Even in the best of times, any trip can make you nervous. Travelers lean on trip insurance to make sure they won’t get stuck with big medical bills or can recoup costs if things get delayed or canceled.
The rapid spread of coronavirus has amplified that. Now more than ever, travel insurance is in the limelight as would-be travelers worry their trip could be derailed as the virus grows.
But do you really need travel insurance? And if you do, what kind of policy do you need to make sure you don’t get caught holding the bag if you decide to cancel an upcoming trip?
We’ve got you covered with some basics around travel insurance amid this coronavirus outbreak and why you might not need it at all.
Do I Really Need Travel Insurance?
Maybe. That’s up to you.
But when it comes to booking flights, keep in mind that any additional insurance could be redundant. That’s because all major U.S. airlines – and most of the big international carriers – are granting free change or cancellation to many tickets booked through April or even May.
That means you could book a flight today for a trip this summer, fall, or even into 2021 and then cancel if need be, getting a voucher for the value of your ticket. So if coronavirus doesn’t improve in time, you won’t be out a bunch of money.
Read more: Our tips for planning future travel.
Many airlines are also waiving change fees for previously booked travel scheduled for the next month or two. It varies by carrier, so be sure to look up your own airline’s policies. Read our guide to how all airlines are granting these waivers amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Of course, there are other costs to consider like hotel bills. Luckily, many major hotel chains (and even Airbnb) are offering more flexible policies that allow you to book future trips and cancel down the road to get your money back. Read our master guide to the change and cancellation policies for hotels.
Still, travel insurance may be on your mind. Just keep in mind that not just any travel insurance will do.
What Kind of Travel Insurance Do I Need?
This is the key. If you get nervous about the spread of coronavirus and want to cancel to get your money back, not just any policy will do.
With few exceptions, you need a policy with a “cancel for any reason” policy. That’s because a standard trip insurance policy – like those you can add on at check-out directly with the airline – don’t consider the coronavirus a “covered reason” for cancellation. Trip coverage you get from credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve also won’t cut it.
These other, less-comprehensive policies may help cover some costs if your flights are changed or delayed due to the outbreak – as well as medical costs if you contract coronavirus, God forbid. But if you are concerned about traveling and decide to cancel, you need the right policy.
In most cases, you can simply add a “cancel for any reason” clause as an upgrade. Some more comprehensive travel insurance policies just include them in the fine print. And in this situation, you can’t cut corners: You need to read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting.
And as you might have guessed, it doesn’t come cheap. All travel insurance prices are based on the cost of your trip, but adding one of these “cancel for any reason” can raise the cost of your coverage by as much as 30-80% or more.
One more thing: You likely won’t get 100% of your money back. Most travel insurance, like this Travelex policy for an upcoming weeklong trip to the United Kingdom, would get you up to 75% of your nonrefundable costs back.
Still, that’s better than nothing.
When & Where Should I Buy Travel Insurance?
If you’ve decided you need trip insurance, you can’t just wait around.
Most (but not all) travel insurance providers require you to purchase your coverage within seven to 21 days of making your first non-refundable deposit on your trip. That means once you’ve bought your plane tickets, hotel, excursion, the clock is ticking. And that’s especially true for “cancel for any reason” coverage.
When it comes time to buy, use sites like InsureMyTrip.com or Squaremouth.com to search for a policy. These sites are simple and will pull up policies from dozens of different insurance providers. Most importantly, they make it easy to filter your results for a policy that comes with a “cancel for any reason” upgrade.
If you’ve already bought your trip insurance but didn’t include a “cancel for any reason” upgrade, you might be able to go back and add it. But you’d need to do so within the same time window.
How to Book a Trip So You Don’t Need Travel Insurance
While having “cancel for any reason” trip insurance might make you feel more comfortable, it won’t always make sense. If you cancel, you’ll still lose out on some money.
So how can you plan a trip with no risk? It’s becoming easier and easier to do.
As we mentioned, all major airlines are making it easy to book flights that you can cancel or change without a fee. If you eventually choose to cancel, you will get a voucher for the amount of the flight – you’ll only get a cash refund if your airline cancels your flight (or changes it significantly).
That means you should focus on booking with airlines that you’ll easily be able to use toward a future trip, if necessary.
Your flights are covered by the airlines, so the next big expense is accommodations. There are a few ways to go about booking your accommodations with no risk.
- Wait a while to book accommodations. While this may be hard if you’re a planner, you’ll have more certainty that your trip is moving ahead. And remember that with fewer people traveling, you’ll likely have more options even as your trip draws closer.
- Focus on fully refundable accommodations – and this one is easier now than ever. Most major hotel chains are offering full refunds on any reservations paid for in the next several weeks. Airbnb has a new filter that allows you to only search for stays with flexible cancellation policies. And we expect to see more and more consumer-friendly cancellation policies in the coming months.
As for pre-paid tours, just wait to book those until you’re close to your departure date. Use these tips and you won’t be out any money if you need to cancel – and avoid paying extra for a costly insurance policy.
It’s a tough time to think about travel, even in the future. While flight prices are low and getting lower, the fear of coronavirus has introduced an element of uncertainty to any trip. There’s no telling when or where it will stop.
While travel insurance can soothe your nerves and make sure you don’t lose out on an expensive trip, not just any trip insurance policy will do. Follow these guidelines and you’ll be set. And remember you can book a fully-refundable trip without an insurance policy: Airlines and accommodations are giving major flexibility to travelers who want to change plans.