So where should I buy my travel insurance?

getawayWhen the subject of travel insurance comes up, I’m usually quick to say: Don’t buy the first policy you’re offered.

That’s because the first policy is normally a brochure your travel agent slides across the desk right after you’ve plunked down $14,000 for that dream safari, along with the warning, “You’ll want insurance.”

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You will want insurance, but probably — and I stress the “probably” — not from your travel agent.

Agents are often heavily incentivized to sell a particular kind of travel insurance that benefits them (read: high commissions) but not necessarily you (read: lots of fine print). What’s more, they rarely take the time to review the limits of the policy and when it comes time to making a claim, only the very best agents will ensure every appeal is exhausted if you’re denied.

Read this if you don’t believe me.

(How do you know if your agent isn’t one of them? Chances are, if you’re handed two or more brochures, or are encouraged to “shop around” before buying a policy, then your agent’s one of the good guys.)

So where do you buy insurance, then?

I would start by visiting the US Travel Insurance Association Web site. It’s a national association of insurance carriers, third-party administrators, insurance agencies and related businesses involved in the development, administration and marketing of travel insurance. A policy from one of these companies is a pretty safe bet, but again, I would read the policy before you buy.

Not just the brochure, and don’t take a sales representative’s word for it. Read the actual policy. Here’s more on policy limitations that you might encounter.

Squaremouth has a reputation for being the of travel insurance. It allows you to compare policies side-by-side. Another site worth checking out is Insuremytrip, which also enjoys a pretty good rep.

Travel Insurance Review (an underwriter of this site) has a useful blog and guide for travelers who are looking for guidance on a policy.

I’ve also recently welcomed another underwriter,, that’s worth checking out.

I would gravitate toward the brands you know, such as Access America, CSA Travel Protection and Travel Guard.

Stay away from anything that you haven’t heard of or that calls itself “travel protection” or isn’t licensed insurance. Also, avoid policies for tour operators or cruises that are not underwritten by an outside insurance agency. In the unlikely event the operator or line goes out of business, your policy could be worthless.

So what about your travel agent? If you’re offered several options and aren’t pressured to make a quick decision, you’re probably OK to buy. Take your time and do your due diligence.

I expect the other agents — the ones who think of travel insurance as just another product to quickly and easily “upsell” their customers — will leave angry comments here.

Bring it.

(Photo: mode/Flickr Creative Commons)