When to buy travel insurance versus when to rely on credit card protections

Sep 2, 2021

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Like many eager travelers, I’m booking a lot of trips now. But, as I book trips, I have to decide whether to purchase independent travel insurance. And it may surprise you to learn that for most trips, I forgo purchasing travel insurance.

Instead, I put my trip expenses on a travel rewards credit card that may provide protection when I use the card for travel purchases and things then go wrong on the trip. So, today I’ll consider an important question that I’ve asked myself many times: “When should I purchase travel insurance and when can I rely on credit card travel protections?”

Interested in travel insurance? Visit InsureMyTrip.com to shop for plans that may fit your travel needs.

The answer to this question is complex and personal. As such, the answer will vary from traveler to traveler as well as from trip to trip. Let’s dive in so you can make an informed decision for yourself.

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In This Post

What is travel insurance?

Two mountain bikers on a trail in the mountains
Travel insurance may provide benefits if your trip doesn’t go as expected. (Photo by Seth K. Hughes/Getty Images)

In short, travel insurance is an optional purchase that may offer benefits when things don’t go as planned on an upcoming trip. You pay a relatively small premium (compared to the total cost of your trip), and in exchange, you’ll have an insurance policy that may provide reimbursement or coverage for unexpected issues that come up while traveling.

There are many different types of protections that fall under the term “travel insurance”, and standard, comprehensive insurance policies typically include broad coverage across a range of potential issues — such as trip interruption, baggage, medical, dental, emergency evacuation and accidental death benefits (though benefits vary by policy).

However, there are policies that offer narrower coverage. For example, it’s possible to purchase travel insurance that only provides medical protection for international travel (such as GeoBlue). Likewise, you can also purchase policies that allow you to select the protection you need — such as the build-your-own option with American Express Travel Insurance).

I’ve previously compared the best travel insurance policies and providers. So, check out that guide to find the provider and policy that fits your needs best. You can also check a travel insurance aggregator — such as InsureMyTrip — to compare different policies quickly. As you research policies that may fit your needs, you’ll likely notice the following types of coverage are available on at least some policies:

  • Trip cancellation may reimburse you for your insured expenses if you cancel your trip due to a covered reason. Most policies offer trip cancellation based on the cost of your prepaid, nonrefundable trip. However, each policy has a range of exclusions and terms that may limit your potential for a successful claim.
  • Trip interruption may reimburse you for the unused, nonrefundable portion of your trip and/or the increased transportation costs it takes for you to return home due to a covered reason. Most policies offer trip interruption, but coverage is dependent on the specifics of your plan. For example, some policies may not cover the cost for you to rejoin an interrupted trip.
  • Emergency medical coverage may provide benefits for losses due to covered medical and dental emergencies that occur during your trip. While most standard, comprehensive travel insurance policies offer emergency medical coverage, there’s usually a low cap on emergency dental care.
  • Travel accident protection may provide coverage if an accident on your trip results in death or dismemberment. Most policies offer this coverage — subject to each provider’s eligibility terms and conditions.
  • Emergency medical transportation may arrange and pay for the cost to medically transport you to an appropriate medical facility to receive care when medically necessary. This coverage may also pay to get you home after receiving care. Most policies offer emergency medical transportation coverage, but it usually requires preapproval and must be coordinated by the assistance company.
  • Political evacuation may transport you to the nearest safe place or your residence under specific conditions. Most policies don’t offer this benefit, and policies that do often have many exclusions.
  • Baggage loss or damage may cover loss, damage or theft of baggage and personal effects. Most policies offer this benefit, usually with a low cap on high-value items such as electronics.
  • Baggage delay coverage may reimburse you for the purchase of essential items during your trip if your baggage is delayed or misdirected by a common carrier. Most policies offer this benefit, but the length of delay required to invoke this protection can vary from policy to policy.
  • Travel delay coverage may reimburse you for additional expenses due to a covered delay — which may include meals and/or overnight accommodations. Some policies may also cover lost prepaid trip expenses due to a covered travel delay. Most policies offer this coverage after a six- to 12-hour delay.
  • Change fee coverage may provide reimbursement for fees to change the dates on your airline ticket under select circumstances. Only some policies offer this benefit.
  • Loyalty program redeposit fee coverage may reimburse you for applicable fees to redeposit your frequent flyer miles for covered trip cancellations. Only some policies offer this benefit.
  • 24-hour hotline assistance can provide an assistance team to help you handle all kinds of travel emergencies. Most policies offer this service.
  • Concierge service can provide personalized information about your destination and help you obtain restaurant reservations, tee times and tickets to events. Only some policies offer this perk.
  • Rental car damage protection may provide primary collision and loss coverage for physical damage to or theft of a rental car. Some policies automatically include this coverage, but most offer this coverage for a per-day add-on fee.
  • Cancel or interrupt for any reason protection is an optional add-on to some comprehensive travel insurance policies and may allow you to be reimbursed for up to 75% of your insured trip cost when you cancel (or interrupt) your trip for any reason. However, these benefits are time-sensitive and have other eligibility requirements, so not all travelers will qualify.
  • Cancel or interrupt for work coverage may provide trip cancellation and interruption coverage for covered, work-related reasons. Some policies automatically offer this coverage, while others may allow you to add this coverage for an additional fee.

