Be careful: Avoiding outbreaks isn’t covered by most travel insurance

Feb 3, 2020

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When the World Health Organization declared a global emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak in China, airlines canceled flights, airports began screening travelers and some countries implemented entry restrictions or quarantine procedures for potentially infected travelers. At the same time, many travelers cancelled, rerouted or postponed their travel to avoid the highest-risk regions and some were disappointed to learn that their travel insurance wouldn’t cover their trip cancellation or interruption.

Related reading: Is it safe to travel to Asia? Complete guide to traveling during the deadly coronavirus outbreak

What’s 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 provides reimbursement of 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 cancelling or postponing a trip and the types of expenses that can be reimbursed. Most policies won’t cover you if you simply decide not to travel — even if your decision is based on avoiding an outbreak of illness at your destination.

However, most policies do cover cancellation or interruption if you are quarantined. And, some policies cover cancellation or interruption protection if your destination is under a mandatory evacuation. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular policies.

Related reading: What you should know about the trip cancellation and interruption protection offered by select credit cards

Popular trip cancellation and interruption policies

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

Let’s look at some of the most popular travel insurance policies and whether they’d cover you if you decide not to travel because of an epidemic.

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 provided by both cards may provide reimbursement for eligible travel expenses charged to the cardholder’s account up to $10,000 per covered person and up to $20,000 per trip if a loss results in cancellation or interruption of the travel arrangements. The benefit provided by both cards explicitly covers “quarantine of you or your traveling companion imposed by a physician or by a competent governmental authority having jurisdiction, due to health reasons” but explicitly excludes “your disinclination to travel due to an epidemic or pandemic.”

So, you won’t be covered by Chase credit cards if you decide not to travel because of an epidemic or pandemic.

Related reading: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase credit cards

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 credit cards including The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express include 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 (or in combination with your card and accumulated points) on your eligible card or 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.

Although not wanting to travel because of an epidemic isn’t explicitly excluded, it is not included in the list of covered losses and is effectively excluded because the traveler must be “prevented from traveling” (which isn’t the case if you simply choose not to travel). However, “quarantine imposed by a physician for health reasons” is explicitly covered.

Related reading: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

Purchased travel insurance

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

I studied policies offered by four popular travel insurance providers: AIG Travel Guard, Allianz Travel Insurance, Seven Corners and World Nomads. Each of these providers offers one or more policies with trip cancellation and interruption insurance that will cover you if you or a traveling companion is quarantined. Allianz will reimburse you if you must cancel or interrupt your trip because of a mandatory evacuation ordered by government authorities at your destination as long as you purchased your travel insurance policy prior to public knowledge of the event leading to the mandatory evacuation.

None of the policies provide reimbursement if you decide not to travel though, even if your reason is because of an epidemic at your destination. But, AIG Travel Guard and Seven Corners both offer “cancel for any reason” optional upgrades on some policies. If you purchase this upgrade, you can cancel for any reason — including deciding not to travel because of an epidemic — and be reimbursed for part of the prepaid, forfeited, nonrefundable payments or deposits for the trip.

Related reading: A hurricane wrecked our trip, but kindness and trip insurance saved the day

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 make the decision not to travel because of an epidemic at your travel destination. 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 won’t cover your canceled or interrupted trip, contact your airline and other travel providers. If the epidemic is affecting your destination or a city you are transiting, the airline probably has travel waivers in place that may 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 because the situation may improve by the time you travel.

Related reading: Airlines and hotels offering full refunds in response to coronavirus outbreak

Visit a second destination

If the airline won’t offer any solutions but you don’t feel comfortable visiting the affected area, 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’ll have less to worry about in terms of misconnecting.

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

Consider the risk

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 and potential repercussions of becoming ill.

Related reading: Myth-busting: Will a face mask keep you safe from viruses on a plane?

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 an award redeposit fee or paying a change fee. But you may lose nonrefundable costs.

Related reading: How to refund a nonrefundable airline ticket

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