You hit a travel snafu, big or small. Maybe you need advice
on which shoes to wear for a tour of Athens. Your luggage gets lost in
Lithuania. Or you get attacked by a shark in Zanzibar. If you have a credit
card with emergency travel assistance, you can summon help with a phone call.
However, many cardholders don't know about this benefit,
have no idea whether their card offers it (see chart below) or aren't clear on how it works, says
Vladimir Poletaev, vice president of business development for VIPdesk, an
International SOS Company, which runs travel assistance programs for several
credit card issuers.
"There's so much involved in understanding what's actually
offered," he says.
Ins and outs of
emergency travel assistance
One reason the perk can leave some cardholders confused is
that the service is marketed in different ways by credit card companies, and it
can overlap with other benefits, such as travel accident insurance, trip
cancellation insurance or lost baggage insurance, that might be offered on the
same card. The simple explanation is that travel emergency assistance is a
concierge service for travelers, according to Poletaev. It usually covers these
planning -- If you need weather
reports for Aruba, hotel reservations in Helsinki, information on visas
and vaccinations for Vietnam or even tips on what to pack in your
suitcase, you can call the travel assistance number for help. Poletaev
says, "Someone might call and say, 'I'm going to China. Do I need
to bring a jacket?'"
Help with travel mishaps
-- After you arrive, the service can help fix travel fiascos, experts say.
For example, American Express Manager for Public Affairs Melanie Backs
says one cardholder, who was traveling to a conference, left her luggage
in the trunk of a taxi three hours before she was to fly home. The woman
called AmEx's Global Assist hotline, and a representative called the cab
company, tracked down the bags and got them returned in time for the
traveler to catch her flight.
Aid for illness and
injury -- Emergency travel assistance can offer help for anything from
the sniffles to a stroke. For example, Linda Dickerhoof Sperling, director
of marketing communications for VIPdesk, was on her honeymoon in Barcelona
when her husband caught a cold. Nearby corner stores and groceries did not
sell cold medicine. "All I wanted was a Sudafed, DayQuil, NyQuil,
anything," she says. The couple called the travel assistance number for
their credit card and a representative pointed them to a nearby pharmacy
with English-speaking staff. The services also help with more serious
cases. For example, Poletaev says a bank executive had to be hospitalized
on a trip and got a nurse escort for a flight home. Experts point out,
though, that such services will cost you unless they happen to be covered
by an insurance benefit on the card or other insurance you've purchased.
"The help is free, but you're responsible for any charges for third-party
services," Backs says.
Legal assistance -- If
you get in trouble while traveling, you can call for legal referrals and
other help. One student traveler got arrested and thrown in jail in Egypt
for snapping photos of soldiers and military equipment, Poletaev says. He
called the emergency travel assistance number for his credit card, and the
representative found him a lawyer and had bail money sent. The student had
a separate travel insurance policy that paid for those costs, and he got
back home safely, Poletaev says.
Security and safety
advice -- A young woman was visiting friends in Kenya when riots broke
out, Poletaev says. She called emergency travel assistance and got routed
to a security expert, who assessed the situation and advised her she'd be
in more danger if she tried to leave than if she stayed put. "They said, 'We
could send people to escort you, but it's not covered, so you'd have to
pay the cost,'" Poletaev says. The student stayed in her friend's
apartment, and the situation settled down in a few days, he says.
What to know before you go
There are some important things
travelers should know about emergency travel assistance and other related
benefits that might be offered on their credit card, experts say:
You must be on a trip to use the service. Travel assistance services usually are available to any
cardholder who has a card with the benefit and is traveling a certain distance
from home, according to Poletaev. "It usually kicks in when you are 100 miles
or more from home," he says. "You can't call for translation help from your
Use your card to pay for your travel. In order to be eligible for some of the other card benefits
that can work in tandem with emergency travel assistance, such as travel
accident insurance, you must pay for your trip with that card, Poletaev says.
For example, American Express travel accident insurance and baggage insurance
require that the entire fare for the trip be purchased with the card that
offers the benefit. In that case, AmEx baggage insurance provides up to $500
for checked baggage and up to $1,250 for lost, stolen or damaged carry-on luggage.
If you have a similar benefit, your travel assistance representative could make
sure you get the money to replace some toiletries and clothes while they hunt
down your luggage, Poletaev says.
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Don't expect too much.
