With and Without Travel Insurance

By |2018-11-21T14:03:15+00:00February 24, 2016|Categories: Resources, Travel Tips|Tags: |25 Comments
My Y-San at the hospital where I was stitched up. No insurance, but I was only out about $80.

Mr. Y-San at the hospital where I was stitched up. No travel insurance, but I was only out about $80.

I’m pretty glad I wasn’t hit by a bus in January. I couldn’t even admit this to myself, much less speak it out loud, but both Tom and I were without health insurance for the month. Whew, now we’re covered. Previously, we carried the same medical policies we’d been using at work. But like everyone else, we sat up and paid attention when our premiums went up by 50-60% for 2016. By changing policies we are saving a bundle, and able to stay with our current doctors. (Update: Tom has now been on Medicare for a year, and I’m on the verge.)

We get asked a lot about travel insurance as well as health care. We should have better answers. Both our fathers were in the insurance business, so we’ve been well-insured throughout our lives: homeowners, auto, liability, health care, an umbrella policy, even a life insurance investment.

But travel insurance never seemed too important to us. I gathered that most users wanted insurance for cancelled flights and lost luggage. The way we travel, lost luggage means good-bye to a couple pairs of socks, and a cancelled flight is not the end of a vacation. Maybe travel insurance was for people who had planned and budgeted assiduously for months and months.

But if you go for a time without any safety net, or you have friends who have had to use the emergency evacuation for medical reasons, or you know adventurers who’ve stepped into the wrong foreign land, you start to reconsider.

Now we have travel insurance through Allianz Global Assistance. Shopping for travel insurance can be confusing. We started and stopped several times. But the Allianz policy was, ultimately, easy to navigate. Tom dealt with the legwork and purchase entirely online.

Since buying that policy, Travel Past 50 has received a couple press releases about shopping for travel insurance. Here’s what we can offer in the way of guidance:

The two basic kinds of travel insurance are per trip policies and annual policies. Per trip plans have a maximum number of days, 60 or 90 for example, and will vary depending on your destination. Our trips usually exceed the maximum time periods, so we opted for an annual plan.

Because I’ve been an American Express card holder since forever (back when you visited the American Express offices overseas to cash your travelers checks) I figured American Express Travel Insurance would be the place to start. Plus, they had come through for our Canadian friends who needed medical evacuation.

Not so easy. After multiple attempts searching online, I kept finding that AmEx U.S. wasn’t offering travel insurance. Since then, I’ve heard conflicting things, and I see reviews of their coverage on consumer sites. But at the same time, I keep reaching this dead end: “At this time, American Express is not enrolling any new travelers.”

Our Allianz Global Assistance policy, called the Annual Family Plan, cost about $700 for the two of us. It covers emergency medical and dental, collision/loss damage, travel accident coverage, and emergency evacuation as well as the standard baggage and equipment loss, plus cancellation and delay coverage. (I wish it offered a higher limit for equipment. A limit of $1000 ain’t much.)

Here are two sites which help explain what you can expect from travel insurance:

From ConsumerAffairs.org we see this travel insurance comparison tool. This will teach you quite a bit about the various options, and includes consumer reviews of top insurance companies. If companies participate, Consumer Affairs will facilitate bringing customer complaints to the companies, promoting resolution of the problems.

ConsumerAffairs.org also allows you to compare brands (by rating or reviews) and offers a nice summary of insurance features, helpful for your pre-shopping education.

It is noted on some pages that “American Express Travel Insurance does NOT participate in the ConsumerAffairs accreditation program.” (Some baggage and travel insurance may be included in your credit card membership, but those details are not reviewed here.)

I was hoping (dreaming) that I could enter my details and have this ConsumerAffairs tool spit out the best company and best policy for me. (Companies don’t necessarily all request the same information, though). The essential work of digging up and comparing quotes and coverage is ultimately left to the buyer.

From Australia, we received another shoppers’ resource, billed as the “Ultimate Guide to Travel Insurance” .

