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COVID-19: What travel insurance will and won’t cover

Sabri Ben-Achour Mar 3, 2020
Passengers from a flight from South Korea wear protective face masks upon landing at Mexico City's international airport, on Feb. 28, 2020 as COVID-19 spreads worldwide. Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images

COVID-19: What travel insurance will and won’t cover

Sabri Ben-Achour Mar 3, 2020
Passengers from a flight from South Korea wear protective face masks upon landing at Mexico City's international airport, on Feb. 28, 2020 as COVID-19 spreads worldwide. Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images

Spring break is right around the corner. Summer vacation is not that far away. So much uncertainty remains around the new coronavirus and the response to it. A lot of people are questioning their travel plans, and taking a look specifically at travel insurance, which often costs anywhere between 7% and 10% of a trip. What does that insurance cover, and what doesn’t it?

Standard insurance is not much help

The first thing to know is that no standard travel insurance policy will protect you from canceling a trip out of fear.

“Fear of travel is not covered ever by any provider,” said Ronni Kenoian, manager of marketing and ecommerce at InsureMyTrip.com, a travel insurance comparison website. 

Secondly, most standard travel insurance policies — including the ones you get when you book travel with your credit card — will not cover COVID-19 outbreaks.

“In order for a traveler to be eligible for the benefits on an travel insurance policy, the event that impacts their trip has to be specifically listed in their policy under covered events and, unfortunately, viral outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics are not typically listed in a policy,” said Kasara Barto with Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison website. 

According to Kenoian, there’s a chance, albeit a slim one, that some policies would cover coronavirus-related cancellations, if purchased before Jan. 21, 2020. Call your insurance company and ask (this date may vary by provider). 

What exactly does cover coronavirus? 

“If you do want a real policy that will help you recoup your cost you’ve got to get a ‘cancel for any reason’ policy, which generally costs about twice as much as regular travel insurance” said Brian Kelly, founder of the travel website The Points Guy. 

These policies allow you to do just that: cancel for any reason. They’re more expensive and they may only cover between 50% and 75% of your losses.

Squaremouth’s Kasara Barto ran some numbers and has this rough estimate: For a one-week trip for a 45-year-old passenger costing $1,500, a standard travel insurance policy might run around $95 (standard plans usually cost between 7% and 10% of a trip’s cost). A cancel-for-any-reason plan, by contrast, might cost $197.

There are other options

“It never hurts to ask — call the airline, call the hotel company, if you get a compassionate phone rep you may be surprised, so it never hurts to try,” Kelly said.

“The airlines are changing their rules, every day, based on where the outbreaks are happening in terms of free changes, so all hope is not lost. It can be worth it to continue monitoring and, heck, even if your flight doesn’t get canceled, you never know, there could even be a weather storm and your flight gets canceled that day, so don’t give up hope. There may be situations that allow you to get a refund,” he said.

Another option: use miles and hotel points to book travel. “We’ve seen airlines release a lot of award availability. As demand has fallen off a cliff, airlines want to fill those seats even if it’s with frequent flyer miles,” Kelly said. “Usually you can cancel travel booked with points for free, or a nominal fee. So that can be a way of hedging your bets by leveraging your points and not having to depend on an insurance policy.”

What about medical coverage?

A comprehensive standard travel insurance plan should include medical care and evacuation, but you should check to make sure, Kenoian said. If you don’t get a comprehensive plan, you can purchase a specific travel medical plan, or an emergency medical evacuation plan. An emergency evacuation plan won’t cover medical care, but it will get you out of your location in a hurry if you are ill.

“Some credit cards will cover medical evacuation, but in most cases you would need to get the virus in order to get the benefits, not as a preventative measure,” said Kelly.

The same policy that might evacuate you if you get sick might not cover anything if you’re quarantined in a hotel but don’t get the virus.

“I would highly recommend comparing policies,” Kelly said.  

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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