How to Find the Best Travel Insurance

Insurance, Travel Insurance
How to Find the Best Travel Insurance

There’s nothing like travel to renew the spirit. A change of scene gives a fresh perspective, a chance to let go and maybe even a taste of adventure. Travel insurance provides a safety net so you can step out with confidence.

Depending on the policy, travel insurance reimburses you or offers services when something goes awry:

  • You make nonrefundable reservations and then have to cancel or end a trip early because you get sick or there’s a death in the family.
  • Your baggage is lost or stolen.
  • You miss a flight or have an emergency and need help finding a hotel, doctor or legal help.
  • You get sick while traveling and need medical care.
  • You have a medical emergency and need to be transported to the nearest hospital or back home.

There’s even coverage for the worst-case scenario: if you die in an accident while traveling. Accidental death coverage pays your beneficiary a lump sum in that case.

Before you buy, take a little time to get familiar with how travel insurance works, how it’s priced and what it covers and excludes. Follow along, and we’ll take you on a tour through the following:

Who needs travel insurance

Types of travel insurance 

Travel insurance cost

How to get covered

Where to get travel insurance quotes

Tips for buying travel insurance

Who needs travel insurance

Insurance is designed to cover the big financial risks you don’t want to bear alone. You don’t need travel insurance for inexpensive trips, but it can provide a sense of security when you prepay pricey reservations or plan a big trip abroad.

More Americans are buying travel insurance. Some 33.4 million people bought some type of travel policy in 2014, an almost 18% increase from 2012, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Travel Insurance Association.

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Types of travel insurance

You’ll find a wide selection of travel insurance plans when you shop for a policy. Generally, travel insurance is sold as a package, known as a comprehensive plan, which includes a variety of coverage. Some insurers and comparison sites let you customize a policy by choosing types of coverage a la carte. Here are the most common offerings:

Trip cancellation, interruption and delay

Trip cancellation insurance reimburses you for prepaid, nonrefundable expenses if the tour operator or cruise line goes out of business or you have to cancel the trip for one of the reasons outlined in the policy, such as your own illness, the illness or death of a family member who’s not traveling with you, bad weather or natural disasters.

Trip interruption insurance covers the nonrefundable cost of the unused portion of the trip if you have to interrupt a vacation because of a reason outlined in the policy. Trip delay coverage reimburses you for expenses such as hotel accommodations and meals if you’re delayed during a trip, such as if your flight gets canceled because of bad weather.

Many package policies cover all three: cancellation, interruption and delay. These policies are different from the cancellation waivers that cruise and tour operators offer, the Insurance Information Institute says. Waivers are cheap, ranging from $40 to $60, and they often include restrictions. For example, waivers might not refund your money if you cancel immediately before departure, the institute says. Waivers are technically not insurance policies.

Details to know:

  • Exclusions: Read the fine print to know when cancellation, interruption and delays are covered. These vary by carrier and policy. For instance, some cover cancellation because of a recent terrorist attack at the destination; others don’t. Generally, policies won’t pay out just because you have second thoughts about traveling or if you cancel because of a pre-existing medical condition — meaning one you had when you applied for travel insurance.
  • “Cancel for any reason” coverage: Some companies offer additional layers of coverage at extra cost. “Cancel for any reason” coverage will reimburse a large part of the trip cost, no matter why you back out. And some companies let you pay extra to cover pre-existing conditions if you cancel for medical reasons.
  • Limits: Check the limits for the maximum amount of trip cost that can be covered due to cancellation and the per-day and policy limits for trip interruption and delay insurance.

Baggage and personal belongings

This coverage reimburses you for baggage and personal belongings that are lost, stolen or damaged during the trip. Some plans also reimburse you for extra expenses if your baggage is delayed for more than a certain period, such as 12 hours.

Details to know:

  • Limits: Policies include limits on how much you can be reimbursed per traveler, per item and per type of item, such as jewelry. A common total limit is $1,000.
  • Check other coverage: Your renters or home insurance also covers personal belongings away from home. Your deductible will apply to any claims. The deductible is the amount you pay out before the insurance kicks in.

