Holiday Travel Insurance Guide 2021: What You Need to Fly, Plans, FAQ - Rolling Stone
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Holiday Travel Insurance Guide: Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’re traveling over the holidays, you may want to consider protecting yourself against travel delays or cancellation

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As 2021 winds down, you may be ready to end the year on a high note: Planning travel to see friends and family to celebrate the holidays.

You’ve purchased airfare, made hotel reservations, and even booked special shows and holiday experiences. Be sure to add one more thing to your holiday to-do list: a comprehensive travel insurance policy that protects your trip investment should you need to cancel your trip unexpectedly or encounter any unforeseen delays or interruptions.

Keep in mind, your travel insurance benefits may also protect your health and your possessions while you travel. So if your luggage takes a detour to the North Pole instead of Aruba, or if you break your ankle ice skating in Oslo, you’re protected.

Related: Compare & Buy Travel Insurance For 2021

Your holidays may be jollier if you hold a travel insurance policy that protects you against these perils:

  • Trip cancellation
  • Trip delay and trip interruption
  • Baggage and personal effects loss
  • Medical expense and emergency evacuation coverage

Holiday Trip Cancellation Insurance

You may be longing for your first trip since the pandemic or just need some respite from your job, but unexpected events can throw a wrench in your plans.

If three days before you’re supposed to meet your sisters in Puerto Rico your roof caves in due to a large storm, you can cancel your trip. You can be reimbursed for financial outlays you will forfeit because you can’t go. If you pre-paid for a hotel in San Juan, or put a deposit down for private car service, you can file a claim for reimbursement.

Acceptable reasons that are covered by many basic  travel insurance policies include illness, injury or death to you, a travel companion or immediate family member; severe weather, national emergencies, a sudden job loss, military orders, a serious family emergency or acts of war.

Not all reasons are covered. For example, if you want to cancel your trip due to a fight with a family member, this is not a covered reason for reimbursement.  If you require the most flexibility to cancel your trip whether it’s due to family discord, fear of travel or just because you just changed your mind, you may want to add cancel-for-any-reason coverage to your travel insurance policy. This gold-standard upgrade will boost the cost of your travel insurance plan by about 40 percent, but will give you liberty to cancel your trip for whatever reason, as long as you cancel no more than two days before your scheduled departure in most cases.

The reimbursement will be about 75 percent of your trip expenses, so long as you meet the requirements outlined in your plan.

Holiday Trip Delays

If you plan to travel to Cancun for your winter vacation, and icy runways delay your flight from Chicago to Miami and then on to Mexico, your plan’s trip delay benefits can kick in to cover any associated costs like a hotel room, meals or some personal care needs until you arrive at the beach. Common covered reasons for reimbursement include inclement weather, airline mechanical issues and other uncontrollable events.

Typically, there are waiting periods between three to 12 hours before your policy benefits begin. Check your policy for waiting times.

As you are preparing to embark on your holiday celebrations, take note of the following situations that may create bumps in your travels. Even though you may miss your flight, or experience other travel hassles, not all problems are covered by travel insurance. Here are some scenarios that wouldn’t be covered:

1. You Miss Your Flight Because You Can’t Get Through Security on Time

Travel insurance provides a safety net for unexpected or unforeseen issues you encounter. Long lines at the TSA checkpoint don’t count. So if you miss your flight to Barbados because you’re stuck waiting to get through security, travel insurance won’t save you.

“Generally speaking, travel insurance products do not include coverage for such a scenario, as huge lines are to be expected at the airport during holiday travel periods,” says Scott Adamski, spokesperson with AIG Travel, which offers travel insurance. “Accordingly, most insurers would consider busy airports and longer wait times to be a “foreseen” travel impediment that doesn’t fall under the covered perils of plans that are designed to protect travelers for events that are out of their control.”

2. You Can’t Find Airport Parking

Pay attention to the messaging guidelines from your airline about arriving early. Expect parking lots to be near capacity. “With this holiday season in particular–after extended families have been waiting for 18 months to see each other–travel could be especially challenging and airlines, TSA and advisors are expecting large crowds at airports and long lines,” says Adamski.

3. Luggage Check-in Is Understaffed

Be sure to leave ample time to park, check luggage, go through security lines and make your way to the gate. Travel insurance won’t reimburse associated expenses if you arrive late to the airport due to poor planning.

“It’s going to be up to the travelers, themselves, to allow sufficient time for those pre-boarding steps, and then the insurance providers will be there to provide coverage for certain travel mishaps that are outside the control of the traveler, such as a plane that’s been grounded because of a snow delay or a lost bag, subject to the terms of the travel insurance policy,” says Adamski.

Trip Interruption During Holiday Travel

If you’re singing Christmas carols with family during your annual vacation in Cabo San Lucas, and you get a call that there was a fire at your business back home, your travel insurance policy will provide a helping hand for covering related expenses for your quick return.

