As the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, travel plans of millions are being thrown into disarray. Thousands of flights — from China and elsewhere — have been canceled and cruise ship itineraries are being changed, leaving millions to wonder: will my travel insurance cover me if I want to cancel my trip?
The answer: probably not.
Travel insurance policies usually have four main coverages: trip cancellation, trip interruption, medical evacuation, and emergency medical costs. To cancel your trip and be reimbursed 100% of insured costs, you would have to name one of the reasons listed in your policy’s summary of benefits.
Fear of contracting a disease in your destination is not one of them.
“Most insurance products are what are called named-peril plans, which means they cover the reasons that are listed in the insurance plan [and] it's not going to provide cancellation for something that's not listed,” says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com. “Unfortunately, travel insurance doesn't really provide a fix for travelers who are either fearful of or potentially traveling to a destination” that is impacted by the coronavirus.
Coronavirus and Travel Insurance: The One Exception
That said, there is an upgrade that would qualify: the Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy. This option allows you to cancel your trip under almost any circumstance, provided that you meet some qualifying criteria. You need to purchase the add-on within a certain time frame after making your first trip payment — it can be anywhere from 24 hours to 21 days, and you need to insure 100% of your trip costs. Also, you cannot be reimbursed for 100% of the insured costs; instead, you’ll be reimbursed for either 50% or 75%, depending on what you select.
And then there’s the cost: “You're talking about adding anywhere from 30% to 60% of the base price of the policy to add the cancel for any reason options,” says Sandberg.
Coronavirus, Travel Insurance, and People Already Traveling
Now, let’s say you decide to go on your trip and you get sick with coronavirus. Would your medical expenses be covered? Sandberg says yes: “Generally speaking, if you were to travel elsewhere, and incidentally, contract the coronavirus and you had a travel insurance plan, the medical coverage would provide the reimbursement and medical expenses that you'd incur during the trip.”
Also of note: there’s a great chance your health care coverage in the United States won’t work outside the country.
“Americans think that they can travel anywhere and think that you know, Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare, whatever insurance they have will respond and pay a hospital bill in the middle of Turkey. Quite frankly, they run into big, big problems,” says Bill McGovern, president of Mcgovern Associates, a travel insurance brokerage firm.
But ultimately, the decision of whether or not your travel insurance will cover your trip rests on the insurance company. Allianz Travel Insurance said in a press release on February 7 that “for customers booking trips to China and other impacted areas, the coronavirus became a known event on January 22, 2020. Travel protection plans generally exclude losses caused by events that were known or foreseeable at the time the plan is purchased.”
In fact, many insurance companies include epidemics and pandemics as an exclusion in the policy, meaning that any claims arising from epidemics would not be covered. It’s possible that insurance companies will stop covering any claims related to coronavirus in the future. It happened in 2009 with the swine flu and in 2014 with the ebola virus.
If you find that your travel insurance won’t cover you at all, you likely won’t be able to get a refund for the trip protection plan. "Most of the time, premiums will not be refunded,” says McGovern. One company that is issuing refunds for policies is Allianz, for trips to China or trips that have been canceled by the supplier because of coronavirus.
What to Do If Your Flight Is Cancelled
For travelers whose flights have been canceled due to the coronavirus, contacting your airline may help. At least one company is already allowing customers to change their travel arrangements free of charge. JetBlue announced on Wednesday that it is suspending change and cancel fees for new bookings until March 11, 2020.
It’s unclear at this point whether other airlines will follow suit.
Erika Richter, director of communications of the American Society of Travel Advisors, says to stay calm. “Fear is also contagious,” she says. “And what we need to do is also keep this in perspective. Make sure that you're getting your information from valid, objective third-party sources like the CDC.”
As of Thursday, there were 59 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, 45 of which are repatriated travelers who became ill overseas. For the most current information, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus.
You can see the full CDC list of countries with confirmed COVID-19 cases here.