Warning: There’s a large gap in pandemic era travel insurance

Apr 16, 2021

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I’m planning a lot of trips right now. But, I’m uncertain when and how some countries will reopen their borders to tourists. Even though I’ll be fully vaccinated soon, I still may want to avoid pandemic hotspots.

As such, I’m only booking travel that is fully refundable or changeable. Specifically, I’m redeeming hotel points for stays and taking note of the date by which I must cancel to get my points back. When it comes to airfare, I’m booking award flights with programs that offer changes or cancellations with minimal fees.

But perhaps you want to book (or have already booked) a nonrefundable trip. In this case, you may wonder whether travel insurance will cover you if you need to cancel, reroute or postpone your trip. Unfortunately, travel insurance only covers trip cancellation or interruption for specific reasons and situations. And most travel insurance doesn’t cover the primary reasons I’d want to cancel or interrupt trips in the COVID-19 era.

In this guide, I’ll discuss what you need to know about trip cancellation and interruption travel insurance when traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.

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In This Post

What is trip cancellation and interruption insurance?

HOUSTON, TEXAS -- TUESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2017: A house sits completely submerged in flood water in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 29, 2017. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Trip cancellation and interruption insurance may provide reimbursement when your travel must be canceled or interrupted for a covered reason. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

Trip cancellation and interruption insurance may provide reimbursement up to a specified amount per person per trip for eligible travel expenses or arrangements that must be canceled or interrupted. However, policies vary on the definition of eligible reasons for canceling or postponing a trip and the types of expenses reimbursed. And most policies will only provide coverage for set reasons.

Most trip insurance policies won’t cover many of the reasons you might want or need to cancel or interrupt a trip during the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, most policies won’t cover cancellation or interruption even if you can’t travel due to border closures or specific entry requirements. Likewise, most policies won’t cover cancellation or interruption if you choose not to travel — even if your reason for not wanting to travel is primarily due to a CDC travel warning, elevated COVID-19 cases or specific entry requirements (such as a lengthy mandatory quarantine or PCR testing).

However, some policies do cover cancellation or interruption if you are quarantined by a physician for health reasons or contract COVID-19. In the following section, I’ll take a closer look at some of the most popular policies.

Related: Does travel insurance cover pandemics?

Popular trip cancellation and interruption policies

There are two primary ways to obtain trip cancellation and interruption insurance:

I’ll discuss some of the most popular travel insurance policies and the coverage each may provide for coronavirus-related cancellation or interruption in the following sections.

Chase credit cards

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards provide trip cancellation and interruption protection when you use your card to book travel. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Various Chase credit cards offer trip cancellation and interruption protection, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. To get coverage on these cards, you must charge all or a portion of the trip to your credit card account and/or the rewards program associated with the account.

The trip cancellation and trip interruption benefit offered by these cards may provide reimbursement for eligible travel expenses charged to your account up to $10,000 per covered person and up to $20,000 per trip. However, only select losses that result in cancellation or interruption of a trip are eligible for coverage.

In particular, the primary pandemic-related reasons Chase trip insurance may cover your trip cancellation or interruption are:

  • Accidental bodily injury, loss of life or sickness experienced by you or your traveling companion which prevents you or your traveling companion from traveling on the trip
  • Quarantine (due to health reasons) of you or your traveling companion imposed by a physician or by a competent governmental authority having jurisdiction

However, the insurance offered by these two cards explicitly excludes trip cancellation or interruption for the following reasons:

  • A pre-existing condition or any other event that occurs or commences before the initial deposit date or booking date of the trip
  • Your disinclination to travel due to an epidemic or pandemic

So, you definitely won’t be covered by Chase credit cards if you decide not to travel because of an epidemic or pandemic. And even if you contract COVID-19 or need to enter quarantine, your Chase card’s insurance may not cover you if the insurance administrator considers the coronavirus pandemic (and not your sickness or quarantine) as the event that caused your trip cancellation or interruption. After all, some travel insurance excludes trips booked after the coronavirus pandemic became a known event.

