When travel insurance saves the day


When Katie Kubitskey made plans to attend a friend’s destination wedding in Izmir, Turkey, last summer, she never imagined she’d need travel insurance.

After all, Kubitskey, a marketing manager from Louisville, had lived in Turkey for two years, and as a part-time travel adviser, she was something of an expert on the region. What could possibly go wrong?

You can probably guess what happened next. A bomb went off at the Istanbul airport, leading to second thoughts about her trip. Fortunately, Kubitskey had purchased a travel insurance policy that covered her. After she canceled her trip, she received a full reimbursement of her nonrefundable airfare and hotel expenses.

“If we didn’t have insurance, our family of four would have lost tens of thousands of dollars,” she says.

As you start to plan your holiday travel, you might want to think about insurance. More Americans are doing it. More than 33.4 million people bought insurance policies in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, a trade group. The number of people covered increased about 18 percent from 2012.

Travel insurance isn’t for everyone. Sometimes, you can’t buy coverage for your trip, or the likelihood of filing a claim is so low that you’d just be wasting your money. But insurance can save the day.

“Travelers often think insurance is just a scam,” says Erin Logsdon, a Southborough, Mass., travel agent who specializes in Caribbean and Europe travel. “The truth is that accidents can happen anywhere, and many claims are due to unforeseen circumstances.”

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Remember when astronaut Buzz Aldrin had a health scare when he visited the South Pole last December? He was rescued, at least in part, by his Seven Corners travel insurance policy, which flew a nurse to New Zealand to oversee his care and covered the cost of his medical evacuation. Travel insurance can cover the sometimes considerable expense of getting you home when you fall ill.

Insurance can also cover an unexpected cancellation or trip interruption. When a blizzard hit New York last winter, Kristen Montag’s airline canceled her return flight to Minnesota. She had to spend an extra night in Manhattan.

“Good thing I had purchased the Allianz travel insurance when I booked the flight,” says Montag, who works for a non-profit organization in Minneapolis. “I made a claim, submitted my receipts, and Allianz reimbursed the cost of my extra night in the city, saving me about $225.”

A reliable policy can cover something completely unexpected. For example, just before Nancye Van Brunt’s recent three-week trip to England, her husband lost his vision.


“We were not in a position to go on this trip,” she says. “Our travel insurance ended up paying for almost everything. What this meant was that we were able to afford another trip.”

Situations such as these are the reason travel professionals always recommend insurance. Greg Geronemus, the co-CEO of smarTours, a New York-based tour operator, says about 70% of his clients buy insurance.

“Despite these high levels of participation, there are a lot of misconceptions about travel insurance, and even seasoned travelers underestimate the scope of different scenarios that it covers,” he says.

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Basically, the travel insurance myths come down to this: Many travel protection policies cover far more than trip cancellation. They extend to medical emergencies and coverage overseas, trip interruption, baggage delay or loss, and they come with a 24/7 team to assist you.

Of course, there’s a reason travel insurance is so popular, if not necessary. Travel companies have become a lot less understanding and generous when their customers have to cancel. In some instances, the tightening of their cancellation policies has led to an uptick in insurance sales, which benefits the company. Cruise lines are the biggest offenders in that department.

Regardless of the reasons, you’ll want to consider a travel insurance policy for your next trip. Otherwise, you could end up in this column.

What travel insurance doesn’t cover

Insurance won’t cover everything. The standard “named exclusion” policy has a few notable exceptions:

  • Pre-existing medical conditions. Though some policies offer a waiver for medical conditions, you have to make sure you meet all of its conditions. Otherwise, canceling a trip because your bad back acted up will be unsuccessful.
  • Changing your mind. Don’t want to take the vacation? Most insurance won’t cover you, but you can always go for a more expensive “cancel for any reason” policy, which would.
  • Psychological or nervous disorders. If you can’t board a flight because you’re afraid of flying, you generally can’t file a successful claim.
  • Partying too hard. If you had a little too much to drink the night before your return flight and missed it, don’t bother filing a claim. Intoxication is not a covered circumstance.
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This is an important reminder that travel insurance can save your next trip, so we’re running it again during the holiday travel season. Here’s hoping you don’t have to file a claim — and if you do, that you have the right insurance.


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 chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Annie M

    Finally a positive story on how Travel insurance is supposed to work. One thing that people must do is thoroughly read the policy they are considering to make sure it offers what they actually need.

    A good example is emergency evacuation. If you are traveling and fall and break your leg, does the emergency evacuation only get you to the closest hospital or will it pay to get you home to your own hospital if you need surgery? Two very distinct differences.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “Situations such as these are the reason travel professionals always recommend insurance.”

    I would imagine the 30%+ commissions travel insurers pay have something to do with it as well.

    Like all insurance, travel insurance is great to have if you turn out needing it. The large majority of the time, though, you won’t end up needing it.

  • Annie M

    The real reason travel professionals recommend it is because we can be sued if we don’t give the client the option AND because we’ve seen clients that needed it and how having it helped.

    The time you don’t think you don’t need it and have a heart attack in the middle of a safari and need to be evacuated, put in a hospital for 2 weeks to stabilize you and then get a private flight home with a nurse and a grand $100,000 bill – you’;ll say “gee, I wish I had it”

    You don’t KNOW you need it until something happens. Most regular posters here are fully aware and they won’t be the ones running here asking for an exception made if something happens while they are traveling. They understand their consequences of their decision.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “The real reason travel professionals recommend it is because we can be sued if we don’t give the client the option AND because we’ve seen clients that needed it and how having it helped.”

