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SCOTT MENCHIN, New York Times

Do you really need travel insurance?

  • Article by: SETH KUGEL
  • New York Times
  • February 1, 2013 - 12:56 PM

Would you like to add travel insurance to your purchase? It’s become the “Do you want fries with that?” of online travel booking.

With a three-week trip to Asia approaching, I looked at packages offered by World Nomads (worldnomads.com), a well-regarded company that provides travel insurance plans online. You can also examine the options at insuremy trip.com, a travel insurance search site.

Generally, travel insurance is sold in packages, combining various categories of coverage. Go through them all, determining what you need and what you don’t, either because you’re not at risk or you’re already covered. If a package doesn’t seem worth it, more customized policies (which you can find through insuremytrip.com, among other sites) offer certain à la carte options. But you may not end up saving that much.

Coverage for my Asia trip through World Nomads would cost me $85 for its standard plan, and $116.40 for slightly more elaborate “explorer” coverage. I looked at each element of the plans to calculate whether, overall, they might be worth it. Here is a breakdown.

 

MEDICAL

If your regular health insurance doesn’t cover you while abroad, you need some when you travel. Medicare participants and citizens of countries covered by national health services generally fall into this category. Others should check on the specifics of their policies. I have coverage through the Freelancers Insurance Co., which uses the Blue Cross Blue Shield program; my policy states that I’m “assured of receiving care from licensed health care professionals no matter where” I am through the Blue Card Worldwide network.

I went to the Blue Card Worldwide website and was relieved to find many affiliated hospitals listed in the Asian cities I was planning to visit.

I offered a hypothetical to the customer service phone line: What if, in an emergency, I ended up at an out-of-network hospital because I couldn’t communicate with paramedics or there was no affiliated hospital nearby?

The representative was stumped, put me on hold and came back. “I checked with a supervisor,” she said. “The claim would come through, we would deny it, then you would have to appeal it,” she said. Appeals, she added, were made on a “case by case” basis.

In other words: Good luck. On the other hand, many travel insurance policies will reimburse medical expenses no matter what hospital you end up at. But since I wouldn’t be engaging in high-risk activities and I had a fighting chance of being covered should the very unlikely worst-case scenario occur, I decided medical coverage added minimal benefit.

 

EMERGENCY EVACUATION

This one is simple: Without coverage, if I have to be medically evacuated home from a distant land, I’m out something like $30,000. So it comes down to how likely the scenario is. Headed to a particularly isolated region? Climbing mountains or fording rivers? Then having evacuation coverage as part of a package or separately (the cheapest I found for my trip on insuremytrip.com was $40) is a good idea.

 

TRAVEL PROTECTION

This kind of insurance offers reimbursement (sometimes partial) for prepaid reservations if your trip is canceled, interrupted or delayed. I rarely spend much on a trip before I leave beyond the plane ticket (always coach) and maybe the first night in a hotel (always cheap). But for others, with expensive seats and long prepaid reservations, it might make sense. Also worth noting: Some credit cards will provide similar coverage.

 

BAGGAGE PROTECTION

World Nomads will reimburse you for items lost or damaged in transit and cover expenses incurred because luggage is delayed. For me, this was triplicate coverage: My credit card covers this, and airlines are legally required to reimburse you as well, with limitations.

But the Nomads policy also covers damages and loss beyond your flight. I carry around about $3,000 of electronic equipment, and World Nomads would cover up to $500 per item, after depreciation. It’s worth it to determine the value of what’s inside your baggage and do the math.

 

SO IS IT WORTH IT?

Although some elements of the World Nomads package might have benefited me, I decided the package as a whole didn’t make sense for my trip. (I did end up buying a yearlong medevac plan through insuremytrip.com for $225.)

The process was valuable anyway: I now know a lot more about my medical coverage and credit card perks. Everyone should make similar calculations.

Of course, there’s one more variable: If you’re a worrier and having coverage for every imaginable circumstance will allow you to relax and enjoy your trip, then go ahead and do it.

 

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