Most travel insurance policies exclude any loss incurred because of a preexisting medical condition that existed within a certain period of the coverage effective date (usually 60 to 180 days). However, most policies include a process to potentially obtain a waiver of the preexisting condition exclusion — if you meet specific requirements. These requirements typically include purchasing the policy shortly after the first nonrefundable trip payment or deposit as well as being medically able to travel when you buy the policy. In addition, some companies require you to insure the full, prepaid, nonrefundable cost of your trip to be eligible.

Likewise, all travel insurance policies have a number of exclusions. For example, most plans exclude medical benefits for injuries caused while doing adventure activities such as sky diving or skiing outside of maintained trails.

Related: After decades of travel, why I bought travel insurance for the first time

What travel protections are provided by credit cards?

Couple at Machu Picchu
If you injure yourself while exploring Machu Picchu, the Chase Sapphire Reserve might cover your medical costs. (Photo by dislentev/Getty Images)

Some cards don’t provide any special travel protections, while others offer ample travel protections. Currently, my favorite consumer cards that offer travel protections are the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($550 annual fee), the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($95 annual fee) and The Platinum Card® from American Express ($695 annual fee, see rates and fees).

Here’s a quick overview of the travel protections provided by each of these cards:

Benefit Chase Sapphire Reserve Chase Sapphire Preferred Card The Platinum Card from American Express
Baggage delay protection Delays over six hours by common carrier, up to $100 a day for five days Delays over six hours by common carrier, up to $100 a day for five days n/a
Lost or damaged baggage protection Up to $3,000 per passenger per trip, but only up to $500 per passenger for jewelry and watches and up to $500 per passenger for cameras and other electronic equipment Up to $3,000 per passenger per trip, but only up to $500 per passenger for jewelry and watches and up to $500 per passenger for cameras and other electronic equipment Up to $3,000 per traveler for carry-on baggage and up to $2,000 per traveler for checked baggage, but only $1,000 per traveler for high-risk items. Note that you must pay the entire fare with your card (including Pay With Points).
Trip delay reimbursement Delays of more than six hours or require an overnight stay, up to $500 per ticket Delays of more than 12 hours or require an overnight stay, up to $500 per ticket Up to $500 per covered trip and up to two claims per 12-month period per card if a common carrier delays you by more than six hours. Coverage only provided on round-trip travel purchased entirely with an eligible card (paying taxes and fees on award tickets or Pay With Points tickets is covered).
Trip cancellation and interruption protection Up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for prepaid, non-refundable travel expenses Up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for prepaid, non-refundable travel expenses Up to $10,000 per covered trip and $20,000 per eligible card per 12-month period for prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses. Coverage only provided on round-trip travel purchased entirely with an eligible card (paying taxes and fees on award tickets or Pay With Points tickets is covered).
Medical evacuation benefit Up to $100,000 for necessary emergency evacuation and transportation when on a trip of five to 60 days and traveling more than 100 miles from home n/a At no cost to you if the Premium Global Assist Hotline medical department determines it is medically necessary and advisable due to inadequate local facilities. You must be traveling more than 100 miles from home on a trip of 90 days or less.
Travel accident insurance Accidental death or dismemberment coverage up to $100,000 (up to $1,000,000 for common carrier travel) Accidental death or dismemberment coverage of up to $100,000 (up to $500,000 for common carrier travel) n/a
Emergency medical and dental benefit Up to $2,500 for medical expenses (subject to a $50 deductible) when on a trip arranged by a travel agency and traveling more than 100 miles from home n/a n/a
Auto rental collision damage waiver Primary coverage for damages caused by theft or collision up to $75,000 on rentals of 31 days or less Primary coverage for damages caused by theft or collision up to the actual cash value of most rented cars on rentals of 31 days or less Secondary coverage for damages caused by theft or collision up to $75,000 on rentals of 30 days or less when you pay for the entire rental with an eligible card (including Pay With Points). You can pay per rental to upgrade to primary coverage through the American Express Premium Car Rental Protection program.
Roadside assistance Covers up to $50 per incident four times a year while traveling in the U.S. and Canada Will dispatch, but you’re responsible for the roadside service fees n/a
Link to benefit guide Sapphire Reserve benefits Sapphire Preferred benefits Amex benefits

