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If you have upcoming travel plans and are considering rescheduling because of the coronavirus pandemic, you might think that your travel insurance will cover you. So will it?
As with many things in life, the short answer is "it depends." And the long answer is that it truly depends on what type of coverage you have, which provider you bought it from and what the exact reason is for your trip cancellation.
While we can give general guidance as to most travel insurance plans, it is always in your best interest to give your insurance provider a call to verify whether the policy will cover coronavirus-related interruptions.
Most airlines offering waivers
Since March 2020, the vast majority of U.S. and international airlines have been offering waived change and cancellation fees for travel, though the date when you purchased your ticket may come into play.
In a surprising bit of positive news, in August 2020, United, Delta, and American Airlines announced that they will eliminate change fees for all domestic flights and offer extended flexibility for standby flights. For international flights, the COVID-19 waived change/cancellation policies will apply as long as the flights are within the specified travel dates. If you purchased a flight that falls outside these dates, you might be on the hook for the bill (though it can’t hurt to ask an agent whether they’ll waive your fee anyway).
That’s where travel insurance can help, right? Let’s look a little closer at some travel insurance fine print so you’re aware of what to expect.
Travel insurance covered reasons
While not a comprehensive list (and remember all insurance policies are different), here are some standard reasons when a comprehensive travel insurance policy will kick in:
Sickness, injury or death.
Common carrier cancellations or delays.
Hijacking or quarantine.
Travel document theft.
Military leave revoked.
New vaccination requirements.
Some of those reasons might apply to your specific coronavirus situation, such as if you are already ill or under quarantine by a doctor's orders. If you (or your travel companion) contract COVID-19, your travel insurance provider may cover cancellation for a medical reason. You will likely be required to submit a medical diagnosis from a physician.
Nonetheless, it's in your best interest to give your travel insurance provider a call before traveling to verify coverage. Since airlines and hotels have loosened change and cancellation policies due to COVID-19, first try to get a refund from the travel supplier, as it may be an easier process than dealing with the insurance provider.
Is coronavirus a foreseen event?
If you purchased travel insurance after the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, 2020, then COVID-19 might be viewed by your insurance company as a foreseen event and it may not be covered.
In other words, the company says that you should have known about the potential risks but still chose to travel, so the cost of travel and its consequences are on you. We recommend checking with your insurance provider about the "known" or "foreseeable" status dates of the coronavirus outbreak and how this may affect your specific coverage.
For example, here’s a quote from March 2020 from the website of Allianz Travel, a leading provider of travel insurance:
"The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19, 'Coronavirus') is a known and rapidly evolving epidemic that is affecting travel worldwide, with continued spread and impacts expected. COVID-19 became a known event on January 22, 2020, and was recognized as an epidemic as of February 3, 2020.
Claims due to known, foreseeable or expected events, epidemics or fear of travel are generally not covered, and coverage can vary by state. However, until further notice, although not covered under most plans, we are currently accommodating claims for:
Under Emergency Medical Care and Emergency Medical Transportation Benefits: Emergency medical care and emergency medical transportation for a customer who becomes ill with COVID-19 while on their trip.
Under Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption Benefits: Trip cancellation and trip interruption if a customer becomes ill with COVID-19 either before or during their trip.
Under Trip Cancellation Benefit: Nonrefundable, nontransferable trip cancellation expenses for customers who purchased their plan prior to January 22, 2020, for trip components in Mainland China, South Korea or the Lombardy or Veneto regions of Italy and departing prior to April 1, 2020.”
However, some insurance providers (such as World Nomads) state that trips made to countries with a COVID-19 travel ban are excluded from coverage, so it's important to be aware of any travel restrictions associated with your intended destination. The State Department advises all U.S. citizens to review country-specific travel advisories and to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site for the latest news regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
» Learn more: Where U.S. citizens can travel right now
'I’m afraid to travel'
Almost all travel insurance policies have a "fear of travel" clause. According to AIG, one of the world’s largest travel insurance providers, "trip cancellation for concern or fear of travel associated with sickness, epidemic, or pandemic, including Coronavirus, is not covered."
If you bought a ticket, then become afraid to travel because of any sickness, that is probably not a covered reason. If you want ultimate flexibility in canceling your trip for any reason, you’ll want to consider "cancel for any reason" (CFAR) travel insurance coverage.
