The right travel insurance — and whether you need it at all — depends on your trip.
The best travel insurance can help cushion the financial blow in case of situations that can upend an expensive, carefully planned trip. Whether you’re dealing with an unexpected illness, a death in the family, or a lost suitcase, all of these scenarios have the potential to cancel or ruin your travels.
Even a late or missed flight can unravel your plans — and in 2014, that was a possibility for nearly 1 in 4 airline trips, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. More than 2% of flights were cancelled outright.
But do you really need travel insurance? It’s a question we’ll consider in depth later in this article — I’ll admit I’ve only purchased a travel insurance policy once despite frequent globe-trotting. For some, however, travel can be an investment just as significant as a car or house. If you fall into this category, relatively inexpensive travel insurance plans can protect your wallet from any of the above situations and more.
The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for Best Travel Insurance
I’ve sifted through dozens of companies to find some of the top travel insurance options for you. Here’s a quick look at my picks for best travel insurance:
- Best Travel Insurance for Coverage Options: Travel Guard and TravelEx
- Best Cheap Travel Insurance: World Nomads and Seven Corners
- Best Travel Medical Insurance: HTH Worldwide and IMG
Keep reading to find out why these companies rose to the top in the crowded travel insurance market. I’ll also cover some travel insurance basics, including what most plans cover, how to shop for the best plan, and whether you really need travel insurance in the first place — because it doesn’t make sense for everyone.
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Do You Need Travel Insurance?
Travel insurance makes sense for some travelers, but you’ll want to make sure you’re among them before you shell out even more cash before your trip.
A few years ago, I opted for travel insurance before an expensive trip to New Zealand. The flights, hotels, and car rental were pricey enough on their own, but we prescheduled a range of activities, too. I would have lost a lot of money if something had prevented me from going, so shelling out a bit more for travel insurance made sense.
Here are some factors to consider when you’re debating whether travel insurance is worth the investment:
How much are you spending?
If you’re only spending a few hundred bucks on a plane ticket and crashing on a friend’s couch when you get to your destination, the low expense (and risk) of your trip probably isn’t worth insuring. I’ve certainly traveled on a shoestring before, and the relatively low cost meant I didn’t think twice about travel insurance.
But if you’re spending $10,000 on a budget-busting honeymoon in Bali (or in my case, heading to New Zealand for three weeks of adventures) that’s an investment you’ll want to protect.
Are you traveling internationally?
It makes more sense to buy travel insurance if you’re heading abroad. International travel is expensive, but the best travel insurance can also cover you for costly medical bills if you need care while overseas when your primary health insurance may not.
I have gone abroad a couple of times without additional coverage — I was young, healthy, and heading to well-traveled European destinations for run-of-the-mill sightseeing. This was a calculated risk on my part when I was very conscious of my bottom line. Would I make the same choice today, especially with a family to consider? Maybe not.
Are you booking travel during a time known for iffy weather conditions?
It’s impossible to predict the weather, but some times of year are trickier than others. For instance, maybe a crucial leg of your trip is going into or out of Minneapolis or Chicago in January — primetime for blizzards or other nasty winter weather. Maybe you’re booking a Caribbean cruise in September, during peak hurricane season.
In either case, travel insurance could cushion the financial damage if Mother Nature delays or cancels your trip.
Are you already covered?
While it’s relatively uncommon for most health insurance plans to offer more than partial coverage abroad, check your policy. Flight accident insurance that pays your family benefits if you die in a plane crash is probably redundant if you have life insurance — this was one option we skipped on our New Zealand trip.
The same goes for travel insurers’ accidental death and dismemberment coverage. Your home insurance may even cover the cost of lost or stolen luggage and belongings.
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Your credit card may also offer some protection.
If you pay for your trip with a credit card, you may have coverage for trip cancellation, delays, car rental insurance, or lost and stolen belongings. For instance, we were able to opt out of our car rental company’s insurance in New Zealand because our credit card provided it.
You’ll need to check the fine print that lists all of your credit card’s benefits. If there are travel insurance provisions, you’ll need to pay for part or perhaps all of the trip with that card to be covered.
However, the benefits probably won’t be as extensive as those you’ll receive with the best travel insurance policies, and you may find that there are more exclusions: While planning a trip to Ireland, I found out my credit card would not cover car rental insurance there because of high accident rates.
