What You Need to Know About Credit Card Travel Insurance
What does credit card travel insurance cover? How does it work? And what are some credit cards that offer trip protection? Start to unravel the complexities in this beginner’s guide.
Whether your flight was delayed or your trip was derailed by COVID, you could recoup some of your costs with insurance provided by travel credit cards.
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Travel can be fun and exciting, but many things can go wrong on a trip. There are flight cancellations and delays, lost luggage, and even the dreadful reality of contracting COVID away from home. Investing in travel insurance can alleviate the fear of such situations. But sometimes protections offered by travel insurance companies are ones that you already get for free from your credit card.
You read correctly. Just by charging travel to your credit card, you may be entitled to coverage that you never knew you had. As with third-party travel insurance—and basically any insurance for that matter—so many terms and conditions apply, there are rules after rules, and COVID reimbursements are a tricky topic.
The subject of credit card travel insurance is very complicated—way too complicated for a single article—yet the basics are worth knowing before booking your next trip.
What is travel protection on a credit card?
Most—but not all—credit cards provide several implicit travel insurances as benefits for being a cardholder. These insurances usually kick in when charging travel to the credit card or using points for travel through a credit card’s loyalty program. Said travel insurances are collectively referred to as travel protections in credit card literature. Typically, when searching for the travel coverages your credit card provides, you will find them lumped under a banner or heading labeled “Travel Protections.”
What does your credit card travel insurance cover?
Some of the best travel credit cards provide travel insurance as part of their regular benefits. Some do not. Depending on the credit card, you may be entitled to some compensation under the following insurances:
- Emergency Evacuation & Transportation: If you become ill on your trip and require medical evacuation and treatment
- Trip Interruption and Cancellation: If you need to cancel or cut short your trip due to specific unforeseen circumstances
- Emergency Medical and Dental Benefit: If you require emergency medical or dental services during a covered trip
- Trip Accident Insurance: If you are severely injured, maimed, or–eek–die on your trip
- Trip Delay: If your common carrier is delayed more than a specified number of hours
- Delayed Baggage: If your bags arrive late, beyond a specified number of hours
- Lost Baggage: If your bags are deemed lost for good
- Rental Car Insurance: If you rent a car more than a specified number of miles away from your domicile and experience theft or damage to the rental car that you did not cause
Again, it’s important to note that not all cards with travel insurance include all these coverages. Each is different. Moreover, if you buy third-party travel insurance, it may or may not include specific protections (and covered reasons) that you don’t already get with your credit card.
What credit cards come with travel insurance?
Remember those pamphlets that arrived in the mail when you received your credit card, the ones you threw in the recycling bin? Likely within that paperwork was a handy “Guide to Benefits” that detailed the travel insurances of your credit card. Thankfully, most of this information can still be retrieved online when logging into your credit card account or even doing a simple Google search.
In the most general sense, every credit card is unique in its benefits—and that includes travel insurances. Some cards like the Citi Premier® Card, which ranks best in class for extended warranty protection on shopping purchases and is great for earning points on travel, comes with zero travel protections. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Chase Sapphire Reserve® has the most comprehensive suite of travel protections, ranging from Medevac insurance to rental car insurance as primary coverage.
Below is a chart of six popular travel credit cards and the insurances they do and do not provide.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
American Express® Gold Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Capital One Venture X Rewards Card
Within each box of this chart lies more layers of complexity. Often, you are entitled to itemized coverages only under specific circumstances known as “covered reasons.” Moreover, several cards may offer the same protection, say “Trip Delay Protection,” but each may define a delay differently (i.e., 6 hours vs. 12 hours) and then may cap reimbursements at different amounts. Similarly, while some rental car insurance policies like the Chase Sapphire Reserve offer primary coverage, others offer only secondary coverage (meaning, you’d need to go through your own regular car insurance first). On top of that, travel to specific countries may be excluded under some policies.
