You've just booked an exciting trip, and the countdown to your adventure has begun. While you may be focused on planning the itinerary and packing, you should also consider one other step: purchasing the best travel insurance for your needs. Whether you're a seasoned traveler or embarking on your first journey, understanding how and when to buy travel insurance can provide you with valuable coverage and peace of mind for your upcoming trip.
Why you should buy travel insurance as soon as possible after booking a flight
While the anticipation of exploring new places and creating lasting memories is undoubtedly thrilling, you must also consider the practical side of travel — including protecting your financial investment and your health. You may be wondering if you can add travel insurance after booking. The answer is yes. In fact, the best time to buy travel insurance is shortly after you book your flight. In this section, we'll cover the reasons why timing is of the essence when it comes to travel insurance.
But before we dive in, let's go over the basics. Travel insurance is a type of coverage that provides financial protection and assistance for unexpected events, trip delays, disruptions and emergencies that can occur during your travels. Typically, it covers trip cancellation or interruption, lost or delayed luggage, medical expenses, accidental death and dismemberment and emergency medical evacuation, depending on your specific policy.
Trip cancellation protection
Life is unpredictable, and emergencies can strike anytime between booking and departure on a trip, putting your non-refundable travel expenses at risk. If you're forced to cancel your vacation, it’s disheartening to realize you've lost money on flight, cruise or train tickets as well as lodging and activity bookings. Buying travel insurance shortly after booking gives you the advantage of trip cancellation protection from the outset.
Suppose you’re traveling from the U.S. to Europe and you booked your flight a couple of months in advance for the best deal. If you didn’t get your travel insurance after booking, you would lose most of your investment if something like a family emergency caused you to cancel your trip between the time when you booked and your trip departure. With trip cancellation coverage, you wouldn’t take such a financial hit.
Additionally, certain travel insurance policies offer so-called “time-sensitive” benefits like cancel for any reason (CFAR) coverage. CFAR lets you cancel your trip for reasons not covered in a standard policy and receive reimbursement of a portion of your prepaid, non-refundable trip expenses. There are often restrictions associated with CFAR benefits, requiring you to purchase weeks before your trip begins.
Coverage for pre-existing conditions
Having pre-existing medical conditions shouldn't hold you back from traveling, but it's essential to take precautions. In the context of travel insurance, a pre-existing condition refers to an injury or medical condition that you showed symptoms of or received treatment for within a specific period (usually 60 to 180 days) before purchasing a policy. Often, insurance plans will include pre-existing condition waivers at no extra cost, covering claims related to your existing medical issues.
However, to qualify for a pre-existing conditions waiver, you usually need to purchase your travel medical insurance policy right after making your initial trip deposit. The timing varies by provider, but if you wait, you might not be reimbursed for any treatments related to your pre-existing condition you receive while traveling.
10- to 15-day review period before your trip
Most travel insurance policies come with a review period, typically ranging from 10 to 15 days after purchase. Also called the “free look period,” it gives you time to review the policy terms and conditions in detail. If you realize the policy doesn't offer the coverage you require, you can cancel it and explore other options without any financial loss.
However, the free look period ends when you start your trip. Having ample time to be sure you're getting the best plan for your travel needs can help you avoid costly omissions in your coverage. The sooner you purchase your travel insurance, the more time you'll have to adjust or replace your policy well before departure.
When is it too late to buy travel insurance?
While some travel insurance providers allow you to purchase a policy after departure, waiting until the last minute will restrict your options. These types of policies may include post-departure benefits such as medical emergencies and lost luggage but could exclude trip interruption, trip cancellation and pre-existing conditions coverage. You won't have the option to add CFAR coverage either.
Further, once certain disruptions or emergencies have occurred, it's too late to buy travel insurance. For example, if a hurricane is already on its way to your travel destination, it's too late for you to get travel insurance to cancel your trip. At that point, it's no longer considered "unforeseen" from the insurer's perspective and won't be covered.
How to add travel insurance after booking a flight
Navigating the process of buying travel insurance after booking is simpler than you might think — here's how to do it.
1. Check if you have existing travel insurance coverage with your credit card company
Before purchasing a separate travel insurance policy, check whether your credit card company offers any travel-related benefits. Some credit cards provide limited travel insurance coverage when you use the card to book your trip. Check with your credit card provider to determine if the coverage is sufficient for your upcoming trip. If not, you'll want to purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy after you book.
2. Research the best travel insurance providers
Take time to research reputable travel insurance companies. Look for companies with positive customer reviews, a history of reliable coverage and a variety of plans to choose from. Using online comparison tools such as Squaremouth can help you narrow down your options and quickly find a plan that provides the coverage you need.
