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Purchasing travel insurance before going on a trip is a great way to protect yourself against unexpected medical bills or the loss of a nonrefundable deposit if an unplanned emergency derails your vacation plans.
But how much protection do you get if you booked your trip with miles or points? The answer to this question is a bit murky and is sometimes found in the fine print of travel insurance policies. Here's what you can do to protect your award ticket so you can book your trip with confidence.
First, three things to note:
Airlines and hotels have loosened change/cancellation fees due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the information here corresponds to cancellations unrelated to the coronavirus.
Domestic and foreign airlines (that have U.S. websites and market to U.S. customers) are required by the U.S. Department of Transportation to offer a full refund as long as the trip is cancelled within 24 hours of booking. The information below is about canceled trips beyond this timeframe. Standard hotel award bookings come with varying, but far more flexible, cancellation policies that are usually in the range of one to three days before arrival (for a refund of points).
To be eligible for reimbursement, the cancellation must fall into the insurer’s list of covered reasons. Covered reasons generally include terrorist attacks, medical emergencies, death, inclement weather that results in a flight cancellation, natural disasters that make your home uninhabitable and other extenuating circumstances.
There are several different types of travel insurance options that provide coverage for trips booked with miles/points:
Insurance offered by the airline.
Travel insurance provided by your credit card.
Comprehensive travel insurance.
The coverage provided by each of these policies will vary, and it's important to know the difference.
Type 1: Insurance offered by the airline
Generally, standalone trip insurance plans won't reimburse you for any miles you used to book a flight because insurers don't assign a value to the miles. The only way to get your miles back is to purchase the travel insurance add-on that is offered by the airline on the checkout page when booking your flight with miles. For example, United offers a travel insurance option for $27 with Travel Guard to cover your award trip.
If the trip is cancelled for a covered reason, the miles will be deposited back into your United MileagePlus account and you will receive a reimbursement for taxes and deposit fees.
Award redeposit fees and taxes vary by airline. Because taxes are also dependent on the country of origin and destination, we didn't include this information. However, here is an infographic showing several domestic and international airlines along with their redeposit fees:
Note: the award redeposit fee charged by Qantas is 12,700 points.
These fees reflect the maximum amount that you would pay to cancel and redeposit an award ticket. If you have elite status or cancel far enough in advance, you may be eligible for a reduced fee or no fee at all. However, if you are a no-show, the airline may tack on additional fees to your award redeposit fee. If you need to cancel an award ticket, try to do it as soon as possible to avoid extra charges.
Type 2: Travel insurance provided by your credit card
Premium travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and The Platinum Card® from American Express offer a variety of trip insurance benefits, including trip cancellation and interruption insurance. Because these cards earn points that can be transferred to airlines or used to book trips on travel portals, you get specific protections for trips paid with points.
When transferred to an airline/hotel partner
Chase Ultimate Rewards® points can be transferred to 13 partners (10 airlines, three hotels), while AmEx Membership Rewards includes 22 transfer partners (19 airlines, three hotels).
Once you transfer points to an airline or hotel, AmEx and Chase are removed from the equation. The miles or points are now with the airline or hotel and cannot be returned to AmEx or Chase in the event of a trip cancellation.
Similar to the United example, when you then book your award ticket, you can purchase the add-on travel insurance option at checkout so that you get your points back, directly from the airline, in the event of a cancellation.
If you don't purchase the add-on option and need to cancel your trip, Chase or AmEx will reimburse you for nonrefundable expenses and redeposit fees associated with the award ticket.
» Learn more: 9 credit cards that provide travel insurance
Chase trip cancellation and interruption coverage
The Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, United Club℠ Infinite Card and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card provide trip cancellation, interruption and delay coverage for eligible travel expenses, which include nonrefundable prepaid amounts charged by a travel supplier (i.e., airline, hotel, car rental company, etc.). Any trips booked using points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal are also included.
Trips booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
If you paid for your trip using Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, you will be reimbursed in an amount that is equal to the monetary value of the points as long as the dollar amount is listed on your Chase booking confirmation. You won't get the points back.
Because holders of the Chase Sapphire Reserve® receive 1.5 cents per point when booking travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, verify that your booking confirmation includes the dollar equivalent of the 1.5-cent-per-point redemption. For example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and you book a $750 United flight using 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points that you later need to cancel, you will be reimbursed $750 by Chase as long as the dollar and point values are shown on your booking confirmation.
The refund cashes out your points at 1.5 cents each, so if you value Chase points at more than that, you’re out of luck. If the dollar equivalent of the points isn't listed on your booking confirmation, you will be reimbursed 1 cent per point.
AmEx trip cancellation and interruption coverage
Many premium American Express credit cards offer trip cancellation and interruption insurance, which also cover trips booked with Membership Rewards points. The following cards offer these protections:
The Platinum Card® from American Express.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
Centurion® Card from American Express.
Business Centurion® Card from American Express.
The Corporate Centurion® Card from American Express.
The Platinum Card® from American Express for Ameriprise Financial.
The American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab.
The Platinum Card® from American Express for Goldman Sachs.
The Platinum Card® from American Express for Morgan Stanley.
Corporate Platinum Card®.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
Trips booked through American Express Membership Rewards
Similar to Chase, American Express has the Membership Rewards travel booking site. With the exception of the The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, which has a redemption rate of 1.35 cents per point, the redemption rate on all other cards is 1 cent per point.
If you cancel travel booked through the Membership Rewards site, you will be reimbursed in cash (regardless of whether you paid with cash or points). To be eligible for coverage, the trip must include round-trip travel to a city that isn't the cardmember’s city of residence and cannot exceed 365 days away from home at the time of departure.
Type 3: Comprehensive travel insurance
If you don't have travel insurance through a premium travel credit card and/or you did not insure your award ticket on the airline’s website, consider a standalone travel insurance policy.
Although comprehensive travel insurance plans don't reimburse miles directly, they will reimburse you for any taxes you paid for the award ticket, mileage redeposit fees you pay to get your miles back, checked bag fees and upgrade fees. In addition, these plans offer other protections including emergency medical coverage, emergency repatriation and evacuation, baggage loss, car rental coverage and much more.
Nerd tip: Each travel insurance policy is different and the reimbursement limits vary by state, so review the fine print to find out what coverage is provided for canceled award tickets. If you’re not finding the information you need in the policy, call the insurer.
» Learn more: How to find the best travel insurance
The bottom line: Which travel insurance type should you choose for your award trip?
The answer depends on how you booked the trip.
If you have one of the premium travel credit cards mentioned above and cancel a trip booked with points through the American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal, you will receive a cash reimbursement for the points.
If you use airline points to book your award travel and want to get your points back in the event of a cancellation, it makes sense to purchase the add-on travel insurance option that is offered by the airline on the checkout page. Those who would like to get a refund of airline miles (in addition to any taxes/redeposit fees) should strongly consider this add-on when booking the award ticket.
If you don’t have credit card-offered protection (or the coverage amounts aren't sufficient) and you don’t purchase the airline-offered add-on, your remaining option is a comprehensive travel insurance policy, which will often reimburse you for fees associated with getting your miles back (but always read the fine print). If you want additional protections as well, a comprehensive travel insurance policy is the way to go.
Using your hard-earned miles and points to travel can be a great experience. If you want to protect your award ticket in the event that a covered reason derails your vacation plans, consider purchasing travel insurance.
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