All this to say, read the fine print!
Where does COVID related coverage fit into credit card travel insurance?
To start, your credit card travel insurance is not an umbrella policy for COVID-related expenses. But you can find some COVID coverage within the Trip Cancellation & Interruption policies of select cards.
In the most general sense, if you decide to cancel your trip because of COVID (or civil unrest—another big topic nowadays), you will not be covered. Even the most generous of travel insurance-promoting credit cards, Chase Sapphire Reserve, states in its Guide to Benefits that “your disinclination to travel due to an epidemic or pandemic” is not covered by its Trip Cancellation & Interruption policies.
However, should you get sick while traveling, some coverage may kick in. Again, this will require reading through the fine print of your specific credit card’s Guide to Benefits. Within the Trip Cancellation & Interruption policies of Chase Sapphire Reserve, it states, “quarantine of you or your travel companion imposed by a physician or by a competent governmental authority having jurisdiction, due to health reasons,” is a covered event while the guide for The Platinum Card® from American Express (see rates and fees) states, “quarantine imposed by a physician for health reasons” is also a covered event. What may be covered (if and when documented properly) is any prepaid trip expense charged to the credit card that you are unable to fulfill due to your illness. That means things like changing your flight home or a refund for the part of your trip/hotel stay missed after testing positive and having to quarantine. That said, neither card will pay for your expenses to stay in a hotel to recover from COVID.
Credit card travel insurance is complicated, and policies differ by card. However, it’s worth deciphering your card’s coverages to know exactly what you’re entitled to as a cardholder before booking your next trip–and to avoid redundant third-party travel insurance.
While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.
Paul Rubio is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer. His byline appears in AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, LUXURY, MSN, NerdWallet, Palm Beach Illustrated, Yahoo Lifestyle and more. He has visited 133 countries (and counting) over the past 20 years and won 27 national awards for his writing and photography. When he’s not plotting out his next trip, Paul loves to spend time at home watching reruns of Portlandia and Parks and Recreation with his husband and rescue dog, Camo.
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Some credit cards offer good travel insurance benefits, and some cards offer little to no benefits. It is a worthwhile investment of time to research what is covered before purchasing a separate trip insurance policy.
Travel Accident Insurance
At first glance, this may seem like a form of coverage for a broken arm or a moderate laceration. However, it is more similar to life insurance and typically only covers death or dismemberment. In the event of accidental death on a plane, bus or train that was paid for with the credit card, the survivors of the cardholder receive the full benefit. Only a partial benefit is awarded for dismemberment of digits or limbs. For this reason, medical travel insurance is still a must.
Trip Cancellation Insurance
If a trip must be cancelled due to an illness or unforeseen event, the non-refundable costs of the trip may be refunded by the credit card company if the expenses were paid for with the card. Cancellations due to preexisting medical conditions are excluded, and only about 15 percent of credit cards offer any form of trip cancellation coverage. Preexisting condition coverage is a wise investment for people with chronic illnesses.
Lost Luggage Insurance
When luggage is lost and the airline will not provide adequate compensation, a credit card company will provide up to a certain amount if the flight was booked using the credit card. This is a great benefit for people who do not have home or renter’s insurance. Always read the fine print with this coverage. Many items from glasses and hearing aids to skis and tennis rackets are often excluded. Additional trip insurance with baggage coverage is a good investment in such an instance.
Rental Car Insurance
Rental car companies often charge upward of $30 per day for collision insurance. Their limit is usually about $35,000. Credit card companies may provide some limited protection for repairs after a collision. Many travel insurance policies offer a more generous coverage limit for about half of the price charged by rental car companies. This is good for anyone who does not have personal auto insurance that covers rental cars.
Credit card companies may also cover lost or destroyed cell phones. Check to see what is covered and excluded. When buying separate travel insurance, choose a plan that covers what the credit card company excludes or lacks.
How does travel insurance work on a credit card?
