect your travel investment.
When it comes to insurance, the best surprise is no surprise. But many people were surprised anyway.
Many travel policies, they learned to their dismay, don’t cover pandemics. Other policies were purchased after coronavirus became a known event, sometimes as early as mid-January, so travelers weren’t covered after all. And others learned that trip cancellation insurance didn’t cover them if a group tour was canceled; the customer had to be the one who was canceling as a result of an illness or worse.
Sigh. So what’s the point of spending the money?
Experts offered insights on why travel insurance is complicated but perhaps more necessary than ever and what may be the only, if painful, way to know what you don’t know. Here’s what to ask about, know or contemplate before you hit the “buy” button.
Mind the gaps
Check your insurance policies first — your health care, maybe your homeowners and sometimes even your credit cards. Find out what they cover, said Michael Giusti, insurance analyst for InsuranceQuotes.com. Then …
Ask yourself what keeps you awake at night
Not whether you locked the front door or paid the gas bill but something about your trip. Consider your fears, Giusti said; that’s one way to determine what you want in a travel policy, especially if the insurance you have doesn’t cover the thing you’re worried about.
Make your personal “sweat” list
What if your temperature is checked and you’re denied boarding? Will you have medical coverage abroad? Do you want evacuation coverage for terrorism or illness? Then approach a seller of travel insurance and ask for a policy that includes those things.
Coverage can and will change after a big event
You may not be traveling now, but know for the future that a world-shaking event can change your coverage options, so find out what’s new.
For example, “Terrorism benefits weren’t typically offered … in policy coverage,” said Kasara Barto, representative for SquareMouth, a travel insurance aggregator that lets you compare policies. Then it became top of mind, and now the terrorism benefit is common, she said.
If you’re worried about pandemics going forward — and who won’t be? — check to see whether that’s now a covered reason.
Fine print is a necessary evil
Being told to “read the fine print” isn’t quite as bad as being in the ninth circle of hell, but you need to know what’s there and what isn’t.
Get familiar with “covered reasons,” key to getting your insurance reimbursement. If you peruse your policy, think about not only what is covered but also about what is not.
What’s not covered is just as important
Some of the reasons you probably won’t find in a general travel insurance policy: I’m too scared to go, I don’t want to get sick, my boss hates me and is looking for any excuse to fire me, I’m worried about the health of my dog, cat, goldfish, whatever.
That’s where cancel-for-any-reason insurance, or CFAR, comes in, which is what it says it is (although some dispute whether it’s really insurance). You could always count on that in a pinch.
But CFAR may be changing
Some companies have stopped selling it, maybe temporarily or maybe for good.
CFAR has several downsides: It’s more expensive and may become even more so in light of the pandemic, some experts said. It pays out less and may pay out even less, again, because of the pandemic, said Erin Fish, cofounder of Wanderwell insurance company, which he describes as an organization that gives back to nonprofits “that promote sustainable travel.”
But when push comes to shove, it may be the thing that saves your financial hide. In that case, it may be worth it.
One caveat from Fish: CFAR comes with a “ticking clock.” You do need to buy it within a certain amount of time of your first trip payment.
Insurance isn’t uniform from state to state
I know, I know. First I say, “Read the fine print.” Now I seem to be suggesting you should read the insurance regulations of every state. Even I am not that cruel, but here’s what you could run into.
Let’s say you, a Californian, and your buddy, who lives in New York, are going to travel together. You say, “I’ll take care of travel insurance, and you can reimburse me later.”
That’s kind of you but a bad idea, not because your buddy is going to stiff you but because travel insurance rules and regulations can vary from state to state. For instance, CFAR was not available in New York state until the pandemic came roaring on the scene, the Insurance Journal reported March 9.
So how do you know? You don’t unless that’s your job. If you’re buying insurance for someone who lives in another state, call and explain those issues.
You may be quizzed on how well you understand what you’re buying
That’s the word from Anna Gladman, the chief executive of Nib Travel, including World Nomads, which sells insurance for U.S. travelers. Gladman thinks travelers had an awakening as the pandemic unfolded that “not everything can be covered by travel insurance,” she wrote in an email.
And whose fault is that? Lots of fingers to be pointed here, but consumers will bear a greater responsibility to be sure they’re covered.
But to ensure you know what you’re getting, Gladman wrote in an email, “This will lead to greater interrogation of the policy wording as travelers try to make sure it delivers the coverage expected.”
But, she cautioned, “Also expect tougher criteria for acknowledgments by the customer that they understand the policy wording. The simple tick box to indicate you have understood and accept the terms of the policy is clearly a low hurdle.” If the buyer passes, he or she gets to hit the “buy” button.
Maybe think micro, not macro
Insurance isn’t the only thing changing. The whole world of travel has changed. The way you travel may change. For instance, many people are planning closer to their departure, so they may not want coverage for what might happen before a trip, said Joe Cortez, editor of FlyerTalk, a website for frequent fliers. You might want coverage just for lost baggage or other delays. Look for insurance companies that can offer you a slimmed-down policy or policies that cover just what you need, he said.
Winglet (gowinglet.com), a startup, is an example, Cortez said. It will reward you, it says, if your flight is delayed by more than an hour.
Some hotels also offer insurance that would cover travelers who fall ill at a lodging, Travel Age West reported. It’s offered by Palladium Hotel Group for its properties in Mexico, Jamaica, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Spain.
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