This is what travel insurance covers — and what it doesn’t cover

This is what travel insurance covers

Think your travel insurance policy will protect your trip? You might want to think again. Travel insurance doesn’t cover everything. Truth be told, it might not cover anything.

The list of exclusions is long and includes everything from pregnancy to scuba diving. When you buy travel insurance, it’s important to make sure you understand what it does — and doesn’t — cover. Don’t wait until the last minute to review your policy. By then, it may be too late.

Travel insurance didn’t cover her

Consider what happened to Jen Coburn recently when she booked a flight from San Diego to New York on American Airlines. At the end of the transaction, the airline made a high-pressure pitch for travel insurance: It asked her to choose between “protecting” her trip with insurance or leaving her trip “unprotected.”

“I knew my plans might change, so I bought the insurance,” says Coburn, a book publicist from San Diego.

Later, when she canceled her plans, she discovered that she wasn’t covered by the insurance. “They said that I was only covered for a ludicrously few extreme circumstances. The most laughable one was if the airline canceled my flight,” she says. “Yeah, if the airline cancels the flight, I definitely get my money back without the stupid insurance.”

Airlines that sell travel insurance disclose the terms online, but they’re easy to ignore. The coverage was in the fine print,” Coburn concedes, “but I felt duped.”

People don’t understand how travel insurance works

Part of the problem, says Michael McCloskey, an associate professor at Temple University’s business school, is that consumers don’t understand how insurance works. Most travel insurance, he says, is the “named perils” variety, which is to say it covers only what’s named in the policy.

But travel insurance companies often oversell the benefits when they promote their policies, promising that insurance will “protect” your vacation. In fact, travel insurance only protects what the fine print says it protects.

What travel insurance doesn’t cover

Among the most notable exclusions:

Preexisting medical conditions

This is perhaps the biggest gotcha when it comes to exclusions. If you have a medical condition before you buy a policy, and it flares up before or during your trip, your policy may be worthless. Some insurance companies offer a waiver of the preexisting condition exclusion, but only if you buy trip insurance within a specified number of days from the date you pay your initial trip deposit. However, more insurance companies are now offering coverage for preexisting conditions, says PK Rao, president of INF Visitor Care, a travel insurance firm. “As preexisting conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes become more prevalent, there’s more demand for coverage,” he says.


Travel insurance almost never covers childbirth. Some travel insurance companies offer plans that cover pregnancy-related complications, but they’re limited to 26 weeks’ gestation and have lower dollar amounts than typical medical-emergency coverage. The bottom line is, if you’re traveling while pregnant, don’t count on traditional travel insurance to pay for pregnancy-related medical care.

Mental illness

Travel policies typically don’t cover mental illness. That includes canceling your flight because you’re afraid of flying or you’re anxious about your safety at your destination. Most travel insurance companies summarily dismiss those claims. The fix is to buy “cancel for any reason” coverage. “A trip can be canceled and policy paid out should a traveler fall into depression or need to tend to their anxiety,” says Maxime Croll, Maxime Croll, who heads up the insurance research division at, a consumer finance website.

High-risk activities

Most travel insurance doesn’t cover high-risk activities such as scuba diving, bungee jumping or even zip-lining. Sheryl Hill, the executive director of Depart Smart, a nonprofit group that promotes travel safety, remembers the case of a traveler injured while zip-lining in Mexico. “He awoke in a hospital in a leg cast with purple toes,” she says. His travel insurance wouldn’t pay for medical evacuation because zip-lining wasn’t covered, so he booked a commercial flight back to the United States, delaying his treatment. Doctors could not save his leg.

Is there a way to avoid this?

There’s so much more that traditional travel insurance policies don’t cover that it wouldn’t fit in a single column. But there’s one workaround.

“You can buy ‘cancel-for-any-reason’ coverage, which does exactly what it says,” says Steve Pritchard, the founder of, an insurance comparison site. “This extra coverage can be extremely helpful in protecting you from having to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances. It also gives you the flexibility to cancel your trip should you realize that the trip is no longer to your tastes or is no longer feasible financially.”

Bear in mind, though, that a cancel-for-any-reason policy is more expensive and comes with significant restrictions. This type of policy can set you back about 10 percent of your trip’s prepaid, nonrefundable cost, compared with 4 to 8 percent for a named-perils policy. And with a cancel-for-any-reason policy, you don’t get a full refund, but from 50 to 75 percent of the cost of your trip.

All of which brings us to the biggest mistake travelers make when they buy insurance. They get the timing wrong. The time to think about insurance is before you book your vacation. You usually have from one to two weeks after booking your vacation to buy insurance.

You also need to read the policy before you buy it, not when you sit down to file a claim. Most travel insurance companies offer a “free look” period of up to two weeks: Change your mind about the policy, and you can get a full refund.

If you read the fine print, you can avoid some of the gotchas. Otherwise, you could discover that your policy is worthless.

Posted in The Navigator Tagged , , , , , ,

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

%d bloggers like this: