NEW YORK – If you’re planning a cruise of the Caribbean, a package tour of China or a safari in Africa, you might want to add “buy travel insurance” to the list of the things you need to do before departure.
Travel insurance – specifically trip cancellation insurance, emergency medical assistance and medical evacuation coverage – can protect the costly investment a major trip can involve. It also can ensure that you and your family get good medical care if you get sick or injured while you’re away.
You aren’t likely to need travel insurance if your idea of a trip is piling into the car and driving 50 miles to grandma’s house. But if you’re planning a major jaunt, especially abroad, it’s something to consider.
“I think the longer you book in advance and the more expensive your trip, the more you should consider buying travel insurance,” said Tim Jarrell, publisher of Fodor’s, the guidebook company. “If it’s an expensive or once-in-a-lifetime trip, you should get travel insurance just in case the trip is canceled or something happens.”
You also should consider coverage for a medical crisis, especially if you’re traveling outside of the country, Jarrell said.
“If you’re in a foreign country, they may not accept your local insurance card, and you could be forced to pony up a lot of money quickly – or risk not getting the kind of care and attention you need,” he said.
Fodor’s estimates that a comprehensive travel insurance policy, including emergency medical coverage, will cost between 4 percent and 7 percent of the trip’s total price. The cost can run closer to 12 percent for travelers 70 and older, Fodor’s said.
Jonathan Ansell, president of the United States Travel Insurance Association, an industry group based in Washington, D.C., said most comprehensive travel policies cover both trip cancellation and trip interruption.
“If you’re unable to go on your trip or you’re on your trip and you have to return home – and it may cost you more to do that mid-trip – those expenses or lost amounts are paid by this insurance,” he said.
But consumers must be clear on what the triggers are, and that means they must read their policies and clarify issues before they buy, Ansell said.
Most policies have a list of reasons why you can cancel, such as you get sick or there’s a death in the family, Ansell said. “But there are differences from one company’s coverage to another, and some offer unique benefits – for example, if you have to cancel a trip for business reasons or if you’re called for military duty,” he said.
But some reasons people might want to cancel trips aren’t covered.
“You’re generally not covered if you suddenly change your mind and don’t want to go,” Ansell said. “And some policies have pre-existing medical condition exclusions.”
Many of the policies will reimburse travelers for expenses they incur if their trip is delayed and will cover the cost of damaged or lost luggage. But they generally don’t cover changes in itinerary made by the cruise company – a frequent complaint of cruise-goers.
When buying coverage for a cruise, travelers should be aware that there are several options that provide varying degrees of protection.
Travel “waivers,” typically offered by a cruise line for $40 to $60, exempt families from cancellation penalties that apply up to 72 hours before departure, but they carry many restrictions. Families generally don’t get their money back but, instead, get a voucher for a future cruise.
Cruise lines and tour operators also may offer a comprehensive policy from a single insurer, but that policy may not have all the features of policies available through travel insurance brokers.
Many of the brokers outline their offerings on the Internet; sites include www.travelguard.com, www.totaltravelinsurance.com, www.travelex-insurance.com and www.insuremytrip.com.
Peter Evans, executive vice president of InsureMyTrip.com, which is headquartered in Warwick, R.I., said he’s seen an increase in demand for trip insurance since the terrorist attacks in 2001 and the hurricanes of the past several years.
“People are more aware of how these situations can affect travel,” from grounding planes to damaging hotels and resorts, he said.
There’s also more interest in insurance as the cost of family holidays has risen, he added.
“Your family may be driving just a short distance, say from New York to Rhode Island, but if you’re renting a home in Newport and you’ve put down $5,000 for a house, you’ve got a $5,000 investment to protect,” Evans said.