Does Your Credit Card Give You Adequate Travel Insurance Coverage?

Jul 10, 2013

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The travel insurance study that I recently commissioned Princeton Survey Research Associates International to conduct has got me thinking about trip coverage a lot lately – especially as I have some exciting international adventures such as a current trip to Iceland.

In my last post on travel insurance, I looked at the dilemma between buying independent insurance as opposed to policies provided by your airline or cruise carrier, and which policies are better for which travelers. However, another – and often overlooked option – is the variety of forms of travel insurance and protection provided by the credit cards we carry in our wallets, and many times we are covered far more than we realized when we use a credit card to pay for a trip.

Don’t expect your credit card company to cover the contingencies of your trip to the extent that full travel insurance can provide, but you will find that many credit card companies offer some decent coverage options, so let’s take a look at what each company provides:

American Express

If you have an American Express credit card, your coverage will vary depending on the product (usually in terms of coverage amounts, deductibles, etc.), so be sure to search out the terms for your specific card, but here are the benefits you can expect with many of their products.

The Amex Global Assist program.American Express has a full range of travel insurance options including Trip Cancellation and Interruption, Baggage Loss and Delay, and Global Medical Protection through the American Express Travel Related Services Company. However, invoking these benefits will all cost you on top of your usual credit card coverage at the same rates as if you were to buy insurance from another independent carrier. Along with their full policies, though, Amex also has a selection of benefits that come automatically for cardholders.

The Global Assist Program offers a helping hand when you are over 100 miles from home. The program provides assistance for all US Amex cardmembers including those with the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit card from American Express or Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express or Platinum Amexes. Services include:

  • Emergency services by arranging medical transportation, travel and legal assistance which can include doctor referrals, English-speaking lawyers, and customs information.
  • Destination information including details on weather reports, currency exchange rates, etc.

If you

Amex Purchase protection covers items bought all over the world including gifts meaning that you will be reimbursed for the amount charged to the card.

Along with membership rewards and perks such as a limousine service, $200 Airline Fee Credit, and International Companion Ticket, the Amex Platinum card offers you added assistance when things don’t go according to plan (Centurion cardholders also get these services):

  • 24/7 Premium Global Assist Hotline that will help with everything from a lost wallet or a doctor call, to a visa or customs crisis when you are over 100 miles from home. There is no charge but members will be billed for third party provider costs (key difference between this and normal travel insurance).

As I note above, while none of these is actual travel insurance coverage and you will be billed for any trip cancellation, changes, medical issues or other contingencies that come up, it’s nice to know that you have a team of assistants at the touch of a button who can help you make the arrangements you need. Plus, there are some automatic coverages for flight or trip delays, if not outright cancellation. For instance, the suite of Amex Gold Cards, including the Premier Rewards card, offer the following for flight delays: “Charge your airline ticket to your American Express Gold Rewards Card, and receive up to $500 coverage (aggregate maximum with Baggage Delay Insurance (see below)) for all necessary and reasonable hotel, motel, restaurant expenses and sundry items purchased within 48 hours when you are delayed or denied boarding for four hours or more and no alternate transportation is made available.” So research your card’s individual benefits.

Although many of Amex's services are add-ons, some come standard including the below.
Although many of Amex’s services are add-ons, some come standard including the below.

Travel Accident Coverage: Many American Express cards do, however, offer cardholders and their families travel accident coverage for death or dismemberment. Coverage amounts can vary anywhere from $100,000-$500,000 depending on the Amex card you have. However, death and dismemberment insurance applies when traveling on a plane, train, helicopter, ship or bus when the entire fare has been charged to your card. Covered persons include the cardmember, each additional cardmember, and each of these cardmember’s spouses or domestic partners and dependent children under 23 years of age.

Car Rental Insurance: American Express also provides extensive car rental insurance coverage including Collision Damage Waiver insurance and premium coverage. American Express consumer cardholders receive secondary CDW coverage in most countries around the world, while business cardholders receive it only within the United States, its territories and possessions. Within the United States, coverage is for as long as 30 consecutive days. You can find the specific policy for you card here. Coverage usually only applies to cards with an MSRP of $50,000 or below and excludes sports cards, SUV’s and specialty cars. Coverage is usually valid for up to 30 days.

Amex also offers premium coverage policies for a flat fee of $24.95 ($17.95 for California residents) per rental period, (not per rental day), and it is considered primary coverage, meaning you won’t have to file a claim with your insurance company, for up to $100,000 of primary coverage for damage or theft and accidental death or dismemberment coverage ($250,000 for California residents), up to $15,000 for excess medical expenses per person, and up to $5,000 for excess personal property coverage ($15,000 for Florida residents).