It’s undoubtedly worth filing a Chase trip cancellation claim if you contract COVID-19 or a physician or government authority requires you to quarantine (and either of these events prevents you from traveling on a trip). But, I wouldn’t assume I’d get any coronavirus-related trip cancellation and interruption insurance when booking new trips with my Chase cards.

You can review the Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits guide and the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s benefits guide. If you want more information about these cards, check out the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review and the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review.

Related: Sapphire showdown: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve

American Express cards

Photo by The Points Guy
Select American Express cards now offer trip cancellation and interruption insurance on eligible round-trip common carrier trips. (Photo by The Points Guy)

Select American Express cards, including The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, offer trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance of up to $10,000 per covered trip and $20,000 per eligible card per 12-consecutive-month period.

To be covered, you must charge the full amount of your round-trip travel on a common carrier to your card. However, you can pay with a combination of your card and accumulated points on your card. And you can also pay with a combination of your card and redeemable certificates, vouchers, coupons or discounts awarded from a frequent-flyer program or similar program.

Amex’s guide to benefits provides the following definitions of trip cancellation and trip interruption:

Trip cancellation means the cancellation of travel arrangements when the eligible traveler is prevented from traveling on a common carrier for a covered trip on or before the departure of the covered trip. Trip interruption means the interruption of the covered trip either on the way to the point of departure or after departure of the covered trip.

However, Amex’s trip cancellation and interruption insurance only covers specific cancellation or interruption reasons. So, as is noted in Amex’s trip cancellation insurance COVID-19 notice, you’ll likely only get coverage in connection with COVID-19 if you contract COVID-19 or a physician requires you to quarantine for health reasons related to COVID-19 on or before the departure of your trip. Any other reason for trip cancellation or interruption in connection with COVID-19 likely ineligible for coverage.

You can see the complete benefits guides for Amex’s travel insurance coverage on Amex’s retail and travel benefits website.

Related: Warning: Book carefully if you have multiple Amex cards that offer travel protections

Purchased travel insurance

(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
You may want to purchase travel insurance for specific trips, as I did for my trip to Liberia. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Many of the most popular travel insurance providers have published coverage alerts and frequently asked questions pages that provide information about COVID-19 claims. So, if you have travel insurance with a specific provider or are looking to buy travel insurance with a particular provider, you should read any information that the provider has about the coronavirus pandemic and understand how that affects your insurance.

Of course, most independent travel insurance covers more than just trip cancellation and interruption. But, in this section, I’ll focus on trip cancellation and interruption. I particularly took a closer look at the information AIG Travel Guard, Allianz Travel Insurance, Seven Corners and World Nomads have posted online about coronavirus-related claims. Here’s what I found by looking at this information:

  • AIG Travel Guard: Policies purchased on or after March 11, 2020 don’t cover any losses due to COVID-19 quarantine. However, suppose you contract COVID-19 before departure. In that case, you may be eligible for trip cancellation benefits (if you have a confirmed and documented diagnosis and are medically unable to travel at the time of departure due to COVID-19). Likewise, if you contract COVID-19 while traveling and have a confirmed and documented diagnosis, you may be eligible for trip interruption benefits.
  • Allianz Travel Insurance: Plans typically exclude losses for epidemics, including COVID-19. However, you can buy new plans with an epidemic coverage endorsement. And, for a limited time, Allianz is accommodating claims for trip cancellation and trip interruption if you of your traveling companion or family member becomes ill with COVID-19 either before or during your trip.
  • Seven Corners: COVID-19 is treated similarly to other sicknesses. So, you may be eligible for trip interruption coverage if a legally qualified physician determines that you or your traveling companion must interrupt the trip due to sickness. Likewise, you may be eligible for trip interruption or cancellation coverage if you or a traveling companion would be forced into mandatory quarantine for medical isolation by a physician or government (excluding at your return destination city or in any other place following the end of your trip).
  • World Nomads: Policies purchased by U.S. residents may provide coverage for trip interruption if you contract COVID-19 while traveling. You may also be eligible for trip cancellation coverage for pre-paid non-refundable travel expenses if your doctor advises you that you are unfit to travel on your scheduled departure date due to being diagnosed with COVID-19.

