Sick on vacation? Credit cards can help you survive
Perks such as health insurance and trip cancellation can help if you fall ill
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No one wants to get sick on vacation, but if it happens, your credit card may have the remedy for a nightmare trip.
Travel can take its toll on the human body, and being in a faraway land can expose your immune system to things it’s not accustomed to. You might get Montezuma’s revenge, come down with a common virus or even have an allergic reaction of some sort.
While there are lots of things you can do to plan for the worst, you might not think of your travel credit cards as a helpful resource when you fall ill on vacation. But, in fact, there are a variety of surprising ways they can lend an unexpected helping hand before you make it back home to the comfort of your own bed.
Card perks that can help if you're sick on vacation
"One of the best rewards cards, sitting happily atop the Mount Rushmore of credit cards, is the ultra-premium Chase Sapphire Reserve,” says Zac Hood of TravelFreely.net. “There are a lot of reasons people love this card, but an understated benefit is the medical coverage when traveling.”
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers up to $2,500 in medical and dental expenses for the cardholder or an immediate family member when traveling 100 miles or more from home.
“If you travel often and like to purchase separate travel insurance, this card benefit could be quite valuable," says Hood.
According to AAA, many hospitals outside the country require cash payments before providing treatment, and insurance that covers medical expenses can help cover this fee.
Both Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card® from American Express also have coverage for emergency evacuation and transportation.
“Those mountaintop helicopter rescues you see in movies are expensive,” says Scott Lieberman, managing editor of MillionMileSecrets.com. “Costs can range from $15,000 to well over $100,000.”
Lieberman noted that American Express’s Global Assist Hotline, which is available to all card members, can be used in emergency situations. You can use it to connect with a designated physician, who determines whether you need to be evacuated and where to send you for treatment.
“The event must be within the first 90 days of the trip and cannot be a pre-existing condition,” Lieberman said.
Be sure to check the fine print in the benefits guide of each credit card to see coverage limits and exclusions so you know exactly what to expect.
Trip cancellation or interruption insurance
If you have to cut your trip short or even have to cancel it before you leave, that’s a major bummer, but it doesn’t have to also be a strain on your wallet. Cards that offer trip cancellation or interruption insurance will reimburse you up to a certain amount if the cardholder or an immediate family member gets sick, and it disrupts your vacation.
For example, both the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Reserve will cover up to $20,000 per occurrence of both interruption or cancellation, while the Citi Double Cash Card offers $5,000 per traveler per trip.
Other cards with these benefits, offered in varying amounts, include:
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard ($5,000 per trip)
- Citi Premier Card ($5,000 per trip)
- Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card ($5,000 per trip)
- United Explorer Card ($10,000 per trip)
Again, be sure to check each card’s benefits guide for detailed information.
One of the simplest and most helpful resources a credit card may offer is access to its concierge service, which is a phone number you call for dedicated help. These include services like American Express’s Global Assist Hotline or Chase Sapphire cards’ travel and emergency assistance benefit.
Here are a few example of how a concierge service can help you in case of illness. It can:
- Find the nearest doctor or dentist
- Arrange for transportation
- Get you to a pharmacy or replace a prescription you forgot
- Locate the nearest embassy
- Get urgent messages to family members
- Access legal help or a translator
If you’re feeling unwell, a more comfortable stay in a hotel or on the plane can do wonders. The bonuses earned from credit cards can be used to book hotel stays if you need to stay an extra night or two somewhere or fly in a more comfortable class.
Emily Jablon, co-founder of MillionMileSecrets.com, says she’s gotten sick many times on her world travels.
“Flying in first or business class can be a lifesaver when you are really sick and want to lie down and have more attentive service,” says Jablon, who says she booked a business class flight once when she was ill and on her way back to the U.S. She was also able to get escorted in a wheelchair through all the lines.
Earning miles and points
In some cases, your vacation medical costs can help you earn rewards.
Jablon said she once got sick on a trip to Bangkok and was able to use a credit card to pay for a doctor’s visit.
“They added it to the hotel fees as part of checkout, so I earned rewards for it,” she said.
Even if you can’t add it as a travel expense, you could still use a credit card that earns multiple points per dollar on any purchase, including at the pharmacy, hospital or for a doctor’s visit.
While no one wants to get sick on vacation, keep in mind that the plastic in your wallet may not just help you earn free travel, but may also turn out to be a lifesaver.
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