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Travel insurance during COVID for US travelers

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

We know the world of travel has changed, and our expectations about travel insurance and COVID-19 have changed too. At Skyscanner, we work hard to provide our travelers with the information they need to make the best choice for their travel. And when it comes to travel insurance and COVID, it isn’t always easy to understand. When you’re looking through policies and trying to come to grips with what the jargon really means, you can use this guide to clear up your confusion.

We sat down with Martin Nolan, Senior Director, Legal & Public and Regulatory Affairs at Skyscanner to find out his recommendations for choosing the right policy for future trips, so you can plan your next trip with confidence – and security.

Essential travel insurance information

Understanding the basics of travel insurance during COVID-19 doesn’t have to be confusing or difficult. We’ll walk you through your burning questions, from ‘what is it?’ all the way to how to use travel insurance, depending on your circumstances.

Think of travel insurance like a bit of a vacation safety net – it’s not legally required, but it’ll protect you if things go wrong. It is designed to help you be prepared for the types of situations you can’t really plan for, and therefore offers travelers a little extra peace of mind – that’s perhaps really worthwhile at the moment, when confidence in travel is lower.

A good travel insurance policy will cover the costs of many sudden or unforeseeable events on your trip. These can range from small expenses, such as lost or delayed luggage or losing smaller items, to more expensive situations like medical emergencies, accidents with your valuables, travel delays, or cancellations which are beyond your control.

There are many different options for travel insurance policies on the market, and which one is suitable depends on the kind of trip you’re planning and who you’re looking to cover with the policy.

You can opt for a single trip insurance policy, which does exactly what it sounds like – covers you for one trip. There are also multi-trip annual plans for those keen to travel two or more times a year, and these often represent better value than taking out multiple single trip policies. It also means it’s one less thing to remember when planning your trip!

Policies often only cover specific locations, for example, Europe only, whereas others will cover virtually everywhere in the world you’d like to go. It’s important to make sure you’re covered where you’re going, particularly if you’re going to multiple locations in one trip.  

For specific types of travel (looking at you, thrill-seekers!), there are varying options for trips such as backpacking/trekking or sport-centric holidays, like skiing or snowboarding. For trips like this, it’s important to get specific coverage, as lots of vacation activities might not be covered under your insurance, and you might need to make sure you have specific coverage for all your gear!  

If you’re lucky enough to be traveling for an extended period of time, make sure that the policy covers the right time period. Many only cover 90 or 180 days.

As well as that, depending on your personal circumstances, there are tailored policies for you, which might offer the best deal and best protection. For example, if you’re over 65 or traveling as a family or group. You should pick the insurance plan that best matches what you plan to do on your trip. 

Lots of places! You can typically buy travel insurance from banks, many credit card companies, or licensed or accredited insurance brokers. Sometimes your credit card company may even include travel insurance as an extra service with your card. Travel companies, retailers, travel agents, and online comparison sites also offer insurance options, and you will often see an option to add travel insurance when you’re booking your trip offered directly by the airline. Be sure you shop around to find the policy that best suits you and your trip, and make sure you read the fine print! (Read on for more about that.)

Since every traveler and every trip differs, coverage needs can vary as well. You or someone in your group may have specific needs and requirements, so it’s important to consider what type of traveler you are and what kind of trip you are taking. This will make it easier for you to pick the best options for travel insurance and COVID.

Adventure seekers may want to look for a policy catered to these types of trips – but be aware of potential exclusions that don’t cover high-risk activities. For example, some insurance companies will cover trekking, but only to an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,500m). If you plan to trek higher, you’ll need different coverage, which will likely cost more, so you’ll want to consider this as part of your budget when planning your trip. There are also packages tailored for different types of vacations, like destination weddings or gap years. Whatever type of coverage you’re after, your best bet is to research properly before you book your travel.

This is probably the most complex area of travel insurance and COVID, hence the bit you need to pay the closest attention to.

While all travel insurance plans are different, virtually all policies should cover certain basic risks up to a specified level, and subject to certain conditions.    

