Should I get travel insurance?
August 12, 2019 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm buying a ticket to go to Japan next April and wondering if I should get travel insurance. Cost of the ticket is about $750 and travel insurance quotes are between $35-60. Primary reasons I'm thinking of are canceling trip due to illness or job loss. Most also cover emergency health care which is a plus as I'm going for 2 weeks. Also, any recommendations for travel insurance companies?
posted by Automocar to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I would get the insurance. It's a negligible amount of money. I had to cancel an international trip one time because I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it took months of struggle, culminating in an email to the VP of Customer Care for the entire airline, to get my money back. I buy the insurance for every expensive trip now.
posted by something something at 9:49 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]

Yes, get it. The one time we didn't get travel insurance for a family vacation, we were evacuated two days in for a highly unusual, early in the season, hurricane.
posted by Aquifer at 9:52 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]

It's so so worth it. I always buy it for any trip that involves a big chunk of money for airfare and accomms - basically,a any non-road trip. If you make a practice of always buying it, but you only have to cancel 1 trip in your entire lifetime, it has paid its lifetime cost. And if you never have to use it, you bought yourself a lot of peace of mind.
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

Def a good idea. I used and they paid our hotel when flight was delayed at Gatwick.
posted by lungtaworld at 10:03 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

Tip: When reading reviews, only give credence to those who have actually made a claim. The rest are people giving five-star reviews to companies they have had no dealings with beyond making a successful credit card transaction.
posted by sageleaf at 10:17 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]

Do you have a reason to expect an illness or job loss at any higher-than-average probability?

Travel insurance is a gamble. The insurance company is making the gamble at $35-$60 that there is less than a 4.6% chance ($35/$750) to 8% ($60/$750) chance that you will actually use the insurance. The actual chance you will need to use the insurance has to be below those numbers, as the insurance company needs to pay out claims and pay its employees and make a profit. In other words, you are paying for a bet with odds that favor the insurance company.

They have a whole lot of evidence of the rate at which people have illnesses or job losses that result in needing to cancel insurance. If you have information they don't (like that you were diagnosed with a severe illness, or that your company is doing poorly financially), then perhaps that percentage is wrong. However, if you don't have that information... you should assume their actuaries know better than you do about the risks of the trip.

In general, don't insure things you can afford to replace. Yes, it's a small amount of money, but it's a small amount of money that's unlikely to pay off - just like the lottery.

(also, if you actually need to use the travel insurance, the insurance company is highly incentivized not to help you. Do you want to spend hours on the phone to deal with the insurance company?)
posted by saeculorum at 10:18 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]

Do you have a reason to expect an illness or job loss at any higher-than-average probability?

Yes, hence the question. I'd appreciate answers that don't interrogate the premise of the question.
posted by Automocar at 10:26 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]

I get travel insurance for when I'm traveling abroad and when the total advance reservation cost (airfare + lodging + transportation) exceeds about $2000. Your cutoff may differ depending on where your monetary "pain" threshold is if you lost the gamble. I've used WorldNomads but I don't have any experience making claims. I never regretted getting the insurance though, for the peace of mind it provided.
posted by bread-eater at 10:37 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

Note that the rules around pre-existing conditions for travel insurance are complicated and kind of shitty. So if you’re worried about illness from a condition that has already been diagnosed, the insurance might not pay out.

Ultimately it comes down to how badly you will need that $750 if circumstances arise such that you can’t take the trip.
posted by mskyle at 11:01 AM on August 12

Do you want to spend hours on the phone to deal with the insurance company?)

I haven't had to make any claims against insurance, but both my mother and cousin have, 2 different companies, and in both cases got a complete refund, no problems. I don't think they are in the business of haggling as much as, say, health insurance companies, because the odds are in their favor and these are one-time claims, but the margins are too low to bother wasting time on one individual.
posted by Miko at 11:06 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

We always do when we book that far ahead for an expensive trip, unless we are flying southwest or something where we could exchange the ticket.

just the piece of mind is worth it. just read the fine print so you know what it covers.
posted by domino at 11:16 AM on August 12

Think of it this way -- the cost of the insurance is the price of a fairly nice meal or so. Or, to break it down, at the top rate, it's not even $7/month between now and the trip. Would looking at the values either way allow you sleep easily and enjoy planning your trip without worry? Would you pay $7 to not have any worries in September, for example, as you plan and anticipate your trip? I'm very frugal, but I would not think twice about getting the trip insurance. But I'd get it for more than just the cost of your flight.

As for recommendations, I haven't personally had to use it, but last year, I took a trip with Smithsonian Journeys, and am going on another this year, and AIG's Travel Guard insurance was offered through the tours. We got it because it was recommended by friends who HAD needed it. The pricing is similar to what you describe (maybe a bit lower on the top end) and offers trip cancelation/interruption/delay, medical expecnses, as well as a bunch of travel assistance and concierge services. (As with most companies, they have multiple different plans from which to choose.)

One note: call your health insurance company and ask them what kind of coverage your policy gives you when you are abroad. Last September, before I went to Italy, I called Blue Cross Blue Shield to see what, if any, coverage I had in case of a health emergency and I was delighted and surprised to find out how much headache-free health coverage was included in the policy I already had.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:44 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

Everyone is focused on the cost of the tickets but that money is spent, gone, and to and extent, who cares.

