Travel Insurance Review
How to Select Travel Insurance
The top performers in our review are CSA, the Gold Award winner; TravelSafe, the Silver Award winner; and USI Affinity, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a policy to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 travel insurance service companies.
What Protection Does Travel Insurance Provide?
Travel insurance provides financial compensation for canceled travel plans, emergency medical assistance, lost luggage and trip delay reimbursements. Additional services that are available include emergency medical evacuation, translations services, prescription medicine replacements and rental car insurance. If you experience significant delays on your trip, you may be able to recoup some food and hotel expenses that result from uncontrollable delays.
We compared several trip insurance plans that provide U.S. and international travel benefits. Some offer packages specifically created for cruises and high adventure vacations. Many insurances offer individual trip plans as well as yearly, group, family and business plans. While most offer group and family plans, some plans cover children without adding to the cost of the premium. If you travel often for business, you may want to look into business or yearly plans.
While your travel agent may attempt to sell you trip insurance, we recommend that you shop around, since your agent may only offer plans from one or two companies (which they may receive commission incentives from). It is also recommended that you avoid purchasing insurance from the same company that owns the cruise line or resort location you plan to use or stay at in the event the company becomes financially compromised.
Top Reasons Travelers Buy Trip Insurance
Through our research, we learned that the most common reason travelers purchase trip insurance is to protect themselves from losing money when a trip is canceled – specifically a trip with a large, pre-paid investment. Most often this is a trip with an upfront cost of $5,000 or more and consists of all-inclusive cruises, resort packages or package deals.
For the most part, the types of expenses that trip cancellation insurance companies claim to cover are non-refundable expenses. If your airline tickets, for example, are refundable, you will not be able to recoup the costs. But if you have to cancel a costly cruise a week before leaving the dock because you suffered a major medical problem, one that is not pre-existing, chances are your upfront costs will be covered. Sometimes people look to recoup their upfront costs because the company they work for suddenly freezes their personal time off. Should you have to cancel a trip for reasons that are outside of your control, you may be able to recover your upfront costs. For an additional premium fee, many travel insurance companies can help recoup part of your upfront costs should you have to cancel your trip for any reason, even if those reasons are within your control.
The second reason consumers purchase travel insurance is to help cover the costs of a medical emergency that might happen abroad that their stateside health insurance doesn't cover. Often medical assistance includes consultation with a U.S.-based doctor. While most trip insurance plans do not cover pre-existing conditions, some offer pre-existing condition waivers. Most offer medical evacuations if you need to be moved from a remote location to a city with a larger hospital.
Travel Insurance: What We Evaluated, What We Found
Since most people purchase trip insurance to recover costs, we looked at different travel scenarios with an upfront investment of $5,000 or more. We gathered quotes for a U.S.-based cruise, a French vacation and a high-adventure Antarctic vacation, all of which were trips for two adults. Since age and state of residency affect quote rates, we compared three age groups and three states of residence.
Once we collected the quote information, we then calculated a score based on the coverage, the services available in the plan and the plan's cost. As you'll see in our reviews, rates and payouts vary. The payouts we listed are possible payouts and may not be the same numbers you see in your policy.
Another factor we considered is how simple it is to file claims. For the most part, all trip insurance companies require a certain amount of paperwork when filing a claim. As you'll also see in our individual reviews, some companies require more documentation than others. In addition, some allow you to submit your claim online while others require that you mail or fax your claim.
Convenience aside, should something happen – a medical emergency, theft, a delayed or canceled flight – your insurance company is going to require supporting documentation, so be sure to gather as much information – tickets, receipts, credit card statements, canceled checks, medical records, if you're filing a medical claim – as possible. It's also a good idea to read the terms and conditions beforehand to familiarize yourself with the type of documentation the insurance company requires.
What Determines Travel Insurance Premium Rates?
While you might think that the cost of the insurance premium has a lot to do with the cost of your trip, such as the destination, methods of travel, length of trip and dates of travel, in our testing, we discovered that's not necessarily true. Most quotes don't ask for a lot of details, and changes, such as extending the dates a week or going to a different country made little difference in the price. Few travel insurance agencies offered special packages for cruises or high-adventure trips. What we learned, is that similar to health insurance, the traveler's age played a significant role in the plan's cost.