Credit card travel insurance protects you from some unforeseen circumstances that may disrupt your travel plans. If your credit card includes travel insurance, you may be reimbursed if your travel is affected by weather, health issues or certain kinds of emergencies outside your control.
Typically, credit card travel insurance only covers the expenses that you charge to that specific card. And because different cards have different travel insurance policies, it’s important to read the fine print in your card’s terms and conditions to understand your coverage levels.
What is travel insurance?
Travel insurance provides protection for expenses associated with travel, both domestic and international. Travel insurance may reimburse you if your trip gets cancelled, delayed or interrupted–or if you have to pay medical costs that your primary health insurance can’t cover.
Travel insurance benefits can be broken down into a few different categories:
- Trip cancellation insurance may reimburse you if your pre-booked, non-refundable flight (that was booked with the same credit card) is cancelled under unforeseen circumstances, such as injury or if your flight is cancelled due to weather conditions or other.
- Your credit card’s trip cancellation insurance may reimburse you for prepaid flights and hotel stays booked with your credit card.
- Trip interruption insurance (for trips that end earlier than planned) may cover expenses like the cost of a last-minute flight home. In most cases, only the part of your trip that was interrupted will be eligible for reimbursement.
- Travel delay insurance may reimburse expenses, such as a hotel stay, that arise from severe delays.
- Medical insurance works like a supplement to your existing health insurance, which may not cover medical costs that you incur abroad. Evacuation insurance covers the costs associated with an evacuation following a weather event or other disruption.
- Baggage insurance is supplemental to coverage provided by your airline or via your homeowners or renters insurance policy. Baggage coverage may reimburse you for the actual or replacement cost of your possessions, should they go missing as you travel.
What are the benefits of credit card travel insurance?
Many airlines and tour operators offer travel insurance as an add-on at point of purchase. Credit card travel insurance, on the other hand, is a feature offered on certain credit cards.
Credit card travel insurance provides the following benefits:
- Financial protection: Comprehensive credit card travel insurance can provide full coverage should a covered event–such as severe weather, a medical emergency affecting you or a loved one, or loss of employment–occur. In many cases, travel insurance may require you to pay any expenses out of pocket, then file a claim later for reimbursement.
- Evacuation assistance: If your credit card travel insurance includes evacuation coverage, you can get help securing transport when a covered event (like weather or a political incident) disrupts your travels. Depending on the coverage provided by your credit card travel insurance plan, even emergency medical evacuations such as those on a private jet-may be covered.
- Supplemental medical coverage: Many health insurance plans don’t cover medical costs incurred outside the country. Even those that do are likely to charge a deductible. Credit card travel insurance that includes medical coverage may pay for some medical costs, including your primary plan’s deductible.
- Peace of mind: Having credit card travel insurance can give you the confidence to make bold travel plans–or jet somewhere sunny in the dead of winter. A major storm might snarl your vacation plans, but with travel insurance you may get fully reimbursed.
What questions should I ask about credit card travel insurance?
Credit card travel insurance provides many benefits, but be sure to understand what coverage your card provides before you book a trip. Do your research and ask questions to maximize the value of your credit card’s travel insurance program:
- What coverage levels does my card offer? Get a copy of your card’s full terms and conditions to learn exactly what kinds of travel coverage are included.
- Are my family members covered by my credit card travel insurance? Travel insurance typically covers events that affect your immediate family: for example, if your child gets sick before you embark on a flight. Your more distant relatives–and pets–may not be covered, however.
- What specific events are covered? Understanding the events that can trigger a claim is crucial to getting the most out of travel insurance. For instance, involuntary unemployment may qualify you for cancellation protection–but leaving your job voluntarily may not.
Relying on credit card travel insurance
Credit card travel insurance can offer financial protection and peace of mind when you travel. Take the time to understand how your card’s travel insurance works-and be aware that only expenses charged to your card are likely to be covered.