The key things you would expect to see are emergency medical cover if you get sick while you’re traveling, personal liability cover, damage to your personal items, and loss of luggage, as well as some elements of cancellation and missed departure coverage. Different insurance providers will cover these risks up to different levels – often wildly different – and they’ll also vary how much you might have to contribute towards any claim that you make under that category (the excess amount or deductible). So, it’s important to see what the coverage limit for each of these elements is, and how much you need to pay to make a successful claim (see excess below). 

For example, if you’re planning on taking your iPad to binge-watch at the beach, make sure your policy limit would actually cover a single item of that value. The same goes for cameras, phones, sunglasses. Often the limit for a single item is much lower than you’d think, especially with lower-cost policies, or the excess can be very high. Be realistic about the value of the items you’re planning to take with you, and choose your policy based on that. Also, check if your home insurance policy would cover something that happens when you’re on your trip – often it will, and that might mean you can accept a lower cover limit and save money.    

What’s not included is very important too, and you need to carefully check the key terms for your policy to make sure you’ve got the cover you need. Often insurance policies won’t completely cover adequately for missed connections, lost or delayed luggage or document replacement (like losing your passport) and medical evacuation (super important for adventure vacations where you might be more likely to get injured). It’s really important to check the fine print on policies to make sure you’re getting what you need for both travel insurance and COVID.

It’s also important to look at any conditions that attach to your policy that might mean the insurance becomes void – for example, you’ll usually need to take reasonable care of yourself and your belongings. Extreme sports might not be covered, nor might claims related to excess alcohol. You might not be covered if you put valuable items into your hold baggage, as they’re then out of your control – this is worth remembering even as you board the plane if you’re asked to check in your cabin bag. If official guidance for somewhere you visit recommends being immunized against a particular disease and you don’t get your shots before you go, and you then get that disease, your insurance might not cover you. 

It’s incredibly important to look at coverage if you’ve got any pre-existing medical conditions because these often affect your policy and might mean you’re not covered at all. This is because there’s often a higher likelihood that you might need medical treatment abroad. Specialist insurance providers offer great coverage for people with existing conditions that will give you the coverage and peace of mind you need to travel – again, make sure to watch the amount of coverage, excess payable, and also make sure where you plan on traveling to is included.

Understanding travel insurance jargon can be very stressful and can make choosing a plan difficult and confusing to compare.

One term travelers should look out for is “excess,” which I’ve already mentioned. The excess is the amount of money you will pay towards a claim, and then your insurance provider will pay the remaining balance up to your cover limit.

For example, imagine that Kim Kardashian booked herself a solo spa trip to Bali, but one of her Louis Vuitton suitcases got lost on the way. With her hypothetical travel insurance policy, it caps baggage loss expenses at $4,000, with an excess of $100. Kim’s Louis Vuitton suitcase is worth $3,500. So, after Kim pays the excess of $100, her travel insurance provider would cover the remaining $3,400.

Be sure to check for excess fine print. The excess charge might apply for each person who has to claim (e.g. everyone in a group who has missed their flight), or for each different category you need to claim under (e.g. you’ve lost your case and it had your passport in it; missing baggage, missing documents) – it can really mount up and start to affect whether or not the policy is good value.    

If things go wrong and you do need to make a claim for travel insurance, then it’s usually a fairly straightforward process. Keep calm – these things happen, and your insurer is there to help you. Check your policy documents to see what the specific process is. You usually need to claim within around a month of the last day of your trip.

It’s a good idea to keep a copy of your policy with you on your trip, so save a copy to your phone and make sure you know where to get a hold of it in an emergency, particularly information around emergency medical cover.   

For lost bags, you usually need a confirmation from your airline or ground handler to show the bags are missing or lost, so get this from the airport and keep it safe. If something is lost or stolen while you’re away, you should try to get a report from a local police station, for example, and report this ASAP after you’ve become aware of it. Sometimes your insurance policy will say you need to do this within 24 hours of the event happening. If you need to buy replacement items or incur other costs, including medical bills, try to keep your receipts safe in case your insurer requests these. They’ll help speed up a claim process.