Emergency medical assistance, evacuation and repatriation

This coverage pays medical expenses if you get sick or injured on a trip. Medical evacuation coverage pays for transporting you to the nearest hospital, and medical repatriation pays for flying you home.

Details to know:

  • Exclusions: The policy might not cover pre-existing conditions. Although most travel insurance plans cover many recreational activities, such as skiing and horseback riding, they often exclude adventure sports, such as skydiving or parasailing, or competition in organized sporting events. You may need to buy a special travel policy designed for adventure or competitive sports.
  • Limits: The policy will pay expenses up to the given limit, such as $50,000.
  • Deductible: This is how much you’ll pay out of pocket for medical expenses before the travel insurance plan pays out. The deductible can range from zero to more than $2,000.
  • Check other coverage: Check with your health insurance plan about coverage away from home before you buy emergency medical assistance coverage. Call your plan’s customer service line and ask some “what if” questions. Medicare does not provide coverage outside the United States.

Major medical insurance

These plans are for people traveling abroad for several months or more and provide comprehensive health insurance while away from home. In some ways they work like traditional health plans. However, they’re not subject to the Affordable Care Act, so they include limits on coverage and exclusions for pre-existing conditions.

Details to know:

  • Check other coverage: Check with your health insurance plan to see what coverage you would have out of the country. You may still need to be enrolled in a U.S. health plan to be eligible.
  • Provider network: You’ll pay more out of pocket to see health care providers outside the plan’s network.
  • Out-of-pocket expenses: Check the deductibles, coinsurance and copayment amounts — the portion of costs you pay.
  • Limits: Some major medical plans cap the total amount they’ll pay out and limit coverage for some benefits, such as prescription drugs.

24-hour assistance

This service is included with many package plans. The insurer provides a 24-hour hotline that you can call when you need help, such as booking a flight after a missed connection, finding lost luggage, or locating a doctor or lawyer. Many services also offer information before the trip, such as required vaccinations.

Details to know:

  • Services covered: Most travel insurers cover a wide array of services, but the specific options vary. Some plans include concierge services, providing help with restaurant referrals, tee time reservations and more. The only way to know what’s included is to read the policy.

Rental car coverage

This pays for repairing your rental car if it’s damaged in a wreck, by vandals or in a natural disaster.

Details to know:

Limits: The coverage is for damage to the vehicle up to a certain dollar amount.

Not included: The coverage doesn’t include liability insurance, which pays for damage to other vehicles or for others’ medical treatment if you cause an accident and are held responsible.

Check other coverage: Ask your car insurance company whether your policy will cover you when renting cars on the trip. U.S. car insurance policies generally don’t cover you when driving in other countries, except Canada. Car insurance requirements are complex because they vary among countries. You can usually purchase liability insurance from the rental car company. Learn about car insurance requirements by searching for auto insurance by country on the U.S. Embassy website.

Accidental death and dismemberment insurance

The coverage pays a lump sum to your beneficiary, such as a family member, if you die in an accident while on the trip. Accidental death and dismemberment insurance policies also pay a portion of the sum to you if you lose a hand, foot, limb, eyesight, speech or hearing. Some plans apply only to accidental death in a plane.

Details to know:

  • Check other coverage: This is unnecessary coverage if you already have sufficient life insurance, which pays out whether you die in an accident or from an illness. You may also already have accidental death and dismemberment insurance through work.
  • Exclusions: An AD&D policy doesn’t pay out if a stroke, heart attack, aneurysm or other medical issue leads to an accident. The death or loss of a limb must occur within a certain time frame, such as one year, after the accident during the trip. Accidents from some activities, such as risky sports, may be excluded.

