Confessions of an Uninsured Airline Passenger: When is Travel Insurance Needed?

Ash clouds and oil spills and airline strikes – oh my!

Riots in Greece, violence in Mexico, strife in Jamaica – oh my again!

The question is, to go or not to go? And if you do decide to go – should you get travel insurance?

The One Time I Did Buy Travel Insurance

I admit it. I rarely buy any kind of travel insurance before I get on a plane.

One exception: I got insurance for a trip to southeastern Asia earlier this year, but that’s because I’m less familiar with Asia compared to Europe (I’ve traveled to Europe about 30 times in the past decade). So I got medical evacuation insurance, “just in case”. Fortunately, I didn’t need it.

But, only you can determine if you need travel insurance. As you decide, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

Ask Yourself These Seven Questions About Travel Insurance

  • Personal insurance: What do my own policies already cover?
  • Age and health: What’s the likelihood I could run into medical problems?
  • Destination: Do I know how to handle an emergency in the country I’ll visit?
  • Finances: If something happens to cancel/delay/ruin my trip, can I afford a “replacement” trip?
  • Valuables: Will I be bringing any jewelry or even a laptop?
  • Flight problems: What will my airline do for me in the event of a cancelation?

And the most important thing you need to know is, what will any travel insurance policy you’re considering actually cover?

Which Insurance Company is Best?

I do not endorse any insurance company – it’s too personal and individual a matter for that. And frankly, there is no “best insurance company” – the best one is the one that fulfills your needs. That said, I asked the folks at for some general guidelines about buying insurance, and I’m passing along their suggestions.

Again, only you can make this call: to buy or not to buy insurance, and where to get it.

Insurance Guidelines to Ponder

Know what you need: Are you concerned about possible medical problems? Flight cancelations? Or losing valuables? If you’re concerned about all these things, look for a comprehensive policy.

Ask questions: Graham Kingaby of World Nomads Group notes that, “Golden Rule #1 is that if you can’t make sense of anything, always ask questions before you buy.” And let me add, if you can’t get anyone to answer your questions, or answer them in a timely fashion, look elsewhere for a policy.

Know what is not covered: Insurance policies vary greatly on what they will and will not cover, and as Kingaby says, “Most to do not cover cancellation caused by natural disaster.” That could mean anything from storms to tsunamis and even volcanic ash – unless it specifically states that these things are covered. Read the fine and not-so-fine print.

Pre-existing medical conditions: Many policies do not cover this, but if this is a “must” for you, know that you will likely pay more (and maybe a lot more).

Know what your valuables are really worth: How much is that string of pearls or that iPad worth – and can you prove it? You’ll also want to know if your policy will give you “replacement value” and what the deductibles are.

Careful when “partying”: Christina Tunnah of World Nomads points out that, “Everyone loves to party, but note a policy’s treatment of any incidents that result of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.” Many times, such “under the influence incidents” are not covered.

Cover your entire trip: This may sound like common sense, but apparently some travelers will only insure part of a trip, to save money. So why bother?

24 hour hotline: Find a policy (they’re out there) that will allow you to make contact with a human being, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – no matter where you are. You never know when something might happen, or when you’ll have a question.


Published: May 26, 2010