Lost or stolen baggage coverage: One of the most frustrating and annoying prospects of travel is possibly having your bags lost or stolen, and here Amex has you covered as well. When you fully charge your airline tickets to your American Express card you are covered for loss or damage to your checked-in or carry on baggage and personal effects while in transit for up to a maximum of $500 per trip for all insured person(s) combined. Amex will also provide some coverage if your bags are delayed where you can receive up to $500 coverage (aggregate maximum with Flight Delay Insurance) for all immediate daily reasonable and necessary emergency purchases, made within four days, for essential clothing and sundry items when your baggage on your outbound trip is delayed by six or more hours.

Visa Signature

Visa Signature
The sky is the limit with a Visa Signature card.

Travel Accident Insurance: Visa Signature cardholders and their family members receive travel accident insurance coverage when they purchase travel with their Visa Signature card, and if paid for in advance, you will also be covered traveling to and from the airport terminal. Benefits include a minimum of $250,000 in the event of accidental death or dismemberment when a qualifying fare such as airline, train or bus tickets, is charged to their Visa Signature card. This insurance covers not only the primary cardholder, but also their eligible dependents when the entire cost of the “common carrier” fare is made prior to departure for the airport, terminal or station. Coverage begins and ends at the places designated on the ticket purchased for the trip.

Travel and Emergency Assistance: Promising “help when you don’t know where to turn,” the Visa Signature Travel and Emergency Assistance Services is a dedicated department travelers can call when things go wrong on the road, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. There is no extra charge for the service and it is eligible to the spouse and the children (if under 22 years old) of the cardholder.

Specific services include:

  • Emergency Message Service that can record and relay emergency messages for travelers, immediate family members, or business associates.
  • Medical Referral Assistance providing medical referral, monitoring, and follow-up, along with a Benefit Administrator who can give you names of English-speaking doctors, dentists, and hospitals, along with assigning a doctor to consult by phone with local medical personnel, keep in contact with your family, and help you arrange medical payments from your Visa Signature or personal account. A very important aspect to note is this is not medical insurance and all costs are still your own responsibility.
  • Legal Referral Assistance that can arrange contact with English-speaking attorneys and with U.S. embassies or consulates if you’re detained by local authorities, have a car accident, or need legal assistance. In the worst case scenario that you are arrested, the Benefit Administrator can coordinate bail payment from your Visa Signature or personal account. Again, all costs are still your own responsibility.
  • Emergency Transportation Assistance that can help you make all the necessary arrangements for emergency transportation home or to the nearest medical facility, along with arranging to bring young children home or staying in contact with family members.
  • Emergency Ticket Replacement helps you with the carrier’s lost ticket reimbursement procedures if you should lose your ticket and can arrange delivery of a replacement ticket to you.
  • Lost Luggage Locator Service  that can help you through the common carrier’s claim procedures or can arrange shipment of replacement items if an airline or common carrier loses your checked luggage.
  • Baggage delay reimbursement that covers up to $100 per day, with a maximum of up to $300, when your bags are delayed more than 18 hours.
  • Emergency Translation Service provides telephone assistance in all major languages and helps find local interpreters.
  • Prescription Assistance can help you get prescriptions filled or replaced, subject to local laws, and can even arrange pickup and delivery of prescriptions filled for you at local or nearby pharmacies.
  • Valuable Document Delivery Arrangements to pick up critical paperwork that may have been left at home or lost elsewhere.
  • Pre-Trip Assistance can give you information on your destination before you leave – information such as ATM locations, currency exchange rates, weather reports, health precautions, immunizations, and required passport visas.

Be sure to note that the Visa Signature Travel and Emergency Assistance Services provide assistance and referral only. You are responsible for the cost of any actual medical, legal, transportation, cash advance, or other services or goods provided.

Car rental insurance:

The Visa Signature card provides supplemental rental car coverage.

Many credit cards come with supplemental car rental insurance in one form or another. When you pay for a car rental with a Visa Signature such as the Sapphire Preferred, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card or the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, Visa provides secondary insurance, meaning they’ll only reimburse you for damages not payable by any other party (like the car rental company or your regular auto insurance company). So this isn’t primary insurance (which many World Mastercard products offer), but it’s nice to know that you have a policy in place to cover any gaps in your insurance. Visa’s policy will cover eligible collisions and vehicle theft, for instance, if you rent a car in your home country and it gets stolen, or you get in an accident, Visa will reimburse you for the damages up to the actual cash value of most vehicles. An important side note: if you’re renting an “expensive or exotic automobile” (like a Porsche or Aston Martin), an automobile that’s 20+ years old, or a van that transports more than 8 people, the waiver benefit doesn’t apply. You can find further details at Visa Signature’s comparison of credit card rental car coverage.

Lost Baggage: 

If you travel enough, eventually your luggage will get misdirected.
If you travel enough, eventually your luggage will get misdirected.

With more fees and better tracking technology (and less people checking bags), it mystifies me that airlines still manage to lose suitcases, still, from time to time, you can’t avoid it. The good news is, when you pay for the entire cost of your tickets with a Visa Signature card, you will be eligible to receive reimbursement for your checked luggage, carry-on luggage, and their contents for the difference between the value of the amount claimed (by you) and the common carrier’s payment, up to $3,000 per trip (in New York, coverage is limited to $2,000 per bag for New York residents), provided the luggage was lost due to theft or misdirection by the carrier. Again, this is supplemental insurance and is in excess of any other collectible insurance or reimbursement from any other sources you may be eligible for.

