Does travel insurance cover your special circumstances?

Rachel Gibson needs travel insurance. But her circumstances are special.

“We’re waiting to adopt a newborn baby,” she says. “The timing is uncertain.”

Every day, travelers try to match their itineraries and needs to an insurance policy. Often, it’s an easy fit — but not always.

After receiving a few thousand emails from curious readers, it got me thinking: Why isn’t there an impartial, authoritative buyer’s guide for travel insurance — something that would offer readers like Gibson the answers they need?

That led to a conversation with Allianz Travel Insurance, one of this site’s supporters. We agreed to collaborate on the project, and the result is a series that begins today.

“Do you know any travel insurance companies that provide insurance for this?” Gibson asked me. “We have found it hard to make travel plans — beyond Southwest, thank God for them — and people keep telling me to look at travel insurance but from what I can see this doesn’t qualify for coverage.”

As is so often the case with travel insurance, there’s a short answer, and a long answer.

Short answer: The only kind of travel insurance that would cover someone with the need for flexibility in every case would be a “cancel for any reason” policy. It’s a subset of trip cancellation, usually available for a slightly higher premium, that provides for cancellations that aren’t covered by the basic coverage. You may be reimbursed up to 80 percent of your nonrefundable trip payments and deposits if a trip is canceled for a reason other than a covered reason.

In other words, you’ll have to pay more, and if you file a claim, you’ll get a little less. But will be covered.

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And the long answer? More traditional “named perils” policies may cover special circumstances. The operative word being “may.”

For example, some insurance policies cover unforeseen pregnancy complications, including pre-eclampsia or preterm labor. If you interrupt a trip because of a covered pregnancy complication, you could be reimbursed for nonrefundable trip costs. Some insurance policies also reimburse you for emergency medical care you received while you’re traveling.

But what if you’re pregnant and have to cancel your trip because of a normal pregnancy? The only way you’d be covered is if normal pregnancy is named as a “covered” reason — specifically names pregnancy as something it covers — and the pregnancy occurred after the effective date of coverage. Travel insurance usually doesn’t cover the costs of normal childbirth while traveling.

So what other special circumstances may not be covered by insurance?

  • Any previously existing medical conditions, unless specifically stated otherwise.
  • High-risk activities such as mountain climbing, scuba diving, and skydiving.
  • A psychiatric emergency, like a nervous breakdown or panic attack.
  • Injuries related to terrorist attacks or acts of war.

Back to Gibson’s question, though. Why wouldn’t a travel insurance company write a policy that covers adoption? It’s because, as Gibson herself notes, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding an adoption, particularly an intercountry adoption. The failure rates are a concern, and something most insurance underwriters would not want to assume as a risk.

But her question illuminates a bigger issue in the travel insurance industry. There is no “one-size-fits-all” trip, just as there’s no “one-size-fits-all” policy. Everyone has some kind of special circumstances — a pre-existing medical condition or a predilection for go-kart racing — that may or may not be covered by insurance.

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Never assume that you are covered for a specific situation and that’s particularly true if you have a special circumstance that you’re concerned about. You can always hedge your bets by buying a “cancel for any reason” policy, but if that’s not in your budget, read the policy very carefully and only assume you’re covered if it’s actually in the policy. Your insurance company will.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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