As you embark on your next big adventure, travel insurance can make you feel more secure. But “feeling more secure” and “being more secure” are two different things.
Having coverage can give you peace of mind as you travel, but until you needed to file a claim, you couldn’t be sure how your travel coverage would perform if:
- You had to cancel your travel plans and wanted reimbursement for your tickets.
- You needed emergency medical care while visiting another country.
- You experienced a natural disaster and needed evacuation to a safer location.
You wouldn’t want to learn the hard way — by getting a series of claims denied or discovering your policy couldn’t help — that your travel coverage was ill-equipped to meet your needs.
In this post, we’ll learn how travel coverage works, how to find the insurance companies most likely to help, and how you can learn exactly how a travel policy should work.
What Travel Insurance Covers
We’ll get to my favorite travel insurance companies in the next section. But first, it’ll be helpful to know how travel insurance works.
People who sell travel insurance, which is also known as trip insurance, like to talk about security for your journey. The word “security” may conjure images of a safety net swooping in and rescuing you and your traveling companions when you’re most vulnerable.
In some cases, travel insurance can connect you to much-needed help while you’re traveling. In other cases, your coverage can only reimburse you after you experience trouble — once you’ve safely returned home and would like to recoup some of your financial losses.
The best travel coverage will include all of the following coverage options:
- Trip Cancelation: Your policy could pay you back for costs like plane or train fare and hotel accommodations if you had to cancel or shorten your trip and had already paid these expenses.
- Lost or Stolen Bags: If your luggage gets stolen or damaged, or if your airline loses your stuff, your trip coverage could reimburse you. Some policies will help you buy replacement items if your bags arrive late.
- Medical Problems: Typically, international travelers can’t use their domestic health insurance, especially Medicare, if they get sick or injured in another country. Your travel policy could help cover medical costs.
- Evacuation: If political instability or a natural disaster made your trip unsustainable, your trip coverage could help get you to safety.
- On-Trip Assistance: The best policies provide a help line you can call while traveling. If you experience problems, the help line can connect you to local resources while accommodating a language barrier if necessary.
Not all insurers provide all of these services. Some policies excel with medical coverage but don’t perform as well with trip cancellation. To find the best coverage for your trip, make sure the company you choose can provide the service or services you most expect to need.
And read the fine print. This should go without saying, but it’s important enough to say: The tiny type can make or break the usefulness of an insurance policy.
Reading the policy in its entirety will clue you in about exclusions and special circumstances that could make your policy unable to help when you need it. We’ll touch on this more below.
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What Travel Insurance Doesn’t Cover
Whether you’re comparing companies on your own or using a travel insurance aggregator to compare quotes, you should protect yourself by finding out exactly how your policy works.
Too many policyholders learn about the limitations of their coverage after they file a claim. Or they file a claim and learn they should have kept receipts in order to access coverage.
Talk about unhappy customers — you don’t have to read far into the comments on TrustPilot, Facebook, or insurance-specific consumer advocate sites to sense the frustration.
Some insurance agents out there do not tell the truth to customers considering their policies. Most of the time, though, a policy will tell you its limitations if you’ll take the time to listen.
By listen, of course, I mean read. The type may be 8-point or even smaller. You may need a magnifying glass in one hand and your smartphone in the other to look up complicated insurance terms.
On your phone or tablet, you can just zoom in on the text, of course. It may take an hour or so, but at least you’ll know exactly what you’re buying.
For example, many travel insurance policies will not pay if you:
- Leave Belongings Unattended: If you didn’t feel like packing up your laptop and you left it in your chair as you dashed to the airport bathroom, your travel policy probably won’t replace it if it’s not there when you return.
- Engage in Illegal Behavior: Travelers who need medical attention because they were publicly intoxicated or drag racing in their rental car shouldn’t expect their trip coverage to help pay.
- Make an Ill-Advised Trip: If the State Department has warned against traveling to an area of the world before your trip, your travel policy probably won’t pay your claims.
- Decided Not to Go: To use your trip cancellation coverage, expect to document why you canceled the trip. Common reasons include medical conditions, job losses, jury duty, or a death in the family. Deciding you didn’t want to go after all may not qualify. (Shop for cancel for any reason coverage if you’re concerned about this limitation.)
- Play Extreme Sports: Unless your policy states otherwise, it won’t pay for medical care resulting from injuries sustained while snowboarding, rock climbing, or participating in other dangerous activities.
- Have a Pre-Existing Medical Condition: Travelers who need emergency medicine or an evacuation because of a health condition they had before leaving may not get their claims paid. Be sure you buy a policy allowing for pre-existing conditions if you have one.
Many of the common exclusions above can be included in your policy if you address the need before buying coverage.
For example, a “cancel for any reason” travel policy will be more likely to pay if you change your mind after buying tickets. Likewise, a company such as World Nomads which specializes in extreme sports can help cover more adventurous travelers.