There are extensive guides for each of these cards describing the benefits in detail. Be sure to study these guides and understand the benefits and the associated exclusions. Note, some benefits require you to enroll — and virtually all require a formal claim process, with no guarantee of reimbursement.

Related: Comparing built-in travel insurance with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum

Some travelers may also want to consider the U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card‘s protections. The Chase Sapphire Reserve will generally be a better option for cardholders willing to pay a high annual fee. Still, the Altitude Reserve is a good option if you aren’t eligible for a Chase credit card due to being over Chase’s 5/24 rule.

Or, if you’re looking for a small business card, you may want to consider the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.

The information for the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Battle of the premium travel rewards cards: Which is the best?

When should I purchase travel insurance?

TPG reporter Chris Dong enjoying the views on a hike in Hong Kong
TPG reporter Chris Dong enjoying the views on a hike in Hong Kong. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

There are many different travel insurance providers and policies, making it challenging to compare independent travel insurance and credit card travel protections head-to-head. So, instead of comparing these two, I’ll consider when you should purchase travel insurance in this section. Then, I’ll consider when credit card protections may be enough in the next section.

Remember — if you want to quickly compare policies for your next vacation, you can use a travel insurance aggregator like InsureMyTrip.

Here are some reasons you may want to purchase travel insurance for a trip.

Travel protections aren’t offered

As discussed above, not all travel credit cards provide extensive travel protections when you book travel using the card. So, if you’re using a card without travel protections or a card that only offers limited travel protections, you may want to purchase travel insurance.

Related: Maximize your airfare: The best credit cards for booking flights

You want more coverage for pandemic-related reasons

On most standard, comprehensive travel insurance policies, you generally can’t cancel a trip due to fear of getting sick and be eligible for reimbursement under trip cancellation provisions. This includes any new concerns related to the delta variant of the coronavirus.

However, some comprehensive policies may offer coverage or reimbursement if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 and have proof of illness from a doctor. And some policies may even cover other types of pandemic-related expenses and cancellations — like a doctor- or government-mandated quarantine if you test positive on your trip.

That said, self-quarantine or general stay-at-home orders are not covered reasons for cancellation or interruption of your trip.

In short, it’s critical to read the terms and exclusions of the policy you’re considering so you know exactly what protections you may have.

However, if you’re booking travel that you aren’t sure you’ll want to take or even be able to take, you should consider purchasing a comprehensive travel insurance policy and including the optional, cancel-for-any-reason (CFAR) add-on. This can offer reimbursement of up to 75% of your insured trip costs — as long as you follow the specific requirements, which may include the following:

  • Insuring the entire cost of your trip
  • Purchasing your policy within 10 to 21 days of making your initial trip payment
  • Canceling your trip at least 48 hours before departure

Related: Is it safe to travel as the delta variant spreads? Here’s what the experts say

Some travelers aren’t covered

Just because a card offers travel protections doesn’t mean everyone traveling with you on a trip will be covered. In particular, travel protections usually only extend to select relatives of the cardholder. Friends, employees and relatives may not be covered.

Related: Who is covered by your credit card travel insurance?

Adventure activities

Diver underwater
Your travel insurance may exclude some types of diving. (Photo by nudiblue/Getty Images)

If you’re planning to partake in an activity that most insurance policies exclude, you may want to purchase a travel insurance policy that explicitly includes your activity of choice.

For example, many policies exclude adventure sports like base jumping, sky diving, free soloing, diving, mountaineering and paragliding. You may want to consider purchasing insurance from an association involved in your adventure activity, such as Divers Alert Network (DAN) if you’re a diver or German Alpine Group (DAV) if you partake in alpine sports.