Most of the concierge services are conducted over the phone, Poletaev says. So,
when your credit card company says they'll help you find a lost item, they
don't mean they'll send a representative over to crawl around in the grass with
you in the park in Paris where you lost your engagement ring. "No," Poletaev
says. "But we could help you locate a ring of the same good quality."
additional coverage. Some cardholders see that emergency travel assistance is
offered with their card and assume it includes travel accident insurance, lost
baggage insurance and trip cancellation and interruption insurance that will
cover everything, says Damian Tysdal, founder of TravelInsuranceReview.net.
That might not be the case and, if some coverage is included on your credit card
as an additional benefit, the dollar limit might be too low for your situation.
There could be other limits or exclusions, too, such as for pre-existing
medical conditions or participating in hazardous sports, he says. "If you're
going on a trip and want to look into travel insurance, don't assume your
credit card is going to cover it."
Be prepared to pay for
added services. Emergency travel assistance representatives can help you locate
just about any type of service you need, but you'll have to come up with the money to pay the doctor who is sent to your room in Denmark, the lawyer who shows up
to help get you out of jail in Singapore or, in a worst-case scenario, the air
ambulance that rescues you from a mountaintop in Tibet. "You can usually just
put it on your card," AmEx's Backs says of the charges for third-party
services. "That's the easiest way to go."
Even though it
doesn't cover your costs for extra services, emergency travel assistance can be
a big help, Tysdal says: "It's a huge benefit. If you're going abroad, especially
if there's a language issue, it can be really intimidating to get through an
issue that would be really simple to take care of at home."
All cards issued by American Express, including Platinum
Card from American Express, American Express Gold Card, American Express Green
Card and others.
Gold MasterCard, Platinum MasterCard, MasterCard
World Elite, and may be available on other MasterCard cards
Discover More Credit Card, Discover Motiva Card,
Discover Open Road Card, Miles by Discover Card
Visa Signature cards, Visa TravelMoney cards and
may be available on other Visa card products
What they call it
MasterAssist Travel Assistance Services
/MasterCard Global Services /MasterCard Global Premium (depending on the card)
24/7 Travel Assistance
Visa Travel and Emergency Assistance
A range of services including trip planning (customs
information, cultural inquiries, vaccination information, passport/visa
information, weather reports), lost passport replacement assistance,
translation services (conferencing in an interpreter over the phone or referral
to a local service provider), emergency cash wire service, lost luggage
assistance, lost item search, urgent message relay, emergency medical and legal
referrals, bail bond assistance, prescription replacement assistance, emergency
medical transportation assistance, repatriation of mortal remains of a
cardholder or covered family member.
Trip planning (visa /passport requirements,
immunization information), help with lost or stolen documents or luggage,
emergency card replacement, cash advances, assistance in finding an ATM,
physician referrals, hospital transfer arrangements, referrals to attorneys or
local embassies or consulates
A range of services, including lost baggage
tracking, emergency cash transfer, assistance locating ATMs, help with passport
and travel document replacement, embassy or consulate referral, flight
rebooking, help replacing lost or stolen airline tickets, legal referrals,
document delivery arrangement, local police station referral, security or
political evacuation assistance.
A variety of services including trip planning, emergency
message relay, medical referral assistance with monitoring and follow-up, legal
referrals, emergency transportation assistance, emergency airline ticket
replacement help, lost luggage locator service, emergency translation help,
prescription and valuable document delivery arrangements. Visa says it will make every
effort to help in an emergency, even beyond listed services.
Available only to cardholders traveling more
than 100 miles from home. Assistance cannot be in violation of U.S. economic or
trade sanctions. Cardholders are responsible for charges from third-party
Must be cardholder traveling more than 100 miles from home.
Cardholders are responsible for charges from third-party service providers.
Certain services might not be available in all
destinations. Cardholders can call to ask about a specific
destination. To use the service, you must be a cardholder whose account is in
good standing, a spouse or dependent child traveling with the cardholder or an
authorized user in good standing. This
is not an insurance product, and cardholder is responsible for paying fees for
any third-party service providers.
The service is available only to eligible Visa cardholders
whose accounts are in good standing, along with their spouses or dependent
children under age 22. Cardholders are responsible for charges from third-party
Travel accident insurance, roadside assistance
and baggage insurance available on some cards.
Additional benefits available on some cards
include roadside assistance, lost or damaged luggage insurance, travel accident
insurance, trip cancellation insurance, baggage delay insurance and hotel/motel
Separate benefits available on some cards
include emergency roadside assistance and flight accident insurance.
Lost luggage reimbursement available on Visa TravelMoney
cards and might be available on some other Visa card products.
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