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When Travel Insurance Pays Off

Suitcase Filled With Cash, When Travel Insurance Pays Off

Dan Saelinger/Trunk Archive

The older you are, the more likely you'll need to consider purchasing travel insurance.

En español | As a frequent traveler who has visited 69 countries, Marcelline Krafchick, 83, knows how quickly a trip can take an unexpected turn for the worse. Eight years ago, when she was traveling in Kenya, she fell and broke her foot. The Emeryville, Calif., resident was rushed to the hospital and eventually flown home. The medical and airline costs were all covered by the travel insurance policy she had purchased for the trip.

"The most wonderful thing about having that insurance was that I never felt alone," Krafchick says, explaining that the insurance representative called to check on her progress every evening while she was overseas.

Whether you book a trip online or through a travel agent, you are likely to be offered some kind of traveler's insurance coverage. Depending on the policy, it can cover everything from the catastrophic expense of health emergencies to disruptions caused by bad weather or a terrorist attack. It can even be used for logistical challenges such as coping with lost luggage.

Do you need it? Consider this:

U.S. Travel Insurance Association (UStiA) survey of 1,005 adults, released last year, found that 23 percent of Americans said they had to cancel or interrupt their travel plans between 2013 and 2014. Reasons included health problems, severe weather and mechanical delays. And more than a third of travelers who had experienced those disruptions had bought travel insurance. Here are the key components to weigh before making a purchasing decision.

Cost:

Travel insurance can add 5 to 8 percent to the cost of your vacation. The price depends on two factors: your age and the cost of the trip, says Daniel Durazo, director of communications for Allianz Global Assistance, a company that sells travel insurance. Older travelers typically pay more for insurance because they are more susceptible to illness or injury and have a higher claim rate. More than half the people Allianz medically transports are 50 or older, Durazo points out.  

Coverage:

There is wide variation in what travel insurance encompasses. Many policies cover preexisting medical conditions, as long as the insurance is purchased along with the initial trip payment or shortly after; others do not. A comprehensive plan includes financial protection against nonrefundable travel expenses, medical coverage for emergencies, or evacuations, and concierge services in case you lose a passport or need to find a different hotel, says Megan Freedman, executive director of the UStiA. "It makes sense to buy it at the same time or close to when you're booking the trip," she adds, to ensure it covers anything unexpected that pops up before your departure date.  

For those who travel frequently, there are even blanket policies that cover all travel throughout the year.

Providers:

You can consider purchasing the policy that the agent or tour provider offers when you book a trip. But Liz Dahl, a travel agent and founder of the Boomer Travel Patrol advice website, encourages travelers to research other providers' policies because coverage varies widely. The best way to do that is through comparison websites such as InsureMyTripSquareMouth or TravelInsurance.com. Whether a policy is worthwhile may vary by individual, but those who have had coverage and needed it have saved tens of thousands of dollars, especially when a medical emergency is involved.

Bob Mattson and his wife, Diana, of Winter Haven, Fla., paid $142 for comprehensive, joint travel coverage before taking a Caribbean cruise a few years ago. As they were pulling into St. Martin, Mattson, now 72, felt a pain in his left arm. The infirmary doctor on the ship soon determined that Mattson was having a heart attack and called an ambulance. Mattson was medevaced to Miami.

"Without that travel insurance, we would have literally maxed out every credit card we had to pay for those costs," he says. He estimates the total costs for his evacuation at over $25,000. The cruise line also reimbursed the couple for the unused portion of the cruise.

"We had never taken out travel insurance before," says Diana Mattson. Now they'll never leave the country without it.

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