For me, it's the health insurance part that is the value. You don't get to plan for a kidney stone. A broken leg and the need to upgrade for the flight home is many, many multiples of $60. And hey, people die; there are accidents and whatever. I really don't want to bet that my family isn't going to have to cover the cost of repatriating my body, which is easily 20K.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:51 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]

Clearly different coverage is available and standard coverage varies from country to country. But travel insurance can cover all of the following: travel cancellation, health insurance, loss of and damage to luggage including electrical items/cameras and sports equipment but often there is an upper limit, loss of papers, it may include accident and personal liability insurance, repatriation costs, car rental deductibles (again there are often limitations) and even delays.

So even though I never pay to reduce my car insurance deductible to nil when I hire a car, I travel a few times a year and I am very happy to pay for my annual travel insurance. If I have to pay my deductible renting a car once every so many years that is still going to be cheaper than the extortionate rates they charge and I rent a car 5+ times a year. But my annual travel insurance covers me in case I suffer serious illness and repatriation cost, which, although a lot less likely, can be extremely expensive if they arise. And it covers me for loss of and damage to luggage, which happens quite frequently.

So by all means find out what is covered by your existing policies and make your risk assessments and make sure that the risks you are worried about are actually covered. But I don’t regret paying my travel insurance premiums.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:33 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

Years ago my FIL broke his hip while traveling out of the country. It was an expensive nightmare because most US health insurance does not cover out of the country travel. So yeah - if I'm going out of the country I buy it, if it's more than $400 ish for the ticket I buy it. My father is in his 90s so I am always in the mode of I might have to fly back on short notice or cancel.... if it's a cheap domestic ticket I don't bother. That said I've also opted for med evac insurance when doing particularly crazy back country stuff because that kind of emergency can get extremely expensive in a hurry...
posted by leslies at 4:21 PM on August 12

What DarlingBri says.

I *always* buy travel insurance when heading overseas. Last time all three of us picked up some super weird...fungus? Scabies? Who knows. Going to urgent care and getting several scripts filled was $480 of my $500 deductible.

I've generally used WorldNomads, but have never claimed. When I was travelling with health issues I sprung for Columbia Direct, which was recommended by other expats for offering more medical cover (I was pregnant).

I would be less concerned about the cost of the trip itself, and more about foreign medical issues and injuries.

Also, if you're going to be in Japan during Hanami (which it sounds like you are) you are going to need to book hotels and things *early* - you can't wait to see what happens with job/health and book stuff in March. Things were packed, and if my bf and I hadn't found that love hotel when we did, we'd have resigned ourselves to sleeping in the park and staying out all night. We also ended up spending an entire night at a Manga Cafe, which was fun at 23, ymmv...
posted by jrobin276 at 4:27 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

posted by latch24 at 4:37 PM on August 12

My family travels to Japan pretty regularly and the only insurance we get is the one that our credit card gives.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:02 PM on August 12

Personally, I just take the airline credit if you know you would go within a year.
Barring that, sit down with a coffee and a bit of time and call, call, call

Get someone from each company on the phone who can tell you exactly if their policy will cover what you are expecting. Be specific. Get the name and contact of the underwriter, exact process of filing a claim, and how long it takes to get money back. Get the name and contact of you spoke to. Now still prepare for 9 things to go wrong if you do end up making a claim!

In general, it’s hard to get reimbursed for travel when you expect something.
Easier when something happens beyond your control.

I can’t answer if this is worthwhile for you financially,but it might give you some peace of mind on buying the ticket and serve it’s purpose that way.

If you have access to someone with a AMA or CAA membership card, you can get insurance free (not sure if it will cover you, call first!) but only if you buy ticket from their agent.

Check your credit card too. Some of them have built in insurance. But, again, you gotta call and check

Sounds like if you were to make a claim, you would be doing it from home, but that’s one thing that made it not worth in the past: had to chew through tons of minutes on international calls waiting on hold only to be told, no claim on some dopey technicality.ended up way worse off,

Good luck!
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 6:37 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

I'm in the adventure / luxury travel industry so over the years, I've seen a thousand clients come and go; most take travel insurance, some don't. Read the fine print carefully and make sure your specific concerns - and I emphasize SPECIFIC - are covered. Travel insurance is apples and oranges, some are are inexpensive because they carry the bare minimum, and the "cancel for any reason" is just that, but pretty expensive. Most will allow you to cover as much or as little as you want. Sometimes the premium will also differ with some companies based on your age at time of travel.

Document everything and anything that might affect the outcome of your claim. Receipts for everything.

Note a lot of insurance will REIMBURSE you and not pay for upfront charges (i.e. having to rebook a flight due to an illness). Check what the policy stipulates.

I recently had a client who was taking her kids to South America. Two weeks before the departure, college exams that were required for one child was re-scheduled - of course, taking place during their planned trip. This was NOT covered by regular trip insurance. Only "cancel for any reason" would have accepted this kind of cancellation.

Another client claimed he missed his flight due to traffic. He provided no back up to this claim and thus was denied.

Pre-existing health conditions are always a concern. A lot of travel insurance companies will only allow you to be covered if you purchase the insurance within a specific time frame, usually 21 days of deposit.

I will say that I have probably seen over 150 travel insurance claims; most do get okayed. And the only ones denied were the ones above or because of lack of documentation and support.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:38 AM on August 13

A word of caution: Cancelling a trip due to illness and expecting payment is not simple. We found out, after the cancellation, that the policy would pay only if a doctor had directed us not to travel as a result of illness. My wife was sick as hell and we did not need a doctor to tell us to stay home, but the company said we did.
posted by megatherium at 6:51 PM on August 14

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