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Comprehensive travel insurance vs. travel medical insurance
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When you are planning a costly trip, protection is typically top of mind. You want your investment to be covered in the event of unlikely circumstances like injury, theft, lost baggage, or missed flights. Travel insurance policies are by far the best way to protect your trip.

But with so many policies available, how do you know which to choose? You may be wondering if there is a difference between comprehensive travel insurance and travel medical plans and if you will need both for your next trip.

In this article, we’ll break down:

  • What comprehensive travel insurance is.
  • What travel medical plans cover.
  • Key differences between comprehensive travel insurance and travel medical plans.
  • When it makes sense to purchase each.

What Does Comprehensive Travel Insurance Cover?

A comprehensive travel insurance policy is the holy grail when it comes to travel insurance and trip protection. It covers most of the potential scenarios that could disrupt a vacation.  It also helps you by offering protection for:

This list is not all-encompassing, and it is important to note that not all comprehensive travel insurance plans are the same. It is best to check out each insurance plan you are researching to make sure you fully understand the limitations of the plan.

Even still, comprehensive policies are often sufficient to cover you financially in the event of most unforeseen events (known as “covered reasons”) that could ruin a trip. For those that don’t want broad and comprehensive coverage, but want to focus on medical issues only, that’s where travel medical insurance (aka travel health insurance) plans come in.

What Do Travel Medical Plans Cover?

While some travelers may assume their health insurance will cover them at locations domestic and abroad, that is not always the case. It is important to assess your existing health insurance coverage and speak to the insurer to see if they would cover emergencies at your destination.

Travel medical policies focus on getting you access to care if anything goes awry during your travel. Most travel medical plans won’t cover a basic check-up and are for emergency situations only. That includes things like ambulance travel and emergency or hospital room costs.

Travel medical policies often cover:

  • Emergency Medical Services:  This often includes local ambulance charges, hospital room and board, intensive care unit (ICU) costs, and all other eligible medical expenses.
  • Evacuation (sometimes):  Medical evacuation to your home country can be extremely costly. Evacuation coverage is something you will want to confirm on a travel medical policy before purchase and consider adding on if it’s not included in the base option.
  • Repatriation of Remains:  If you died abroad, the insurance company would cover the costs of sending your remains back to your home country.
  • 24/7 Travel Assistance: On-demand assistance is critical for travel medical plans. Look for a company with global support.

As with comprehensive travel insurance, each insurer offering travel medical is different and may have unique limitations on what their plans offer. Especially if you have a pre-existing condition, you will want to examine the plan to check that there aren’t limitations on coverage.

Comprehensive Travel Insurance vs. Travel Medical Plans

A comprehensive travel insurance policy covers your financial investment in a trip and your health. In contrast, a travel medical plan generally protects only your health. While specific comprehensive policies will generally have benefits that extend into the emergency medical and dental space, a travel medical plan is going to make sure you are covered in a focused way.

When it comes to comparing costs between the two types of policies, it’s hard to pinpoint a range. What you pay for coverage fluctuates based on several factors, including:

  • Age: Older travelers are generally more costly to cover for both comprehensive coverage and travel medical policies.
  • Number of and health of travelers:  More travelers mean more money, and any pre-existing conditions or deteriorating health will drive prices up too.
  • Overall trip cost: Travel insurance policies often cost a percentage of the overall trip, meaning a more expensive trip constitutes a higher plan cost. Having said that, travel medical only plans do not use trip cost as a pricing factor.
  • Destination:  Certain remote or more dangerous destinations could prompt a higher cost of coverage to compensate for the extra effort necessary if services are needed.
  • Amount of coverage:  Policies increase in cost as they offer more coverage. So, a comprehensive policy that covers a vast majority of risks associated with travel or a travel medical plan with high medical limits will be more expensive.

Overall, the cost of comprehensive travel insurance and travel medical policies will fluctuate as the above inputs change. It pays to shop around with different companies to compare prices and also coverage limits and reimbursements.

When to Buy Each Policy

When you are deciding what kind of travel insurance to purchase, it is essential to determine if you already have any existing coverage. Some credit card companies will offer very limited benefits for trip cancellation or coverage on a rental car.

Once you figure out what type of coverage you desire, you will want to ask a few questions to decide if you should look at options for a comprehensive travel plan, travel medical, or both.

Is the financial investment in this trip so much that I can’t afford to lose what I’ve already paid?

If the answer is yes, spending a few hundred dollars extra on a comprehensive travel insurance policy to cover your trip in case of cancellation or interruption means you would be able to recoup your investment if you cancel for a covered reason.

Are any components of my trip refundable up to the travel dates (airline travel, hotel stay, etc.)?

If your flights, hotel, and travel accommodations are refundable until the last second, you may choose to skip the comprehensive policy and opt for travel medical to cover your health while away.

Will my existing health insurance policy cover me during travel?

Many domestic health insurance plans and Medicare plans do not have international coverage. Confirm with your health plan and consider opting for a travel medical plan if you would have zero or very minimal coverage abroad.

Do I have an existing plan in place or the means to cover a medical evacuation should the situation arise?

Medical evacuations tend to be the costliest expense associated with international travel. Suppose you cannot afford the cost of an evacuation or emergency services. In that case, a travel medical policy can provide the financial assurance you need that you would be cared for if an unexpected injury or illness occurs.

What types of adventures do I plan to take while traveling? Am I taking on any risk that could cause me injury?

Many travel medical policies cover basic recreational activities, like bicycling or canoeing. But adventure sports may require a specific rider or type of policy. Make a list of the events you plan to participate in, like surfing, rock climbing, or diving. Then, check with the insurer to verify coverage or purchase a more all-encompassing policy.

The Bottom Line

You may consider both comprehensive travel insurance and a travel medical policy for a high-cost international trip. But shorter, less expensive trips domestically may not need that level of coverage. Each trip is unique and will require a different scope of coverage.

Remember that not all travel insurance policies are created equal. It is vital to thoroughly assess any policy to understand the fine print before you make a purchase either way. Doing so can protect your trip and health, leaving you free to spend your vacation worrying about what really matters.


To compare and buy travel health insurance online with medical only coverage, please visit our medical.travelinsurance.com website.

To compare and buy travel insurance online with comprehensive coverage (including trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage), please click here.


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