Some credit cards offer built-in travel insurance as a cardholder benefit. And it may be tempting to rely on credit card travel protections instead of buying travel insurance. But, the entire point of travel insurance is to be covered if something goes wrong. So, you may be wondering whether you should buy travel insurance even if your credit card offers travel protection.
There isn’t one answer that fits every traveler or situation. So in this guide, we’ll explore some aspects you should consider, and I’ll discuss my take on this topic. Let’s dive in so you can make an informed decision for yourself.
Travel insurance you can buy
At a high level, you can pay a relatively small premium (compared to the total cost of your trip) to buy a travel insurance policy that may provide reimbursement or coverage for unexpected issues that affect your trip.
Many different types of protections fall under the term “travel insurance.” Standard, comprehensive insurance policies typically include broad coverage across various potential issues.
But there are also policies that offer specific 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 protections you need (such as the build-your-own option with American Express Travel Insurance).
We’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 to compare different policies quickly.
Most travel insurance policies exclude any loss incurred due to a preexisting medical condition. However, many policies include a process to 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 and being medically able to travel when you buy the policy. Some companies also require you to insure your trip’s full, prepaid, nonrefundable cost to be eligible.
Likewise, all travel insurance policies have several exclusions. For example, most plans exclude medical benefits for injuries during adventure activities such as skydiving or skiing outside maintained trails.
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Credit card travel protections
Some cards don’t provide any special travel protections. But, many of the best travel rewards cards offer travel protections. Here’s a look at our guides about some of the most common credit card travel protections:
Check out our guide to the best cards that offer travel protections for more details on what card might be best for you. I also recommend reading the guide to benefits for your specific cards, as these documents will detail exactly what protections you can expect when you purchase travel with your card.
Note that some benefits require you to enroll — and virtually all require a formal claim process, with no reimbursement guarantee.
When to purchase travel insurance
Even if you have a credit card that offers travel protections, you may still want to purchase travel insurance for some trips. Here are some scenarios and trips for which it may make sense to purchase travel insurance.
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.
Some travelers aren’t covered
Just because a card offers travel protections doesn’t mean everyone traveling with you will be covered. In particular, travel protections usually only extend to select relatives of the cardholder. Your credit card’s travel insurance may not cover friends, employees and relatives.
If you plan 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.
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 want trip cancellation and interruption insurance that covers preexisting conditions.
Nonmedical evacuation insurance
If you want evacuation insurance for nonmedical reasons, you should purchase travel insurance that offers this coverage even if you have a credit card with evacuation insurance.
Read the benefits guide closely, as evacuation benefits may not cover every evacuation you might need. For example, some policies don’t cover evacuation from an area with a travel warning when you booked your trip or evacuation from a place suddenly inaccessible due to a landslide or other environmental incident.
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 decide to cancel or interrupt for a reason that isn’t covered. In that case, you may want to purchase cancel for any reason trip insurance.
You want peace of mind
Some travelers prefer to buy travel insurance — for each trip or via an annual travel insurance plan — for the peace of mind that having a travel insurance policy brings. Especially given the issues travelers have faced with a specific credit card insurance provider, it may be worth buying a travel insurance plan if you don’t feel confident your credit card travel insurance and individual health insurance will combine to provide enough coverage during your trip.
When credit card travel protections may be enough
Suppose you don’t fall into any of the categories above and use one of the best credit cards with travel insurance 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 health insurance that will provide adequate coverage at your destination.
Below is a collection of reasons you can rely on credit card protections instead of purchasing independent travel insurance. If some (or most) of these reasons apply to your trip, it may be reasonable for you to rely on credit card protections instead of buying travel insurance:
- You have personal health insurance that will cover you on your trip, even if treatment is out of network at your destination
- You book your trip with a credit card that provides travel insurance
- You have a credit card that provides medical evacuation benefits during your trip
- You make refundable travel plans that you can cancel for little or no fee
- You tend to change your plans frequently or book travel at the last minute
- You have an emergency fund that can cover unexpected expenses if needed
- You have airline miles or transferable points you can use to leave the area or return home if needed.
- You avoid especially high-risk activities and destinations
The decision of whether to buy travel insurance is complex and personal. If you don’t feel confident that your credit card protections and individual health insurance will provide adequate coverage, it’s likely worth buying travel insurance.
Why credit card travel insurance is usually enough for me
After researching the best travel insurance policies and providers, I purchased travel insurance for one specific trip because I wanted political evacuation coverage. I also purchased travel insurance for two trips when the destination required travelers to carry insurance for COVID-19 treatment and quarantine.
But for most of my trips, credit card protections and individual health insurance provide enough coverage for me. After all, my travel usually looks like the following:
- My flights are often award flights that I can cancel and redeposit free of charge — or ones that carry minimal change and cancellation fees
- My lodging can almost always be canceled without a penalty until shortly before my stay
- If I book a tour or activity, it’s usually within a few days of said tour or activity (or offers free cancellation)
- My health insurance provides out-of-network coverage outside the U.S., so travel insurance would only pay for my deductible. In addition, my out-of-pocket maximum for out-of-network care is low enough to cover using my emergency fund
- I book flights and pay for the taxes and fees for award flights using the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, which provides excellent travel protections for a $95 annual fee card
- I have ample airline miles and transferable points that I can use to cover last-minute one-way flights if needed
As you can see, the benefits of purchasing travel insurance would be minimal for most of my trips. The travel protections I use most are trip delay protection and baggage delay protection, both of which the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card provides when I use it to pay for my flights.
As you book trips, you may wonder whether you should purchase travel insurance. One way to decide is to consider 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 your credit card’s travel protections and health insurance — then you may want to proceed without buying travel insurance. Otherwise, I recommend purchasing a travel insurance policy shortly after you make the initial payment for your trip.