With the rapid rise in reported cases of coronavirus around the world, travelers are reconsidering their 2020 vacation plans. For many, that means canceling trips. For others, it means looking into travel insurance.
“We’ve seen a huge spike in travel insurance purchases and call volume since the outbreak,” Jason Schreier, CEO of April Travel Protection, told HuffPost. “As awful as it sounds, when these kinds of things happen around the world, it absolutely is a boost to our business.”
Travel insurance can be a useful resource if you face a health emergency, such as contracting coronavirus, during a trip. If you are quarantined or fall ill, your standard trip cancellation or interruption policy should cover any nonrefundable expenses that result. Traditional travel insurance plans also cover emergency medical expenses and medical evacuations home.
But what if you haven’t taken your trip yet and are thinking about canceling because of fears about coronavirus? Will insurance cover that? And what kind of insurance should you buy if you’re booking upcoming travel now? What can travel insurance do in the face of a global health crisis?
HuffPost spoke to industry experts to find out the good and not-so-good news about travel insurance and trip cancellation coverage amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Most Policies Won’t Cover Epidemic Concerns
While travel insurance may pay for hospitalization or quarantine interruptions, standard plans generally don’t cover preemptive trip cancellations based on concerns about an epidemic.
Say you purchased a basic cancellation policy when you booked a trip to Italy. If you decide to call off your vacation because you’re worried about contracting COVID-19, you probably won’t be eligible for coverage and will have to pay the cancellation fees and nonrefundable costs yourself.
This typically applies even if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues an official travel alert.
“Almost every travel insurance policy I’m aware of excludes epidemics and pandemics,” Schreier said. “The one thing insurance companies are most scared of is concentrated exposure. An epidemic or pandemic by nature could put these companies out of business if they had to pay out millions of dollars for millions of policies.”
If your January trip was affected by the coronavirus outbreak, you may still be eligible for some reimbursement. As an Allianz Travel Insurance advisory notes, “Customers whose plan includes the Epidemic exclusion may still have coverage for a covered loss occurring on or prior to February 3, 2020.”
‘Cancel For Any Reason’ Plans Can Help You
Although standard plans don’t cover you if you cancel a trip due to coronavirus fears, there is a more expensive option that will. And it has a pretty straightforward name.
“[U]nless a travel insurance company has stated otherwise, you can certainly cancel a trip out of fear of contracting the virus if you select this optional benefit.”
“Since the outbreak, InsureMyTrip reports a 60% increase in travel insurance policies sold with a ‘cancel for any reason’ benefit,” Meghan Walch, a product manager at the travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip, told HuffPost.
“Cancel for any reason is designed to give travelers the option to cancel a trip for ‘any reason,’” she explained. “So, unless a travel insurance company has stated otherwise, you can certainly cancel a trip out of fear of contracting the virus if you select this optional benefit.”
But There Are Restrictions
There are still some limitations on travel insurance plans with a CFAR option. For starters, they’re much more expensive, which can be prohibitive.
“The challenge in CFAR is it may only be available to a narrow slice of the traveling market. CFAR tends to be an optional upgrade in the more premium plans. It may cost another 30% to 60% of the base price,” said Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com.
With CFAR, you usually have to insure the entire cost of the trip rather than certain elements. Another restriction is that you have to purchase your policy within a set time frame ― usually 7 to 21 days ― from your initial trip deposit.
If you do choose to cancel the trip, you may have to do so at least 48 hours before the departure date in order to qualify for reimbursement. Most versions of CFAR plans also reimburse travelers for only 50% to 75% of their prepaid nonrefundable trip cost.
Additionally, there’s bad news for residents of New York: You can’t buy CFAR travel insurance. The New York State Department of Financial Services, which regulates the insurance industry, does not deem CFAR to be actual insurance because it “allows the purchaser to control the event that would lead to payment.” Thus, the state does not permit the sale of that benefit.
Ultimately, it’s important to examine your chosen policy in advance to get a sense of any requirements or restrictions.
“I always recommend people read the fine print to make sure they know what they’re buying,” said Charles Leocha, president and co-founder of the consumer advocacy group Travelers United. If anything is unclear, you can also call the insurer’s customer service line with questions.
Credit Card Travel Insurance Probably Won’t Help
Several credit cards offer trip cancellation and interruption insurance as a benefit when you charge travel expenses to your card or account’s rewards program. Examples include select American Express and Chase cards, including Amex Platinum, Delta SkyMiles Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve.
But as with standard travel insurance policies, concerns about the coronavirus epidemic and travel advisories do not appear to qualify as covered losses.
In fact, Chase’s policy explicitly excludes “your disinclination to travel due to an epidemic or pandemic” as a grounds for canceled trip reimbursement. (Quarantine “due to health reasons by a competent governmental authority having jurisdiction” is covered, however.)
“Coronavirus has created a smoky gray area in a lot of these cases.”
The American Express trip cancellation benefit description states that cardholders may be reimbursed “if a Physician advises the Eligible Traveler that a Covered Trip is medically inadvisable.”
There Are Other Measures You Can Take
Even if you don’t have CFAR insurance, there are ways to cut down on the costs of a canceled trip.
“With airfare, there’s a big price difference between getting a totally refundable ticket and nonrefundable ticket, but that’s not usually the case with the rest of your travel plans,” Leocha said.
Consider booking refundable hotel accommodations, which often don’t cost too much more than nonrefundable rooms. The same can apply to car rentals, restaurant reservations and other activities.
Even if you have a nonrefundable booking, try calling customer service anyway to see if they’re making an exception for coronavirus. Airlines and other travel services may offer reimbursement, waivers or credits.
“Coronavirus has created a smoky gray area in a lot of these cases,” Sandberg said.
Alternatively, it could be worth rescheduling, rerouting a flight or adding a second destination within your original trip.
You may also want to hold off on booking flights and other expensive travel elements until there’s more concrete information available about the coronavirus epidemic.
“With how things are looking right now, it seems like airfares aren’t jumping too dramatically,” said Leocha. “So if you’re really concerned, I would say wait.”