None of the policies provide reimbursement if you decide not to travel, even if your reason is because of an epidemic at your destination. And, although Seven Corners may allow you to cancel or interrupt a trip due to mandatory quarantine for medical isolation at your destination, your inability to enter a country or state isn’t an eligible reason for trip cancellation or interruption.

However, some providers offer “cancel for any reason” trip insurance. If you purchase this type of policy, you can cancel your trip for any reason — including deciding not to travel because of an epidemic — and get back some of the prepaid, forfeited, nonrefundable payments or deposits for your trip. If you’re booking nonrefundable travel that you aren’t sure you’ll be able to take, you should consider purchasing cancel for any reason insurance.

Related: 3 tips for insuring domestic trips

My travel insurance doesn’t cover me, what now?

(Photo by JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)
If your travel insurance won’t cover you, what are your options? (Photo by JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

As you can see, most travel insurance policies won’t cover you if you decide not to travel due to pandemic hot spots or mandatory quarantine or can’t travel due to border closures or restrictions. So, if your travel insurance won’t cover you, here are some other ideas to consider.

Call the airline or travel provider

If your travel insurance doesn’t cover your canceled or interrupted trip, contact your airline and other travel providers. After all, the airline may have travel waivers that allow you to cancel, delay or change your flights with waived fees — and sometimes with any fare difference waived as well.

Even if the airline doesn’t have a travel waiver in place, you may find an agent who is willing to waive fees — especially if you have elite status with the airline. But, you may need to wait until closer to your travel dates before the airline offers any waivers or alternate options.

Related: Airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies: A complete list of major carriers

Visit a second destination

Suppose the airline won’t offer any solutions, but you don’t feel comfortable visiting your original destination. In that case, you could book a second round-trip to a different destination and nest it within your original trip. Of course, you’ll want to allow enough buffer between your tickets to reduce the chance that you’ll misconnect in either direction.

You may also want to ask the airline how much it would cost to add another leg or two to your original ticket, as then you’d be considered a transit passenger at your original destination. And, as a transit passenger, you may be able to avoid entry restrictions at your original destination.

Related: How to book ‘reverse’ tickets to save on airfare

Consider the risk

If you can visit your destination, you may want to take an unemotional, logical look at your trip and the risks you’re likely to face. Determine your risk based on your destination, activities at your destination, immunity, age, potential repercussions of becoming ill and possible consequences of testing positive during your trip. Some travelers are specifically avoiding international travel as long as the U.S. requires testing before return, as they don’t want to risk needing to quarantine outside the U.S.

Related: Do kids need to get the COVID-19 vaccine before traveling?

Forfeit the trip

If you’ve run out of options and still don’t want to travel, you can try to recoup as much of your costs as possible. For example, you may be able to retain some value by canceling, paying a change or award redeposit fee. But you may lose nonrefundable costs.

Related: How to refund a nonrefundable airline ticket

Bottom line

Travel insurance can be helpful. But don’t expect much coverage from trip cancellation and interruption insurance if you want to cancel or interrupt your trip for most pandemic-related reasons.

Sure, many insurance policies will provide benefits if you contract COVID-19 or are mandated to quarantine for medical isolation. But, you won’t get assistance if you can’t travel or don’t want to travel due to more common reasons such as entry requirements, quarantine requirements or pandemic hot spots. As such, for the foreseeable future, I recommend booking fully refundable travel or purchasing cancel for any reason travel insurance if you aren’t sure you’ll take a trip.

Featured image by Fabio Camandona/Getty Images.

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