World Mastercard

World MasterCard
The World MasterCard has coverage for the global traveler.

Along with a whole world of A-list perks such as 5% discounted prices on MasterCard Airport Concierge service, complimentary breakfast, priority check-in and VIP status at Mandarin Oriental properties, the World Mastercard offers help way beyond a complimentary bottle of bubbly.

  • Master Auto Rental Insurance pays for physical damage and theft to most rental vehicles with an MSRP of $50,000 or less when the World MasterCard for Business card is used to initiate and pay for the entire rental transaction.
  • Mastertrip protection includes travel assistance, replacement of lost tickets, documents and luggage. It works when you’re traveling 50 miles or more from home, and can transfer up to $5,000 to cover travel emergencies. The service also helps to locate luggage (though it is not baggage insurance). They also assist in getting people and information in to emergency situations. In addition, they can help with referrals for doctors or lawyers to aid in travel emergencies.
  • Baggage delay coverage of $100 per day for up to 3 days (maximum of $300) for amenities if your bags are missing or delayed more than 4 hours – as long as you paid for the cost of your trip (minus miles and such) with the card.
  • Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance provides automatic coverage up to $1 million for accidents while traveling. World MasterCard for Business cardholders and eligible dependents are insured while traveling as passengers on any licensed common carrier—including air, rail, marine, and bus carriers—if their tickets have been purchased with the World MasterCard for Business card.
  • Master Roadassist provides 24-hour emergency roadside assistance through AAA when you’re 100 miles or more from home. Though you have to pay, it’s better than calling a tow company because fees are pre-negotiated to be fair.

To see the full list of World Mastercard benefits check out the benefits page here.

Among the great World Mastercard products out there, the Barclaycard Arrival comes with a historically high bonus of 40,000 miles when you spend $1,000 in 3 months, and there are tons of ways to maximize them for travel redemptions you can’t use other points for.   Barclaycard also launched an online travel community, whose members will be able to earn points for contributing their stories and deals with other users.

United MileagePlus Explorer 

One interesting card to look at for its airline-specific insurance perks is the United MileagePlus Explorer card. Along with airline benefits that include a free checked bag for the cardholder and their companion on United-operated flights (a savings of up to $100 per round trip), no international transaction fees, priority boarding and two one-time use passes each year to the United Club, the MileagePlus Explorer card has some travel protections that go above and beyond the benefits of other Visa Signature cards including:

  • Auto rental collision damage waiver that acts as a primary coverage for primary coverage for physical damage and theft of most rented vehicles. Coverage is provided for rentals of up to 15 consecutive days when traveling in your country of residence and 31 days outside of your country of residence. Or if your rental car breaks down, stalls or you get locked out, card members are eligible for coverage up to $50, four times a year, for roadside assistance.
  • Baggage delay reimbursement that covers up to $100 per day, with a maximum of up to $300, when your bags are delayed more than 18 hours.
  • Trip delay reimbursement if your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay due to a covered hazard, you can be reimbursed for meals and lodging expenses up to $300 per ticket purchased using your MileagePlus Explorer Card.

For full details on the travel protection benefits, click here.

Although I don’t talk about them much in terms of travel points, Discover cardholders also get assistance when something goes wrong when they hit the road or the take off from the tarmac. Car Rental Insurance Plan that provides $25,000 of secondary collision damage insurance when you rent a car using your Discover Card and decline coverage offered by the rental agency (usually only good on cards up to $50,000 MSRP) Flight Accident Insurance Plan when you purchase an airline ticket with your Discover Card, you’re eligible for up to $500,000 of Flight Accident Insurance. Discover offers a roster of emergency travel benefits that range from luggage tracking to political evacuation as well as travel services and assistance that includes everything from currency conversion and travel safety advisories to ski reports and translator services. Discover also offers automatic medical emergency travel benefits including: medical referrals, dispatching doctors, emergency medical transportation, medical case monitoring, emergency or prescription eyewear replacement, emergency medical payments, medical expense advances, dental referrals, return travel arrangements, family liaison and message relay, convalescence arrangements, transport escort, bedside visits and repatriation of mortal remains. As with other credit card insurance policies, you have to pay for the actual expenses these services incur, but at least the assistance in arranging them is included. As you can see, credit cards can offer a valuable suite of services and assistance to help you when you need it most. While many of these services are free, unfortunately the costs you incur using them – such as for medical treatment, or evacuation – are not, so be sure to review the coverage your specific credit cards offer when choosing which one to use to pay for a trip, and then also consider whether you need additional travel insurance that will cover any unforeseen circumstances or expenses that arise.

Feature image by Anete Lusina via Unsplash.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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