How to Choose the Best Travel Insurance for Your Next Trip

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January 28, 2024

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😳 Travel Insurance

Don't feel alone. Many people don't want to take the time to learn how to choose the best travel insurance or don't want to spend the money. But with travel as it is today, what with COVID and flight cancellations, you need to reconsider, especially if you're leaving the United States.

And if you're 65 or over and traveling outside the U.S. or have a pre-existing condition, you have another important reason to pay attention. Read on to learn how to choose the best travel insurance for your needs.

Who Needs Travel Insurance?

Women with her head in her hands because her flight has been delayedAccording to research by USA Today, nearly 75% of Americans surveyed had a flight delayed or canceled in 2023 due to bad weather, long security lines, or airport staffing shortages.

Of the people surveyed, 12% said the airline lost their luggage, 12% said it was damaged, and 7% said it was stolen. Ten percent said they lost their phone, camera, or wallet while traveling in 2023.

So here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding if you need travel insurance:

  • If your trip is canceled or delayed, or if your luggage is lost or stolen, can you afford to stay in a hotel and replace the lost items?
  • Can you afford to pay for a trip you didn't take because of weather or illness?
  • If you're outside the U.S. and end up hospitalized, can you afford to pay the medical bills related to your illness?
  • In case of a critical illness or accident, can you afford to pay $100,000 or more to be airlifted back home?

If so, you may not need travel insurance. But most of us want assistance paying for things like:

  • Lost or delayed luggage
  • Damaged electronics
  • Canceled tours
  • Delayed or canceled flights
  • Theft
  • Medical care while we're away
  • Returning home for a death or serious issue at home

Increasingly, people are looking for travel insurance to ease their minds and protect their investments. In fact, the USA Today survey noted that online searches for travel insurance have increased by 63% since 2018.

Expert advice

If you're 65+, with few exceptions, Medicare DOES NOT cover you when you're outside the U.S. And many domestic insurance companies are no longer covering care outside the U.S. So if you don't have Medicare coverage, be sure to check your policy.

So there you are, wandering the cobblestone streets in a beautiful remote village in Romania, and you fall and break something. Who pays for the hospital and surgery? Can they take proper medical care of you there? If not, who pays for you to fly somewhere else for care? If it's a serious injury, why pays to fly you home? Who pays for a medically-trained companion to travel with you to keep you alive? Without insurance, you do.

We never travel without some level of travel insurance, and I encourage you not to either.

How to Choose the Best Travel Insurance for Your Needs

All policies come with exclusions and limitations you should be aware of so you know you're spending your money where you need it the most. When it comes to travel insurance, one size certainly doesn't fit all. Different policies cater to various needs.

Before you begin searching for travel insurance, look at your homeowner's policy, car insurance policy, and credit card to see if you have any coverage already available and if you do, note what it covers.

For example, your homeowner's policy may cover theft, your car insurance may cover car rentals, and your credit card may cover trip cancellation and baggage delays.

Then, consider what other coverage you might need for financial protection in case something goes wrong.

Types of Travel Insurance

Trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance

Trip cancellation insurance and trip interruption insurance can be lifesavers if your trip is halted due to unforeseen events.

We had a big road trip through Canada organized when my mother passed away. Sending a death certificate to hotels and the car rental agency worked to get us all our money back, along with condolences.

On the other hand,  we recently had to cancel a hotel because of a medical issue that popped up. Not even a doctor's note or medical report would get us our money back. So 'ya never know! (Guess what hotel we're not staying at again!)

We never bothered with travel insurance when we were younger, but starting in our mid-50s, we've added it when we travel, especially when we travel out of the U.S. Stuff happens. 🫤

Trip cancellation coverage allows you to cancel your trip for a covered reason before the trip begins. This can include things such as a medical emergency (you'll need a doctor's letter), a natural disaster, or legal obligations. Trip cancellation insurance also typically provides coverage due to weather or the accidental death of you, your traveling companion, or a family member, among other things.

On the other hand, trip interruption insurance provides coverage once you've started your trip. For example, if you become ill or injured, and the doctor says you need to return home, or a disaster causes your trip to be canceled.

Cancel for Any Reason insurance (CFAR)

This type of coverage can be a game-changer if you want maximum flexibility. CFAR insurance partially reimburses you if cancel your trip for any reason at a set time (usually 48 hours) before the trip starts.