In fact, age was the single most important determining factor followed by destination and the level of plan selected. In one quote, we selected the highest-tier plan with adventure-oriented add-ons for travelers in their 20s, and in most cases, it was comparable or cheaper than a domestic trip for a couple in their 60s. Most likely this is because insurance companies anticipate increased medical claims with older travelers. To learn more about trip insurance, see our articles about travel insurance.
What Happens if I have a Medical Emergency Abroad?
Should something happen requiring medical care and you are not incapacitated, call your insurance company right away. In most cases they'll connect you with local medical services and might even provide you with a stateside medical consultant to help you acquire the best care.
If you require a medical evacuation, you may need to work with your insurance provider since many trip insurance companies require that you use your travel insurance services to arrange evacuation services. If you are traveling alone, many trip insurance plans will pay to fly a friend or family member to you if you are hospitalized, and will arrange for someone to assist you if you need medical evacuation.
It is best to thoroughly review your insurance plan before your trip and carry a copy of your policy. Some travel insurance services do not act the same as traditional U.S. medical insurance, and you may be required to pay for medical treatment up front before being reimbursed later by your travel insurance carrier.
It's also a good idea to have a cash reserve or an available credit card balance to pay for services should you need them. Should an emergency arise, you also want to gather as much documentation as you can to submit with your claims. To learn more, see our article Ten Tips for Filing a Successful Travel Insurance Claim.
Additional International Travel Insurance Support Options
Traveling abroad can be intimidating, especially if there is a language barrier, political unrest or crime. Travel insurance offers some benefit in that it can help you with these types of potentially scary situations. Some of these services cost more than the standard plan price, but may be worth looking into depending on your travel destination.
Assistance with Lost IDs, Money & Passports
If you lose or have your ID, money, credit cards or passports stolen, some companies offer assistance in these situations. Some can even provide you with cash until you can get assistance. While you'll need to contact credit card companies as well, some insurance companies can help you file a local police report and locate the nearest U.S. Embassy.
If you are faced with a serious medical, legal or personal situation, some travel insurance services can connect you with translation services to help you communicate with medical personnel and law enforcement authorities. Some can even provide you with a translator to relay communications.
While many insurance plans cover emergency evacuation assistance, some can also help you with less desperate transportation needs. For example, you may want assistance leaving a foreign country, even though there is no apparent imminent danger. Travel insurance services can help you, in your own language, navigate transportation options in foreign countries.
Other Available Travel Benefits
Besides trip insurance, many companies offer additional riders. For example, you may be interested in adding rental car insurance if you plan on driving during your trip. While these additional coverages may not be necessary for your specific trip, they are available should you need to add them to your policy.
Some additional coverages to consider include:
- Car rental insurance
- ID theft protection
- Flight accident insurance
- Expanded luggage coverage
- Free coverage for children
- Travel companion benefits
- Concierge services
- Vacation property rental insurance
- Legal referrals and bail bond assistance
Do I Really Need Travel Insurance?
While travel insurance is helpful, it may not be financially beneficial for all travelers, especially those whose expenses are low. For the most part, you may not necessarily benefit from travel insurance for low-cost, U.S.-based trips. Travel insurance is more suited for those whose trip includes a lot of upfront investment, such as pre-purchased packaged deals. Additionally, if you are concerned about a potential medical emergency, some U.S.-based health insurance companies offer limited services abroad that might cover your medical needs.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
If you are planning a trip that will cost you more than $5,000 in upfront costs, travel insurance could be a good investment, especially for those who might require medical assistance abroad. While services vary greatly depending on the plan you choose, your age and other factors, we found CSA to offer high possible payouts for a reasonable price. TravelSafe also offers reasonable premium rates and competitive payouts. USI Affinity is the lowest-priced service we reviewed; however, with this service we recommend that you do your due diligence to obtain as much available documentation as possible to support any claims since it doesn't list the exact types of documentation required on its website. If you are traveling with children, you may want to look into Allianz, which offers a plan that covers your children free of charge.
Since it doesn't cost you more than a few minutes of your time to obtain a quote, we advise that you request quotes from a few companies and then customize the plans to best suit your needs.