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Travel Insurance: Why Military Families Should Consider Buying a Policy

Travel insurance can protect military members from financial loss in the event of unforeseen circumstances. But is it worth it for your trip?
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Travel Insurance

You and your family have been diligently accruing leave for the past year, saving it up for a special (and likely overdue) occasion — vacation! But before buying airline tickets, booking hotels, reserving tours, or packing your bags, it’s important to consider ways to protect your investment and buy you some peace of mind with travel insurance.

Travel insurance can protect you from financial loss in unforeseen circumstances and help you relax, knowing that you’re covered if the situation changes beyond your control.

Table of Contents
  1. What Is Travel Insurance?
  2. Do You Need Travel Insurance?
  3. What’s Covered and What Isn’t?
  4. What Are The Types of Travel Insurance?
    1. Trip Cancellation, Interruption, and Delay
    2. Baggage and Personal Belongings
    3. Emergency Medical Assistance, Evacuation, and Repatriation
    4. Major Medical Insurance
    5. 24-Hour Assistance
    6. Rental Car Coverage
    7. Accidental Death and Dismemberment
  5. Key Questions to Ask Before Buying a Travel Insurance Policy
  6. What to Look for in a Travel Insurance Policy
    1. Transparency
    2. Value
    3. Customizability
    4. Cost
  7. Travel Insurance for Military Members
  8. Who Sells Travel Insurance?

What Is Travel Insurance?

In essence, travel insurance is a purchased plan (or policy) that offers protection from certain financial risks or losses that may occur while traveling. This often includes trip cancellation or delay, lost luggage, or even an overseas medical emergency.

The most popular travel insurance offering is a package or comprehensive plan, which usually bundles three types of coverage (financial, medical, and assistance) into a single policy. This type of policy often covers trip cancellation — which helps to protect travelers against losing non-refundable airline tickets, cruises and hotel bookings — baggage loss, meals and incidental expenses stemming from unforeseen weather events.

Additionally, a comprehensive travel insurance policy frequently covers medical expenses incurred during a trip, such as emergency room visits, doctor bills, medications and hospital costs.

Finally, services such as emergency medical evacuation — which can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars — emergency legal help, assistance finding last-minute accommodations, and 24/7 travel assistance are also included.

Do You Need Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance has become increasingly popular, largely because more people are traveling. In 2018, Americans spent approximately $3.8 billion on travel protection products — a forty percent increase from 2016.

Yet, travel insurance is not for everyone or every occasion. For example, it usually makes the most sense to purchase travel insurance on big-ticket trips, such as that once-in-a-lifetime European cruise or a New Zealand honeymoon. Buying travel insurance for quick trips to close destinations, such as your parents’ house, might cost more than they’re worth.

Before buying a policy, it’s vital to ask yourself:

Can I afford to lose the money that I’ve already paid?

If the answer is “no,” you might be a prime candidate for travel insurance.

What’s Covered and What Isn’t?

When exploring travel insurance options, the devil is in the details. Unfortunately, travel insurance is more complex than having or not having coverage. It’s also possible to have a travel insurance policy but not be covered for certain circumstances.

Therefore, the cardinal rule of buying travel insurance is: Read the fine print.

Typical travel insurance policies cover trip cancellation or interruption from the time of purchase to the day of departure for reasons such as sickness, severe weather, unexpected surgery, a death in the family or job loss. Travel insurance policies also usually cover travel delays (e.g., your 22:00 flight gets canceled due to weather and you’re forced to book a hotel, spend money on meals and buy a new toothbrush or other incidentals) and lost, damaged or stolen luggage.

What Are The Types of Travel Insurance?

It is not enough to get your head around travel insurance.

You also need to understand the different types available on the market and the best choice for you and your needs.

Trip Cancellation, Interruption, and Delay

As the name suggests, this insurance protects you if your tour operator, holiday company, or cruise line goes out of business.

If this happens, you will be reimbursed for repaid and nonrefundable expenses.

This insurance type will also cover any reasons for cancellation outlined in your policy, such as personal illness, the illness or death of a family member, a natural disaster, or adverse weather conditions.

In addition, if you are forced to interrupt a vacation halfway through due to a reason outlined in the policy, you will be entitled to claim back the unused portion of the trip, even if this is nonrefundable by the company.

You can also choose to add on coverage for any trip delays, which will reimburse you for any additional expenses such as accommodations or meals required due to delays in a trip. This delay could occur if your flight is canceled, or you have another setback.

You can opt for one of the three policies:

  • trip cancellation
  • trip interruption
  • trip delay

But most policies will offer a package that incorporates all three.

It can be tempting to skip out on the insurance in favor of the cancellation waivers offered by many cruise and tour operators, but this is a mistake.

These waivers often include restrictions that can make your life more difficult, such as not issuing a refund if you cancel immediately before departure.

Waivers are usually cheaper, but this reduced cost will come at a price.

As well as an initial base policy, some providers will allow you to include add-ons such as “cancel for any reason” coverage.

