Anyone who has reserved a flight, hotel and/or rental car online or through a travel agent has been faced with the question: “would you like to add insurance to your trip?” Most people opt out of it, especially if they are on a budget and do not want to add to their already mounting trip costs.  While many vacations proceed as planned, there are times when the unexpected arises and a little reassurance can go a long way.

Here’s a look at some of the different situations and their associated travel insurance benefits:

Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption

Basically, this means you’ve had to cancel the original trip you had planned.  This could mean you’re not going at all but it can also mean you are changing your departure to a different time. Many flights these days are non-refundable, so a cancellation could mean you lose all of the money you’ve invested.  Rescheduling your flights can lead you to incur change fees, especially if your new flight is more expensive.

Trip cancellation protection is intended to reimburse the cost of the pre-paid, insured portions of the trip or the change fees, up to an agreed-upon amount for the covered reasons listed in your policy.  A trip is considered cancelled if you discover you can no longer travel before your scheduled departure.

Trip interruption comes into play when you are already on your trip and you must change your plans due to some unforeseen event. For example, if you must rush home early because a family member is sick, this would qualify as trip interruption.

Common inclusions: Be sure to become familiar with your coverage as soon as possible since every policy is different.  Some commonly covered reasons include illness, injury, death, being required to serve on jury duty, severe weather that causes the airline to shut down for at least 24 consecutive hours, being reassigned or having personal revoked (military), being quarantined, hijacked or if a terrorist attack has taken place within the 30 days prior to arriving at that destination.

Common exclusions: Personal changes in plans, having the wrong travel dates, being required to work in a non-military job, fear or crime or bad weather in an area and not having the correct travel documents/passport, among other things.  Each policy is different.

Travel Delay

Travel Delay usually refers to those events that cause a traveler to be unable to continue their trip for any number of reasons including late-arriving flights/cruises, severe weather, natural disasters and mechanical problems with planes, buses, trains or ships.  Usually, the policy will mandate how many hours is required to qualify for travel delay benefits, so be sure to check that.

Typically, delay benefits will cover additional meals, accommodations and transportation expenses up to a maximum daily amount.  Be sure to keep all receipts since they will ask for them if you file a claim.

Lost or Delayed Baggage

One very frustrating problem that most travelers have dealt with is the issue of lost, damaged, stolen or delayed baggage.  The very first thing anyone should do when they discover their bags are missing or damaged is file a report with the airline.  This not only begins the investigation process, thus giving the airline the opportunity to correct the situation, but it’s also a vital part of the process should you choose to file a claim with your travel insurance company.

Many providers will have a list of items that they cannot replace and they will have a limit on how much can be reimbursed for certain other items (electronics, jewelry, etc…).  Further, there may be a provision for replacing necessities (keep all receipts) if a bag has been located but will be delayed.  Read through your policy to find out how long the bags must be delayed, how much daily coverage you have and any explanations for how your insurance provider defines “necessary items.”

Emergency Medical and Dental Coverage

No one wants to get sick or injured on their trip but it does happen.  Review your policy to see how much coverage you have, per person, and, if needed, contact your insurance provider to increase your policy if you are going to an area where treatment may be more expensive.

The benefits are usually intended to provide coverage in the event of an unexpected serious illness or injury while traveling that would require hospitalization.  Some policies also include medical transportation coverage in case a traveler needs to be transported by ambulance, medical helicopter or if they need to be accompanied by a medical professional while traveling.  Also, if, tragically, a traveler dies while on vacation, some policies will cover the cost to send their remains home.

These benefits can often be provided immediately if the insured is not able to pay for the cost of treatment upfront.  In those instances, many insurance providers will communicate directly with the medical facility to arrange payment for the services up to the maximum covered amount.

Not everything is an emergency, of course.  Some companies will reimburse out-of-pocket expenses related to seeing a doctor for less serious conditions including ear infections, food poisoning or the flu.  In these cases, it is, again, important to keep any receipts provided by the medical service provider.  Most insurance companies can have documentation translated so don’t worry if your medical statement is in Greek.

Additional tips for getting the most out of your travel insurance:

  • Understand that for most benefits, you will be seeking a reimbursement and not an upfront payment.
  • Look at different travel insurance company websites to compare policies.
  • Ask whether the company allows you to purchase a policy after you’ve already paid for your trip.
  • Read the terms and conditions. Some insurance companies allow a 10-day grace period during which you can cancel and request a refund if the coverage is not what you expected.
  • Print out any insurance policies you’ve been sent by email and keep your policy number and the company’s phone number handy.
  • Become familiar with the process in case you do need to file a claim.
  • Make sure you read any “General Exclusions” or “Specific Exclusions” which will never be covered under a particular policy.
  • Ask about pre-existing medical condition waivers if established health problems are a concern.