    So, you think that travel agents would be just as inclined to recommend travel insurance if the commission were zero? I have to admit I’m skeptical.

  • KennyG

    Just wondering, do you refuse to purchase fire insurance, or life insurance, or car insurance because someone is earning a commission on its sale? Not sure why you begrudge the travel agents who typically are paid on solely a commission basis, for selling insurance that in the end, like almost all insurance policies, one hopes will never be needed.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    It took several hours for someone to make a negative comment about travel insurance. Traffic must be down drastically this week.

  • BubbaJoe123

    No, I don’t refuse to do so. Two differences:
    1. My life insurance agent also doesn’t pretend that he doesn’t have a financial interest in my buying insurance.
    2. Premature death isn’t a risk I can readily self-insure for. Trip interruption is.

    Travel insurance (with the exception of medevac insurance) is much closer to the extended warranty on an appliance or a car than life insurance.

    I don’t begrudge the car salesman’s effort to sell me the extended warranty, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good deal.

  • KennyG

    1 -I would think that any reasonable person would assume that there is some commission paid to the travel agency for selling that insurance policy

    2 – For someone on a limited income or with limited monetary assets, the possibility of a substantial loss on their planned, but unable to go on trip/vacation, is also, in many cases, something they cannot self insure for.

  • Lindabator

    exactly

  • Lindabator

    thank you — I work VERY hard for my clients, and would never recommend a trip without it — or recommend one that is not comprehensive, based on what I arn making off it. Just ridiculous how some people think. And 30% – only WISH that were true

  • Annie M

    Oh yes I would. And I buy my own insurance through the same supplier we use for our clients.

    All it takes is to see one customer who didn’t buy it have something happen and it costs them thousands to know it needs the be offered to everyone.

    And seeing how it works with REAL claims and making our clients whole- it is absolutely worth buying.

    And yes, we get a written declination from clients that don’t want it to cover us from a client saying later “you never offered it”.

  • Michael__K

    If a travel agent’s purpose is really to limit their potential liability, then the safest and most cautious course of action would be to advise their customer that travel insurance *exists* and to also emphasize that it has limitations and doesn’t cover many things. And not to actually pitch or recommend any particular choice.

  • Michael__K

    If someone can’t self-insure their trip deposits then they can’t afford to take the trip with or without travel insurance. There is risk of substantial or complete loss of one’s deposits that isn’t covered by travel insurance.
    One should always verify they have emergency medical coverage where they are going, but that can be purchased separately from travel insurance.

  • Michael__K

    Every traveler ought to have emergency medical coverage (with evacuation coverage depending on where they are going), but these can be purchased separately, usually at a small fraction of the cost of a standard travel insurance policy.

  • KennyG

    That’s your opinion, and you are entitled to it. No one should plan a trip, vacation, etc, unless they can stomach losing whatever money they put down if they for whatever reason cannot take it. I assume you don’t have homeowners or fire insurance on your house, since you wouldn’t buy one unless you could self insure against its loss?

  • Michael__K

    It’s a fact that one can buy “open perils” property insurance. One can’t buy that for travel insurance (even though travel insurance costs many multiples more relative to the benefit cap).
    It’s a fact that this website has featured many stories of travelers who lost the money they put down — or worse, lost even more on walk-up replacement bookings — for reasons outside their control that are not covered by travel insurance. So if someone can’t self-insure for these uncovered scenarios that happen all the time, then how can they afford to book their travel in the first place?

  • Michael__K

    It’s a fact that one can buy “open perils” property insurance. One can’t buy that for travel insurance (even though travel insurance costs many multiples more relative to the benefit cap).
    It’s a fact that this website has featured many stories of travelers who lost the money they put down — or worse, lost even more on walk-up replacement bookings — for reasons outside their control that are not covered by travel insurance. So if someone can’t self-insure for these uncovered scenarios that happen all the time, then how can they afford to book their travel in the first place?

  • Marc

    We had skeptics within our family on purchasing travel insurance. We are just competing a 7day holiday cruise with 26 members of our family, and have made believers of them. One child had to visit the ships medical facility for an ear infection, and the ship doesn’t accept medical insurance. They will be reimbursed for by their travel insurance. And now 18 family members will likely be stuck overnight at their connecting airport tomorrow due to the weather advisory occurring in Chicago; and they have no stress as their accommodations and all costs associated with the delay will also be reimbursed by their insurance policy.

  • Annie M

    That’s what it is for. No one thinks these things will happen- but they do. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve seen that had their flights canceled or delayed enough that they needed to spend an extra night in a hotel. Those that had insurance called the company, were told how much would be covered and we booked a hotel firbthrm and they were reimbursed for the hotel. Things happen you don’t expect.

  • Annie M

    There are ways to buy only medical and emergency evacuation through traditional travel insurance companies and not buy the rest. Most people don’t know how to do it but Travel consultants do.

  • Michael__K

    There are websites (like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip) which allow anyone to compare prices and features for simple plans with Medical/Evacuation coverage (and without Trip Cancellation coverage) offered by “traditional” travel insurance companies.

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