What is Travel Insurance?

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Travel insurance protects policyholders from a variety of financial losses related to a trip. Whether you are mountain climbing in the Himalayas or sunbathing on a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico, there are a variety of travel insurance options available.

What Does Travel Insurance Cover?

Travel insurance generally covers nonrefundable expenses – cancellation fees for flights, hotels, events or activities – or medical costs incurred abroad. Many policies include some form of those coverages. Below is a brief synopsis of the most popular coverages.

Trip Cancellation and Interruption

Coverage that pays (up to a limit) for prepaid, nonrefundable expenses of a trip. This refers to deposits for hotel rooms, transportation, etc. so in the event that travelers need to cancel, they can be covered for those expenses. When gathering a travel insurance quote, this is the dollar amount carriers and comparison websites ask for and among the factors used to calculate premiums. It has one of the largest impacts on the cost of a policy because the amount needed to be insured is declared.

Baggage and Personal Effects

Coverages that reimburse a policyholder for lost, stolen, or damaged baggage and personal effects, including carry-on bags, passports and other belongings. Lost baggage includes events like losing your luggage between your cab ride and the airport, and you even qualify if you are quarantined for some reason. Most policies also pay claims for baggage delays, so that travelers can replace items they need immediately when they arrive at their destination.

Accidents and Illnesses Expenses

In the event that a policyholder requires emergency medical services due to an illness or injury, these coverages pay for those expenses. This coverage is included in travel health insurance policies and the more comprehensive plans. Travelers need to make sure the accident and illness coverage they purchase serves as either their primary coverage or secondary to their existing health plan. If they purchase a plan that is secondary and they don't have primary coverage, then this benefit might not pay out for a claim if they need to make one. This can impact the coverage limit they choose – if the travel health insurance policy is the primary coverage, then they might want to consider a higher limit. Most limits start around $25,000 to $75,000 but higher ones are available for purchase.

Emergency Medical Evacuation

Most travel health insurance policies include this coverage, in case a traveler needs to be urgently transported to a medical facility – even one in their home country. This part of travel insurance also typically covers a repatriation of remains, which transports a policyholder’s body to their home country after their death. Depending on the activities you plan on partaking in while traveling, this is coverage that can keep an incident from being financially devastating. The cost of a medical evacuation could easily be tens of thousands of dollars.

The Cost Of Travel Insurance by Plan Type

Travel insurance costs anywhere between 5% and 7% of the cost of a trip, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In our study of more than 50 different policies, we found the average cost of travel insurance in the U.S. was $148 in 2016. Our study included plans of all different types.

To show a better picture of what travel insurance costs, we separated the plans into basic and comprehensive levels of coverage with what we dubbed a "middle tier" level between them. Basic plans might only cover things such as a trip cancellation and baggage. A middle-tier plan might include trip cancellation as well as travel health insurance. The more comprehensive policies include benefits offered by basic and middle-tier ones, except with much higher claim limits.

Average Cost of Travel Insurance Coverage

105
Basic Coverage
130
Middle-Tier Coverage
164
Comprehensive Coverage

Should You Get Travel Insurance?

No matter a traveler's level of wealth, they should still consider buying travel insurance. Like any other insurance policy, travel insurance protects a policyholder from risk of a financial loss they cannot afford, or a risk they don't want to incur on their own. Having higher coverage in travel insurance could pay for helicopter evacuation from the more remote French Alps, or replace high-end products and material belongings.

Consider two travelers taking a $5,000 vacation from the U.S. to France. If the first traveler has planned out their trip as once-in-a-lifetime, and they have been saving up for it for years, they will want to seriously travel insurance since it would be costly to rebook. The second traveler, on the other hand, travels quite frequently and is wealthy. Despite the second travelers' experience and wealth, they, too, should consider travel insurance since it could protect them from rebooking the trip out-of-pocket. Even though cancelling the $5,000 trip might not be as financially devastating to the second traveler as it would be to others, there is still value in protecting themselves from that loss using travel insurance.

Determining Which Is The Best Travel Insurance

No single travel insurance company or policy is best for everyone. Different plans should be considered depending on the traveler, where they are going, and what kind of coverage they're going to need.

We closely analyzed dozens of travel insurance policies and determined these were the best for each category or purpose. Below are the best travel insurance companies we found across a number of categories. Details can be found in our full analysis of the best travel insurance companies here.

CategoryCompany
Cheap RatesNationwide and IMG
Domestic TravelBerkshire Hathaway Travel Protection
International TravelAllianz
Comprehensive PoliciesAIG Travel Guard
Best Travel Health InsuranceHTH Travel Insurance

The Travel Insurance Market

Interest in travel insurance in the U.S. appears to be growing. Americans paid more than $2.2 billion in travel insurance premiums across all types of policies in 2014, a 17% increase from 2012, according to a biannual study from the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (UStiA). The number of travel insurance policies purchased also increased 15.2% during the same period.

The same UStiA market survey showed travel insurance that included coverage for a trip cancellation or interruption was the most popular choice, accounting for more than 85% of all plans purchased in 2014. In contrast, policies that included a medical evacuation benefit accounted for only 7%.

How likely someone is to file a travel insurance claim depends largely on where they are traveling and what they will be doing on their trip. In 2014, 23% of Americans surveyed said their travel plans were impacted by medical conditions, natural disasters (including severe weather), or mechanical/carrier-caused problems, which are all scenarios that travel insurance policies might cover related losses for.

Those traveling to exotic locations were most likely to purchase a travel insurance policy, whether they were going to a destination (24%) or taking a cruise (21%). Unsurprisingly, road trips and weekend-long getaways were among the least common trips, accounting for 5%, respectively.

% of Trip Types Travel Insurance Was Purchased For

24
To A Destination
21
Taking A Cruise
5
Road Trips
5
Weekend-Long Trips
3
Ski Trips

Ski trips accounted for only 3% of all travel insurance trips, which at first glance might be surprising given the nature of the activity. However, many ski trips also fall into the categories mentioned above that account for few policyholders – road trips and weekend-long trips. If they are skiing domestically, their health insurance would cover their injuries.

Unless someone is skiing outside the U.S. and needs travel medical insurance in case they injure themselves, a policy is not a necessity. Alpine (or downhill) skiing is an activity covered by many travel insurance policies, too. Most would not need a special policy, unless they were backcountry or heli-skiing.

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