11 credit card travel insurance benefits
Lost a bag or trip canceled? How your card can step in to help offset your losses
Travel insurance for your next trip may already be sitting in your wallet.
Many travel credit cards – and even some of the plain vanilla versions – come with insurance benefits that could help you on the road with everything from replacing a broken smartphone to getting medical care.
Though common, travel insurance perks are "less talked about," and many cardholders may not even know what they have, says Danielle Fagre Arlowe, senior vice president with the American Financial Services Association. Card issuers typically get their travel insurance through third-party companies.
Insurance products change from year to year and over time, so if you want to use the benefits, you have to stay current. Start with the contract and information you first received with the card. Scan any announcement you receive on changes to card terms.
Typically, the benefits from your card are secondary to your other insurance policies and may cover only some of your expenses.
Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America and former Texas insurance commissioner, says insurance policies vary in their rules: "You have to say, 'How does this work?'" he adds.
Following are 11 travel insurance benefits your credit card may offer:
1. Baggage delay insurance.
This perk picks up the cost of items you need if luggage is delayed.
Cards have varying policies on how long the bag has to be missing before you can claim benefits.
There's often a per-day dollar limit for replacement purchases, says Arlowe.
Sometimes that cap is per traveler and sometimes it is per card. And there may be a limit on the number of days you can collect.
Some issuers offer services to help find your bag or navigate the airline's claims process, says Arlowe.
2. Lost luggage insurance.
This reimburses you for the bag and its contents if the luggage is permanently lost. In some cases, it will also cover damage if the bag is eventually found.
Often, there is a maximum cap on claims. And some items (like cash) may not be covered.
Carry-ons may be covered, too. Cynthia Ochterbeck, editorial director for Michelin Travel Partner, says one of her favorite travel cards offers up to $500 per lost checked bag, and up to $1,200 per carry-on bag.
3. Hotel theft or burglary insurance.
This reimburses cardholders for burglary or theft at their hotel, says Christopher Bond, group head and global lead for Mastercard Cardholder Solutions. There will likely be a maximum dollar amount on claims.
"The intent here is largely to cover the deductible you may have on your [homeowners] insurance," he says.
4. Replacement of lost or damaged possessions.
Certain cards cover against loss or breakage when you use the card to purchase items. And some cards automatically extend the existing warranty.
These policies can also be helpful if you lose or break covered items bought before your trip.
Some cards with the best travel insurance
Chase Sapphire Reserve: The Reserve will refund up to $10,000 per trip in airfares, tours, hotels and more if it is canceled or cut short by sickness, weather or other unexpected circumstances.
United MileagePlus Explorer Card: This card from Chase will also refund up to $10,000 per trip in airfares, tours, hotels and more if it is canceled or cut short by sickness, weather or other unexpected circumstances.
Citi ThankYou Premier: This Citi ThankYou card will refund up to $5,000 per traveler per trip if it is canceled or cut short by illness of a traveler, family member or their pet, as well as other unexpected circumstances.
5. Assistance in financial emergencies
Many cards – including Discover, Mastercard and Visa – offer you $0 liability if your card is lost or stolen. So you are not responsible for charges made on a lost or stolen card.
Often you must report a loss or theft within a certain time frame. So bring emergency phone numbers with you.
In a pinch, some cards can send an emergency replacement card and a cash advance.
Other cards assist in locating ATMs and banks, or wiring emergency cash.
6. Assistance in medical, legal or political emergencies.
Some cards cover the cost of medical bills, transportation to medical help or medical evacuation. Others assist with locating legal or medical help, advancing money (but not paying for treatment), or making evacuation travel arrangements.
Card issuers may offer help with replacing and delivering passports or other travel documents. Some will coordinate emergency evacuation arrangements in the event of a political or medical emergency.
With medical insurance, the smart move is to contact your personal health carrier before you leave and ask "what happens if you break your leg in London," says Ochterbeck.
If you are planning a vacation with some riskier activities, such as whitewater rafting or rock climbing, it can be smart to buy special medical and evacuation insurance for your trip, says Arlowe.
7. Trip delay insurance.
This compensates you for unexpected delays when you travel.
Cards vary in the required time period before the benefit kicks in. Also find out which delays are covered, and exactly what the card will pay for and what it excludes.
8. Trip cancellation or interruption insurance.
Some cards will reimburse you for nonrefundable travel expenses charged to that card if you cannot travel, or if you start your trip but cannot complete it.
Know which interruptions and expenses are covered. If your card does not foot the entire bill, cancellation or interruption insurance may cover "at least a partial loss," says Arlowe.
For additional coverage, consider purchasing an individual trip insurance policy.
9. Rental car insurance.
Some cards offer collision and damage coverage for your rental car, provided you use that card to rent the car. But check with your card company for exclusions, especially regarding car models and coverage in certain countries.
With some cards, "you will be surprised which countries are excluded," says Ochterbeck.
Card coverage may be limited to a certain number of days, and often you must report accidents within a certain period of time.
With most cards, the auto insurance is a backstop to whatever isn't covered by your own auto policy.
10. Roadside assistance.
Some cards offer towing and other roadside assistance benefits. It may be free, or available for a fee. Find out the limits, exclusions, and how to dial for help, before you leave.
11. Travel accident insurance.
Some card issuers and card brands pay out life insurance benefits if you are killed or severely injured in transit while traveling. Also called "common carrier" insurance, this can include accidents on airline flights, cruise lines, trains or buses, says Bond.
You must purchase your ticket with the card. And coverage is usually limited only to accidents on qualified common carriers.
Read the fine print
If you have a card with these coverages, familiarize yourself with limitations, coverage caps and exclusions. Some benefits, like lost luggage and loss or breakage protection, may cover some items but not others.
Likewise, delayed trip insurance may pick up dinner, but exclude alcohol.
Ask if the card's coverage is for cash value – also called "fair market value" – or replacement value, says Arlowe.
Cash value reimburses what possessions are currently worth. Replacement value reimburses you for the price of new versions of the damaged or missing items.
Sometimes the cards with the most travel insurance benefits "are more expensive to have," Ochterbeck says. "But if you travel, it's worth it."
Consider it "the cost of doing business," she adds.
The important thing is to find out what benefits a card offers, and check the details on it, Ochterbeck says. "Read the fine print," she adds.
Arlowe says that if you file a claim, "hold on to everything you're given from the airlines." You may also need the receipts for anything you are asking the card to cover.
And don't forget to take photos, where applicable. "You never know when it will come in handy," Arlowe says.
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