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What is Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance protects a traveler's vacation cost against cancellation and interruption while also providing medical, lost or damaged property and travel delay coverage. Travelers are reimbursed if they have to cancel or interrupt their travel, they are also covered should the need arise for emergency medical treatment, medical evacuation and a number of other situations.

Travel insurance can be broken down into the following major categories:

Trip Cancellation – Reimburses travelers unable to take their trip due to Illness or death (of the traveler or a family member), weather, airline strikes, terrorism, bankruptcy, becoming unemployed, jury duty or their home being rendered uninhabitable due to fire/flood etc.

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Trip Interruption – Reimburses travelers if they have to cut short their trip due to Illness or death (of the traveler or a family member), weather, airline strikes, terrorism, bankruptcy, becoming unemployed, jury duty or their home being rendered uninhabitable due to fire/flood etc.

Medical/Health – Reimburses medical and emergency dental costs. Almost all travel insurance plans work by reimbursing the traveler after they have paid locally for treatment. Claims are usually paid within 7 to 10 days. Pre-Existing conditions are covered by most policies if the policy is purchased within (at the most) 21 days from the date the traveler made the first trip payment (deposit).

Medical Evacuation – Provides emergency transportation to either a local hospital in the event the traveler is unable to get there by themselves or back to a hospital near the travelers home. If family members are covered on the same policy they can return home also.

Accidental Death – This coverage is split into 3 parts:

Air Flight Accident – Covers death or dismemberment during an air flight only. Usually provides the highest amount of coverage due to a lower risk.

Common Carrier – Covers death or dismemberment while traveling on public transport such as, plane, ferry, train, bus or taxi.

Accidental Death – Covers death or dismemberment at any time on your trip. Usually provides the lowest amount of coverage due to a higher risk.

Travel Delay – Reimburses travelers for hotel, food or clothing expenses in the event of a flight delay. Some plans also cover costs associated with catching up to a cruise should a delay cause the traveler to miss embarkation.

Baggage Loss – Reimburses travelers for lost, stolen or damaged personal items. This coverage is usually for the duration of the trip and not confined to baggage damaged or lost by the airline. There are two policy limits, total claim and per item maximum. Some policies also place limits on the type of items that can be claimed for such as jewelry, laptops and sporting goods.

Rental Car Damage – Reimburses travelers for damage or loss to a rental vehicle. It is designed to allow the traveler to decline CDW (collision damage waiver) coverage offered by the car rental companies. Liability coverage should still be purchased through the car rental company. Rental Car Damage coverage is also often included with the credit card used to pay for the car rental which is often identical to the coverage provided in the policy.

Assistance Services – Provides a 24 hour collect call advice and assistance service to travelers. This service can be used anytime a traveler needs advice.

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How to avoid confusion and questionable practices when buying travel insurance.

The best way to compare travel insurance plans is to visit a comparison website. However, some comparison websites make the process very confusing and some even mislead the unwary.

Make sure you receive an immediate policy number
Look for the ability to purchase on-line or over the phone and immediately receive a policy number along with a PDF printable copy of your policy documentation. The insurance carrier should also send out a hard copy within 10 days unless you have purchased one of the few email only policies.

Some websites are not automated however, they make it look like they are. If you do not receive an immediate policy number then you have ordered from a site that simply holds your data until an operator manually types your order onto the insurance carriers website. You would have been much better off had you done that yourself!

If this happens to you, cancel the policy. An agent is required by law to give you a full refund (minus a small admin fee of around $5) within 10 days of your purchase.

This practice is very dubious for a number of reasons. There are many potential problems such as issues with security, typing errors and privacy. Lets say you place an order the evening before you leave on your vacation. If this is done on a fully automated site then the insurance is in force at midnight. If you placed the same order on a non-automated site the insurance carrier would not know you were covered until someone arrives at the office the next day and gets around to manually typing in your policy by visiting the insurance carriers website and entering your order along with their agency number. Even if they enter your order that day, the policy is not in force until midnight. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing you are not covered and you have already left on your vacation!

Is the agent affiliated with the insurance company?
Call an insurance carrier to check if the website and agent you are using is in-fact an agent of theirs. Some websites show and sell policies for carriers even though they are not agents.
This practice goes hand in hand with the non automation issue above as it is impossible to be fully automated if you are not an agent. The websites that engage in this activity normally have an arrangement with another insurance agent that allows them to enter the other agents number as they manually type in your order.

Is the agent regulated by the Better Business Bureau?
Finally, look for the agent to be regulated by the Better Business Bureau and have a link to see their track record. Call the BBB to check if the agent has received any complaints. Some websites use a sound alike organization. Only the BBB is fully regulated with a bona fide complaints procedure. In other words only trust the Better Business Bureau.

Does the site sell you products you should not be able to buy?
Some websites lack the ability to accurately determine which products you are able to buy. Policies are available or not depending on a number of factors such as the State you live in, the length of time since you made your trip deposit, your age, the number of travelers in your party etc. Websites that engage in this activity either inform you after you have made your purchase, switch products or a combination of both.

Does a site list each plan up to ten times?
Some websites do not allow you to change or select policy options. Options allow you to change benefits such as selecting $500,000 death benefit instead of the $100,000 that comes standard. Most travelers do not change the policy options however, some websites list each plan multiple times as they lack the technology to allow options to be selected by the user. Unfortunately, this makes comparing policies very confusing because you are presented with a single plan 10 times, each with only very minor changes. Look for a site that lists each plan once and allows you to select options. Also make sure that the site remembers you changed that option as you check out different plans. Some websites do not remember the options you changed which means you have to buy the plan you changed before comparing it with other plans or it will re-set to the basic plan as soon as you move away from the policy view.

Does the agent offer a carrier performance guarantee?
Look for a company that will guarantee to get involved on your behalf if you have problems. Travel insurance agents should add value to the purchase otherwise why not buy directly with the insurance carrier?

Does the site rate each benefit and allow you to view all plans for the one benefit you find most important?
Look for a site that rates each benefit within the policy and allows you to easily view a specific benefit for all plans simultaneously. This is important as most travel insurance buyers have one coverage such as medical, evacuation or cancellation that is the driving factor in making that purchase. As most policies are package plans you could easily get lost in the detail of benefits that are included but have no relevance to you so look for the ability to show only the important benefit for all policies and rate that benefit against its competitors.

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