A trip to anywhere probably sounds good right now. But COVID-19 is still a thing, and it could add some turbulence to your travel planning.
Is this a job for travel insurance?
Depends. Like pretty much all kinds of insurance, what’s covered varies by provider and policy. Basic travel insurance usually covers at least partial refunds for things like:
Cancelations or interruptions because you get injured or sick (whether with COVID-19 or any other illness). Or someone close to you passes away. Or maybe even if you get laid off or called for jury duty.
Any meals and hotel stays required if your flight changes because of mechanical problems or bad weather. Or if it’s the airline’s fault that you miss a connecting flight.
Damaged or lost property. Think: luggage that goes MIA or valuables stolen while you’re traveling. You could get reimbursed for what’s gone. Especially if you needed important replacements (like a toothbrush) stat.
Pro tip: Check your credit card perks. Some cards automatically offer the above coverage, plus rental car or emergency medical transportation, if you book with that plastic.
Does travel insurance cover medical care needed mid-trip?
If you’re traveling within the US, your regular health insurance probably has your back. Going international could be a different story. In order to vacation in more than a dozen destinations abroad, you're now required to buy insurance that would cover any medical care you might need while visiting. Example: Aruba requires all travelers to purchase insurance directly from its gov that covers up to $75,000 in COVID-19-related expenses. Other policies can supplement this requirement, but aren't an acceptable substitute.
Travel medical insurance includes coverage for accidents or emergencies abroad. You can also buy additional emergency evacuation coverage for things like airlifts or medically equipped flights home. Covid-inclusive policies should also cover the costs of extending a trip if you test positive for COVID-19 while traveling and have to quarantine before returning home. (You must show a negative test result within three days of departure to re-enter the US.)
What if my destination has a COVID-19 outbreak before my trip?
Being worried about contracting the coronavirus isn’t generally covered by basic travel insurance. And even if a new outbreak causes govs to change travel rules in or out of a given destination, typically only a "cancel for any reason" (CFAR) policy will cover you.
These are a lot more comprehensive than typical travel insurance policies. And more expensive. Standard travel insurance can cost up to 10% of what you paid for your trip. CFAR insurance could add about 40% to that rate. And still may only reimburse a portion – like 50% to 75% – of what you’ve spent. Also, timing matters. You might be required to buy coverage and cancel your trip within a certain time frame in order to get money back.
Are there any better ways to be flexible without losing money?
Some airlines have nixed the ticket change fee on many flights (at least for now), so it's free to book now and adjust plans as you get closer to takeoff. (Hint: if your new flight comes with a higher fare, be ready to pay the difference. But if it costs less, whether you get a refund depends on the airline. Cool cool.) And lots of hotels, car rental companies, and other travel businesses have become more flexible, too. So canceling or changing plans may be easier and less costly than it was pre-pandemic, even without travel insurance.
Travel insurance could help you get some money back if something interrupts your plans. But it may not give you all the flexibility you want. Before purchasing coverage, check to see if there are free ways to protect yourself. Then weigh the pros and cons to get the most from your investment.