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Travel Insurance for Post-COVID-19 Family Trips

Someday—nobody knows when, but someday—you’ll be able to hop on an airplane with your family and head out, domestically and maybe even to Europe, Asia, or the Caribbean. Under any travel conditions, “normal” or otherwise, you need to consider four main financial risks that family travel insurance can help you avoid:

  1. Loss of nonrefundable prepayments or cancellation penalties if you, another member of your family travel group, or a close family member remaining at home encounters unexpected sickness or accident. This risk is covered by trip-cancellation insurance (TCI)
  2. Extra expenses of an early return if you have to curtail a trip you’ve already started for one of the same reasons you might cancel (TII). Travel insurance policies almost always combine TCI and TII.
  3. Expenses for medical treatment or emergency evacuation if you become sick or suffer an accident in a destination where your regular health insurance or HMO doesn’t provide full coverage.
  4. Expenses of unforeseen delays at any time during your trip.

Travel Insurance and COVID-19

But COVID-19 has changed the ground rules. Travel insurance designed for normal times may not cover all your family’s risks in this pandemic. Almost all family travel insurance provides financial coverage only for unforeseen risks; and, for now, COVID-19 is a foreseeable risk, non unforeseen, just about anywhere. Also, most travel insurance is “named peril” insurance: If a contingency is not specifically included in the fine print as a “covered reason,” the policy doesn’t cover it. And COVID-19 poses some unique risks that are covered by some policies, but not all:

  • Catching COVID-19 at your destination: Standard travel medical policies cover medical costs of getting sick at your destination, but some insurers can deny coverage because catching COVID-19 is not an unforeseen risk. At least one new policy, from Seven Corners, explicitly lists “catching COVID-19” as a covered reason, and some other policies are also specifically covering it.
  • Getting quarantined at your destination: An unexpected 14-day extension of your trip can pose a big financial burden. Some TII policies include “quarantine” as a covered reason; others do not.
  • Cancelling a trip because of an upsurge of COVID-19 at your destination: Many policies don’t cover destination epidemics/pandemics at all as a covered reason to cancel. Some don’t even cover prepaid arrangements when your airline, hotel, or cruiseline cancels before you do. “Cancel for any reason” policies, typically available as extra-cost options, let you, rather than an insurance company bean-counter, decide whether you want to continue or cancel a trip. But those policies generally recover no more than 50% or 75% of your prepayments.

A basic problem with COVID-19 risks is that some insurance fine print hasn’t caught up with the virus, so you can’t rely on an online comparison table to give you the answers. Instead, this is one of those times when you need to buy your insurance through a specialized travel insurance agency and to go over exactly what you need with a qualified agent. Over the years, I’ve recommended Quotewright.com, Squaremouth.com, and InsureMyTrip.com, but there are others, including G1G, Global Travel Insurance, and TravelersMed.com.

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Ed Perkins
Ed Perkins is a longtime consumer advocate and reporter. He spent 25 years in travel research and consulting and was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter. He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004). He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union. Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America,” "The CBS Evening News," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.