Trip interruption benefits will cover the cost of a last-minute coach seat home, and will reimburse you for any experiences you miss because you cut your trip short. For example, if you pre-paid a holiday concert or a five-course catered dinner, you can file a claim for reimbursement.

Although the benefits of travel insurance are wide-ranging, not all expenses are covered for trip interruption. If you decide you don’t like the food at the resort, or if your daughter complains she’s bored and wants to go home to be with friends, you can’t file a claim for any financial losses.

Related: Compare over 22+ Travel Insurance Companies

Covering Baggage and Possessions During Holiday Trips

Your comprehensive travel insurance plan offers coverage for baggage and personal belongings if they are damaged, lost or stolen. Based on the limits and exclusions of your policy, you can file a claim for reimbursement. So if your checked luggage decides to spend the holidays in Hawaii instead of St. Thomas, you can file a claim with your carrier. In addition, if your GoPro camera gets stolen during an excursion in Costa Rica, your policy also provides financial recourse.

Although travel insurance does provide monetary relief if you experience loss, not all items are covered, as there are per-item maximum limits, and you will typically receive a depreciated value of the item. Your policy will outline reimbursement terms.

For example, the AIG Travel Guard Deluxe plan’s overall limit is $2,500 per person. It has a $500 limit for one item, and once this has been met, additional items are capped at $250, says Adamski.

So, if you lose your iPhone 7 while perusing a Christmas market in Berlin, don’t expect to have the funds to purchase the latest iPhone model.

Additionally, don’t bring expensive jewelry, irreplaceable possessions like your grandfather’s pocket watch, or expect to be reimbursed for cash should you have your wallet stolen. All policies have exclusions, so read the language carefully of your travel insurance policy.

What to Know About Gifts

You may be bringing gifts with you when you travel.  Although it’s nice to arrive with gifts for family and friends, be sure to plan ahead.

“If you’re traveling with gifts, you can expect a shortage of overhead bin storage, which means you’ll have to check your presents into your luggage,” says Lisa Cheng, spokesperson with World Nomads, a global travel insurance carrier.

Also, Cheng warns to make sure gifts are unwrapped in case of customs inspections, and to have paperwork with you in case you need it. “It helps to keep copies of your receipts in case your purchases get lost, stolen or delayed in transit,” she adds.

Be sure to check the exclusions section of your policy to see if there’s anything that won’t be covered. “Antiques, fragile items such as glass, and musical instruments are common exclusions–so think twice before purchasing these items as gifts or checking them into your luggage,” Cheng says.

Medical Expense and Evacuation Coverage During Holiday Escapes

If you are visiting your aunt in Florida for Hanukkah and bang your head in her basement, your U.S. health insurance plan will cover related costs for medical care.

But, if you are leaving the U.S., your domestic health insurance is typically not accepted. Medicare also generally isn’t accepted outside the U.S. Be sure to check with your insurance company about global benefits.

So, if you are celebrating the holidays in the Cayman Islands, travel insurance with medical expense coverage will cover any related expenses.  For example, if you’re kayaking you get hit in the head by an oar, your policy will cover any medical visits, plus your travel insurance carrier can arrange medevac transport to a hospital if you are in a remote location.

Should you want to experience the glory of Christmas at a snowy destination, be sure you confirm that your policy meets your needs.

“Winter sports participants traveling from the U.S. to another country to ski, snowboard or ice-skate over the holidays should make sure they have the right amount of medical expense coverage in their travel insurance plan,” says Adamski. Many plans boast medical coverage of $500,000 per person.

Adamski at AIG Travel says that for those planning to participate in winter sports, a travel insurance policy upgrade for adequate coverage might be well worth consideration. For example, AIG Travel’s Adventure Sports Bundle removes the exclusions for adventure and extreme activities that accompany most policies and is ideally suited for these kinds of trips.

“You don’t want to wait until you crash into a tree when skiing to discover that your plan doesn’t cover adventure sports—that could mean ending up with an unexpected avalanche of medical bills,” says Cheng with World Nomads.

Understanding Responsible Revelry

While you’re away, many feel it’s time to let loose and party hard. Fun is fun, but don’t drink in excess, as irresponsible and negligent belabor can lead to upsetting consequences.

If you’re in Cancun and indulge in too much tequila and cut your arm due to throwing glasses, you likely won’t be covered for medical care.

“At any time–but especially during holidays–travelers should know that travel-related losses resulting from intoxication above the legal limit (at any domestic or international destination) may be excluded from coverage under the travel insurance policy,” Adamski says. “And these legal limits are different from country to country, so travelers must be well-informed if they plan to imbibe while visiting, especially if there are holiday parties or a New Year’s Eve celebration on the itinerary.”

Related: Compare & Buy Travel Insurance For 2021

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