(If you want a credit card that offers great perks when you’re on the go, check out our guide to the Best Travel Credit Cards for 2016. These cards often offer great trip protection features as well as perks such as bonus points on travel, no foreign transaction fees, and concierge services.)
Do you need the peace of mind?
If all the “what-ifs” of travel keep you awake at night, spending a couple hundred dollars on travel insurance might be a good investment if it means you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your trip more. In my case, I spent weeks planning every leg of our trip to New Zealand, so travel insurance was a necessary comfort.
What Does Travel Insurance Cover?
Coverage will vary by company, but the best travel insurance plans protect against financial hardship resulting from trip interruption or cancellation, medical expenses, emergency evacuations, and lost or stolen belongings. Here are the main things you can expect travel insurance to cover:
Trip interruption or cancellation: If you get sick, a family member dies, or a natural disaster foils your plans, cancellation coverage may help reimburse whatever nonrefundable costs you’ve already incurred. Terrorist attacks are also covered if an incident unfolds in your destination shortly before you leave. You may even be covered if your employer changes your schedule and requires you to work, you’re called for jury duty or a crucial travel vendor goes belly up. Interruption coverage may cover you if your trip is cut short for similar reasons.
Medical expenses: Many health insurance plans won’t cover you outside of the country; Medicare never does. Even if your insurer does cover some international expenses, out-of-network costs can still add up. You may even find that foreign care providers simply won’t help you until you pay for their services up front.
Emergency evacuation: If you need to be evacuated from a remote spot for medical or security reasons, it could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Evacuation coverage helps pay to speed you to a nearby hospital, or covers the price of a medical flight to the U.S. if needed.
Lost or stolen baggage or belongings: While airlines have done a better job with baggage in recent years, more than 24 million bags were still mishandled in 2014. Most policies will pay up to a certain amount to compensate for this common travel scenario. The best travel insurance plans also reimburse you if you have to purchase items because your bags were delayed.
The Best Travel Insurance Companies
If you’ve decided travel insurance is a good bet for your upcoming trip, be sure to check out the companies below, all Simple Dollar top picks, while you shop around.
Best Travel Insurance for Coverage Options: Travel Guard and Travel Ex
Travel Guard offers just about every type of travel insurance plan you can think of: trip cancellation, flight insurance, travel medical, business travel, and even yearlong plans for frequent travelers. Several optional coverage add-ons make it easy to tailor your travel insurance to your specific needs.
For example, you can add a rider that allows you to cancel your trip for any reason, or you can add flight accident or rental-car collision insurance. Trip concierge services and pre-existing condition waivers are available at all levels, too. The website doesn’t have a lot in the way of educational articles, however.
Why We Like It: Travel Guard makes it easy to get a quote and compare its different plans side by side. Extensive add-ons and a “build your own” My Travel Guard plan make it easy to buy exactly what you want, and skip what you don’t want. You can insure very expensive trips up to $100,000, and Travel Guard has accreditation and an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
What to Watch For: Some plans may not be available depending on the state in which you live.
TravelEx offers a more basic lineup of plans for leisure and business travelers, but they are still fairly customizable with upgrades. For instance, you can add on coverage for adventure activities, or busy professionals can tack on coverage that kicks in if their employer changes their work schedule. You’ll get three easy-to-compare plan choices: Basic, Select, or Max.
Why We Like It: TravelEx’s offerings are more readily understandable for a travel insurance newbie, and their website is easy to navigate. If you’re traveling with kids, take note: The Travel Select plan covers them for free. There are also helpful travel tips and FAQs. Like Travel Guard, TravelEx is BBB-accredited with an A+ rating.
What to Watch For: The highest-priced Max plan will only allow you to insure a trip up to $50,000, and it only covers you for up to six months (there is no annual plan, unlike with Travel Guard). You can’t add on a “cancel for any reason” rider unless you purchase the most expensive plan, and there is no pre-existing condition waiver available for their basic plan.
Best Cheap Travel Insurance: World Nomads and Seven Corners
World Nomads offers a lot of bang for your buck. It wasn’t quite the cheapest quote I received, but it wasn’t far off. For just $132 — roughly $20 more than the cheapest policy I saw that met my requirements, described at the end of this article — I could insure a $4,000, two-week trip to France with beefier coverage than many other insurers offer at a similar price.