It’s up to you to address your specific needs before buying a policy.
Best Travel Insurance Companies
I’d like to share more details about coverage types, common policy exclusions and exemptions, and shopping strategies below. First, let’s look at some leading travel insurance providers.
Generali Global: Best All Around
Generali Global has offered some of the best all-around travel insurance policies, providing the basic protections many shoppers need, for more than 50 years.
With Generali, you can choose from three service levels: Premium, Preferred, and Standard. All three plans offer 100 percent trip cancellation coverage. But to get the most coverage under the most friendly terms, you’d need to upgrade to the Preferred or Premium plan.
The Premium plan, for example, could pay up to $250,000 in medical/dental expenses and up to 175 percent in trip interruption coverage. The Premium plan also lets you claim interruption coverage after a delay of only six hours.
I like Generali because it does a lot of things well. Some companies do great with trip cancellation reimbursement but won’t help much with lost bags or on-trip assistance. Generali has a more comprehensive approach.
- Best for: Someone who wants to cover all the trip insurance bases with one policy.
- Also great for: Medical coverage, especially if you upgrade to the Premium plan.
Travelex: Comprehensive & Adaptable
Travelex, which is backed by Zurich Insurance, also has about half a century’s experience providing trip policies. Travelex also offers comprehensive options, but shoppers can more easily adapt their coverage to meet specific needs.
Travelex has two basic coverage levels: Travel Basic and Travel Select. However, consumers can adapt these plans by adding extra options such as Flight Insure and Flight Insure Plus.
Both of Travelex’s coverage levels offer free coverage for children 17 and younger and medical waivers for pre-existing conditions. Both of these features can help you save money if you need them.
But to get Travelex’s best coverage for lost luggage, delayed baggage, and evacuations, you’d need to upgrade to Flight Insure or Flight Insure Plus.
Here’s another helpful upgrade that makes Travelex appealing: Travel Select policyholders can upgrade to “cancel for any reason” trip cancellation coverage. This can take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation if you do have to cancel your trip and need to file a claim. Policies usually pay trip cancellation claims only for pre-defined reasons.
- Best for: Travelers who want to build their own coverage by modifying existing plans to meet their specific needs.
- Also great for: Shoppers who plan to travel with a child or who have a pre-existing medical condition.
RoamRight: A Wider Array of Options
RoamRight features a lot of the flexibility shoppers like, including the ability to get minimal coverage, such as a medical-only policy while you’re out of the country.
This kind of flexibility can help you save if you’d like medical coverage but you don’t want or need additional travel protections like trip cancellation or lost or stolen luggage.
Of course, RoamRight can also help if you do want more coverage. As with Travelex, RoamRight lets you upgrade your trip cancellation policy to “cancel for any reason” protection, and you can extend protection to one child younger than 18 years old.
RoamRight features a wide variety of pre-set options. The most advanced plan, RoamRight Elite, includes medical, evacuation, trip interruption, trip delay, baggage protection, and even accidental death and dismemberment protection.
You can also add coverage for injuries sustained during extreme sports such as mountain climbing which would typically be excluded from a travel policy.
Maxing out at $50,000, the medical coverage amount is lower than some other carriers, but the deductible is only $50 which makes the protection accessible.
RoamRight also offers multi-trip coverage.
- Best for: Travelers who want a wide variety of coverage plans, including medical-only.
- Also great for: Shoppers planning to participate in extreme sports (upgrade required) or parents who would like to cover one child for no additional cost.
World Nomads: For the Most Adventurous
Ordinarily, travel insurance works best when you have an itinerary and definite plans. That way you can know for sure whether your policy could help.
Travelers who crave more spontaneity — such as backpackers or mountain climbers — need more flexibility in their coverage or else it’s not worth the cost.
World Nomads specializes in the unplanned, covering adventurers who plan to participate in extreme sports and other more impromptu adventures.
You can even adapt your coverage while you’re traveling in case your plans change. Most other companies don’t allow this kind of flexibility.
But if you have more traditional needs, go with a more traditional company: World Nomads doesn’t cover pre-existing medical conditions and you can save more by customizing coverage with another company.
- Best for: Travelers who don’t want to make specific plans.
Allianz Global: For Specialized Travel Needs
Allianz Global offers single-trip and multi-trip policies with a wide variety of options. Costs and coverage amounts vary depending on the type of coverage you buy.
Unlike most other companies, Allianz lets customers buy policies covering only one element of travel insurance — medical care or trip cancellation, for example.
This flexibility allows customers to purchase only what they need. For instance, if you had trip cancellation coverage already built into your plane or hotel arrangements, you probably wouldn’t want to pay for additional coverage from a travel insurance company. Instead, you could opt for medical care only.
Of course, you can also combine coverages into package plans as you would with other carriers. The OneTrip Premiere Plan provides the most extensive level of coverage.