Common travel insurance needs

If you want: Include this in your travel insurance policy:
Payment of medical expenses if you get sick or injured on a trip and need emergency care that’s not covered by your regular health insurance plan Travel medical plan
To be taken to the nearest adequate hospital or flown home if necessary if you’re injured or get sick on a trip Emergency evacuation and repatriation
Reimbursement of nonrefundable reservations if you get sick and have to cancel or end a trip early Trip cancellation and trip interruption
Reimbursement of nonrefundable reservations no matter why you cancel a trip “Cancel for any reason” coverage
Payment for lost, stolen or damaged baggage Baggage and personal belongings
Help finding a lawyer abroad 24-hour assistance
Payment for rental car damage Car rental collision insurance

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Travel insurance cost

A comprehensive travel insurance plan typically will cost about 4% to 8% of the cost of a trip, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association. The price will vary depending on:

  • Length and cost of the trip: The longer and more expensive the trip, the higher the policy cost.
  • Destination: High health-care costs in your destination can drive up the price of travel insurance.
  • Medical conditions you want covered: Coverage for conditions you already have will increase the cost of travel insurance.
  • Amount and breadth of coverage: The more risks a policy covers, the more it will cost.
  • Your age: Generally the older you are, the higher the price.

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How to get travel insurance

Method Pros Cons
Credit card: Some credit cards offer trip cancellation and rental car insurance if you use the card to book the trip or the car. (Most credit cards offer secondary car rental insurance, which means it pays for car damage not covered by your regular car insurance plan.)
  • The coverage is free.
  • You can’t customize the insurance to meet your needs.
  • Most credit cards offer secondary car rental insurance, which means it pays for the costs not covered by your regular car insurance plan.
Travel agent and travel reservation sites: You can buy travel insurance when you book your flight, hotel and car rental.
  • Buying is as quick and easy as clicking “yes” when you book reservations.
  • The coverage is inexpensive.
  • You can’t customize the coverage.
Travel insurance company: You can buy directly from many companies on their websites.
  • You can choose a policy that fits your needs.
  • Many travel insurer websites also offer information to help you understand the coverage.
  • You’ll need to go to multiple websites to compare coverage and prices.
Travel insurance comparison sites
  • You can choose a policy that fits your needs and compare policies and prices in one place.
  • Comparing multiple policies takes time.

 

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Where to get travel insurance quotes online

Comparing policies from different travel insurers is your best bet for getting insurance customized to your needs and at the best price. Here are websites where you can get travel insurance quotes.

Quick navigation:

Travel insurance comparison sites

Comprehensive travel insurance plan providers

Medical travel insurance

Travel insurance comparison sites


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Good Neighbor Insurance

  • Medical and evacuation insurance for adventure and extreme sports, such as hang gliding, bungee jumping, hiking, scuba diving, ice climbing and more.
  • Coverage limited to trips outside home country.
  • Some plans exclude competitive sports.

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InsureMyTrip

  • Compare plans from 28 providers.
  • More than 40,000 customer reviews.
  • “Anytime advocates” ask insurer to give your claim a second look if you think it was unfairly denied.

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SquareMouth

  • Compare plans from 21 providers.
  • More than 36,000 customer reviews.
  • Under “zero complaint guarantee,” company will remove a provider if any customer complaint isn't resolved to SquareMouth’s satisfaction.

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TravelInsurance.com

  • Compare plans from eight providers.
  • See one- to five-star customer ratings and reviews when you get quotes.
  • Travel insurance articles and travel tips blog offer how-to information.

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Travel Insurance Center

  • Compare plans from 15 providers.
  • Choose plans to compare or use “Policy Picker” tool to see recommended plans based on your profile.
  • Quick-find tool lets you search by risk, such as adventure sports or terrorism.

Comprehensive travel insurance plan providers


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Allianz Global Assistance

  • Annual and single-trip plan packages.
  • Three plans each for domestic and international travel
  • Stand-alone rental-car damage coverage.

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April International

  • Two levels of comprehensive plans each for annual and single-trip packages.
  • Trip cancellation-only plan with concierge services.
  • Many claims paid immediately.

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AXA Assistance USA

  • Three comprehensive plans available.
  • Optional benefits can be added to any plan, such as “cancel for any reason” and rental-car damage coverage.

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Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection

  • Comprehensive plan offers cancellation, emergency medical coverage and emergency travel assistance.
  • Flight insurance covers lost baggage, compensation for missed connections and canceled flights.

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Generali Global Assistance

  • Three levels of comprehensive plans.
  • “Cancel for any reason” coverage available on richest plan.
  • Access to global physician network.

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Global Alert

  • Three levels of comprehensive plans.
  • Richest plan offers “cancel for any reason” coverage.