Why We Like It: My quote included up to $10,000 for both cancellation and interruption coverage ($4,000 and $6,000 would be standard), $100,000 in medical coverage, and even $3,000 for lost or stolen baggage or personal belongings (most other insurers provide only $1,000 around this price). If I didn’t mind a $2,500 cap on cancellation and interruption and just $1,000 baggage coverage, I could retain the same level of medical coverage and pay only $89 for my policy. World Nomads also covers more than 200 adventure activities like skiing and bungee jumping that would require expensive add-ons or exclude you from coverage with other companies.
What to Watch For: World Nomads doesn’t offer group coverage or plans for travelers over 70. Because it only has two plan levels and lacks a lot of add-ons that other companies offer, coverage isn’t very customizeable. Finally, luxury travelers won’t be able to get coverage with World Nomads, which only insures trips up to $10,000.
Seven Corners has a wider range of plans than World Nomads, including plans for groups and students, expatriates and even outdoor-sports enthusiasts. It also offers medical-only coverage. I received a travel insurance quote that met my requirements for $11 less than World Nomads, but the plan wasn’t quite as robust. Still, it was better than most comparably priced plans.
Why We Like It: Though trip cancellation and interruption was standard at $4,000 and $6,000, the medical coverage went up to an impressive $150,000, and $2,000 was available for lost or stolen baggage or belongings on the Round Trip Choice plan. Stepping up to the Elite plan would allow $250,000 in medical coverage and $2,500 for baggage.
What to Watch For: At $94, their basic plan was a good value, but the $10,000 in medical coverage was much skimpier than World Nomads’ basic coverage.
Best Travel Medical Insurance: HTH Worldwide and IMG
While most travel insurers focus on trip cancellation plans that throw in travel medical insurance as an afterthought, HTH Worldwide focuses on comprehensive travel medical insurance that you can purchase separately from other travel plans.
Their website offers two short-term plans: a preferred option with the most comprehensive coverage that requires you to have a primary health plan, and an economy option that does not require another health plan but offers less coverage of pre-existing conditions. Other options include plans for groups, frequent travelers, expatriates, and students.
Why We Like It: The easy-to-understand plan clearly state benefits, exclusions, and FAQs. An impressive mobile app helps travelers identify English-speaking providers and request an appointment wherever they are. There were flexible deductibles of up to $500 and coverage maximums that ranged from $50,000 to $1 million. Plans pay 100% of most health services after your deductible is met.
What to Watch For: There is no adventure sports coverage, and the economy single-trip plan has a long 180-day pre-existing conditions exclusion.
IMG has served more than a million people around the world since 1990, and it offers a dizzying array of travel medical plans. However, you can also purchase packages that include more traditional travel insurance benefits including trip cancellation and lost baggage.
Why We Like It: IMG might be a good choice for niche travelers. While it offers plans for short-term and frequent travelers; groups; and students; it also provides niche policies for missionaries, marine crew members, and adventure sports. “Green” plans even allow eco-conscious travelers to shrink their carbon footprint.
What to Watch For: Unfortunately, IMG’s website can be hard to wade through, with small print and far too many drop-down menus. They offer website-based account management, but no mobile app for travelers who have health issues on the road.
Five Tips for Buying the Best Travel Insurance
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by your choices, remember that there is no single plan or provider that will be best for every traveler. Focus on where you’re going, what you’re doing, and what you’re spending to find the best travel insurance choice for you.
Here are five tips that will help you shop for the best travel insurance for your needs:
Tip No. 1: Carefully Consider Your Trip
Are you going hiking in a remote part of the Amazon? Or are you planning an elaborate European vacation, with several flights to whisk you from one country to the next?
While extreme, these examples illustrate how much your needs could vary. In the former case, you’d probably want to focus on medical and evacuation coverage; in the latter case, you may want a more traditional plan that has good allowances for trip cancellation or lost baggage.
If you think there’s a decent chance that circumstances may force you to scrap a trip, you can get a “cancel for any reason” add-on for many more extensive travel insurance policies, but you’ll have to add it soon after buying. If you’re a daredevil, there are special plans for hazardous or extreme sports. If you’re heading to the Caribbean in September, you’ll want to make sure your plan covers weather-related cancellations and delays.
In our case, I found a policy that covered some adventure activities — we planned on bungee jumping, cave crawling, and glacier hiking while in New Zealand. I also made sure we’d be covered for natural disasters, since the region is prone to earthquakes. (This wasn’t paranoia on my part: We experienced a small tremor while we were there, and then a huge quake killed almost 200 people in Christchurch, where we stayed on the last leg of our trip, two months after we left.)
