Surprising credit card travel exclusions
Cosmetic surgery, marching in a protest, skydiving may not be covered
Expert on fraud, travel and debt.
The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Some of the offers mentioned below may no longer available. Please review our list of best credit cards to find our current offers, or use our CardMatch tool to find cards matched to your needs.
Don’t plan to take part in a protest, travel to a war zone or go skydiving until you’ve read your credit card’s travel insurance policy. An injury playing in the major leagues or traveling to the moon likely isn’t covered by your card’s insurance, either.
Credit cards often offer trip cancellation and interruption insurance, and travel accident insurance, at no cost to you, when you use your card to book your travel, but read your policy details. Exclusions mean you can’t collect a payout if you take part in a prohibited activity.
“Every insurance policy has limitations and exclusions,” says Megan Cruz, executive director of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTIA). “If there is blanket coverage for anything that could possibly occur, the cost would be prohibitive. Insurers try to balance reasonable coverage with reasonable cost.”
Some exclusions are due to “concentration of risk,” such as acts of war, Cruz says. “Other exclusions are intended to limit coverage to truly unforeseeable risks, or not cover risks under the control of the insured party.”
For example, traveling on a rocket-propelled flight, playing a professional sport or taking part in a motor vehicle race typically aren’t covered by your card.
Many of the credit card insurance policies we reviewed also won’t cover pre-existing medical conditions or if you’re injured while committing an illegal act.
See related: How your credit card’s travel insurance can save you
Travel insurance coverage is all over the map
Trip cancellation and interruption coverage also runs the gamut, from up to $10,000 per incident from Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve, to just $1,500 with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.
Trip cancellation or interruption insurance is designed to provide reimbursement for prepaid expenses if your trip is canceled or cut short for covered reasons, such as illness or severe weather. Travel accident insurance is designed to provide coverage for accidental death or dismemberment during a covered trip.
While American Express offers travel accident insurance on various cards, it won’t cover you if your losses are related to taking part in a protest or riot, or are driving or riding in a rental or personal vehicle. (Your AmEx car rental and damage insurance covers you for vehicles).
The Wells Fargo Rewards card and Wells Fargo Visa Signature card won’t provide coverage under its travel accident policies if you’re driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And the Visa Signature card won’t cover losses related to cosmetic surgery.
Citi, which offers trip cancellation and interruption coverage on such cards as Citi Double Cash Card and Citi Prestige, recently surveyed 1,000 Americans with household incomes of at least $150,000. The survey found that 87 percent would rather spend money on travel experiences than material things, says Citi spokeswoman Jennifer Bombardier.
“Clearly, travel, and by extension, travel insurance, are important for our cardmembers,” she says.
See related: Can you count on your card’s travel insurance?
6 surprising travel insurance exclusions
Skip that protest
Losses from illnesses
Driving in a race?
Forgot your passport?
Rethink your plans
Loss of one hand?
4 in 10 aren’t sure if their card includes travel insurance
A recent poll by the travel insurance website InsureMyTrip.com found that 40 percent of the nearly 2,100 Americans surveyed aren’t sure if their primary credit card provides any travel insurance benefits.
Researchers reviewed almost 100 credit card policies and found that even if coverage is available, it varies widely among credit card companies. Researchers also found major limitations with credit cards’ trip cancellation insurance, when compared to the benefits that come with comprehensive travel insurance plans available for purchase.
For example, many cards have a maximum limit on the number of claims allowed per year, or they only cover the cardholder and immediate family members, rather than everyone traveling with the cardholder, says Erin Gavin, product analyst at InsureMyTrip.com.
“Dive deep into the policy details to figure out what is covered,” Gavin recommends.
See related: 11 credit card travel insurance benefits
Check your credit card’s travel insurance coverage
If you want to rely solely on your credit card for travel insurance, consider your exposure, says Dave Boggs, sales manager with Seven Corners, which offers travel insurance plans. You might be spending a couple of hundred dollars for a flight to Grandma’s or several thousand dollars on a cruise.
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example, the trip interruption and cancellation insurance policy covers up to $10,000 per individual, with a limit or $20,000 per trip. So, if you, your spouse and son are taking a trip that costs $10,000 each, or $30,000 total, you’ll only have $20,000 in coverage.
A couple of other things to check on your card’s travel insurance:
- Medical or evacuation insurance: Your credit card might provide travel accident insurance, but not medical insurance or evacuation insurance in case of a medical emergency, Gavin says.
- Is all of your trip covered? With some cards, you’ll need to purchase all your travel arrangements with that particular card to receive coverage, she says.
You may want additional insurance before your trip
If your card doesn’t provide travel insurance coverage, or if the coverage offered doesn’t meet your needs, you may want to consider purchasing a travel insurance plan.
Comprehensive travel insurance plans provide trip cancellation and interruption coverage and emergency medical and evacuation coverage, but there may be exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions. You may be able to get a waiver if you buy the plan shortly after you book you trip, according to InsureMyTrip.com.
There also may be exclusions for taking part in certain adventure sports, such as skydiving and scuba diving, but you also might be able to buy a rider to cover those sports.
With a comprehensive policy, “you get so much bang for your buck,” Gavin says.
Another option is a cancel-for-any-reason policy, which will allow you to cancel if you just don’t feel like going on the trip, Moss says, or if you’ve shelled out money to travel to a destination wedding, and the bride and groom call it quits.
These policies are more expensive, and you typically have to cancel at least 48 hours in advance. You also won’t be reimbursed for the entire cost of your trip.
Cruz, of the USTIA, says it’s important not only to understand exclusions, but also to understand exactly what is covered. “Travelers often mistakenly assume something is covered when in fact there is no peril that would apply.”
She cites the case of the Zika virus.
“For many plans there was no peril that would apply, even if a customer was advised by their doctor of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation not to travel to a certain area,” she says.
- Credit freezes are now free – but do you need one? – Credit freezes, which keep lenders and other companies from viewing your credit, are now free. We compared them to other credit protection tools, including locks and monitoring services. Here's how to use them all to protect yourself ...
- Employer credit checks: Who does them, how they work and what laws apply – If you're applying for a new job, a credit check could determine your fate, depending on the position and where it's based. Here's how they work and what to expect ...
- My card issuer of 25 years suddenly wants to know more about me – Under the Patriot Act, banks are required to verify the identities of their customers and maintain accurate information on them. But my bank's demand to know how I earn my income is an invasion of my privacy ...