This coverage will enable you to cancel your trip for any reason and still be reimbursed for a large part of the cost.

Some insurance companies will also permit coverage of pre-existing conditions if you have to cancel the trip for medical reasons, and this is a perk that may be exempt from traditional health insurance policies.

When purchasing your insurance policy, make sure you check for any exclusions which may be included.

The fine print will alert you to the covered aspects and any exemptions you need to be aware of.

These will vary from provider to provider, and you must do your research thoroughly before committing to a policy.

Always check the limits. There may be a maximum cost that can be claimed, as well as a per-day limit for incidents where your trip has been interrupted.

Baggage and Personal Belongings

Losing your luggage at the start of your holiday can leave you with unwanted stress, so it is crucial to ensure that your travel insurance covers this.

While it may not help when you are stranded with no swimwear, it will cover and protect you financially.

This type of insurance will reimburse you for any personal belongings and baggage lost, stolen, or damaged during transport or the trip.

You may also be able to access a plan which will reimburse you for any additional expenses incurred, such as needing to buy new clothes, if your luggage is delayed for more than a specific period.

There are usually limits on how much you can claim per traveler, item, and type of item –e.g., jewelry.

This limit is often around $1,000 per category, which still offers a generous allowance for any lost items.

Remember to double-check your home insurance policy or renters policy, as this may include a clause to cover your personal belongings away from home.

Emergency Medical Assistance, Evacuation, and Repatriation

Emergency medical assistance, evacuation, and repatriation insurance offer payment for any medical expenses if you are sick or injured during one of your trips.

It will usually cover necessities such as your transport to the closest available hospital and any medical repatriation costs incurred in flying you home.

As with any policy, there will be limits on the amount you can claim; usually around $50,000 for medical expenses.

You will also be required to pay a deductible for most policies—this is the amount you will be required to pay before the insurance company kicks in.

This deductible is usually set when you take out the policy and increasing this amount will decrease your premiums.

One consideration with this type of insurance is the exclusions.

Pre-existing conditions are unlikely to be covered, and some extreme recreational activities may also be exempt.

Sports such as skiing, skydiving, horseback riding, or parasailing are unlikely to be covered. You will need to purchase a separate insurance policy for these activities.

As with the baggage coverage, it is worth checking your health insurance plan to see if they will include coverage away from home as this could be a cheaper option depending on your provider.

Major Medical Insurance

If you are planning to take a trip that will last for several months, standard travel insurance may not be enough.

In these situations, you will need to take out a plan that can cover major events and incidents and last long enough to cover you for your stay.

These are similar in many ways to traditional plans, but there is some small print to be aware of before you commit.

The Affordable Care Act does not cover these plans, so there may be exclusions for pre-existing conditions and some limits on the coverage offered, including prescriptions.

You may also be restricted as to the healthcare provider you can see. Many plans will have a pre-approved network from which you will be required to choose.

It may be better to revisit your existing health plan and see if any add-ons are available for an extended trip.

24-Hour Assistance

It is rare to find this as a standalone component. It is usually included as a feature in most packages.

You will have access to a 24-hour hotline, which can be used to call for help in situations such as finding medical or legal assistance, locating lost baggage, or booking a flight to cover a missed connection.

This hotline can also offer pre-trip advice, such as necessary visas and vaccinations, and even make reservations for restaurants, valets, and concierge!

Check the terms of your policy for more information and to see what is included.

Rental Car Coverage

If your car needs a fix or repair or driving away from home, you may be required to hire a rental car.

If you are involved in an accident in your rental car, or if it is damaged by vandalism or a natural disaster, rental car coverage will be able to cover the costs and protect you financially.

This coverage is usually capped at a certain amount and is unlikely to include liability insurance—this is damage for the medical treatment and vehicle repairs of others involved if you are found responsible for causing an accident.

For this, you will need a separate policy. It is a good idea to check the terms of your regular insurance if you are staying in the same country, though this is unlikely to cover you if you drive abroad.

Accidental Death and Dismemberment

If you are involved in a fatal accident during your trip, this insurance will pay a lump sum to your appointed beneficiary upon your death.

In addition, you will also be covered if you lose a limb, eyesight, speech or hearing during the trip.

It is important to check what is covered by your policy.

Some companies only offer coverage if your death is an accident in a plane, and some will exclude medical issues which result in accidents, such as a heart attack, aneurysm, or stroke.

There are usually also time restrictions on the policy.

For example, the death or loss must be within a year of the accident. It is a good idea to check your life insurance to see if this is already covered before you take out a new policy.

Key Questions to Ask Before Buying a Travel Insurance Policy

Before shopping for a travel insurance policy, it’s advisable to consider a few key questions to determine what type of policy you and your family will need. For example:

  • Does trip cancellation or interruption include active-duty members being deployed, reservists being called up or leave cancellation?
  • If the policy covers active-duty personnel being sent to a war zone, how does that insurer define “war zone”?
  • Do you or your family members have any pre-existing health conditions that may impact your trip?
  • Will you be engaging in any risky adventure activities (e.g., bungee jumping, paragliding, etc.) that might elevate your need for insurance?

In many of these scenarios, insurers proceed on a case-by-case basis; therefore, it’s a good idea to speak with a company representative to gain additional clarity on the specifics of policy coverage before purchasing any travel insurance. But be aware that salespeople may not always have the answers you need.

What to Look for in a Travel Insurance Policy

The four most important features of a travel insurance policy for military members and their families are transparency, value, customizability and cost.

Transparency

A quality travel insurance plan should provide a clear overview of what is covered and what is not. As the insurance industry is not absent of deceptive business practices, travelers are encouraged to review policies in writing. For good measure, it’s always advisable to speak with a company representative to ask specific questions about trip cancellation due to changes in orders, leave cancellation or unforeseen deployments.

Value

Some travel insurance packages might offer a long list of services. Some of those — such as lost, damaged or stolen baggage protection — are already covered by the airline, your credit card or even homeowners’ insurance or renter’s insurance policy. To determine the value of a given travel insurance policy, consider the existing travel perks offered by other services (e.g., airlines, hotels, credit cards, other insurance policies, rental car coverage, etc.) and make sure that you’re only paying for the coverage that you lack.

Customizability

Customizing your travel insurance plan is of paramount importance to military families in particular. Generic, one-size-fits-all policies offered most frequently by airlines are unlikely to contain clauses on military duty. If your trip is delayed or canceled due to unforeseen changes to orders, you will be ineligible to submit a claim. Therefore, purchasing travel insurance from an independent provider is likely the best way to design your own policy that meets your specific coverage needs.

Cost

The cost of a quality travel insurance policy should not be crippling. In general, travel insurance ranges from 4 to 10% of the total trip cost. While a $500 policy sounds fairly steep for a $5,000 vacation, this is one industry where the “you get what you pay for” maxim holds true. Plans tend to be less expensive if purchased directly from an insurer as opposed to a third party (like an airline), and the cost is based on the trip’s length, the traveler’s age(s) and destinations.

The best time to purchase travel insurance is often within two weeks of booking your travel since events that may impact your trip — such as hurricanes, monsoons, or a global pandemic — can render certain parts of your policy obsolete once they become “known” or “named” events.

A final cost-driver is a “Cancel for Any Reason” upgrade, which travelers can buy if they have to back out of travel plans at the last minute. However, these policy add-ons can be pricey (up to 35 to 50% more than the cost of regular travel insurance) and often do not promise a 100% reimbursement (50 to 75% is standard). That said, if a change of orders is possible and the total price of a booked vacation is high, the additional coverage might be worth the expense.

Travel Insurance for Military Members

As our readers know, military members tend to be more impacted by last-minute changes to travel plans than civilians. Whether it’s augmented orders, revoked leave, an unforeseen deployment or policy changes, military families often have to remain flexible. They have contingency plans at the ready in the event of unexpected changes.

Before purchasing a policy, be sure to familiarize yourself with military benefits that may offer similar coverage. Credit cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve offer complimentary trip protection benefits (but do not cover emergency medical, pre-existing conditions, terrorism or extreme sports incidences) if you pay for the trip on a credit card, as does the American Express Platinum card.

U.S.-based airlines and hotels often allow military members to receive a refund on flights or bookings in case of a change in orders, but only if the original reservations were made directly as opposed to via a third party. 

You may also want to consider booking refundable tickets if there’s a strong likelihood of cancellation. The upfront costs will be higher, but you’ll be able to recover some of your original investment if plans change unexpectedly.

Final Tips

  • Read the fine print
  • Know the exclusions (what is not covered)
  • Use a policy comparison tool and shop around for the best rates
  • Purchase a policy within two weeks of booking your travel plans

Who Sells Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance is sold by travel suppliers, agents, insurance providers, internet aggregators and insurance producers. A good starting point when researching insurance options is the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, which not only promotes ethical standards across the industry but also provides a helpful index of insurance providers on its website. The largest companies in the travel insurance marketplace are Allianz Global Assistance, Travel Guard and Travelex Insurance Services. Squaremouth is an industry-leading travel insurance comparison tool that allows travelers to input personal and trip information and see all available options.

In addition to independent travel insurance options, airlines frequently offer to “protect your trip” when passing through the check-out page. Before selecting this option, remember that airlines often use a third-party insurer, such as Allianz or AIG, to underwrite the policy, which can be more restrictive and less customizable than independent insurers. For members of the military who require more specific terms, such as coverage in the event of leave cancellation or a change in orders, policies from independent providers tend to be favored.

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About Meaghan Doherty Myers

Meaghan Doherty Myers is a freelance writer, specializing in military benefits, personal finance, and defense and security issues. She holds an M.A. in Strategic Studies and International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and recently graduated from the Russian language program at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. She is an Army spouse, a former ballet dancer, and a former management consultant who lives with her husband and daughter in Alexandria, VA.

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