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Why I Buy Travel Insurance

Aug. 26, 2019
5 min read
Doctor with stethoscope
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I’ve long been an advocate for travel insurance and usually see some pushback when I talk about it with other travelers, especially those in the points and miles community. Objections usually run along “This amazing credit card has some built-in insurance, so why should I buy extra travel insurance?” In some cases, that's probably enough. But in others, well, I hope the following tale will convince you that the $38 we spent on travel insurance on our trip to Gran Canaria was money well spent, and that you’ll consider a plan before your next big trip.

Related: The Best Travel Insurance Policies and Providers

Our Story

I knew we were in trouble when we landed in Madrid. My husband had complained of stomach pain, but during our layover he turned pale and was doubled over. It was severe enough that I considered missing our flight to Gran Canaria and taking him immediately to an emergency room, but he insisted it was tolerable and we got on the flight.

The pain came and went over the next 12 hours and we had a somewhat normal first night on the island. By 3am it was back with a vengeance. Being a Sunday, our options were limited to the ER and we debated whether he could just wait until Monday.

Here is where I’m so grateful for the travel insurance. Allianz has a 24-hour worldwide number you can call to verify benefits or to get medical referrals if you need them. I called and was immediately informed that we had $25,000 in health coverage with no deductible.

If we hadn’t been armed with the knowledge our bills were 100% paid, it would have been temping to wait it out until the local clinic opened on Monday morning. Doing so could have had life-threatening implications.

Five-Star Service No One Wants

Upon arrival, doctors quickly determined my husband needed inpatient treatment and immediate intervention. The diagnosis? A large kidney stone. The estimated cost was 4,500 euros, payable up front. Thankfully, three nights and one surgery later he was back with us at the hotel but, needless to say, we did not enjoy a restful respite. Once my husband was out of the hospital, we could focus on his recovery and not on the 4,500-euro bill because we paid $38 for travel insurance.

I figured a $5,000 claim, especially with a 24-page hospital bill written entirely in Spanish, would require me to jump through some serious hoops. Not so. I filled out a paragraph-long claim form, faxed over the bill (I could have scanned it but faxing was easier) and had a “claim approved” email in 10 days. Four days after that I was holding a check for $5,048 in my hands. Time from claim entry to check in hand? Two weeks.

I Wish This Were My Only Travel Health Insurance Story

But it isn't. The year before, I spent a month with my kids in Asia. My daughter, then 7, started looking a bit off on the plane to Da Nang, Vietnam, and had a definite fever by the time we arrived in Hoi An. I pulled out the chewable ibuprofen and put her down for a nap. She seemed better 24 hours later. She was tired and had little appetite, but had no fever and no real pain so I thought it had run its course.

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Wrong. Two days later, the fever returned with a vengeance. On day four of the fever, the Hyatt Regency in Da Nang helped me find a good doctor. She arrived within an hour and diagnosed my daughter in 30 seconds: tonsillitis. The bill? A quite reasonable $80. The bill four days later in Hong Kong when I came down with the same ailment? A less reasonable $400. Allianz paid both bills in full within a week.

Insurance Is Not One Size Fits All

In case you’re wondering: My family does have good health insurance in the States. It would have covered some of these bills eventually, or at least applied it toward our annual deductible. How much or how long until we saw a dime? No idea. What I do know: In the predawn hours when we needed to make a decision about whether or not to go to the hospital, my health insurance company couldn't provide the answers that Allianz could.

Because of my stellar experience, I'm a fan of Allianz. However, each company and each policy will have variations on preexisting conditions (most cover them with some restrictions), exceptions (such as "dangerous activities" like ziplining or scuba diving) and other differences. Doing your own research is key.

For some trips, your existing health insurance may suffice. For others, the perks included on some credit cards might be enough. For example, I don't insure trips within the US as I'm much more confident about the ability to direct bill my health insurance should something bad happen. The luxury of time isn't often available overseas: If you need services, you need to pay upfront. The security of knowing what my options are if illness or injury strikes is worth the price of the travel insurance policy for our family.

Here's some more travel insurance advice:

14 Travel Insurance Tips for Cruisers

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto