Photo: Allianz Partners

8 Things to Consider Before Buying Travel Insurance During a Pandemic

Travel Safety
by Nickolaus Hines Jan 20, 2021

The pandemic has changed the travel insurance industry over the past year. Near the start of 2020, some travelers learned that their insurance didn’t cover their trip and were left taking a loss as borders shut down. Others settled for vouchers or spent hours navigating issues not explicitly laid out in policies.

A year into the pandemic, travel insurance companies have adapted to fit people’s needs during a time when doors can suddenly close without much warning. Rules regarding COVID-19 tests rapidly change depending on cases both domestically and abroad.

“Even less expensive trips may have to be canceled last minute because of unforeseen circumstances (i.e. a covered serious illness or injury of a family member or travel companion),” says Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications at the travel insurance provider Allianz Partners. “Travel delays are also out of your control and can get quite expensive, so you’ll want to make sure you’re covered.”

These are the things to take into consideration when purchasing travel insurance during the pandemic.

1. Consider hotels that offer travel insurance as well

It’s no longer just travel insurance agents who are providing coverage. Resorts like Viva Wyndham provide travel insurance as part of the all-inclusive package, as well as a COVID-19 testing center — an amenity that’s becoming popular among luxury resorts around the world.

Many sectors of the travel industry have adopted a more flexible position, including many major airlines that are getting rid of change fees and, according to analyst Brian O’Connell, some big hotel brands are now more flexible in regard to cancellations.

2. Look for coverage that lets you cancel for any reason

Uncertainty rules many parts of life when the coronavirus is present, and strict travel insurance cancellation policies may mean you won’t get your money back. A Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) upgrade offers the flexibility needed when you simply don’t know what could come up. According to InsureMyTrip, the terms of coverage depend on state-specific policies, but reimbursements for CFAR covered trips could be between 50 and 70 percent of pre-paid, non-refundable trip costs.

“We understand travelers are concerned about this health emergency and want options in the event he or she decides to voluntarily cancel an upcoming trip,” says InsureMyTrip product manager Meghan Walch. “We expect this growing demand for travel insurance to continue to rise until the coronavirus outbreak stabilizes.”

Be sure to read the policy to make sure the coverage spans the areas that you need.

“A common mistake when shopping for travel  insuranc e is assuming that it covers every single situation you may encounter while traveling,” Durazo says. “When purchasing a plan, it’s extremely important to read your policy thoroughly to understand what it covers and doesn’t cover.”

If you’re on the fence about travel insurance, find a plan that gives some wiggle room. Allianz plans, for example, have a 15-day period after purchase to look over the policy as well as temporarily allowing people to cancel their policy for a full refund of their premium or move dates for a rescheduled trip.

3. Plans will be split between those that cover COVID-19 complications and those that don’t

At the start of the pandemic, some travel insurance companies took a hands-off approach to covering anything COVID-19 related. Pandemic clauses kept many people in the US from collecting on claims as far back as February, while a handful of companies created pandemic-specific insurance plans.

“The biggest shift we saw is that travel insurance are skittish about covering anything directly COVID-related,” O’Connell says. “You may see some insurers offer COVID insurance policies, but those policies will come at a higher cost and with fees and condition attached.”

But just like in the early days of the pandemic, there are select insurance providers that offer coverage for cancellations no questions asked — if you opt to pay the price.

4. You might not need CFAR insurance for certain types of travel

Airline cancellation fees were a major issue in spring and early summer as people who made travel plans tried to get their money back when travel restrictions expanded. It became a big enough issue that Congress put forward a bill regarding paying people back for cancellations.

“Travelers now have more options when it comes to travel insurance, as the industry adjusts to handling the COVID-19 pandemic,” says InsureMyTrip director of ecommerce Cheryl Golden. Examples of expanded insurance options include coverage that’s specific to COVID-19 (whether you catch it before or during your trip), quarantine protocols, and job loss due to the pandemic.

The level of medical insurance, however, varies widely.

“Another departure from the norm is medical insurance for travel, especially overseas,” O’Connell says. “With COVID constantly looming, travelers — even vaccines on the way — will want to get decent medical insurance (costs about 5-to-10 percent of the total cost of the trip). That’s especially the case when traveling overseas, where most domestic health insurance plans aren’t accepted.”

5. Consider the full cost of going without medical insurance abroad

“For trips abroad, it’s important to make sure your travel insurance includes emergency  medica l coverage and transportation,” Durazo says. “This is especially important for international travel because most domestic healthcare plans are not accepted out of the country. A plan with emergency  medical  benefits can cover the cost of your medical treatment, arrange care and determine you’re in an appropriate facility. Emergency medical transportation is also important when traveling out of the country. These transports are logistically challenging and can range in cost from $20,000 to more than $100,000.  Medical  evacuation benefits could cover these costs.”

6. Full travel insurance will come with an added cost

“Cost is also a big issue we see travelers overlook when it comes to travel insurance,” O’Connell says. “Since decent travel insurance can cost between 5 and 10 percent of the total trip cost, budgetary concerns will add to traveler’s concerns, even with a vaccine in place. Travelers still need travel insurance, especially in the age of COVID, however. In the current chaotic scenario, insurance that covers trip cancellation, trip delays, and trip medical coverage is almost mandatory for travelers.”

As a result, those who want to and are able to pay the cost will have more opportunities while others may want to wait until there’s a lower chance that plans need to be altered.

7. Prepare for COVID-related health questions

“Carriers are getting more picky, more intrusive, and more selective on what issues they’re covering — especially from a healthcare point of view,” O’Connell says.

With that in mind, expect a lot of health-related forms.

“For instance, you’ll get questions like ‘have you received the vaccine,’ ‘are you traveling internationally,’ ‘are you traveling to a hot zone,’ and ‘what is your age and do you have pre-existing conditions?’” O’Connell says.

8. Think short-term

“Whether you’re traveling domestically or overseas, aim for short-term policies, or purchase insurance that’s trip specific,” O’Connell says. “That’s a good idea if you think there’s a chance you may have to cancel and want your money back. It’s also helpful to know that COVID-19 isn’t normally covered under most travel insurance policies.”

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