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Can you buy travel insurance at the last minute? The quick answer is yes. But even though it’s possible, it may not always provide you with the coverage you need. If you get sick or a hurricane pops up and you haven’t yet bought travel insurance, you won’t be covered if you have to cancel your trip.
That’s why it’s generally better to buy travel insurance earlier — ideally soon after you book your trip. This will give you the longest period of coverage possible, for no extra cost.
So, are you out of luck if you haven’t purchased insurance yet? Not necessarily. Here are some considerations to take into account if you’re thinking of buying last-minute trip insurance.
What does travel insurance cover?
Travel insurance protects you when your trip doesn’t go as planned. Mishaps like delayed flights, lost baggage, medical emergencies or severe weather don’t have to cost you if you have insurance coverage. And the protection isn’t only financial — some plans offer additional benefits like lost passport assistance or legal referrals.
However, travel insurance isn’t a perfect safety net, and it does have exclusions. There are a lot of caveats that could keep you from being as fully protected as you think, especially if you wait to purchase until the last minute.
For example, some policies may not include trip cancellation insurance if you buy it within 48 hours of a trip, according to VisitorsCoverage.com. And those with pre-existing conditions may not be covered for certain medical issues if they don’t buy a policy soon after booking.
If you’re not sure what you need coverage for, websites like InsureMyTrip provide a variety of options that cover a range of events, including extreme weather, flight delays, illness or even death.
» Learn more: How much is travel insurance?
When does travel insurance coverage begin?
When you’re covered by your travel insurance plan depends on what type of plan you purchase.
If you buy a plan that includes trip cancellation coverage, policies typically go into effect at midnight the day after you buy the policy. That way, even if your trip is two months away, you’ll be eligible for a refund if you need to cancel your trip before then for a covered reason.
All other travel insurance benefits don’t take effect until you actually leave your home to start your trip. So, if you purchase travel insurance at the last minute, you’ll still be able to use most of the benefits aside from trip cancellation.
However, some insurance providers require a policy be bought within a certain time frame after booking your trip. Or, there may be limitations on coverage for certain claims, such as treatment for pre-existing conditions.
Keep in mind that insurance is for unexpected events, so if you decide to buy it at the last minute because you start to feel sick or a hurricane is about to barrel through your destination, don’t expect to be covered.
Make sure you’re aware of any deadlines or exclusions of policies you’re interested in before making a purchase.
» Learn more: How to find the best travel insurance
How long do you want the protection to last?
Travel insurance can protect you in instances of terrorist attacks, weather disruptions or family medical issues — even before you leave on your trip. But, that coverage depends on when you buy your insurance.
If you buy it when you book your trip, you’ll be covered in the event that something happens anytime before your departure. If you wait until the last minute, you won’t receive as much protection.
If what you want is a safeguard against nonrefundable expenses, the more time you’re protected, the better. This also means you’re getting more value by buying your policy as soon as you pay for your trip, rather than waiting until just before it starts.
» Learn more: Can I buy travel insurance after booking?
What coverage do you miss out on by buying at the last minute?
There are some types of coverage that aren’t available when you purchase at the last minute. You’ll need to plan ahead if you want the following travel protections.
“Cancel For Any Reason” insurance
Cancel For Any Reason, or CFAR insurance allows travelers to cancel their plans for any reason and receive a partial reimbursement of nonrefundable travel expenses.
To be eligible, it must be purchased soon after booking your travel, often within just two to three weeks. After that deadline, which can vary by insurance company, it’s no longer possible to buy this type of “catch-all” plan.
This is also one of the only plans that would partially cover upfront expenses if you need to cancel due to COVID-19 concerns, fear or flying or other non-covered reasons.
Pre-existing medical coverage
If you have pre-existing medical conditions that could lead to a potential trip disruption, it is advisable to have insurance to protect you. That way if a health issue pops up before or even during your trip, you have a backup plan.
Many insurance companies do offer coverage for pre-existing conditions, but most require you to qualify for a pre-existing medical condition waiver. One requirement of these waivers is purchasing your policy within a specified time frame following booking, typically within two to three weeks.
If you purchase your policy after this time frame, you may be out of luck if you need to cancel your trip due to existing medical complications, or if you need treatment for your condition when you’re traveling. Any emergency medical coverage on a travel insurance plan would have to take into account pre-existing conditions that were disclosed at the time of purchase.
In addition to pre-existing conditions, other things travel insurance often doesn’t cover are pregnancy, adventure sports, an act of war or mass chaos and bad weather.
As mentioned above, trip cancellation coverage is the most valuable if you purchase it soon after booking. If you wait until the last minute to purchase travel insurance, you often won’t receive coverage for trip cancellation.
There are other instances when you may not be able to use trip cancellation insurance if you wait too long to purchase it. For example, once a hurricane has been named, you can no longer buy travel insurance against any losses you may incur due to having to change travel plans. Likewise, if you were to break your leg prior to your departure, you can’t buy travel insurance after the accident and expect to receive coverage for canceling your trip.
» Learn more: How to recover miles and points if you cancel your trip
When should I rely on credit card or other included insurance?
Many credit cards offer travel insurance — with some travel credit cards offering fairly robust coverage — as long as you purchase your travel with an eligible card. These types of coverage can be especially useful when it comes to flight delays, lost baggage or rental car damage.
In some cases, resorts or tour operators might include certain types of insurance in their booking fees. For example, some Caribbean resorts like Baha Mar in the Bahamas and Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa in St. Lucia provide insurance against hurricanes, and they guarantee no penalty if you change your travel dates at the last minute due to a storm.
Tour operators like SkySafari provide medical evacuation insurance automatically in the price. In life-threatening situations, it covers transport from the nearest airstrip to the nearest appropriate medical facility or hospital via air ambulance.
Insurance offered by credit cards, resorts or tours can be helpful when you have a problem. However, if you spent a lot of money on a dream vacation or you’re traveling somewhere off the beaten path, it may be worth it to invest in the more robust protections that come with travel insurance.
A travel insurance policy typically has more comprehensive coverage and higher policy maximums than what come with a credit card, according to VisitorsCoverage.com. The latter may have a maximum limit of $10,000 for claims made during a particular trip, or it may not include medical coverage.
» Learn more: Credit cards that provide travel insurance
Last-minute travel insurance, recapped
Each traveler has different levels of risk they’re willing to tolerate. When deciding to purchase travel insurance, consider your own health issues as well as the resources available at your destination. It may be more difficult to get assistance from a remote island in the Pacific than from the center of Paris.
Credit cards provide valuable protections, too, and you should be aware of the coverage, if any, you already have. In the end, there is nothing wrong with being fully protected for your trip, and the sooner you buy travel insurance, the more time you have to benefit from it if something goes wrong.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card