If your travel has been canceled, you’ll usually need to try to get a refund from your travel supplier first. They should be your first port of call before you reach out to your insurer. This is because most insurers will only pay out for costs that can’t be refunded, so they’ll ask you to explore that route first.

Travel insurance information for flights

If you find yourself asking questions like ‘will my insurance cover this flight?’ – look no further. We delve into how flights fit into the travel insurance and COVID equation, and the information you need to know for your next flight.

In general, flight delays, cancellations or disruptions are covered by travel insurance up to certain limits. However, travel insurance providers are no longer covering flights impacted by the coronavirus which were booked once the pandemic became a known event. You should contact your insurance provider for more information about travel insurance and COVID.

If the airline canceled your flight, you may be entitled to a refund, voucher or offer to rebook for a later date by the airline. If you accept one of these options, your insurer won’t pay out in addition to what you get from the airline. If you can’t get one of those options, your insurer should cover you (subject to the terms of the policy).

If you decide to cancel your flight but the airline has not canceled it yet, and your cancellation falls under the acceptable reasons to make a claim, your insurance will likely cover this. Check your policy to see how and if your travel insurance and COVID are connected. For example, be sure to double-check that coronavirus hasn’t affected the current policy.  

You need to be careful and check the position before you voluntarily cancel a flight, to make sure this doesn’t affect your policy and your ability claim.

Unfortunately, airline and supplier financial failure or insolvency are often not included in many travel insurance policies. However, there is no single rule for this, and you should consult your own travel insurance provider to check their approach to supplier failure. Some policies include something called SAFI (scheduled airline failure insurance), but not all.

If you’re on your trip when the supplier failure occurs, ask around to see if other travel suppliers are offering ‘rescue fares’ for stranded passengers.

As well as travel insurance, there are some other ways to safeguard your trip. Firstly, always read the fine print from your airline booking so you’re prepared.

Also, booking with a credit card gives you some extra protection, as you can often make claims via your credit card company – check the credit card company’s policies for specifics on how to make a claim. This is the case if you’ve spent at least some of the cost via credit card. For example, if you’ve paid the deposit for a trip via a credit card, but the balance via a debit card, the entire amount may be covered.

A guide to travel insurance during coronavirus

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted travel in a myriad of ways. From understanding how – or if – your travel insurance policy might’ve changed as a result of the global pandemic, or what this may mean for future coverage, read on.

If you bought a travel insurance policy before coronavirus became a known event, then generally speaking – yes – you will be covered. The relevant date varies according to the insurer, but 12 March is a good rule of thumb (that’s the date the WHO declared coronavirus as a pandemic).  

Travel insurance will not generally cover cancellations for trips booked after coronavirus became a known event unless they’ve explicitly covered this risk (and most have not), so if you took out your policy on or after 12 March, it’s likely not covered.

You should check your travel insurance provider’s website, your policy documents, or give them a call to find out more about how your travel insurance and deals with COVID-related situations.

Most insurance providers are sharing updates on how coronavirus has impacted future travel plans. Check official websites for policy changes or contact your provider for details. Certain existing policies may also now have stricter cut-off dates in which you can claim compensation for a canceled trip, so don’t delay in making a claim. If something has changed since you took out your policy, the provider ought to have contacted you to tell you. Make sure you check your email spam folders too, just in case.

Generally, it won’t (unless you were already there at the time of the pandemic), but you should check your policy and speak with your insurer.

If you took out your insurance after coronavirus became a known event, it’s unlikely to be covered. 

If you already had a policy in place, for example, an annual policy, but you only booked your trip after coronavirus became a known event, it’s also not likely to be covered.

If you still take a trip to an affected region, it’s likely your policy might be considered void because you have traveled to an affected region, particularly if you need to make a claim that’s then related to coronavirus. 