3. Choose a travel insurance plan that aligns with your coverage needs
Just as no two trips are exactly alike, travel insurance plans come in a variety of flavors to cater to different scenarios. Before you commit to a specific plan, get some clarity on the aspects of your trip that matter most to you. Consider factors such as the type of trip you're taking, your health status and the value of your trip expenses. Are you worried about flight cancellations or changes that the airline might not refund? Are you packing expensive equipment? Have you booked golf or ski days? Do you need medical coverage?
Once you've identified your priorities, you can select a plan that provides the right coverage. While individual policies vary, most types of travel insurance offer the following forms of coverage and benefits:
- Emergency medical care abroad
- Medical evacuation transport
- Accidental death and dismemberment
- Canceled flight, cruise or train travel and accommodations
- Trip interruption coverage
- 24-hour medical assistance call center (may also include concierge services)
- Delayed or lost luggage (may include sports equipment)
- Missed activities, such as golf or ski days
- Repatriation of remains
4. Review and understand policy terms, conditions and exclusions
Before making a final decision, thoroughly review your policy's terms, conditions and exclusions. Take time to read your travel insurance policy documents to understand the limits of your coverage, such as whether pre-existing conditions or high-risk adventures are covered. Call your provider with any questions or concerns during the free look period so you can make changes or cancel your policy if it doesn’t meet your needs. These steps will prevent any surprises if and when you must file a claim.
5. Understand how the claims process works
If you need to use your policy, knowing how the claims process works can save you a lot of frustration. Read your policy materials to familiarize yourself with the steps involved in filing a claim, the documentation you'll be required to supply and the timeline for receiving reimbursement.
Typically, the first step in the claims process is to notify your travel insurance provider and let them know what happened. For example, you might contact them if your flights are delayed, your luggage is lost or you need emergency medical services. You can usually find your provider's contact information in your policy materials, on your provider's website, on your travel insurance card or on the company's mobile app. Keep track of everything related to your claim, including dates, locations and persons involved. You may also need receipts, photos, medical bills, official reports or doctor's notes to gather together for your claim. You'll then upload your materials to the company's website or app or submit copies by mail, depending on your provider's claims process.
6. Purchase your travel insurance policy and keep it with your travel documents
With all the research behind you, it's time to purchase your travel insurance policy. Once you buy trip insurance after booking, make sure to keep a copy of the policy documents in a safe and accessible place. Keep your insurance provider's contact information with you, including its 24-hour emergency number. Confirm whether your provider offers a mobile app and be sure to download and install it on your device before you go.
Whether the policy is a digital copy on your phone or a physical printout in your travel folder, having these documents and information on hand ensures you can refer to it quickly if you need to file a claim. Leave a copy of your policy with a friend or family member back home — that way, they can contact your insurance provider in case of an emergency that leaves you unable to do so yourself.
Does travel insurance cover flight cancellations?
With flight cancellations happening more often these days, you need to be ready for your travel plans to change before you even take off. Travel insurance is a safety net for your trip, but if the airline or travel company cancels your flight, your travel insurance might not cover the cost of your ticket.
If the airline cancels your flight, the carrier is responsible for refunding you or helping you find another solution. For covered reasons such as weather, mechanical issues or strikes, your travel insurance may cover non-refundable trip costs like hotel bookings and tour fees.
While you could be covered if the airline goes out of business or there's a mechanical problem with the plane, other reasons may be excluded. Read your policy’s terms regarding flight cancellations or call your provider to discuss your coverage.
Does travel insurance cover flight changes?
If a covered event such as a medical emergency necessitates a change in your flight arrangements, certain travel insurance policies might cover change fees or other related expenses. Similarly, if the airline carrier changes your flight, your travel insurance may cover expenses related to changing ground transportation or other bookings, if these costs are not reimbursed by the airline. Always review your policy's terms to understand the extent of coverage for flight changes.
However, if you decide to tweak your flight schedule to accommodate a change in your plans, your travel insurance policy might not provide any reimbursements. That's because flight changes made by choice are typically considered within your control.
Summary: Can you buy travel insurance after booking a flight?
Purchasing travel insurance shortly after booking a flight offers you protection against unforeseen events and disruptions. By acting promptly, you can secure trip cancellation coverage, ensure protection for pre-existing conditions and take advantage of the “free look” review period to make an informed choice. While you can buy last-minute travel insurance from some providers, you'll maximize your coverage and options by purchasing a policy right after you book your flight.
To add travel insurance after booking your flight, follow these steps: Check existing coverage with your credit card company, research reputable insurance providers, select a suitable plan, understand policy terms and the claims process and finally, make the purchase.
With the right coverage, you'll be better equipped to navigate the twists and turns that travel may bring.