What are the best travel insurance companies? That's easy: I list them in my annual Readers' Choice Awards.
The best policies? That's not easy.
And it's a question I get almost daily from my readers: Can I recommend a specific policy? (And with Spring Break just around the corner, I’m getting more than ever.)
This is where consulting a professional can really help -- someone who can carefully consider your needs as a traveler and, based on their knowledge of your itinerary, recommend the best travel protection. A qualified travel agent or insurance broker can help.
But there are things I know that they might not. I have a database filled with consumer complaints and executive contacts that your travel agent doesn't. Plus, I have decades of experience in mediating insurance-related disputes. So I can help you understand the lay of the land before you go shopping for insurance.
First, you might wonder why no one publishes fixed rates for insurance. It's because the price of your policy depends on three factors: your age, the cost of your trip and the length of the journey. In order to get a price quote, you'll need to enter those three, plus your state of residence. Generally, the older you are, the more insurance will cost. There may also be more limits on the policy's coverage. And of course, the longer the trip, the more expensive the insurance.
It's impossible to tell you how much insurance will cost unless you can provide those three details to your agent, broker or insurance company. From there, it gets even more complicated, because you need to compare the kind of coverage each policy would offer based on those criteria. One policy might offer $50,000 of medical coverage, whereas another might only offer $30,000.
An expert can help you review all of those clauses and coverage options, but ultimately you need to identify which aspect of your insurance is the most important, and if you're covered for the right amount. Ultimately, an agent or broker can't really make that determination. Only you can.
It is more a question of the type of insurance policy that works best.
The most common type of insurance is a "named-peril" policy. It allows you to cancel or interrupt your trip if you experience a covered event. Your policy will include a list of covered reasons for cancellation or interruption and will pay you 100 percent of your nonrefundable trip costs when you cancel for one of those reasons. These can include an injury or illness to an insured, a close family member or a traveling companion, among other reasons.
Named-peril policies come in various configurations. For example, Allianz offers policies for domestic, international, car rental and annual coverage.
A second kind of insurance is a "cancel for any reason" policy. It costs a little more than a named-perils policy and covers any kind of cancellation, including those not addressed by basic coverage. You may be reimbursed up to 80 percent of your nonrefundable trip payments and deposits if a trip is canceled for a reason other than a named peril.
But what's the best policy for you? Well, unless I know your age, the length of your trip and how much you paid for it, plus your coverage requirements, I can't answer that. But I can offer some buying advice that will help you get a little closer.
Take your time when you buy insurance.
The worst policies are the ones that you buy thoughtlessly. Don't just click on that little radio button as an add-on to your flight. Don't breeze through your credit card agreement and say to yourself, "I'm covered!" If you don't know what's in it, how can you know if it covers you?
Read before you make a decision.
Yes, travel insurance contracts are dense, but at the very least you should review the summary -- if not the entire thing -- before you buy it. If you don't have the patience to do that, at least work with a travel advisor or broker who does, and can carefully explain what you're getting.
Prioritize your coverage.
Remember the "Worst Case Scenario" book series? You have to basically do that for your trip. What is likely to go wrong? What kind of coverage am I likely to need? The more paranoid you are, the better. Do you have any medical conditions that are likely to flare up? Is the destination known to be dangerous in any way? What are the hospitals like? Is the airline you're flying prone to delays? Imagine all the things that could go sideways and then check to see if they're addressed in your named-perils policy. If they aren't, you might want to spend extra for a cancel-for-any-reason policy.
You're probably wondering what kind of coverage I have. Fair question. I'm on the road 365 days a year, so my policy has to last that long. I bought an annual policy through Allianz, which covers the basics and has helped me on several occasions. It may be the best policy for my family, but if you don't travel as often, you won't need that much insurance. You may not need travel insurance at all. But you owe it to yourself to find out.
After you've left a comment here, let's continue the discussion on my consumer advocacy site or on Twitter, Facebook and Google. I also have a newsletter and you'll definitely want to order my new, amazingly helpful and subversive book called How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle).