Arnoff, an English professor from Shaker Heights, Ohio, says it appeared as if the travel insurance companies didn’t have time to articulate their coronavirus policies. As a result, she didn’t know what to buy.
Travel insurance companies have been adjusting their policies in the past few months to meet the demands of both cautious travelers and underwriters who are wary of losing their shirts on pandemic claims. Experts say there are a few essential coverages you need for your upcoming trips — and some that you can skip. Their advice can inform any decision you make about the best travel insurance for your fall and winter travels.
There’s a growing awareness of travel insurance. Sales of travel protection have roughly doubled since the pandemic started, following two decades of steady growth. Current and emerging coronavirus variants are putting it front and center this fall, too.
“Travelers are getting more informed about travel insurance,” says Karisa Cernera, senior manager of travel services for Redpoint Travel Protection, which sells Ripcord, Cavalry and Harbor travel insurance. “They see it as a critical tool, especially when it comes to covid-19-related losses.”
But the coronavirus isn’t the only hazard that can derail your upcoming trip, says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com.
“Given the forecast of an overly active Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through the end of November, savvy travelers should seek out plans that provide hurricane coverage, including for [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] hurricane warnings,” he says. “Also, with airports and airlines still getting back up to speed, flight delays and delayed or lost baggage can almost be expected.”
Many insurance underwriters have modified their policies to cover an event such as testing positive for the coronavirus while traveling and being required to isolate. For example, Travelex recently announced that it would treat the coronavirus like any other illness. This means that if you, a traveling companion, family member or business partner become ill before or during your trip, you may be eligible for trip cancellation, trip interruption, emergency medical or medical evacuation compensation. Travelex also increased the trip delay coverage limit from $750 to $2,000 on its popular Travel Select policy.
Confused? There’s an easy solution: a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policy, which allows you to cancel your vacation and receive a partial refund of your nonrefundable prepaid expenses. You can also buy an extra medical option to handle any potential coronavirus issue.
Sasha Gainullin, chief executive of the travel insurance company Battleface, says his company has been selling more cancel-for-any-reason policies since the pandemic.
“I also recommend policies that include coverage for covid-19-related expenses,” he adds. “That’s essential, since many countries are requiring it for entry.”
But there’s a downside: Cancel-for-any-reason insurance is expensive. A traditional travel insurance policy, which covers named perils, such as evacuations and lost luggage, is between 7 and 9 percent of the cost of your trip. This type of policy will set you back between 10 and 12 percent, and sometimes more.
Also, since the pandemic, many insurance companies have quietly reduced the payout on a cancel-for-any-reason policy, from 75 percent to 50 percent. You can still find 75 percent payout policies, but you have to look for them. And fortunately, most insurance companies include medical coverage in their plans, although significant restrictions apply.
The best trip cancellation travel insurance policy for you might not be the most expensive one, says Steve Dasseos, founder of TripInsuranceStore.com. For example, a regular policy will cover trip cancellation, interruption, trip delays, lost luggage, medical emergencies and evacuations. Not one of his policies excludes pandemics or epidemics.
“Many people have been overpaying for travel insurance plans, because whoever sold the policy to them failed to tell them that they didn’t need cancel-for-any-reason coverage,” he says.
What kind of travel insurance is essential? Coronavirus coverage tops the list, according to Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications at Allianz Partners USA. “Because the delta variant continues to create uncertainty about the path of the covid-19 pandemic, it’s important to protect yourself with a plan that includes coverage for medical emergencies and emergency medical transportation,” he says.
But which one is right for you? I put that question to Maria Diego, owner of Diego Travel, a Florida-based travel agency. She had just finished sending four travel insurance policy options to a client. Diego says you can find travel insurance online, either through a travel insurance site or directly through a travel insurance company. If you don’t hire a travel agency, make sure you read every policy carefully.
She sticks to three insurance companies: Allianz, Travel Guard and Travelex. “They’re my three main go-tos for travel insurance,” she says, “but each company offers different levels of coverage.”
Now comes the hard part: matching your insurance needs to one of the policies you’re considering.
“There is no one size fits all,” she says.
She’s right. Even if you work with a travel agent — and this is worth repeating — you need to take the time to pore over the boring fine print on each policy.
“Each insurer is different, and each plan may offer different coverages, so it’s important to read the plan documents to understand what is and isn’t covered,” says Tim Dodge, vice president of marketing for Arch Insurance.
Other than coronavirus coverage, there’s one thing your policy must have, experts say. “Look for policies that include coverage for the financial default of a travel supplier,” says John Cook, president of QuoteWright.com. “Risk has increased because of the financial stress caused by the effect of covid-19 on travel companies.”
And one piece of expert advice: Don’t wait too long to buy insurance for your fall trip. You should make your purchase within 14 to 21 days of your first expenditure, depending on the carrier. “This provides coverage for financial default and the preexisting medical waiver,” says Laura Heidt, the insurance desk manager for Brownell Travel in Birmingham, Ala.
After an extensive search, Arnoff, the English professor from Ohio, found a policy that specifically offered coronavirus coverage for $370 per person. Her trip to Israel, taken in midsummer, before the delta variant surge, went off without a hitch, although she had to take multiple coronavirus tests to get into the country.
“We were totally stressed out,” she says. “But at least we had insurance.”
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at email@example.com.
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