When do you need travel insurance? I suggest that you consider two important coverages:
-- You probably need medical insurance if your regular health insurance doesn't cover you adequately when you're out of the United States. That includes everybody on Medicare and many others.
John Cook, President of Quotewright, a leading online travel insurance agency (www.quotewright.com), recently distributed his checklist of travel insurance "resolutions" for 2012, which I find generally appropriate. In sum, Cook says (with a few of my personal tweaks):
-- Make sure that you buy your insurance early enough to get a "waiver for pre-existing medical conditions." That waiver generally avoids hassles about whether or not an ongoing medical problem qualifies for coverage; typically, you have to buy the insurance within 10 days or so of the time you make your first payments.
-- Shop around for the best deal -- you can find 300 percent differences among policies with essentially the same coverage.
-- Make sure you understand the fine print. Most TCI policies cover only "perils" that are specifically "named" in the fine print, and often events like civil unrest are not covered. Specifically, most policies no not cover cancellation unless and until a named peril actually occurs: You can't cancel just because you anticipate a problem or feel uneasy about a destination.
-- Avoid "opt out" insurance that a tour operator, cruise line, or airline may offer, don't automatically accept the first policy that a travel agent offers, and don't accept "waivers" instead of real insurance. You could well overpay or face inadequate coverage. Instead, see "shop around," above.
To those sound recommendations, I add four of my own:
-- If you don't have expensive prepayments that are nonrefundable or carry a big cancellation penalty, you probably don't need TCI, so buying it is probably a waste of money. As long as you can get your money back, you don't need to insure it -- especially since any insurer will demand you get all available refunds before they pay anything.
-- Unless the price is prohibitive, buy TCI that includes a "cancel for any reason" provision. If a more typical policy doesn't specify "civil unrest" as a "named peril," for example, the policy wouldn't cover you if you decided to cancel a trip to Greece because you're worried about street demonstrations. "Any reason" coverage means you make the go/no go decision, not an insurance company bean counter.
-- If you need medical insurance, get a policy that provides primary coverage. Primary means the insurance company pays all the costs, up front, not just what you can't first recover from your other medical insurance. Even travelers with regular health insurance often buy primary travel medical to avoid the problem of having to pay a big bill on the spot, then go through a drawn-out claims process after they return.
-- Consider minor coverages -- personal property, lost baggage, delayed baggage, delay expenses, and such -- as a plus when they're included in a good bundled TCI or medical program. But they often duplicate coverages you have from other sources so don't pay extra for them.
Quotewright is one of several online insurance comparison sites and sales agencies I recommend. They all work in about the same way: Enter your trip and personal details, specify what kinds of coverages you need, and the site pops up a comprehensive list of available policies, with prices. Other good comparison sites include 1Travelinsurance (www.1travelinsurance.com), G1G (www.g1g.com), InsureMyTrip.com (www.insuremytrip.com), Squaremouth (www.quotetravelinsurance.com) and Total Travel Insurance (www.totaltravelinsurance.com).
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through www.mybusinesstravel.com or www.amazon.com