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travel insurance coverage

Travel Insurance Coverage: 13 Things Your Policy Won’t Cover


When you purchase travel insurance, it’s not unreasonable to assume that you are, well, insured for all aspects of your trip. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Travelers are frequently frustrated to find that their travel insurance coverage is full of holes — with exclusions that are typically stated in the fine print but nonetheless confusing and sometimes counterintuitive.

For example, trip cancellation insurance doesn’t cover cancellation under every possible circumstance; to qualify for that, you must purchase a “cancel for any reason” add-on.

If there’s ever a time to read the fine print, purchasing travel insurance is it. Don’t take my word for any of the following, or the word of the person selling you the policy, or the sales page of the insurance company’s website — read the contract for yourself. It will be an enlightening experience.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” tends to apply here; less expensive insurance packages typically include less comprehensive coverage.

Below we’ve compiled 13 things travel insurance coverage might not include. For purposes of clarity, most apply to the highest tiers offered by most insurance companies; that is, most of these travel insurance exclusions apply to even the most comprehensive policies. In some cases you can purchase special add-ons to cover these exclusions; ask when purchasing.

1. Losses Due to Pre-Existing Conditions

Travel insurance coverage does not extend to most pre-existing medical conditions, and the definition of “pre-existing” often depends on the timing of when you are diagnosed and when you purchase your travel insurance — with a so-called “look-back period” that is usually 60, 90, or 180 days prior to the day you purchase your insurance.

In short, your travel insurance does not cover losses due to conditions for which there were either symptoms or treatment during the look-back period. You will be covered for losses due to so-called “stable” conditions for which no change in treatment or symptoms has occurred.

Say you’ve had arthritis for several years, with no major flare-ups or medication changes in the past six months. In this case you would likely be covered if you had an intense, debilitating flare-up during your trip. But if you had been having trouble with the condition in the months leading up to your vacation, your trip insurance would be unlikely to cover any losses related to your arthritis unless you purchased a specific add-on.

2. Dental Care

Routine dental care is not included in travel insurance coverage, although dental trauma may be under some circumstances. One policy we reviewed provides coverage only for damage to “sound natural teeth,” for example.

3. Losses Due to Mental or Emotional Disorders

Most travel insurance policies do not cover claims involving psychiatric or emotional disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression. (In rare cases policies may cover these conditions if hospitalization is required.)

4. Travel for Medical Procedures

Most trip insurance will not cover issues that arise for those traveling specifically to get medical treatment (such as procedures available overseas that are not available or are too expensive at home).

5. Pregnancy and Childbirth

If you are pregnant and give birth while traveling, your travel insurance coverage generally will not include childbirth expenses. You might, however, have coverage for complications associated with pregnancy or childbirth. This is one to check carefully in advance if you’re planning to travel while pregnant.

6. Natural Disasters That Begin Before You Purchase Insurance

Trip insurance generally covers losses due to hurricanes or tropical storms, but you must make the purchase before the storm is named. Similar conditions typically apply to other natural disasters; if you buy a policy after a volcano starts erupting, for example, you won’t be covered for any losses related to that volcano’s activity.

7. Risky Activities and Sports

Active travelers, take note: Many travel insurance policies exclude losses due to adventure sports such as bungee jumping, backcountry skiing, snowboarding, rafting, caving, sky diving, scuba diving … you get the idea. Some policies take this even further, applying exemptions for any sports involving bodily contact. (That means your kid’s football tournament might not be covered.) If you’re planning an active vacation, carefully check the terms of your policy before committing.

8. Medical Evacuation

It might seem logical that medical coverage would include the cost of getting you to a place that offers said medical coverage, but that is not always the case. If you range far from reliable medical facilities and might need transport by helicopter, plane, or other unusual method, make sure your policy includes evacuation costs (or buy an add-on).

Note also that evacuation coverage does not guarantee that you’ll be airlifted to your preferred hospital; in most cases, it will be to the nearest credentialed hospital. If you want full-bore evacuation coverage, consider a service like Medjet Assist.

9. Some of Your Favorite Stuff

Baggage delay, damage, and loss policies don’t cover everything in your bags. Common travel insurance exclusions include glasses, hearing aids, dental bridges, tickets, passports, keys, cash, and cell phones. In some cases these items are covered but only up to a certain dollar limit, so if you have multiple expensive electronic items (such as a laptop, a tablet, and a cell phone), you might not have enough coverage to pay for the loss of all such items.

10. Bad Weather

Travel insurance tends not to cover weather that limits your activities on a trip. For example, you’re covered if the weather is bad enough to delay or cancel your flight, but not if it pours during a jungle hike. And unless you bought a “cancel for any reason” rider, you can’t cancel your beach vacation just because the forecast calls for rain and clouds.

11. Flights Purchased with Miles

Most policies do not cover flights purchased with miles or points. They may cover associated fees if you decide to cancel or change an award fare, however.

12. Anything for Which You Lack Documentation

If you don’t have a solid paper trail for all causes and costs involved in your claim, your chances of reimbursement plummet. Keep records like your wallet depends on it.

13. Anything NOT in the List of Covered Items

Travel insurance works largely by inclusion of items specifically noted to be covered, and anything not mentioned is likely not covered. If you have a concern that you don’t see listed in the fine print, contact the travel insurance company to see if you can purchase an appropriate add-on.

What did we skip other important things travel insurance coverage doesn’t include? Let us know in the comments.

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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a biweekly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends — and how they could affect your travel plans.

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