Consider these situations:
- You fall and break your leg while visiting Croatia. You must fly home, yet cannot bend your left knee.
- Two days before you are due to fly to New Zealand, you come down with this year’s strain of influenza.
- Your cruise ship cannot leave on time because a hurricane is bearing down on your departure city.
If you buy the right kind of travel insurance before your trip starts, you can recover the cost of your canceled trip or the extra expense of flying home while disabled. Consider purchasing travel insurance to prevent unexpected problems from ruining your dream vacation.
Although some travel experts and even Consumer Reports claim that travel insurance isn’t worth the money, seniors should research this issue carefully for several reasons:
- If your only medical insurance is Medicare or Medicaid and you plan to travel to another country, consider purchasing travel insurance. Medicare only pays for expenses incurred within the United States. If you should get sick or become injured while abroad, you will be expected to pay for your medical care up front, and emergency medical evacuation costs thousands of dollars.
- If you are insured through an HMO, check to see if you can get emergency medical care outside of the HMO’s service area, and find out if a deductible applies. Some HMO’s will not cover out-of-region or overseas medical expenses. Travel insurance could be a good way to temporarily add to your health coverage if your HMO’s service area is limited.
- If you book a trip or cruise and must prepay, you may face a penalty from your tour agency or cruise line if you need to cancel your trip. This penalty may be more than the cost of trip cancellation insurance. If so, trip cancellation insurance could protect you from a larger loss.
- If you travel often, consider an annual membership in an emergency evacuation program, such as MedJet. For a few hundred dollars per year, you’ll receive emergency medical transportation to your chosen hospital if you should get sick or sustain an injury.
Types of Travel Insurance
Shopping for travel insurance can be confusing. There are many types of travel insurance plans; some cover only a particular group of losses, while others are comprehensive policies.
According to the U. S. Travel Insurance Association (UStiA), there are three basic kinds of travel insurance coverage:
- Trip cancellation insurance. This type of policy covers the cost of your airfare and other prepaid expenses if you need to cancel your trip. Trip cancellation insurance will reimburse you if you cannot make your trip because you or a family member becomes ill or if weather problems prevent you from traveling. It will also reimburse you for lost luggage. Some policies also cover financial default of your travel supplier.
- Emergency medical coverage. This pays for medical care and the cost of emergency return travel. This coverage is especially useful for seniors because it pays for medical expenses incurred outside of your home country.
- 24-hour telephone assistance. This coverage provides travelers with an easy way to locate doctors and get emergency help, and is especially helpful if you plan to travel to an area where English is not a common language.
How to Shop for Travel Insurance
Here are some tips for choosing a travel insurance policy.
- Purchase travel insurance through your travel agent. A good travel agency will have working relationships with reputable travel insurance providers and will offer various types of policies.
- Call your regular insurance agent and ask if s/he sells travel insurance.
- Contact the U. S. Travel Insurance Association, the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada or a similar trade association in your home country. Ask for a list of travel insurance agents in your area. These professional associations also provide travel insurance information.
- Ask around. If you participate in online discussion groups, such as AARP’s message boards, you can post a question about travel insurance and read about other travelers’ experiences. Discuss your travel plans with friends and ask if they have purchased travel insurance. Do some online research – for example, do a search on the name of a travel insurance company – to see if other travelers have reported problems.
- Use an online insurance comparison site, such as InsureMyTrip.com, SquareMouth.com, or WorldTravelCenter.com to help you research coverage and costs.
- Look for a policy that covers pre-existing conditions; some don’t. Others will cover pre-existing conditions only if you purchase your policy within a specified time period after paying your trip deposit.
- If you are taking a sports-related or adventure trip, look for a policy that covers sports-related injuries. Many travel insurance policies won’t pay for “high adventure” injuries.
- Read the entire policy. Don't rely on someone else's description of coverage. If you don't understand what's covered and what's not, ask questions before you buy.
While travel insurance isn’t cheap – it can add up to as much as ten percent of your total trip cost – it can give you peace of mind and provide financial assistance if the worst should happen.