Chronological / Writers' Tips

Travel Safe: A Guide to Purchasing Travel Insurance

Travel is fun, fascinating, and fulfilling for all of us who enjoy adventure, exploring unusual environs, and gaining new understanding of people. With our globe shrinking because of jetliners speed; the comfort of ultra-modern ground transportation, and the added number of cruise liners — at least twelve coming into service in North America this year, opening new portals to us almost as quickly as we can blink an eye — we can reach almost any destination within a matter of hours or days. Thus, we spend a wealth of time seeking knowledgeable travel agents, perusing bright-colored travel brochures, and surfing the web to find incredible and unimagined travel destinations.

Yet, while we engross ourselves in this endeavor, it’s valuable to ponder the financial and emotional consequences a simple fall on a cement sidewalk or an unexpected illness could create while we re far from home? It’s true: accidents and illness are remote possibilities, but if our pursuit of pleasure is interrupted by one or the other, burdens are lifted from our shoulders by the simple act of purchasing a quality travel insurance policy.

Early forms of insurance appeared at the beginnings of society. As early as the third and second millennia BCE, Chinese and Babylonian traders distributed their merchandise among many ships to minimize their losses, should a vessel carrying their wares be lost to the seas. Early Mediterranean merchants, receiving loans to fund their shipments, paid additional funds to lenders, who agreed to cancel their loans should the merchants shipments be lost or stolen.

Today insurance is available to cover almost any mishap. Travel insurance — a billion-dollar industry according to a 2004 study completed on behalf of the US Travel Insurance Association — is among the many types, and the plethora of these policies on the market can be mind-boggling. Presently, more than one hundred different policies are available — all designed to protect you, your family, and the cost of your vacation against almost any calamity. It takes time and patience to understand companies, coverage, and exclusions to make certain you select the policy meeting your exact need. You won’t want unpleasant surprises, should you have to take advantage of the one you purchased.

Did you know that before Sept. 11, just 10 percent of travelers each year insured their travel investment? Since that infamous date, the number of sojourners purchasing policies has risen to 22 percent annually.

With a telephone call or the click of a mouse, you can discern the advantages and disadvantages of each policy. However, this article’s purpose is to make your travel insurance investigation easier, should you desire insurance for a long-awaited adventure.

But first, look closely at your credit-card insurance coverage and your personal and family medical and automobile insurance coverage to learn how well you’re insured so your travel insurance money is wisely spent. The insurance you have through your credit card companies could surprise you, and if you’re a US resident traveling within the 50 states, your own medical insurance might be sufficient. You may, however, want to play it safe and purchase secondary coverage — funds that take over when your insurance ends. If you don’t carry rental car coverage on your personal automobile insurance policy, you may consider including it in any travel insurance policy you purchase.

Do you rely on Medicare for your medical needs? If so, and if you’re traveling outside the United States, you’ll want to give serious thought to buying travel insurance. Medicare does not cover health or accident issues beyond US borders.

Travel insurance, usually costing five to eight percent of your trip expense — and in most cases reimbursing you after you have paid any bills — offers coverage for trip cancellation, trip interruption, travel delays, baggage loss and rental car difficulties. Major benefits are accident and health emergencies; medical evacuation; dismemberment, and accidental death — whether in flight or on other common types of transportation including bus, train, taxi and boat.

Trip cancellation includes coverage for costs you’ve paid in advance for your trip if you must cancel because of the illness or death of you or a family member. Some policies offer reimbursement, should you cancel for any reason. Trip interruption pays if you must cut short your trip for illness or death of you or anyone in your family.

Travel delay includes reimbursement to you for accommodations, meals, and clothing expense should your travel be delayed. Policies vary in the length of the delay necessary for you to file a claim for your out-of-pocket funds.

Baggage and travel document loss — including lost passports — becomes effective if your travel documentation disappears and/or your luggage is lost or stolen while you are in the midst of your venture. Rented vehicle insurance will pay if the car you’ve rented from an agency is damaged or stolen. It may also cover any damage you do to another’s car.

Accident and health emergencies for you and others on your policy are reimbursed. In most cases you must first pay the bill, but you will normally be paid back by your insurer within days.

Medical evacuation reimbursement comes into play if you are injured severely enough or have become too ill to come home in the way you intended. Dismemberment payments normally go to you if — God forbid — you suffer the loss of any of your body parts. Accidental death payments go to either the person or persons you name as beneficiaries on your policy, or to your estate.

All-inclusive policies, in general, cover every one of the above. They should also cover personal items damaged, lost, or stolen wherever you are in your travels. If you can’t leave home without your laptop computer, you’ll want to know the maximum amount an insurer will pay to repair or replace it. In the event you have valuables like your wallet, jewelry, or clothing lost or stolen, either on the street, on public transportation, from your car, or from your hotel room, by all means file a police report. Later, when you replace what disappeared, be certain to keep receipts invaluable documents when you file your claim.

It’s critical for you to be completely aware of the financial limits and exact coverage of each category listed on your policy, including deductibles. If necessary ask an insurer to streamline a policy to meet your needs. — You may be interested to know that in-flight accidents usually pay the most, because they re lower risk, while accidental death at any other time on your trip is considered high risk and often pays the least.