One section includes a comprehensive list of insurance brands, with notes on the underwriting company. Elsewhere, with a cutesy little design and cartoon parrot, the ins and outs of travel insurance are explained. While it may seem Australia-centric, worldwide travel is the subject. (And who travels more than the Australians?)

Start here with the six steps to buying insurance. This site does a nice job covering the various buyer types and special circumstances. So whether you are a risk taker or a senior–or a risk-taking senior–you’ll be reminded what to look for in your global travel policy.

Now you are prepared. Good luck, or as we say in theater, break a leg. (Preferably when you are covered by insurance.)

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25 Comments

  1. Robert March 7, 2016 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    Great article and resources on Travel Insurance. I couldn’t imagine traveling without Travel Medical Insurance and cannot believe the amount of people that take a chance traveling without. I have always said. “If you can afford to travel … you can afford travel insurance!” Rob

    • Kristin Henning March 8, 2016 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      Thanks Robert, and it’s nice to be introduced to your blog. I think we’ve seen the light, and will now continue coverage. Hope to meet you, in good health, somewhere along the way.

  2. Julie McCool March 7, 2016 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips. We haven’t purchase travel insurance yet but are considering it. What tipped the scales in Allianz’s favor for you? Any other company come close to getting your business? Thanks again.

    • Kristin Henning March 8, 2016 at 9:31 pm - Reply

      We wanted the annual coverage, and Allianz is generally well-regarded for this type of insurance. The fact that they have a track record and we’d heard good things from others steered us in that direction.

  3. Janice Chung March 7, 2016 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    I can’t believe you went without insurance for one month. I hear so many horror stories about people needed medical assistance and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars when they aren’t covered. The insurance policies are SO wordy and confusing. It takes a lot of time to do research. Great tips.

    • Kristin Henning March 8, 2016 at 9:33 pm - Reply

      Yes, Janice, we are still hearing disturbing stories of liens and exceptions and all the horrors. After the month without medical insurance, I’m still paranoid. I don’t think I’ll be sure of my coverage until I see a doc for my annual. And I hope that’s the only time I see a doctor this year:)

  4. Vicki Winters March 7, 2016 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    That bus thing is no joke. I remember one month when I had that crazy situation of no insurance. Not to start a political revolt or convo here, but I am THRILLED to death that I have insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Thank you, President Obama….

  5. The GypsyNesters March 7, 2016 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    We changed our insurance this year as well, and like you saved a good bit. But we have never bought travel insurance. Knock on wood, never needed it. When small medical issues have come up while traveling we have not had any problems dealing with them in foreign countries. Something major would be a different story no doubt.

    • Kristin Henning March 8, 2016 at 9:36 pm - Reply

      I just wish travel insurance came with a get-out-of-(Heidelberg)-jail card:) !! We too have taken care of many issues oversees by seeing a doctor or pharmacy. That’s another story: how easy and affordable it is everywhere else to address basic health care needs.

      • The GypsyNesters March 9, 2016 at 6:43 am - Reply

        🙂 Good one Kristen! You’re right though, the few times we have had to access health care in other countries it has been much easier… and cheaper.

  6. Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru March 8, 2016 at 2:48 am - Reply

    Ha! On the day I renew our policy for two more months I read this. We had a claims experience I didn’t particularly want to have to repeat, but by default renewed with our current carrier. We’ll look at Allianz next time. $900 per year is a great deal.

  7. Kristin Henning March 8, 2016 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    So do you purchase per trip? I wonder how that ends up comparing in cost to the annual plan.

  8. Like you, the travel insurance that covers occasional travel isn’t really important to us, either. Our big concern was healthcare. We carried travel insurance with IMG while we were full-time travelers and I’m still carrying my policy to cover myself when I travel back to the US. Getting sick in the US without insurance is FRIGHTENING! Now that we’re residents in Portugal we carry private insurance here and my husband dropped his travel insurance since he has Medicare coverage in the US. Insuring against the “what if” is a tricky situation and you’ve covered some important situations. Great tips, Kristin!

