I Should Have Bought Travel Insurance — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader KG, whose son got sick during a family trip abroad:
We visited the Dominican Republic in April as a family for our spring break. I booked the trip through United Vacations for a total of about $3,000, and paid with my United MileagePlus Select card. One of the optional items offered during checkout was travel protection and insurance, including emergency health and dental protection for $90 per adult. The trip was already pricey for four days, and I didn't feel like spending another $200 for insurance coverage since we have never needed it in the past. Here is where our trouble started.
The day after we arrived, our toddler came down with a cold and cough. We dismissed it as a regular cold since he didn't have any fever, but that changed on the second day. We rushed him to the resort doctor, who noticed our son's breathing was heavy and labored. He immediately asked us to go to an emergency room to verify that our son didn't have bronchitis or pneumonia. Being in a foreign country where not much English is spoken added a lot of pressure on us as parents.
We took a taxi to the ER, where he was examined by another doctor and x-rays were taken. The pediatrician determined that he did indeed have bronchitis, but since we had brought him in right away, it had not progressed to pneumonia. The doctor treated him and got his breathing back to normal, and he was discharged after four hours with a few medicines for later. All said and done, the total cost came to $700 out of pocket, along with the mental toll it took on us as parents.
That may not seem like much, but it was one quarter of the total trip cost, and it could have been covered and reimbursed for much less if we had purchased trip protection and insurance. Going forward, we are going to purchase travel insurance to avoid scenarios like this, and I hope this will help others who are on the fence about it. Life may throw curveballs; just be prepared so they don't affect you as much!
To take a meta view here, one common mistake I see people make is to overcompensate for past errors and other negative experiences, including ones for which they aren't to blame. If you nearly missed a tight connection, for example, you wouldn't do yourself any favors by saddling all your future itineraries with overly long layovers. Similarly, you'd only be squandering opportunity if a bump gone wrong turned you off entirely from volunteering your seat on oversold flights. It's important to learn from your mistakes, but the lesson you learn should be one that actually helps. I'm not convinced the moral to KG's story does that.
Optional insurance is inherently a gamble; declining it isn't necessarily a mistake just because it would have proven useful in hindsight, just like buying isn't necessarily a mistake when you turn out not to need it. This isn't to say that you should or shouldn't pay for travel insurance, but that your decision should be based on individual circumstances like your destination, your medical history and the extent to which you're already covered. There's some value in paying for travel insurance if it brings you greater peace of mind and helps you enjoy your trip, but a blanket decision to always buy probably won't serve you well in the long run.
Ultimately, I think opting out seemed reasonable in KG's case, even if he likely could have found a better price by shopping around. The mistake would be to let the experience of his son getting sick abroad cloud his judgment about whether to opt in for the future.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending KG a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't respond to each story individually, but we'll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!