Tuesday, March 13, 2012

7 Travel Insurance Tips for Your Next Vacation

The news of the cruise ship disaster off the coast of Italy was particularly noteworthy for my family. On April 1, we set sail on a seven-day Caribbean cruise. My daughter is already freaking out, and my son is not helping matters. He's plastered pictures of the Costa Concordia all over the house.
One issue the tragedy has brought into focus for us is travel insurance. My travel agent and I discussed travel insurance when I booked our cruise. Frankly, after spending thousands of dollars on airfare and a cruise, spending even more money on insurance is not my idea of a good time. But because of the cost of our trip, it's an issue we can't afford to avoid.
While I'm not an expert in travel insurance, my research has been quite revealing.

1. Only insure what you can't afford to lose. Not every trip needs travel insurance. If your potential loss is a few hundred dollars in airfare, travel insurance is probably not worth the cost or aggravation. On the other hand, a once-in-a-lifetime $20,000 vacation is worth protecting. In this way, travel insurance is no different than most other types of insurance.

2. There are many options. Before my research, I assumed there was just one type of travel insurance. In turns out that there are many types, including travel insurance for trip cancellation, trip interruption, medical, lost baggage, evacuation, and flight insurance. My primary concern is trip cancellation insurance, but there are many options to consider. Many travel insurance companies offer bundled insurance packages that combine two or more types of travel insurance.

3. Age matters. Whether it's medical insurance or trip cancellation insurance, your physical health is an important factor in determining a premium. While you won't have to get a physical like you would with life insurance, your age will affect the cost of the insurance.

4. Health insurance may not cover you. I was also surprised to learn that not all health insurance policies, including Medicare, cover you overseas or on a cruise flying under a foreign flag. The key is to contact your health insurance provider to find out what coverage you do have when you're traveling. Only then can you make an informed decision about this type of travel insurance.

5. Timing issues. I was surprised to learn from my travel agent that we didn't have to decide on travel insurance when we booked our cruise. In fact, you can buy travel insurance just days before your departure. This are risks, however, in waiting. Some types of travel insurance may require you to purchase the insurance within a set time period after you've booked your travel. And for trip cancellation insurance, you won't be covered if you buy the insurance after you've become ill or the hurricane has wiped out your vacation destination.

6. Costs vary. It's wise to compare costs before making a decision. While your travel agent will have options for you, they may not be the best or the least expensive. Some of the more well-known travel insurance companies include Access America, Travel Guard, and Travel Insured. And you can use sites like insuremytrip.com to compare travel insurance options.

7. Travel rewards cards won't help. At first I assumed that a top-notch travel rewards credit card would have some travel insurance. But apart from limited baggage insurance, accident insurance, and rental car insurance with some cards, however, travel insurance is not part of the benefits. If you want trip cancellation or interruption insurance, you'll have to buy it.