What Does Travel Insurance Cover?
Updated on: November 2022
Written by: Jenita Lawal
One lesson travelers have seemed to learn since the start of the pandemic is the importance of travel insurance. Many will ask me specifically about what does travel insurance cover before we’ve even completed planning their vacation. Their focus is typically around travel insurance coverage for cancellation, flight delays, and missing luggage.
Beyond the basics, savvy travelers should check to make sure that things like pre-existing medical conditions, emergency medical care, inclement weather cancellations, and Covid-19 expenses are included.
The coverage for these items can vary greatly by carrier and plan – or not be included at all. It’s important to understand exactly what travel insurance covers before you sign off on a plan.
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“I just talked to my chiropractor, and he suggested that I not travel,” my client, Lola, said over the phone. She was three weeks away from starting her vacation when her back gave out. Would her cancellation be covered by her travel insurance carrier?
When you purchase a vacation package, your travel advisor will likely recommend that you purchase travel protection at the same time as making your initial payment for the vacation. You have up until 24 hours before your departure to purchase travel insurance. However, most plans require that you purchase the travel insurance within 14 or 15 days (depending on the plan) of making your initial payment for the vacation to cover pre-existing conditions.
A pre-existing condition is an illness or injury you had prior to purchasing travel insurance. Plans differ so be sure to read carefully what pre-existing conditions are covered. These conditions may include diabetes, sleep apnea, COPD, asthma, etc. You should, of course, be healthy enough to travel at the time you purchase the travel insurance.
Insurance providers use a “look back” period to determine if there was a change in your health in a certain period. Some carriers use 150 days, others 90 days. This period varies by company and plan.
If you don’t have any pre-existing conditions but are traveling with someone who does, you’ll want to purchase your plan within the allotted time frame. Their health may impact your ability to travel.
Covid-19 Cancellations and Interruptions
“What happens if we test positive for Covid-19 while we’re in Jamaica? Does our travel insurance cover our flight changes and hotel?”
The answer? It depends. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, many carriers have changed their plans to include coverages related to Covid-19. Many hotels and resorts have also put measures in place to provide quarantine options for guests.
Some plans provide a cancellation option if you test positive for Covid-19 prior to travel. They may also have coverage for trip delay (such as being denied boarding because you don’t meet the airline’s Covid-19 requirements) or trip interruption (such as testing positive at your destination) related to Covid-19.
The insurance provider may not have a specific Covid-19 policy. It’s often included in existing coverages like cancellation, trip interruption, and trip delay.
Emergency Medical Care While Traveling
“Does travel insurance cover emergency expenses while I’m traveling? What if I need to return to the United States for treatment if I become seriously ill?”
When we’re talking about travel insurance, most of my clients are only concerned about cancellation and trip delay. They don’t anticipate needing medical attention while on vacation. But it happens more than people realize.
A group of ladies celebrating a 65th birthday in Costa Rica texted me early one morning because a member of the group needed medical attention. Thankfully, the incident was minor and she was able to pay out of pocket. However, that’s not always the case.
Costs for major medical procedures or emergency transportation may exceed what you’re able to pay out of pocket. It’s good to understand what medical incidents and procedures your travel insurance plan covers and to what limit.
In addition to reviewing the coverage limits, you should understand whether the travel insurance policy will pay as the primary or the secondary insurance. This can impact whether you’re responsible for upfront payments to providers while you’re on vacation.
When your travel insurance is primary, they pay first, not your conventional medical insurance (your plan at home). In most cases, your conventional medical insurance may not cover you at all when you are outside the United States.
If your travel insurance is secondary, they don’t pay until after your primary plan pays. Before you purchase a plan, make sure you understand their payment policy
“We want to cruise the Caribbean in July. Yes, we’ll get the travel insurance since it’s hurricane season. You never know!”
Unfortunately, inclement weather is not always a covered reason for cancellation. Most insurance plans have some conditions that must be met for weather-related cancellations to be covered.
The first condition is that you must purchase your plan before the weather event is considered “foreseeable” or “known & frequent.” So, if the news announces Hurricane Bob heading towards the Caribbean and you purchase your travel insurance the day after, you’re likely not covered for cancellation due to Hurricane Bob.
The other condition taken into consideration by the travel insurance provider is the impact of the weather on the airline and ground transportation. Typically, if the airline or ground transportation provider has to halt operation for 24 hours, it may be a covered cancellation.
The key here is to understand that bad weather doesn’t automatically mean you’re covered if you cancel. It’s important to understand your plan and contact your travel insurance provider for clarification.
If your flight is canceled or delayed, ask a gate agent or airline customer service representative for the official reason for the cancellation or delay. It could be that the rain caused delays with air traffic control or the operations team. Contact your travel insurance carrier to understand if the delay falls into a covered reason.
Before you purchase a travel insurance plan, take a look at the conditions for their coverage of pre-existing conditions, emergency medical care, Covid-19 related expenses, and inclement weather.
Whatever plan you decide to purchase, travel insurance can help give you peace of mind when you invest in a vacation. A hiccup in your vacation doesn’t have to ruin the entire experience.