Cancel for any reason travel insurance
Cancel for any reason coverage allows you to cancel a trip for any reason and receive a partial refund (up to 75%) of your nonrefundable trip costs as long as the trip is canceled at least two days in advance. You cannot purchase CFAR coverage on its own; it is an optional upgrade that is sometimes available when you buy travel insurance. Not all providers offer it, so if you’re looking for the CFAR supplement, you’ll have to ask your travel insurance provider about it or filter your online search accordingly.
» Learn more: Cancel for any reason (CFAR) travel insurance explained
Credit card travel insurance
Comprehensive travel insurance policies offer the highest levels of trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage. If you have a premium travel credit card, you may receive complimentary trip insurance benefits. Although the coverage limits may be below those offered by travel insurance companies on comprehensive plans, the limits may be sufficient for you. As with paid travel insurance, check with the provider to confirm if known conditions such as the coronavirus are covered.
As an example, we took a look at the policy for one of the popular travel cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. There are some notable bullet points that are common across many programs.
Similarly, this insurance will not cover a "disinclination to travel based on a pandemic." If you decide that you don’t want to travel because you might get sick or you are afraid to go, you won’t be covered.
The insurance does clearly state, however, that if you are sick or hospitalized before or during your trip, you may be covered by the plan:
Accidental bodily injury, loss of life or sickness experienced by you or your traveling companion which prevents you or your traveling companion from traveling on the trip.
Accidental bodily injury, loss of life, or sickness experienced by an immediate family member of you or your traveling companion when the accidental bodily injury or sickness is considered life-threatening, requires hospitalization or such immediate family member requires care by you or your traveling companion.
If either you or your traveling companion becomes sick and you are prevented from traveling, you may be covered. Also note that if a family member of either you or your traveling companion requires hospitalization and you are needed to care for them, that may be covered as well.
As with all things insurance-related, if you have specific questions about your policy or your credit card’s coverage, it’s always best to give the company a call beforehand. Still, the general consensus is that if you’re afraid you might contract COVID-19, your insurance won't cover you.
Travel medical insurance
If your trip doesn't include nonrefundable trip costs paid to a travel provider or the trip insurance coverage you have from your credit cards is sufficient, purchasing a standalone travel health insurance policy may be your best bet for an upcoming trip.
These policies provide reimbursement for emergency medical expenses, including evacuations, while you’re traveling. Again, it's important to check if the policy you’re considering has any clauses related to pandemics or exclusions for travel to countries that have current travel advisories to ensure you don't nullify your medical coverage.
1. I have a trip booked to a destination that has recently had a surge of coronavirus cases and I want to cancel. Will I receive reimbursement?
It depends. Fear of travel generally isn't an allowable reason, so you won't benefit from trip cancellation coverage for nonrefundable payments made to a trip supplier. The reason for cancellation has to fall into one of the unforeseen events listed in the policy. However, if you’ve purchased a CFAR add-on and want to cancel, you will be covered for up to 75% of your nonrefundable deposit as long as you cancel at least two days before the departure date.
2. Am I at risk for coronavirus if I travel?
Although staying home is the best way to safeguard yourself and others from catching coronavirus, there are some general precautions you can take to reduce the spread. According to the CDC, a few ways include: Checking if the destination you’re going to has increasing cases in the past seven days, knowing whether you’re at an increased risk for severe illness from coronavirus and staying up to date with the airline’s and destination’s requirements/restrictions for travelers (such as wearing masks, enforcing quarantine, etc.). If you choose to travel, consider purchasing a travel insurance policy or a standalone emergency medical insurance plan just in case.
3. Should I cancel or postpone my travel plans due to COVID-19?
The State Department continues to recommend that U.S. citizens avoid traveling internationally due to COVID-19. Furthermore, some states have issued travel advisories requiring a 14-day quarantine if you’re arriving from a state with surging cases. If you decide to cancel your trip and haven't purchased a policy, it can’t hurt to ask your trip provider for a refund, especially since change and cancellation policies have become more flexible during this time.
The bottom line
Deciding whether to travel during the coronavirus pandemic is a personal decision. Get familiarized with the different insurance protections and airline change/cancellation policies that may be applicable for your trip, as they could help you get your money back in the event of a trip cancellation. When considering the health implications of travel during this time, keep in mind that travel medical insurance is an option, especially if you don’t need the trip cancellation coverage provided by comprehensive policies. Regardless of which policy you choose, confirm that coronavirus-related losses are covered by insurance before purchasing coverage.
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 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card