Do I need travel insurance for my summer vacation? It’s complicated

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By Christopher Elliott

If you’re planning to travel somewhere this summer, you’re probably thinking of buying travel insurance.

Kingsley Hopkins is. He’s headed to Portugal and Iceland with his girlfriend, and he wants to make sure he’s covered for things like medical emergencies or trip disruptions, “or if a volcano erupts,” he says.

But getting the right travel insurance can be complicated. There’s no one-size-fits-all policy, and Hopkins, an assistant editor at a book publishing company in New York, has been spending a lot of time thinking about how to protect his summer vacation.

Chances are, so have you.

Why finding the right travel insurance is so hard

Most surveys suggest this will be a record summer for travel. How much of a record? Demand is so high that some airlines are afraid they will run out of planes. Now that’s busy.

At the same time, danger and uncertainty are lurking everywhere — wars in Europe and in the Middle East, the usual slate of natural disasters like hurricanes and maybe a volcano or two. It’s no wonder people are giving some serious thought to insurance. (Related: Case dismissed: “The insurance will not cover our tickets”.)

Older travelers are particularly worried. And they should be, says PK Rao, CEO of INF Visitor Care. Claims by travelers over age 50 spike during the summer months. (Related: What to do when travel insurance doesn’t work.)

“According to our claim data, medical emergencies tend to uptick during the summer, especially for those going on trips that involve outdoor activities,” he says.

But there are so many choices out there, including credit card coverage, medical evacuation membership programs and standalone travel insurance. What should you get?

You need peace of mind 

But don’t just reflexively start shopping for a travel insurance policy this summer. Instead, look for peace of mind — knowing that if something goes wrong, you’ll be taken care of. (Related: The surprising reasons travelers file insurance claims.)

“Knowing you’re protected from unforeseen travel mishaps – like delays, lost baggage and even medical emergencies – can make the trip that much more enjoyable,” says Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz Partners USA.

As it turns out, there are several ways to get the peace of mind you need. And there are times when you can safely skip travel insurance.

This is when you don’t need insurance

Here’s when you can skip travel insurance, according to experts:

  • If you already have coverage. “You may already have travel coverage through your benefits at work, your credit card, or through group benefits with an organization,” says Jiten Puri, CEO of PolicyAdvisor.com. If you do, there’s no need to buy more coverage. You’re all set.
  • If you’re not traveling far. If you’re taking a driving vacation and staying in a place where lodging is free, like a relative’s sofa, then there’s not much to insure. Also, most travel insurance only works when you travel 50 miles or more from your home. “If you already have health insurance, it may cover you for a domestic trip, so you don’t need to think about health insurance coverage,” says Joe Cronin, CEO of International Citizens Insurance.
  • If your trip isn’t insurable. Traditional travel insurance covers conventional trips with prepaid, nonrefundable components like airline tickets and hotel stays. You might find that you either already have coverage through your medical insurance, or the trip is essentially uninsurable.

So think twice before saying “yes” to optional travel insurance that your online travel agency may offer you when you’re booking a trip. You might not need it.

Here’s when you need travel insurance

But most travelers should consider some kind of travel insurance coverage this summer. Here’s when you need the extra coverage:

  • If you have travel expenses that insurance would cover. “If you have many prepaid, nonrefundable expenses, it’s best to take out travel insurance,” says Lauren Gumport, a spokeswoman for Faye Travel Insurance.”This includes things like flights, hotel rooms, tickets and activities.” The more conventional your vacation, the likelier travel insurance is to cover almost every aspect of your summer vacation.
  • If you’re leaving the country. “Your regular medical insurance might not extend coverage beyond your home borders,” says John Rose, chief risk and security officer at ALTOUR. Also, many countries require travel insurance for entrance. They include Bermuda, Qatar, Sri Lanka, and some European countries.
  • If you can’t afford to lose your trip. “When considering travel insurance for your summer trip, evaluate whether you can afford to lose your vacation investment due to unforeseen circumstances like illness, weather disruptions or emergencies,” explains Robert Gallagher, president of the US Travel Insurance Association (USTIA). “Can you afford the financial risk if you miss your cruise departure because of covered flight delays? What if you have to cut your trip short because of illness?”  

One of the most common mistakes travelers make is assuming their credit card will cover them. For example, I found that my credit card only covered my rental car as secondary insurance, which made it completely useless when I rented a car in Tampa recently. I had to buy a standalone policy from Allianz to cover the vehicle.

How one traveler insured his summer vacation

So how did Hopkins handle his travel insurance needs? Well, as I already mentioned — it’s complicated.

Hopkins says he always buys some travel insurance before he takes a trip, “but how much, and what I cover, varies,” he explains.

He decided that his path to peace of mind in this case was to spend a few extra dollars: He made fully refundable flight and hotel reservations, just in case something goes wrong. That would eliminate a lengthy claim with his travel insurance company or credit card. (Here’s our ultimate guide to travel insurance.)

But he still needed at least $50,000 in medical coverage with emergency evacuation because of his active schedule.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of hiking in Iceland,” he says. “And you just never know.” 

At the beginning of the year, he decided to buy an annual Medjet Horizon plan, a membership that would get him from a hospital in Portugal or Iceland to a hospital at home, in case something happened. 

For insurance, Hopkins checked TravelInsurance.com to find an affordable travel insurance policy. He found coverage through Trawick International that pays up to $50,000 in medical expenses and up to $200,000 for an evacuation.

“I’ve heard good things about them,” he says. “Hopefully, we won’t need any of it.”

How do I insure my trips?

I’m on the road about 360 days a year, so I’m always thinking about peace of mind. I currently use a Wells Fargo credit card with lots of travel benefits, and I have long-term policies through Faye and Cigna, which have worked fairly well. I also am a long-time Medjet Horizon member. If I rent a car, I turn to Allianz for my primary coverage.

I know — that’s a lot of peace of mind. 

But I’ve also run into trouble and had to use many of those benefits. Medjet got me back home during the pandemic. Cigna covered me after a serious ski accident in Switzerland. My old Allianz policy took care of my medical expenses when I had to see a doctor in Santa Fe, N.M., a few years ago.

Like I always say, when it comes to having enough insurance, better safe than sorry.

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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.

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