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Stop me if you’ve heard this advice already. If you’re looking for travel insurance, you should first check your credit card to see what it covers. You might already have all the insurance you need.
When Ed Stein got that tip, he checked his credit card. It turns out his Chase Sapphire Reserve card covers “many things,” including lost luggage, trip delay and roadside assistance. In fact, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is Forbes Advisor’s pick for the best credit card with travel insurance.
“I also have Medicare Advantage insurance with Aetna,” says Stein, a retired accountant from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. “There is some foreign medical coverage on my plan.”
As a result, he’s stopped buying travel insurance for his cruises. Between his credit card and health insurance, he has everything he needs. It’s not perfect, he admits, but if something happens that isn’t covered, he’s willing to lose his cruise fare if he has to cancel.
More than 170 million Americans have credit cards, according to the Bureau of Financial Consumer Protection. Which means they already have some protection when they hit the road. But is it enough? Before you go, you’ll need to know what your card covers—and what it doesn’t. Only then can you decide whether you need to buy travel insurance.
What Does Your Credit Card Cover?
“Each card is different,” explains Josh Greenberg, a travel advisor at Ovation Travel Group. “So, you would need to make sure of the specifics with your card issuer.”
Among the differences he’s seen: On some cards, medical coverage is secondary, meaning that you have to file a medical claim on your health insurance first. Most travel medical insurance is primary. Some cards have trip cancellation coverage; others don’t. And some won’t protect you if your airline or hotel files for bankruptcy protection.
For example, here’s a look at what Stein’s Chase Sapphire Reserve card covers:
- Auto rental collision damage waiver: Provides reimbursement of $75,000 for theft and collision damage for rental cars in the U.S. and abroad.
- Baggage delay insurance: Reimburses you for essential purchases, like toiletries and clothing, resulting from commercial carrier baggage delays, up to $100 a day for 5 days.
- Travel accident insurance: Offers accidental death and dismemberment coverage of up to $1 million.
- Emergency evacuation and transportation: Covers up to $100,000 of your medical services and transportation if you or a family member are injured or become sick during a trip that results in an emergency evacuation.
- Emergency medical and dental benefit: Reimburses up to $2,500 for medical expenses if you or your immediate family member become sick or injured on a trip far from home.
See the best credit cards for travel insurance benefits.
What’s important is not just what’s covered, but how much, says Scott Adamski, head of U.S. field sales for AIG Travel.
“If you are satisfied that your credit card will offer some coverage for the things that might go wrong during your trip, the next vital question is: What is the maximum benefit each policy offers for each type of protection you may need?” he asks.
Adamski recommends comparing the answers from your credit card’s customer service department to a policy from an insurer specializing in travel insurance. Then run a worst-case scenario.
“Consider the potential cost of being injured or falling ill while traveling abroad, and needing to be transported to the nearest adequate medical facility, the medical facility of your choice, or even back home for medical care,” he says.
What Doesn’t Your Credit Card Cover?
Credit card travel insurance is often a perk of premium travel cards, which means you will probably pay an annual fee for the coverage. But if you’re already paying for the card and its coverage, why pay more for extra coverage?
Card insurance comes in many flavors, says John Cabell, the director of banking and payments intelligence at J.D. Power. “Card travel insurance may have lower coverage and more restrictions than purchased travel insurance but is an included perk with many premium credit cards.”
Just how limited the coverage is depends on the card.
“Credit card travel coverage can be pretty limited,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.com, a travel insurance site. “Some credit card plans don’t cover lost items or only certain types of medical conditions. Many plans come with strings attached.”
Also, how you use your card matters. “Depending on your card issuer, to receive the travel insurance benefits, you need to pay at least a portion of the trip with your credit card,” says Mason Miranda, a credit industry specialist at Credit Card Insider. “If not the whole thing.”
Claims can be tedious, too. At least that was the experience of Talek Nantes, whose husband had to cancel his recent trip to Jordan and Oman after he fell ill.
“We went back and forth with the claim for about six months with all sorts of documentation—doctor’s reports, tour company invoices, sworn statements,” says Nantes, a travel blogger. “I had a file about an inch thick.”
But she says she’s grateful for the credit card coverage because she also had a regular travel insurance policy. She filed a claim on the policy, too, but the insurance company quickly rejected it, noting her husband’s illness was the result of a “pre-existing” medical condition.
How do you find out what your card doesn’t cover? Check your cardmember agreement, the contract between you and your credit card. Just like travel insurance, if it isn’t mentioned in the agreement, it’s not covered.
What Should You Do?
“If you’re considering not purchasing a stand-alone travel protection plan—opting instead for the travel insurance on your credit card—it would be a good idea to contact each credit card company,” says Brad Streff, a spokesperson for Travelex Insurance. “Ask for complete details regarding their travel insurance coverage.”
Streff and other insurance experts recommend reading the fine print and then asking, “What’s the worst that can happen when I travel?” to determine if a card offers enough coverage. You’ve heard that already, but it merits repeating.
Here are a few other questions you should ask before you rely on the insurance offered by your card:
- Do you know what the maximum trip cost limit is, and is it sufficient to cover the entire vacation?
- How about emergency medical and evacuation coverage? What’s the deductible?
- Do you have enough emergency medical or evacuation coverage for the vacation?
- Does the policy include trip interruption or cancellation coverage?
- Will the card coverage extend to your companions? Also, are children included at no additional cost? What about friends or other non-family members?
- What if you’re hurt? Will the policy cover your trip to the nearest hospital, or the hospital of your choice?
- How about pre-existing medical conditions? Are they covered?
- If you experience a delay, does the policy include expenses like meals, hotels or transportation expenses?
- Will the policy reimburse you for stolen or lost luggage?
- Does the policy reimburse you for essential personal items?
- What’s the maximum trip length?
“After answering these questions, you’ll be better able to decide if your credit card benefits are sufficient, or if you need additional coverage from a travel insurance plan,” says Streff.
In the end, if you have a premium credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your travel coverage may be enough for you to rely on. And if you have a reliable medical or auto policy, you might be able to skip a travel insurance policy. But you should read the fine print and ask questions before you decide to go with a credit card vs. a travel insurance policy.
Looking for Travel Insurance?
Compare Quotes With Over 22 Travel Insurers