- Best for: Someone who wants only one element of travel coverage.
AXA Travel Insurance
Very few insurance companies can boast two centuries of service. AXA Travel Insurance, which has ties to a French insurer, can. In the United States, Nationwide Insurance underwrites many of the company’s policies.
Along with a proven track record of financial stability, AXA Travel offers some nice touches: reimbursement for lost golf days or lost skiing days, replacement of lost sports equipment, and an option for “cancel for any reason” coverage, for example.
Plans come in four levels: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Adventure. Not all plans offer all coverages, and coverage amounts vary from plan to plan. Over all, the company offers some sold, but not the most flexible, options.
- Best for: Someone traveling for recreation such as golfing, skiing, or camping.
Seven Corners has more limited options than many of its competitors, but it excels with medical coverage, offering up to $1 million for international travelers. Seven Corners could also pay up to $300,000 for an evacuation for medical reasons.
Seven Corners specializes in international travel coverage and emphasizes its medical care, but it also offers lost-baggage and trip cancellation coverage with “cancel for any reason” policies available.
As a privately held company, Seven Corners isn’t graded by the major insurance ratings agencies, but Nationwide backs many of Seven Corners’ policies, and Nationwide gets good marks from ratings agencies.
Shoppers should find out which company will be underwriting their coverage before finalizing a policy with Seven Corners.
- Best for: An international traveler with concerns about developing a health condition while away.
Aggregators Can Make Shopping Easier
Travelers who can’t immediately identify a company best suited for their needs should try an online aggregator. Aggregators assess your needs and match you with some good policy options. Some even let you compare quotes.
Travelinsurance.com can make life easy if you’re not sure where to start shopping for travel coverage. You can enter your data and get quotes from leading companies within minutes.
Just remember: The cheapest policy isn’t automatically the best. The least expensive option may be missing a key element you need.
Many shoppers also like Aardy, which works a lot like Travelinsurance.com. The company also gives 10 percent of its profits to charities helping soldiers and military families which I appreciate.
Anyone using an aggregator should also do some independent research on the insurance company or companies the aggregator suggests. Ultimately, it’s up to you to do your homework.
INF Visitor Care
If you need travel coverage exclusively for medical coverage, consider using INF Visitor Care’s aggregator which helps you compare options.
INF Visitor Care will not show you policies for comprehensive coverage such as lost-baggage or trip cancellation, but you’ll get a good selection of medical travel policies.
Who Doesn’t Need Travel Insurance?
Not all travelers need an insurance policy specifically for their trip. You may not need travel coverage if:
- You’re Traveling Close to Home: A road trip to a relative’s house a couple of hundred miles away shouldn’t require travel insurance.
- You Have Support at Your Destination: Even if you’re traveling across the country, you may not need travel insurance if you’re staying with family or don’t have a specific schedule to keep.
- You Have Other Coverage to Help: Many airlines provide trip cancellation coverage. An auto club like AAA, or your auto insurance carrier, could help with on-trip assistance. Your health insurance plan may cover you if you’re traveling domestically. These kinds of coverages may mean you don’t need as much, or any, travel coverage.
This isn’t to say you can’t get travel coverage if you want it in these circumstances. Usually, though, travelers in the situations above are less likely to need a travel policy.
People traveling to another country who have invested a lot of money in their trip should seriously consider getting covered.
How Much Travel Insurance Should Cost
Expect to pay, on average, 4 to 10 percent of your trip’s value in travel insurance premiums. If you’re spending $10,000 on a trip to France, you’ll likely pay from $400 to $1,000 in premiums.
To get the best price, compare several quotes online or plug your information into an aggregator like travelinsurance.com.
Once again, remember to read all the policy’s details before finalizing coverage. A policy quote which is significantly lower than your other quotes may really be a great deal. Or, it could be a sign the coverage has exclusions your limitations you’ll need to know about.
In most cases, better coverage cost more. A policy capping medical expenses at $50,000 should cost a good bit less than a policy that would pay up to $250,000.
A Note About Quality
As you shop and compare companies, or if you’re considering a company your travel agent suggested, check the company’s quality before buying.
Independent ratings agencies grade most insurance companies based on their financial health. Companies with A or better ratings from agencies like A.M. Best, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s tend to offer higher quality coverage.
Bottom Line: Your Needs – Your Choice
Some travelers are OK roaming the world without insuring their trip. They’re fine with taking the chance of losing their investment if forced to change plans or leave a destination quickly.
Other travelers want some protection, both from the unexpected and from the possibility of losing the money they’ve invested in a trip.
When you buy travel insurance, make sure the policy provides all the coverage options you need, from medical care to lost baggage to on-trip support 24 hours a day.
And read the policy carefully before signing it. No matter how much or how little you pay in premiums, the money you’re spending will pay off only if the policy can actually protect you.