Like any form of insurance, travel insurance can be overwhelming. When do you need it? Do you need it? And what does all of the fine print mean? These questions are all top of mind lately, as the COVID-19 (aka the novel coronavirus) pandemic continues to rapidly affect travelers’ vacation plans around the globe. We turned to Virtuoso travel advisors for details on what they tell their clients about buying travel insurance.
What does travel insurance cover? What does it not cover?
It really depends on the policy you choose to purchase, according to every Virtuoso travel advisor we talked to. There are policies that cover trip cancellations, illnesses, medical emergencies and evacuations, lost baggage, or all of the above.
“Big picture, travel insurance helps protect your trip investment by providing reimbursement for non-refundable trip costs in the event of cancellation due to a covered reason,” says Virtuoso advisor Amanda Foshee. “Travel insurance also has post-departure benefits which help in situations such as flight delays or missed connections, baggage loss or delay, or if your trip is interrupted for a covered reason and you need to get home.”
One of the most comprehensive policies is “cancel for any reason” insurance, but there’s a lot of fine print with the “any” there. Coverage varies by provider and policy, but, generally, the fear of getting sick is not a valid reason for canceling a trip. Additionally, “cancel for any reason” insurance must be purchased within a few days of making an initial trip deposit – meaning, you can’t decide to buy it now if you booked a trip in January. Many providers have also adjusted their policies to make coronavirus a known risk (read: not covered).
Long story short: Travel insurance isn’t cut and dry. If you want to make sure you’re getting the best possible policy for your trip, having an advisor’s help is a huge benefit.
Will travel insurance help if I get sick or quarantined due to coronavirus?
If you have a policy that covers illness, your medical expenses should be covered (up to the policy benefit purchased amount) if you contract COVID-19 and need to be treated while you’re away. “Medical coverage will help if you incur medical bills while traveling, but not after returning from a trip,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Craig Buck. “Once you’re back home – or to a medical facility for further care following medical evacuation – coverage stops.”
A tip from Virtuoso travel advisor Leah Bergner: “It really is best to have your travel insurance be primary, not secondary. That way, you can file one claim through the provider and be done – you don’t have to file through your own insurance first and then the travel provider next.”
A few advisors we spoke to noted that travel insurance that covers trip delays or cancellations may reimburse some quarantine-related costs, but generally, once your travel insurance policy date ends, you’re no longer covered. (Again, a travel advisor can help.)
Should travelers buy travel insurance for every trip, even weekend getaways?
“I recommend insurance on all international trips, and domestic trips that have nonrefundable components such as hotel stays, transfers, or tours,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Tiffany Figueiredo. “If clients are traveling internationally and choose not to purchase insurance, I require them to sign a waiver. I want them to have medical coverage in the event they’re sick or injured while traveling. People assume their regular insurance will cover them abroad and that’s not always the case. The companies I work with offer policies on a trip-by-trip basis, but I also recommend Medjet Assist, which has annual plans.” (Note: Medjet is not an insurance product; it’s an emergency medical evacuation service.)
When has travel insurance paid off for a client of yours?
“Travel insurance is one of those things that you hope you never need, but it’s invaluable when you do,” says Foshee. “I had clients plan an amazing three-week trip to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands, but they had to cancel at the last minute due to a medical issue. We re-planned the trip for a year later, when yet again, an emergency came up that forced them to cancel. Insurance saved the day twice! The third time was the charm; my clients finally made it to the Galápagos a couple of years after the originally scheduled trip, without losing their investment during the first two attempts.”
Buck also recommends medical evacuation coverage, offered by programs such as Medjet. “One of my clients was having heart problems in the Cayman Islands, and the doctors at the local hospital advised she receive treatment at a hospital in Miami,” he says. “Without a covered evacuation plan, the cost for that 90-minute medical evacuation would have been over $125,000!”
If something happens while I’m traveling – any tips and tricks to filing claim paperwork and getting the maximum reimbursement?
“Save all receipts, first and foremost,” Figueiredo says. “I’ll have already documented the cost of the trip, but if it’s delayed or cut short, clients will have to provide receipts for the cost of meals, taxis, hotels, clothing, and toiletries that were incurred as a result. For a medical situation, my role as an advisor is to connect my clients with the insurance company’s emergency assistance team, who will take over in handling everything from procedure approvals to making certain the client receives the best care possible to ensuring the doctor fills out their portion of the paperwork specifically and correctly. When filing a claim, it’s important to be specific in answering questions. Vague answers often result in having claims kicked back or denied.”
Figueiredo continues: “There are gray areas on the forms, and I advise my clients to work with the insurer directly for clarity. If a claim is denied or held up, I can reach out to my insurance sales rep for assistance, as our partnerships with these companies are strong.”
What travel insurance company should I work with?
Virtuoso’s vetted and preferred travel insurance partners include Allianz Global Assistance and Travelex Insurance Services; Medjet Assist is a preferred service provider. A Virtuoso travel advisor can help you choose the best provider and policy for your needs.
This story was originally published in August 2017 and updated in March 2020.