6 times when you’re better off without travel insurance

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By Christopher Elliott

Even though Jon Look is a frequent traveler, he always leaves home without travel insurance.

“I have never purchased a travel insurance policy,” admits Look, a retired photographer. “It adds expense and complications and rarely pays off.”

Traveling without insurance? Yep, most Americans still do it, and some of them with good reason. Because not everyone needs insurance and some people wouldn’t be able to use it even if they bought it.

As it turns out, there are times when you’ll want to skip that insurance policy. It may not be as often as you think, but it happens.

Circumstances when you may be able to go without travel insurance

If it’s a short domestic trip

“If you are traveling within the United States and have a good domestic health insurance that will follow you on your trip, it isn’t necessary to purchase a health insurance policy through your provider,” says Justin Tysdal, CEO of travel insurance company Seven Corners. Many people buy travel insurance for the health insurance benefits when traveling internationally, since their domestic health insurance does not work abroad. But there are other reasons why you may want to say “no” to insurance. If you’re driving to Grandma’s and sleeping on the sofa, travel insurance may not really cover the trip in the same way a traditional vacation with an airline, hotel and car rental component.

If you’re not spending a lot of money

When there’s not much to insure, there’s no point buying insurance, says Susan Schaefer, a travel consultant with Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel, an agency. She should know. She books high-value trips as a professional cruise consultant. “In a nutshell, if someone is flying Southwest Airlines or other airline that gives you a future flight credit when you cancel, and that’s their only travel cost — no hotel, no other non-refundable costs — and they have good medical coverage that covers them outside of their home state … why bother with travel insurance?” she asks.

If you’re already covered

You could already be covered by your health insurance or credit card (as long as you used that card to purchase your trip). “You could potentially end up buying a policy that has some duplication of benefits with what you already have,” warns Joel Ohman, founder of the site InsuranceProviders.com. “So, one big time to not buy travel insurance is if you find out you are already covered.” This works the other way, too. Many people buy travel insurance and car rental insurance. But most travel insurance covers car rentals, so there’s no need to duplicate it.

If you’re not traveling far

Often, policies only kick in if you’re anywhere from 50 to 100 miles from your home. So if you’re planning a “staycation” and want to cover parts of it, you may not be able to rely on travel insurance.

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If you’re having too much fun

What’s that? Is there such a thing? According to your policy, yes. “They are usually spelled out in the policy’s coverage exclusions,” says John Moretti. He is a spokesman for Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance, which specializes in insuring these high-risk activities. “They include scuba diving, mountain climbing, bungee cord jumping, skydiving, parachuting, hang gliding, parasailing or travel on any air supported device, other than on a regularly scheduled airline or air charter company.” If you’re going to engage in risky behavior, you might not be covered by any insurance. (Ripcord, I should note, is one of the only travel insurance companies that doesn’t put a 5,000-meter ceiling on sporting activities.)

If you have a pre-existing medical condition

True, some policies will cover an existing medical condition under certain circumstances, but not all of them. Normally, pre-existing conditions that are controlled are covered if the policy is purchased within a certain time following initial deposit and payment of your trip. But if it isn’t covered, what’s the point of insuring the trip? Should your condition flare up, you’ll be out of luck.

Travelers like Look are lucky. So far, they haven’t lost a trip or had to file an expensive medical claim. It usually only takes one incident to convince them of the value of a reliable policy.

Have you ever taken a trip without travel insurance? How did it go?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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