For example, you may learn about a new grandbaby making its appearance, and you've paid for your trip. Or let's say you have a cruise planned to Alaska June 20-27, and you win an all-expense paid trip to London on Wheel of Fortune for the exact same dates. (Go, you! 🙌)

With CFAR coverage, you would receive back a portion of your prepaid expenses, usually 60- 75%. This type of coverage adds quite a bit more to your costs—an average of 50%—but it provides great peace of mind that you'll have financial protection no matter what.

As you review various travel insurance providers, you may also see "Interruption for Any Reason" insurance. This is similar insurance but covers events after you've started on your trip. For example, you could get a last-minute deal on an inside cabin on a cruise ship and find out you have claustrophobia. Or you decide to visit Bali and realize you can't deal with the humidity.

Travel delay insurance

Have you flown lately? Oy! Gone are the days of airlines offering you a ride to a nice hotel to stay overnight while they fix the plane.

Travel delay insurance typically covers a hotel room, food, and transportation to your hotel or home if your flight is delayed.

Missed connection insurance

Imagine starting your exciting (and expensive) holiday by missing your connection at the airport or arriving at the dock only to wave goodbye as your cruise ship leaves the harbor.

Missed connection insurance covers you if miss a connection because of one of the reasons covered in the policy and need to catch up to a tour or cruise.

Unfortunately, things happen. It takes longer to get through security than you thought. The plane has mechanical problems. There is a weather delay. You can't clear customs in time to make your transfer when you arrive.

Emergency travel medical insurance

Man in back of ambulance with ambulance attendangs hoping he has travel insuranceWith the rising cost of health care, many insurance companies are canceling or cutting back their coverage for care outside the U.S. And as noted above, if you're 65+, you have virtually no coverage outside the U.S. (Yep! I know, you probably read that earlier, but it's so important, I need to repeat it.)

Make note of what is covered in your policy and what your portion of the medical expenses will be. Are doctor visits covered? Hospitalizations? Lab tests? Medication? How much will you pay for each? What is the limit on medical emergencies?

If you're traveling overseas and your U.S. policy does offer coverage outside the U.S., note how much of the bill you will have to pay before you're reimbursed.

In most cases, without travel insurance, you'll need to settle the bill first, then submit receipts to your insurance company for reimbursement. That can add up to quite a bit if you have a serious illness or injury, especially if you need to be hospitalized.

Now's the time to read the fine print to see if there are pre-existing conditions that aren't covered. These vary from company to company, and in some cases, you may be able to get a waiver or your pre-existing condition.

Evacuation and repatriation insurance

Imagine you're on your dream vacation, and you end up suffering a stroke from a pulmonary embolism. (Don't forget to wear your support hose on the plane!)

Guess how much it costs for an emergency evacuation to a hospital or to be brought back home? Figure at least $100,000! A friend broke his leg in Italy recently and was advised not to put any weight on it for 6 weeks. Thankfully, he had the proper insurance, as it cost $27,000 just for the medical attendant to fly with him.

Medical evacuation insurance covers transportation to the closest hospital that provides suitable treatment and transportation home if your medical condition requires it. It also covers the cost of travel for a companion, as well as a medical escort if that's needed. We almost always add this to our coverage when we're outside the U.S.

Baggage and personal belongings insurance

Luggage left on the carousel at baggage claimLosing your luggage can be a nightmare. I know! Let me not bore you with the story of how we had to wear the same clothes for 3 days in the jungles of Brazil. Whuuff!!👃

As we all get older (and wiser!), we usually start traveling with less luggage. So if something does go missing, it's a bigger impact than if we had another suitcase to dig into.

You'll want to be sure your policy covers lost and delayed baggage and personal belongings and note any limits or restrictions.

Buyer Beware - Policy Exclusions and Limitations

Take the time to read what's covered and what's not in detail so you understand what you're buying. Know what is and what isn't covered. Benefits differ between policies, and you want to choose the best plan for your next trip.

For example, there may be restrictions for certain pre-existing medical conditions, extreme sports, and geographical limitations. The policy may not cover your trip if it's canceled or interrupted due to strikes or terrorism. And it may not cover your tour operator going out of business. 😱

How Much to Pay for Travel Insurance

Travel insurance—like other insurance—is there to keep you from losing a fortune. It's not there to pay for the entire cost of whatever goes wrong on your trip. So, there's a trade-off between how much the policy covers and how much you'll pay.