Be sure to also monitor your local government’s advice, as some policies follow official government instructions. Where the US State Department has warned against all but essential travel, then this usually operates as a trigger for insurance policies to let you make a claim, in many cases even where airlines haven’t canceled your flight yet.

If the government has not warned against travel to a destination but you decide to cancel anyway, this would be considered as a voluntary cancellation by you, and your insurer would be unlikely to cover it.

It’s highly unlikely that you will be covered for coronavirus if you buy your travel insurance now.

Insurance providers are no longer offering coverage once coronavirus became a known event.

Many governments are still advising against travel to certain destinations, and insurance providers are therefore taking the lead from these official travel advisories.

There are insurers who will provide full coverage for travel post-coronavirus. You may actually already have coverage with them! It’s just really important to read your policy and even call your insurer to double-check the details around future trips. If you are looking for new coverage, study the fine print, and again, consider speaking to a representative on the phone or by email to be sure of what you’re covered for in terms of travel insurance and COVID-19.

If you can’t travel because of coronavirus travel restrictions and you had previously bought travel insurance before the pandemic became a known event, then you should be able to cancel your policy.

Check with your provider, as some may have instituted cut-off dates for refunds, or may have specific rules surrounding coronavirus cancellations, like pro-rata refunds.

Also, be aware you can only cancel your policy if you haven’t already made a claim on it. If you have pending claims from trips canceled due to coronavirus, then those will be nullified if you cancel your policy.

Consider whether you plan to book future travel, too, as getting new travel insurance coverage in the current climate is much more difficult.  

You can also usually cancel an insurance policy within a certain window of time after having taken the policy out, so if you’ve only just taken out the policy, this is worth considering.

Before you cancel your policy, make sure there’s no need to rely on it – once it’s canceled, the opportunity to claim from it will be void.

Travel insurance jargon buster

Do you know your ‘exclusions’ from your ‘excesses?’ If insurance jargon seems like a different language to you, don’t fret. We’ve decoded the lingo and explained travel insurance terminology, so you know what the terms mean before you choose your policy. 

The area of cover specifies the geographic locations in which your insurance policy applies. So, if your insurance says its area of cover is the United States, this includes the 50 states and the District of Colombia. If it says ‘worldwide,’ the world is your oyster. Watch out for exclusions in your area of cover.

Where you or your travel supplier(s) cancel all or part of your trip. This could be where the airline or tour operator has chosen to cancel, or where you’ve decided to do so, such as where you can’t travel anymore for a medical or personal reason.

A claim is when you ask your insurer to pay for something covered under your insurance policy.

Curtailment means if you have to cut your trip short because of specific reasons, including sudden, unexpected illness or injury or an ill or recently departed family member. These reasons will be stipulated in your policy, so be sure to check.

Excess (sometimes referred to as deductible) is the amount of money you, as the policyholder, pay towards a claim, stipulated in your travel insurance plan. A deductible is the amount your claim needs to exceed before any amount can be claimed, and only the amount above that is recovered.

Exclusions are things your travel insurance will not cover. These should be clearly set out in your policy documents. 

Financial failure of a supplier means bankruptcy, administration, or liquidation.

Force majeure means an unexpected event, occurrence, or disaster that happens outside of your control.

This is what you’re covered for if, for some reason, you incur a legal liability on your trip. For example, if you accidentally injure someone on vacation and they bring a claim for damages against you, this is what protects you.

A medical condition which the insured person has at the time when you took out the policy. You should declare any conditions you’re aware of at the time you take the policy out. This might mean you need to look at specialist insurers that will give you the cover you need. This would usually also include ‘undiagnosed conditions.’

If you become sick on your trip and your insurer needs to get you home for treatment. 

A medical condition you have at the time you take out your policy that’s either being investigated or not yet diagnosed. Unfortunately, if something happens while you’re away that relates to an undiagnosed condition, it’s also unlikely to be covered.

DISCLAIMER: This article was last updated on 5 January 2021. It’s possible that travel rules and regulations may have changed since. Please always refer to official government resources for the most up-to-date information before planning or booking travel.

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