Perhaps one of the most ignored aspects of trip planning, but also one of the most important ones is insurance. Most people consider travel insurance a waste of money, as it does not provide any tangible output to those who return safely from a trip. Most people don’t realise the cost of treatment of a stomach infection abroad, might just become more expensive than the cost of their entire trip. Healthcare is expensive in most parts of the world, especially Europe and North America.
Domestic insurance and travel insurance are not the same. A domestic health insurance policy would only cover you when in India. You don’t get treatment in a network hospital abroad.
Travel insurance does not just take care of your medical expenses on the road, but also other situations that could arise. These include flight cancellations, loss or delay of baggage, stolen passports, trip cancellations, terror attack and more.
Travel insurance is easy to buy and can be purchased online these days. Most online travel agents will also sell you a policy very happily, but rather than buy the standard policy, you should always shop around before you put money down on a policy. The reason is that travel insurance, while a very standardized product, still has many catches to look out for, and you would do well to buy one which is the closest to your own personal situation.
One aspect to look for is the cover for pre-existing conditions. Some insurance companies will cover a health emergency caused due to a pre-existing situation and others won’t. Many want to see if your condition is stable before underwriting the insurance.
Flight cancellations or delays are another good reason for insurance. Yes, an airline needs to get you to your destination as a part of your contract with them. But there are many a clause where the airline is not obliged to reimburse you in case there is a cancellation or delay beyond the control of the airline. For instance, the bombings at Brussels airport in 2016 left many passengers stranded for days. In such a situation, you could end up spending a lot of money out of your pocket on hotels, meals and other expenses. Here, the insurance company would have stepped in to reimburse insured passengers for the incidental costs that the airlines may have not been able to cover.
Most insurers also provide travel cancellation and trip interruption benefits. These benefits help you cover the financial loss incurred due to cancellation of a trip. These losses could be the cost of the air tickets, hotel bookings or travel packages before the start of a trip or once you are on your way. In the case of cancelling a trip due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a natural disaster, you could claim those from the travel insurance provider.
The travel insurance policy would also compensate you if there is some sort of an issue midway through your trip that causes you to curtail your stay or alter your schedule. Under the trip interruption benefit, they would cover you up to a prespecified limit for expenses. For instance, if you had to head home from Bali early after the earthquakes there last July.
When buying travel insurance, you should consider your own travel patterns. If you are a frequent international traveller, you might want to buy an annual plan that covers multiple trips or a single trip insurance if you don’t travel as often. It would work out cheaper for business travellers to have an annual plan.
You should also be careful to check if you are buying a primary travel insurance or a secondary one. Primary insurance provides you on-the-spot assistance while secondary travel insurance provides reimbursement. That means you would need to pay the bills upfront and claim reimbursement from your insurance provider.
Some premium credit cards provide travel insurance as a part of their suite of benefits. For instance, American Express Platinum Charge card gives their card members $50,000 overseas medical insurance for the first seven days of a trip from ICICI Lombard General Insurance. Citi Prestige gives members complimentary medical insurance from HDFC Ergo.
So, the next time you pack your bags, make sure you pick up that little piece of paper before you leave the door, because you don’t have a crystal ball, and you don’t know what happens next.
Elevate Your Travel is a column for the business travellers by a business traveller.
Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website.