    • Kristin Henning March 9, 2016 at 10:48 pm - Reply

      Thanks. I’d love to hear more about your insurance transitions as you live overseas. Isn’t it amazing that illness in the U.S. is now your biggest concern? This makes me wonder if ‘evacuation’ in case of emergency shouldn’t be to … I don’t know … Portugal? Canada? Columbia? haha, oh dear.

  9. Sand In My Suitcase March 9, 2016 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    Gulp – hate to be without health insurance for a month! Anyway, with travel medical insurance – that’s essential! Especially if traveling through the U.S., where medical care is so expensive. If you have a particular VISA Gold card, that supplies good coverage up to 30 days away at a time – but drops off to 7 days once you hit 65. As well as our travel medical insurance, we also have MedJet, which will fly us back to our home hospital in a private plane if necessary – we’ve read some stories where your air ambulance support through your travel medical insurance doesn’t kick in during certain circumstances (e.g., you have to be able to sit up for take-off and landing in a commercial plane). It’s a complicated issue! But no doubt you feel much better with your new Allianz insurance :-).

    • Kristin Henning March 9, 2016 at 10:52 pm - Reply

      That’s good information, Janice and George. Just to clarify, are you Canadian? Thanks for adding the MedJet information!

  10. Denis Gagnon March 10, 2016 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    Very informative and helpful article. By the way, I do have American Express Travel Insurance, perhaps because I have had an Amex card for even longer than you (since 1972 to be exact). Also, for whatever it’s worth, I have compared the Alliianz coverage with the Chartis coverage some time back and have been using Chartis ever since (in addition to my Amex insurance). I guess I should write a posting to explain why!!! Thanks for a great posting!

    • Kristin Henning March 10, 2016 at 4:43 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Denis. I’m intrigued that you use multiple policies, and will stay tuned to hear more.

  11. Carole Terwilliger Meyers March 10, 2016 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Buying travel insurance is definitely a confusing topic. Perhaps your “six steps to buying insurance” was the item I found most helpful.

  12. alison March 11, 2016 at 10:51 am - Reply

    I can almost hear your sigh of relief when you got back on medical coverage. Like you both, my Dad was in insurance and I always felt like we were overinsured-that is until you have a problem. My husband and I have been self employed all our adult lives and that nut has gotten tougher and tougher to swallow. UG! I usually roll the dice and only insure international travel using TravelEx. They were fast and complete the two times I’ve had to file a claim. Have been thinking about an annual policy, so your post is timely for me. Thanks for all the info.

  13. Kay Dougherty March 11, 2016 at 11:36 am - Reply

    I went through losing my COBRA coverage and having to get insurance on my own and it hasn’t been fun! I had a month where I thought I wasn’t covered but it turned out I had been but luckily hadn’t needed it. I never travel without medical insurance and also have MedJet for evacuation to the hospital of my choice – not the insurers’ – an important point to me. I think I’ll check out one of those annual travel plans that you and Tom got. I’m tired of buying it per trip but never travel without medical insurance. And my sister has learned that even when you do get Medicare it doesn’t cover any costs outside of the U.S.

    • Kristin Henning March 11, 2016 at 11:57 am - Reply

      I hope losing your COBRA in the end meant cost savings for you. But yeah, I would think with the amount you travel that the annual plan would be easier and more cost effective. Healthy travels!

  14. Leyla Giray Alyanak March 13, 2016 at 10:13 am - Reply

    I still use World Nomads but in three years I’ll be past the age of coverage and will have to shop for new options… that said I’d be so stressed if I traveled without insurance that I’d probably stay home. I’m, how shall I say, a ‘regular’ user. I’ve ended up in hospital a few times during my travels and one particular stay was well into the five figures – that would have been a disaster had I not had insurance. For me travel without it is unthinkable.

  15. Kristin Henning March 25, 2016 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Glad to hear you’ve been covered, but sorry to hear you’ve had to rely on the insurance so frequently! Stay healthy and safe. I’ve now joined you in committing to never leaving home without the insurance in place.

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