Bottom line: Make sure you buy a policy that covers your unique risks, not someone else’s.
Tip No. 2: Shop Around
Travel insurance policies are complex products, so your best bet may be to start your search using a comparison site such as SquareMouth or InsureMyTrip. These sites have excellent search filters that will let you zero in on what you need and directly compare prices much easier than shopping with individual insurers.
An experienced travel agent can also help you pick a policy, though some may earn commissions for steering you toward a certain company. Experts say it’s best to avoid buying a policy directly from your tour company or cruise line, however. These plans will only cover you for your time with that company, but not any other portion of your trip. And if the company goes under, your travel policy (and money) goes under with them.
Tip No. 3: Keep an Eye on Your Budget
Like any insurance product, the cost of a travel insurance plan will vary based on what kind of trip you’re insuring and what kind of coverage you select. Expect most plans to set you back roughly 4% to 10% of the cost of your trip — the greater the percentage, the more comprehensive the plan.
Our New Zealand travel insurance was equal to about 5% of our trip. Age also factors in — the older you are, the more you may pay. However, you may not pay anything for kids under 18 if they’re traveling with you.
Tip No. 4: Be Careful of Exclusions and Loopholes
If you have trip cancellation coverage, read the list of covered reasons carefully — they will be very specific. Consider whether paying extra for a policy that lets you cancel a trip for any reason is worth it, but note that not all policies will let you recover 100% of your costs.
Even the best travel insurance will include other exclusions on other parts of your coverage, too. A few examples: Pre-existing medical conditions and pregnancy generally won’t be covered. Your stolen-belongings coverage won’t pay you back for a lost wad of cash. If civil unrest — even including deadly protests — suddenly make your destination unsafe, you’re probably out of luck.
Tip No. 5: Buy as Soon as Possible
Even though you can wait until closer to departure, it’s best to get your travel insurance squared away soon after making reservations. Every day you wait, there’s a chance something will happen that will affect your plans, but you can’t get a travel insurance policy after you know about it.
For instance, if a Category 5 hurricane clobbers the Bahamas and ruins your trip, your travel insurance would cover you only if you purchased it before the hurricane formed. If recent terror attacks in Paris have made you afraid to go, you’re probably out of luck unless you purchased travel insurance before the attacks occurred.
You’d also be required to purchase coverage as soon as possible to get a waiver for certain pre-existing medical conditions or nab a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason, for example.
How I Picked the Best Travel Insurance Companies
To pick the best travel insurance for coverage options, I focused on companies that offered a wide variety of plans to cover the largest range of trips, including short-term vacations, long-term travel, and business trips. I also considered what add-ons were available for travelers to customize their plans to their liking, and made sure the company doesn’t exclude coverage for very expensive trips. To whittle down my list, I also considered the ease with which a shopper could obtain a quote, compare plans, and read “fine print” that tells them what is excluded from a plan.
To pick the best cheap travel insurance, I compared quotes for a 33-year-old’s $4,000, two-week trip to France. Because most insurers offer several plans, I compared prices for the cheapest that met the following requirements: at least $4,000 in trip cancellation insurance; $6,000 in trip interruption; $50,000 for medical expenses; $500,000 for emergency evacuation; and $1,000 for lost or stolen baggage or belongings. I then compared the quality of coverage among the five lowest-price insurers to make my final picks.
To pick the best travel medical insurance, I focused on companies that offered a wide array of medical-only plans. I considered the flexibility available for customers to choose plans’ deductibles and coverage amounts, as well as quality of coverage (for instance, if you still had to pay co-insurance for services even after meeting your deductible).
Because it can be hard to find quality medical providers on the road, I also considered any ways a company eased that process (for instance, a mobile app or well-executed online account management).
To Find the Best Travel Insurance, Read the Fine Print
The best travel insurance is customizable to your specific needs for a reasonable price. It’s easy to comparison shop with the top companies online, but be sure to read the entire list of plan coverages and exclusions before you pay for a policy.
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Having a clear idea of what your travel insurance will and won’t pay for can protect you from nasty surprises in the event of a claim. Consider starting your search by checking out the companies I profiled above — all offer comprehensive, reputable plans to keep you covered on the road. Travel Guard and TravelEx are excellent options for travelers who want a wide variety of coverage options, while World Nomads is a particularly good fit for globetrotters on a tight budget — especially if you have adventure activities on your agenda.