By Sharyn Alden
If you’ve experienced first-hand what travel insurance can do, you know why that extra help can be a lifeline when you’re traveling.
If you’ve had to cancel a trip because of illness, or your overseas journey was interrupted because you broke your ankle a week before returning home, you know how lucky you felt to have your travel insurance to lean on.
Travel insurance can cover a multitude of situations, but you need to do your homework and look for coverage that best suits where you’re going and what you’re planning to do.
Probably more so than other types of purchases, travel insurance requires that you ask questions upfront. No two trip-insurance plans cover exactly the same thing. Plan benefits could include trip cancellation or interruption, missed connections, medical emergencies including evacuations, baggage delay, lost bags or rental-car damage.
Here are some of the top questions to ask:
- What will you be doing? Before you buy travel insurance you’ll be asked what you’re planning to do. If you’re doing “out of bounds” types of activities – skydiving, whitewater rafting, scuba diving or mountain climbing – you may be ineligible for coverage from basic plans. Look for policies that will cover adventure travel, but if you can’t find one, buy travel insurance anyway. Don’t skip getting insurance altogether. Here’s another thing: If you’re taking a vacation that includes “boarding” activities like skiing, snowboarding and surfing, don’t just assume a basic plan will cover you. I can’t stress this enough: read the fine print before you buy. If your vacation plans don’t match a policy’s coverage, keep looking. (Editor’s note: Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection won’t cover you if you’re flying your own plane, mountain climbing or auto racing. If your vacation includes things that are more dangerous than any of these, contact us to make sure they’re covered. Call us at 844-411-BHTP, email assist@BHTP.com, text us at 40594, or tweet @BHTPAssist.)
- Where are you traveling? While you’ll typically be covered wherever you travel, especially if you’re booking through a travel agency or cruise line, that doesn’t apply to unsafe areas, conflict zones or “excluded areas” – and definitely not to regions or nations on the State Department’s “do not travel to” list. If you’re eager to visit the rarely visited, off-the-beaten-track places, make sure your travel insurance will back you up. (Editor’s note: The list of non-covered destinations changes all the time. If you think your destination is on the list, contact us before you travel.)
- Are there benefits for buying travel insurance early? Usually, the answer to that question is yes. If you want wide coverage for things like pre-existing conditions or terrorism or bankruptcy by your tour operators – including cruise lines and airlines – it usually pays to buy your travel insurance within 24 hours to 21 days of when you make your first payment. (Editor’s note: You have to buy BHTP within 14 days of your first trip payment to be eligible for extra benefits.)
- When does coverage begin? That may sound like an overly obvious question until you think about it. A trip starts when you walk out the door with your suitcase and ends when you get back home, doesn’t it? Well, maybe. While that’s how some insurance plans operate, others may cover you only from the time you arrive at the airport and check luggage to when you reach your final destination – even if there are steps in between, like a bus or a train. You won’t know when coverage starts unless A) you read your policy, B) you ask questions, or C) both. (Editor’s note: BHTP coverage starts at 12:01 a.m. on the scheduled departure date shown on your travel documents, or the date and time when you start your trip.)
- What about pre-existing conditions? According to the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers, the definition of a pre-existing condition is “something that happened (or started to happen) before you bought travel insurance.” Some plans don’t cover pre-existing conditions; others cover them only in part. If you have a medical condition that you don’t declare, the entire policy may be invalid if you decide to make a claim later. If your health concerns you but you want to travel anyway, make sure you’re clear on your policy’s pre-ex coverage before you buy. (Editor’s note: BHTP covers pre-existing conditions if you buy your policy within 14 days of making your first payment on your trip.)
- What if there is a hurricane, earthquake, historic flooding, or other extraordinary weather conditions where I’m traveling? Will my travel insurance cover any losses? When unforeseen weather causes a delay or cancellation of your trip, your policy may reimburse you for nonrefundable expenses for accommodations and other travel expenses, up to the amount of coverage you purchased. In December, when I was traveling from the South of France to Indonesia, I was grounded due to a mistral. This cold, strong northwesterly wind that blows from southern France into the Mediterranean, mostly in winter, caused a massive cancellation of flights and forced me to stay in France for an unplanned extra three days. It wasn’t totally bad – it was France after all – but the extra expenses were definitely unplanned. Fortunately, my travel insurance had my back and reimbursed me for the covered portion of the trip. (Editor’s note: Weather coverage is a key component of BHTP’s ExactCare products.)
- Is there a toll-free number I can call no matter where I am in the world? One of the No. 1 rules I tell people when they’re buying travel insurance is to make sure the company has a 24-hour emergency assistance number for your destination. Then, even though this seems silly or overly simple, ask how to dial it. When you’re in an emergency, you don’t want to worry about how to get someone on the phone without 100 prompts or the necessity of making a collect call. If you break your kneecap and get stuck in a small coastal town on Croatia’s Adriatic Sea (as I did) you want to know that your travel-insurance company will go to bat for you 24/7 starting with that all-important first phone call. (Editor’s note: BHTP offers 24/7/265 workldwide travel assistance via phone, email, text, tweet, and webchat.)
- Who’s underwriting my policy? You’d be surprised at how many travelers never bother doing this, until you remember that this requires looking at a policy. Then it becomes totally understandable. With travel insurance, you get what you pay for. A cheap policy can mean a sketchy company covering the risk and paying out claims. Check out a company’s credentials and ratings by looking them up at A.M. Best. If they’re not rated or poorly rated, move on. (Editor’s Note: BHTP is underwritten via Berkshire Hathaway’s National Indemnity group of insurance companies, which hold financial-strength ratings of A++ from AM Best and AA+ from Standard & Poor’s.)
Here’s the bottom line: If you can’t find enough information about a trip insurer to make you feel comfortable before leaving home, forget it. You have options … like BHTP.
Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, Inc., based in Madison, Wis. Contact her at email@example.com.