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John Hancock Insurance Agency

  • Three levels of comprehensive plans.
  • Optional rental car collision, medical expense and accidental death and dismemberment coverage.
  • Plans underwritten by American Modern Home Insurance Group.

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Nationwide Insurance

  • Cruise, single-trip and annual plans available.
  • Three packages each offered for cruises and year-round plans.
  • Two levels of single-trip packages.

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RoamRight

  • Single-trip and annual comprehensive plans.
  • Adventure plan for bungee jumping, skiing, scuba diving and other risky sports.
  • Emergency medical evacuation plans.

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Seven Corners

  • Medical plans for traveling outside home country, including for visitors and immigrants to U.S.
  • Four levels of comprehensive plans.
  • “Dogtag” plan for extreme sports; comes with wearable metal insurance ID tag.

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Sure

  • Pays your beneficiary if you die in a plane crash.
  • Flight insurance offered through a mobile app any time before takeoff.

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TinLeg

  • Three levels of comprehensive plans for domestic and international travel.
  • Optional “cancel for any reason” coverage can be added to top two plans.

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TravelGuard by AIG

  • Four levels of comprehensive plans and a build-your-own customizable plan.
  • Flight accident insurance, medical evacuation plan and annual plans available.
  • Plan available for business travelers.

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Travel Insured International

  • Comprehensive and medical-only plans.
  • Flight plans include coverage for missed and canceled flights and lost or stolen baggage.

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Travelex Insurance Services

  • Three levels of comprehensive leisure plans.
  • Some plans geared to families with children and business travelers.
  • Flight accident insurance plan can be customized to include baggage, emergency medical care and medical evacuation coverage.

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TravelSafe Insurance

  • Offers three levels of comprehensive plans.
  • Optional coverage for flight accidental death and dismemberment, rental car damage and loss or damage to cell phones, laptops and rental sports equipment.

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USI Affinity Travel Insurance Services

  • Three levels of comprehensive plans.
  • Medical and medical evacuation plans for international travel.
  • Three levels of annual plans for trip delay, illness and injury.

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WorldNomads

  • Comprehensive plans for international travel.
  • Coverage for adventure activities, such as trekking, mountain biking and scuba diving.
  • Coverage for cameras, laptops and phones.

Medical travel insurance


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GeoBlue

  • International medical plans for single and multiple trips and long-term travel.
  • Special plans geared to ship crew members, missionaries, students and corporate travelers.

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HTH Travel Insurance

  • Single-trip and long-term medical plans for international travelers and expatriates.
  • Medical plans for students and faculty abroad.
  • Coverage for trip cancellation, medical evacuation and baggage loss.

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IMG

  • Medical insurance for ship captains and crew members, international students and teachers and missionaries.
  • Coverage for adventure travel.
  • Trip cancellation plans.

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MedEx

  • International travel medical and emergency assistance plans.
  • Sports coverage available.
  • Single-trip and annual frequent traveler plan.

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Tokio Marine CC Medical Services Group

  • Medical insurance plans for international leisure and business travelers.
  • Plans for missionaries and students.

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USA-Assist

  • Medical plans for international and domestic travel.
  • Annual and single-trip plans.
  • Trip cancellation coverage also available.

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4 tips for buying travel insurance

  1. Consider the financial risks you face when traveling. Can you bear those costs yourself, or do you want insurance?
  2. Examine what coverage you already have: Does your credit card offer travel insurance? Do you have renters or home insurance to cover belongings? What is the deductible? Will your health plan cover you in all the locations where you travel?
  3. Get quotes for travel insurance online. Choose a package of the benefits you need and compare prices for similar coverage among carriers.
  4. Narrow your choices and then read the policy details to understand what’s covered, what’s excluded and the limits on coverage. You may find that the lowest-priced policy is too restrictive and that paying a little more gets you the coverage you need. Or you might find that the cheapest, most basic policy fits the bill.

Unpredictability is one of the mind-opening joys of travel, but travel insurance should contain no surprises. The time you spend to understand your options will be well worth the security you have as you embark on your next adventure.

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Barbara Marquand is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bmarquand@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @barbaramarquand.