According to Forbes and others, in 2024, the average cost of travel insurance is 5-7 percent of the total trip cost. As an example, if your trip costs $5,000, you can expect to spend $250-$350 on insurance. The price increases from there if you need a waiver for a pre-existing condition or want Cancel for Any Reason coverage.

As you know, premiums vary based on age. While those of you in your fifties may not experience much of an increase compared to those in their forties, once you reach your sixties and beyond, the price increase can be surprising.

You just need to factor this amount into your trip's cost when you're budgeting. If nothing goes wrong, you'll have something to grouse about. If something does go wrong, it will be worth every penny many times over.

Perhaps now is the time to introduce one of my personal mantras: "Expect the best, but plan for the worst."

How to Choose the Right Travel Insurance Provider

Now that we're a bit older, there's more risk as we consider our travels. There's a higher probability of medical issues and the resulting financial losses if we aren't able to complete our trip.

Travel costs a lot these days, and many of us―especially those of us on fixed incomes―can't afford to toss away thousands of dollars without any benefit.

Selecting the right insurance provider is as important as choosing the proper coverage. So before making a decision, research thoroughly and compare multiple insurance companies.

Here are some tips to help you make an informed decision.

    1. Reputation and ratings
      Look for insurance providers with a strong reputation for customer service and reliability. Check online reviews, ratings, and testimonials to gauge their performance.
    2. Claims process
      Investigate the claims process of potential insurers. A straightforward and efficient claims process can significantly impact a stressful situation when you're having difficulties far from home.
    3. Customer support
      Test their customer support by calling them. Knowing you can reach your insurer quickly in an emergency is reassuring. How can you reach them outside the U.S.? Do they have 24/7 help? Do they help you find doctors and help arrange emergency travel?
    4. Coverage options
      Ensure the insurance provider offers coverage options that align with your needs and preferences that you've determined based on the above guidelines.
    5. Price
      While price is certainly a factor, don't decide solely based on the lowest price. Evaluate providers based on the coverage that will be most important to you.

Yes, it can be difficult because each policy has slightly different coverage and prices. You'll be trying to decide between apples and oranges. But the time spent will be well worth it if something does go wrong.

Best Travel Insurance Plans for Seniors

There are a number of travel insurance companies that provide excellent coverage for seniors. Here are three of the best ones to get you started.

These all receive high scores in customer satisfaction and range of coverage for the price. You can also ask your insurance agent for recommendations.

Seven Corners

Seven Corners has been our insurer of choice for at least 15 years for our travels. They offer a wide range of plans at an acceptable price.

You can get medical coverage only or more comprehensive plans. (We always add on the option to be evacuated.) And with some of their plans, you can add Cancel for Any Reason or coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Generali Global Assistance

Generali has 3 different plans covering everything from basic coverage in the U.S. with the Standard Plan to coverage for pre-existing conditions and financial insolvency with the Premium Plan (bankrupt cruise line, anyone)? They also have a good reputation for assisting you when you're out of the U.S.

Tin Leg

Tin Leg has 8 plans to choose from. The Gold plan provides the highest medical benefits yet is one of the more affordable plans for Tin Leg's coverage. This might be a good choice if medical care is your primary concern. However, their coverage for lost luggage and rental cars is somewhat limited. The Luxury plan covers medical evacuation.

When to buy travel insurance

The best time to buy travel insurance is when you book your trip. That way, you'll be covered if something happens between the time you book and your departure.

Purchase it at least 14 days before you leave to get the maximum coverage for the best price.

Conclusion

Travel insurance is something to strongly consider for those of us in the second half of life. After all, you want your trip to be memorable for all the right reasons.

First, review any current coverage you might have with your homeowner's insurance, car insurance, and credit cards. Next, decide what coverage is missing.

Evaluate prospective policies based not only on price, but also on coverage, ratings and reviews, customer support, and the claims process. A few dollars difference won't mean a thing if you need to use your insurance, and you'll be glad you spent the time to choose the right policy for your trip.

So, whether you're an experienced traveler or a newbie to the travel scene, ask yourself: "What's my peace of mind worth when I'm exploring the world?" 🌎 ☺️

P.S. Have friends who travel? Please forward this to them. They'll thank you for it.

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