Related: Adventure travel with kids: Why I don’t let my fears stop my children

You’re concerned about preexisting conditions

Most credit card trip interruption and cancellation insurance benefits exclude cancellations or interruptions caused by a sudden recurrence of a preexisting condition. So, you’ll want to purchase travel insurance — and ensure you satisfy the provider’s preexisting condition exclusion waiver conditions — if you need trip cancellation and interruption insurance that covers preexisting conditions.

Related: What older travelers need to know about getting travel health insurance

Nonmedical evacuation insurance

If you want evacuation insurance for nonmedical reasons, you’ll want to purchase travel insurance that may cover this scenario. Just be sure to read the benefits guide closely, as even nonmedical evacuation benefits may not cover every type of evacuation you might need.

For example, some policies don’t cover evacuation from an area that had a travel warning when you booked your trip or evacuation from a place that’s suddenly inaccessible due to a landslide or other environmental incident.

Related: How much does a seat on a repatriation flight cost?

You want to be able to cancel for any reason

Suppose you are uncertain whether you’ll be able to take your trip, and you’re worried that applicable credit card trip protections won’t reimburse you if you make the decision to cancel or interrupt for a reason that isn’t covered. In that case, you may want to purchase travel insurance with the optional cancel-for-any-reason (CFAR) benefit add on — which may reimburse up to 75% of your insured trip costs.

My friend once purchased this type of insurance when he bought a flight to a country where he needed a visa but wasn’t sure his visa application would be successful. After all, most trip cancellation and interruption benefits won’t provide coverage if you don’t meet the entry requirements for your destination. So, especially since it’s unclear when and how some countries will reopen to tourism, cancel for any reason policies can be helpful if you want to make nonrefundable travel plans.

Related: Price freeze and cancel for any reason trip insurance could be coming to more travel providers

When are credit card travel protections enough?

Exploring by longtail boat in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Exploring Khao Sok National Park in Thailand. (Photo by Sam Spicer / Getty Images)

Suppose you don’t fall into any of the categories above and use a credit card that provides extensive travel protections — such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve — when making travel purchases. In that case, you may determine that credit card protections are enough for some (or all) of your trips. However, I only recommend relying on credit card protections if you also have medical insurance that provides adequate coverage at your destination.

Below is a collection of reasons why you may be able to rely on credit card protections instead of purchasing independent travel insurance. Note that this is not an exhaustive list, and you don’t need all of them to apply in order to forgo travel insurance. However, if some (or most) of these reasons apply to your trip, you may want to rely on credit card protections:

Related: Why you might want to get a premium credit card instead of purchasing travel insurance

Why credit card travel insurance is usually good enough for me

Delta JFK-MXP A330
I often book flights with miles, such as this flight to Italy that I booked with Delta SkyMiles. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

After researching the best travel insurance policies and providers, I purchased travel insurance for one specific trip because I wanted political evacuation coverage. But for most of my trips, credit card protections provide enough coverage for me. After all, my travel usually looks like the following:

As you can see, the benefits of purchasing travel insurance would be minimal for most of my trips. Although I live on the road as a digital nomad, I visit my legal residence frequently enough to be covered by credit card protections with a 60-day or 90-day trip-length limitation.

That said, depending on how you travel, you may come to a different conclusion regarding travel insurance for your trips.

Related: Why a Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred combo is perfect for couples who travel

Bottom line

As you book trips for the fall or even look ahead to the holidays, you may wonder whether you should purchase travel insurance — especially as uncertainty around the delta variant continues to impact the travel industry. Ultimately, this decision is personal. And often, there isn’t one correct answer, especially if you use a credit card that provides extensive travel protections.

One way to think about it is whether you’d be adequately covered without purchasing travel insurance if the worst happens. If you’re willing and able to cover the costs in this situation — or you feel confident you’d be adequately covered by the travel protections offered by your credit card and existing health insurance — then you may want to proceed without additional travel insurance. Otherwise, I recommend purchasing a travel insurance policy immediately (or shortly) after you make the initial payment for your trip.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.

Featured photo of the Moxy South Beach by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.


Disclaimer: This information is provided by IMT Services, LLC (InsureMyTrip.com), a licensed insurance producer (NPN: 5119217) and a member of the Tokio Marine HCC group of companies. IMT’s services are only available in states where it is licensed to do business and the products provided through InsureMyTrip.com may not be available in all states. All insurance products are governed by the terms in the applicable insurance policy, and all related decisions (such as approval for coverage, premiums, commissions and fees) and policy obligations are the sole responsibility of the underwriting insurer. The information on this site does not create or modify any insurance policy terms in any way. For more information, please visit www.insuremytrip.com.

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