As Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida (with others to follow this season), first of all, stay safe! And once you are safe, if you’re a visitor to the storm zone you might well be considering travel insurance to cover your expenses from the trip.
But what kind of insurance? There’s a variety of types, and the type you get may determine whether you’re covered and how much.
One of the most important factors is timing. “Once a storm is named, it’s too late to buy travel insurance to cover it,” says Dan Durazo, director of communications for travel insurance provider Allianz. Irma, for example, received her name on August 30. At that point she became what insurers call a foreseeable event, and policies purchased after that wouldn’t cover losses due to the storm. That’s why Durazo advises buying travel insurance as soon as possible.
So does Chris Carnicelli, CEO of insurer Generali Global Assistance. “Travelers should always be aware of the possibility of weather-related events affecting their vacation plans.” This seems to be all the more relevant as weather patterns get more severe and the timing more erratic.
Then there’s the question of what travel insurance actually covers. Depending on the plan, benefits might include coverage for transportation, emergency assistance, concierge services, reimbursement for medical and dental expenses, and 24-hour assistance call centers. Some plans cover a percentage of your loss or stipulate that you must cancel within a certain time period, so it’s important to check the terms and conditions before buying.
Broadly, travel insurance coverage applies to three major scenarios: your trip being canceled completely, interrupted after you’ve left or delayed due to storms.
Trip Cancellation. This type of insurance, Durazo says, enables you to “cancel your trip so you don’t have to endure a disaster.” Customers “receive a refund for their pre-paid, non-refundable expenses” such as flights, tours and hotel rooms. The refund typically kicks in if:
- the travel provider suspends services for 24 hours or more,
- the customer’s home or destination become uninhabitable, or
- extended travel delays make the trip impossible.
Trip Interruption. Insurers offer a variety of plans in case a trip has to be cut short once it starts. Carnicelli says that typical benefits include “unused, non-refundable, pre-paid trip costs [plus] reimbursement for additional transportation costs incurred to travel home or rejoin a group.”
Trip Delay. If your trip is delayed but you can still go eventually, Durazo says, “Travel delay benefits will cover reasonable costs incurred for meals, lodging and transportation.”
Some insurance companies also offer “cancel for any reason” policies, which applies to conditions not laid out in most travel insurance, up to and including that you simply changed your mind. In exchange for that flexibility, these policies usually come at a significant markup from those with fewer exceptions.
“Problems happen more often than you think,” Carnicelli says. “One in six U.S. adults reported having to cut a trip short or change travel plans.” He cites U.S. Travel Association statistics that only 22 percent of those impacted had travel insurance.
With kind thanks to Forbes.com for this insightful article.