If you’re a frequent traveler abroad, or if you choose to live or work abroad, you may want to consider purchasing a policy with a single annual premium. These policies benefits can include the costs for prescription drugs, visits to physician’s offices, hospital, surgery, ambulance expenses and medical evacuation home. Premiums are age and deductible based. It’s possible to add optional benefits including trip cancellation or curtailment, as well as accidental death to a policy of this nature.

Studying outside your home country? A number of companies offer fairly inexpensive insurance for those with the desire to broaden their knowledge in a different land. Coverage is similar to all-inclusive policies however coverage and amounts vary among providers.

If you don’t purchase an all-inclusive policy, be aware the cost for medical evacuation to your home or to a hospital close to where you live can be prohibitive.

You can purchase this coverage separately; it usually becomes effective if you’re 100 or more miles from home. You can choose to become a member of an organization whose sole responsibility is getting you home safely, should you need their service. Before you decide upon the amount of coverage you d like for this help, you may want to research its cost from where you’ll be to where you’ll want to be if you’re in medical trouble.

A great number of us travel in spite of health issues, therefore pre-existing coverage is a necessity. A pre-existing condition usually means that within 60 days prior to the effective date of your travel insurance policy, you have either received treatment or had treatment recommended for a health condition, and/or you’re taking prescription drugs for an illness or a chronic disease, not completely controlled by medication.

If you have a pre-existing condition, it’s a good idea to research travel insurers before your trip to learn the number of days you have to buy insurance after you make your first trip payment. It’s also prudent to carry a letter from your doctor, and it’s wise to check with foreign embassies of any countries where you’ll travel to make certain your prescription medications are not considered illegal substances within their boundaries.

you’ll want to find out if there are age limits for the type of policy you believe you’ll need; if you’ll have dental coverage; coverage for eyeglasses, and coverage for prescription drugs you use on a regular basis. you’ll also want to know an insurer’s guidelines regarding providing funds for a family member to fly to help, if you or anyone on your policy becomes incapacitated far from home.

Ask about coverage for loss of frequent flyer miles, for earthquake and weather related problems and acts of terrorism. Learn reimbursement procedure if you cancel or interrupt your trip should your home residence become uninhabitable for any reason. The horror of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and, before that, the tsunami of 2004 that inundated so much of Indonesia, bring these considerations to the forefront, as do the terror acts now occurring upon our earth.

In these days of tour company and airline bankruptcies, ask which corporations are not covered for those reasons. At least one company includes a lengthy list of major airlines and tour firms for which it no longer underwrites coverage.

Purchasing insurance through a tour company you plan to travel with, or cruise line on which you plan to sail is not always the best cash expenditure. This coverage may — or may not be — less expensive, your benefits might be fewer, and you probably won’t be protected if the tour company or cruise line becomes insolvent. You could wind up happier if you insure your trip with an independent carrier.

Further, it’s not astute to purchase the least expensive policy you can find because travel insurance is an insignificant investment compared to the expense of your trip. Find an insurer with a top record for offering assistance should you need it. Reputable companies give you telephone numbers for immediate emergency assistance, and their staff can help you find medical personnel who speak your language. Language barriers in an emergency can be a nightmare. Ask, too, for licensed professionals who have received training in your home country — this is extremely important. People from different regions may not react similarly to local medications, which could be deadly.

In an urgent situation you’ll find support from your consulate. Consular officers can help you find medical services, inform family and friends of your dilemma, and aid in transferring your funds from your home bank to where you are.

Finally, a consumer study by the US Travel Insurance Association found that one in six people who purchase travel insurance file some type of claim, sometime. Therefore, be certain to ask potential insurers to show you how well and how quickly they have paid claims. Prompt payment of your claims can go a long way toward saving you from possible financial hardship — or financial ruin.

As one who rarely goes around the block without travel insurance, I consider it a necessity for peace of mind while my family and I traverse unfamiliar territory for respite and relaxation — and I know to carry our travel insurance information with us and to leave a copy, along with our itinerary, on my desk for those close to us who are not traveling with us. Have we filed claims? Occasionally for small losses — except for the one time joy-riders stole our rented car from our hotel as we slept. Did our company agree to pay for the car? Yes, with the utmost courtesy. Fortunately, the car was found intact, and the insurance check never written. May you and your family always have happy travels as you explore our world surrounded by the safety net of travel insurance.

Receiving foreign visitors in your US home? It may be appropriate to suggest they obtain travel insurance to help defray the high cost of American health care, should a medical problem arise.

Insure My Trip: This is an all-inclusive website that offers links to, and comparisons of, the major travel insurance companies and their many plans. Courteous, well-informed agents will answer your most personal and very important questions.

Tel: 800-487-4722

www.insuremytrip.com.

The U.S. Travel Insurance Association has a wealth of information for travelers: www.USTIA.com

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT):

This is a free membership organization that guides members to physicians, specialists, clinics and hospitals in 125 countries, and provides telephone numbers and payment schedules for a member’s first medical visit.

www.iamat.org

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