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There’s no doubt that having travel insurance is critical when it comes to staying protected while we’re away from home. It provides a safety net so that you can enjoy traveling with confidence as it’s designed to cover big financial risks. While you probably don’t need it for a short and inexpensive weekend trip, when shelling out a lot of money for airfare and prepaying for pricey reservations, it can be a financial lifesaver should something go astray. 

Vice president at Expedia Group Erika Sanchez told Forbes Advisor, “Due to the ongoing uncertainty of how the pandemic may impact their plans, more than ever travelers want assurance that they’ll be able to cancel or change their plans without facing any fees or penalties and that they are protected if the unexpected should occur…Travel insurance is one way to get that peace of mind; however, not all policies have the same level of coverage and the coverage as it relates to COVID-19 is nuanced. We recommend carefully reading the terms and conditions of your policy to make sure you understand your coverage as it relates to COVID-19.” 

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTIA), in 2018 around 65.8 million were covered by some type of travel policy, an increase of 49% over 2016. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, those who didn’t have travel insurance often learned the hard way just how important it can be. While many policies excluded pandemics, those who purchased “cancel for any reason” coverage generally found themselves better off with the ability to cancel or make changes to their trips in order to avoid high-risk areas and still receive at least a partial refund.

Now that we’re deep into the pandemic, people who are thinking about traveling have become more conscious of their risks with the need to protect themselves and their investment. There is a better understanding when it comes to the ins and outs of travel insurance and what is covered. But with so many different types of policies and coverage, it can still be challenging to know which one is best for your needs.

New COVID-Inclusive Insurance

Thankfully, travel insurance companies have been introducing many new policies designed to cover COVID-19, just as many foreign countries have begun to require them. There are now multiple plans that will treat COVID-19 like any other unexpected illness, covering travelers from the day after purchasing until their return home. For example, if you, a family member, travel companion or a host at your destination test positive before departing for your trip, a policy may cover your prepaid and non-refundable travel expenses. If it occurred during the trip, it could reimburse the remaining prepaid arrangements like accommodations and cover additional airfare to return home up to a certain amount. If you have to be quarantined and are unable to travel, travel delay coverage can help cover local transport, meals and lodging while emergency medical coverage can cover medical expenses.

Choosing the Best Type of Travel Insurance: Single Trip or Annual Travel Insurance

You know that it’s important to be sure your travel insurance can help protect against COVID-related events, but there are other factors to consider too. There are many different types of travel insurance, like group travel insurance and travel medical only insurance, but the most popular are single trip and annual travel insurance.

The Downsides to Annual Travel Insurance

If you travel frequently, meaning multiple trips per year, it may seem like a no-brainer to get annual travel insurance, also known as multi-trip insurance, which covers you for a year from the date the policy begins. It provides coverage for however many trips you go on during that period, but it has limits depending on the insurance provider, so it’s not that cut and dried; oftentimes, single-trip insurance is cheaper and the better overall value.

While annual travel insurance covers more than one trip, it generally only covers just the basics. When you buy a single trip policy, depending on the provider, you can easily find various options of plans that cover low, medium and high ranges of certain benefits. You’ll have various options available and they often can be customized or upgraded.

While an increasing number of people have been purchasing annual travel insurance, these plans aren’t available in all states with coverage options varying depending on where you live. For example, Washington State doesn’t permit annual plans of any kind according to Consumer Reports.

Annual plans typically have limits on coverage that are lower and may not offer higher limit coverage at all. While you won’t have to go through the hassle of buying insurance individually for each trip, if something does happen you may come up short. There are limits on the dollar amounts of the total trip coverage too, so if you’re taking a big trip like an expedition through the Galapagos or to Antarctica, it may not be sufficient to cover your losses. Yet another issue for those who travel frequently is that you might find yourself with a medical emergency during a trip overseas in February, blowing through the annual cap early on, leaving you uncovered for trips throughout the rest of the year or having to invest in another policy.

While annual travel insurance is a one-time buy for the whole year, another downside is the time limit for individual trips. Buried in that fine print, it’s likely to state that a single trip during the calendar year is limited to a maximum of 45 days duration. You might think you have a year’s worth of coverage, but you’ll have to coordinate trips to fit those fine print details. Even if you get sick or experience another emergency within that 45-day limit, if your planned itinerary was longer than that, the insurance provider will still refuse payment. Plus, most annual travel insurance policies have caps on trip cancellations and trip interruptions, something that’s become more important now than ever. 

Single Trip Travel Insurance is Often the Better Option

There are many benefits to single trip travel insurance policies. As noted, earlier in the year when the pandemic first hit, typically, travelers weren’t covered if a trip was cancelled due to coronavirus, but much of that has changed since then. By looking at single trip travel insurance, you’ll find many plans are now including some coverage related to COVID-19. Of course, with any policy, it’s important to read the fine print.

According to a ValuePenguin survey, 48 percent of Americans cancelled summer travel plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

• 46 percent of American travelers stated they lost money on nonrefundable travel expenses related to the global coronavirus pandemic, losing an average of $850, most of which stems from airfare followed by hotel bookings.

Even if you’re a frequent traveler and aren’t as concerned about cancellations, single trip travel insurance can be the better bet, particularly if you take different types of trips. To add winter sports to your annual travel insurance policy, for example, is usually more expensive than getting separate, single trip policies, particularly if you only plan to ski once. Maybe you’re going on a ski trip to Switzerland in January, followed by a leisurely relaxed escape to Paris in June. Annual travel insurance doesn’t provide coverage specific to each trip which means that annual policy would become very expensive. It certainly wouldn’t be worth the price to cover your trip to France as well. Getting two separate single trip travel insurance policies would be the more sensible option.

In addition to the better coverage mentioned earlier, there are other factors to consider too. If you have any medical conditions when you apply, you’ll need a plan that covers pre-existing conditions and annual coverage with those issues included can be very pricey – buying individual single trip policies is often cheaper. If you’re in an older age group (75+), many insurers won’t provide you with annual travel insurance, so you would need to purchase single trip polices which usually don’t have age limits.


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