A Guide to How Credit Card Travel Insurance Works

By Timothy Moore · May 23, 2024 · 8 minute read

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A Guide to How Credit Card Travel Insurance Works

With flight disruptions, natural disasters, and other issues, travel insurance has become a popular option for travelers. While you can purchase travel insurance through third-party providers (and get specific insurance when booking flights, hotels, and rental cars), you may already have credit card travel insurance at your disposal.

So, should you choose a credit card specifically because it offers travel insurance? Below, we’ll take a closer look at what credit card travel insurance is, how it works, what it covers, and why you might want a credit card with travel insurance ahead of your next adventure.

What Is Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance protects consumers against financial losses when traveling domestically or internationally. It can cover everything from lost luggage to new hotel arrangements because of canceled flights to medical emergencies while on vacation.

Travel insurance can also protect you before your trip. If something changes, like a family emergency, that will keep you from traveling as planned, travel insurance might get you a refund for your expenses.

You can find travel insurance through insurance companies, travel agents, and insurance comparison sites. Your car insurance policy may insure you even in a rental car, and certain hotel booking sites may allow you to make refundable accommodations for a fee. But did you know that your credit card may also already cover portions of your trip?

How Does Credit Card Travel Insurance Work?

Credit card travel insurance is a set of coverages offered by select credit cards to protect you when traveling on qualified trips. How credit card travel insurance works varies by card, however. It’s important to read the fine print of your credit card to understand what may and may not be covered.

The main thing to remember is that you typically need to use the credit card when booking your major travel expenses (airfare, lodging, and transportation) for those costs to be covered should something happen.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Types of Travel Covered by Travel Insurance

Each travel credit card will have its own inclusions and exclusions for travel insurance. But generally, credit cards with travel insurance may offer trip protection and coverage for unexpected medical expenses.

Trip Protection

Trip protection covers a wide range of potential insurances your credit card might offer when traveling:

•   Trip cancellation and interruption insurance: If you prepaid for a trip and have to cancel it, or are on a trip and need to end it early, your credit card may cover this. Read your credit card’s policy closely to understand how your credit card works and what qualifies as a covered trip cancellation or trip interruption. Unexpected injuries or illness, inclement weather, terrorist action, a change in military orders, and jury duty are examples of reasons a trip may be canceled or end early — and be covered by credit card travel insurance.

•   Trip delay insurance: If your flight, bus, cruise, or other transportation (called a common carrier) is delayed or canceled and you miss activities or lodgings that you’ve already paid for, your credit card may cover this. In addition, such policies might cover your expenses as you scramble to find new lodging, meals, and transportation.

•   Rental car insurance: Check with your car insurance provider before booking a rental to understand if your coverage extends to rentals. If it does not (or if you do not want to make a claim with your car insurance provider), your credit card might also serve as an insurance option in the event of an accident. Read the fine print carefully; many credit cards require that you decline the insurance from the rental company for the credit card travel insurance to apply. Some credit cards only offer secondary car insurance, meaning they require you to file a claim through your personal car insurance first.

•   Delayed or lost baggage insurance: If an airline loses or damages your baggage, you can make a claim for the (depreciated) contents of the bag. Some credit cards may even cover delayed baggage since it can put a dent in your plans. Just check your policy: You may have to put in a claim with the airline before your travel credit card will step in.

Medical Coverage

Travel insurance through credit cards may cover medical expenses as well, including:

•   Medical insurance: If your health insurance doesn’t cover medical costs incurred abroad, travel medical insurance might cover qualified expenses. In most cases, Medicare does not cover health costs incurred outside of the U.S., so travel insurance can be helpful for seniors relying on a government health plan.

•   Accident insurance: While we don’t want to assume the worst can happen, this insurance sometimes offered through credit cards offers a payout if you are killed or seriously injured (such as dismemberment or loss of sight, hearing, or speech). This applies while traveling on a common carrier or on a covered trip paid for with the card. In this way, accident insurance can operate like life insurance while traveling.

•   Emergency evacuation: If you fall ill or are injured while traveling and need to be evacuated, including through emergency airlift, this coverage will pay for associated expenses. This also may cover emergency evacuations due to extreme weather or political unrest.

Recommended: Preparing Financially for Travel

Benefits of Credit Card Travel Insurance

Credit cards offering travel insurance have multiple benefits. Not all credit cards offer travel insurance, however, so it’s a good idea for consumers to weigh these benefits against benefits of other credit cards to determine which card is right for them.

Among the benefits of credit card insurance are:

•   Financial security: Travel can be a big expense. When unplanned events cut trips short or leave you stranded, travel insurance can protect the money you have spent.

•   Emergency coverage: Whether you encounter dangerous weather, a terrorist incident, or a medical emergency during travel, having travel insurance can make it easier to deal with crises while on vacation.

•   A sense of comfort: Ultimately, insurance policies can ease consumers’ worries when traveling. Knowing that there is a Plan B when your best-laid travel plans go awry can be comforting, especially when facing an emergency in an unfamiliar place.

Recommended: Tips for Finding Travel Deals

Picking a Credit Card for Travel Insurance

When looking for a new credit card, you can search specifically for cards that offer travel insurance among ​​different credit card rewards. Note that many of these can have annual fees, so they might only be a good choice if you’re a frequent traveler.

Before applying for a credit card, check your credit score to ensure you can qualify.

If travel insurance is not your top priority for choosing a credit card, you can consider other incentives, like credit card bonuses for new customers or cash back rewards.

Recommended: What Is a Charge Card?

Filing a Travel Insurance Claim

If you experience an unexpected event, like a delayed flight, during your trip, calling your credit card company to ensure your emergency expenses will be covered can be a smart idea. This might keep you incurring credit card payments for meals or lodging that won’t actually be covered.

Look at the back of your credit card to find the phone number for a benefits administrator. They can help you as you begin your claim process.

As explained previously, certain credit cards may require you to file a claim with another entity before they get involved. For example, a credit card offering secondary auto insurance requires that you file with your personal car insurance company first. Likewise, if an airline loses your luggage, a credit card’s travel insurance policy may stipulate that you file first with the airline.

When you know you will be filing a claim, saving your receipts (and taking photos of them as you go) can be a smart way to stay organized. Filing as soon as you’re home (or even while still traveling) may expedite the process. In fact, some credit card insurance policies might have deadlines for filing claims.

The Takeaway

Some credit cards include travel insurance among their perks. Insurance coverage can vary, but it might cover delayed flights, trip cancellations, emergency medical expenses, and lost luggage. Travel cards with such coverage often have annual fees, so it’s a good idea for consumers to weigh multiple options when selecting a credit card and insurance policies.

Whether you’re looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it’s important to understand the options that are best for you.

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How do I know if my trip is covered?

Not every credit card offers travel insurance. Always read the fine print of your credit card before making travel insurance decisions ahead of and during your trip. If the legal jargon is confusing, you can typically contact a benefits administrator for clarification. Look at the back of your credit card to find the number.

What does travel insurance cover?

Every credit card travel insurance policy is different. Common coverages include trip cancellation or interruption, accident and medical, lost luggage, and even rental car insurance. Research your card’s policy ahead of your next vacation.

Will the expenses not charged to my card be covered?

Some credit cards with travel insurance require that you use those cards on travel expenses for the insurance to apply. Others may automatically apply certain types of coverage, like medical coverage, regardless of what card you used to book your trip. Reach out to your card’s benefits administrator before travel if you need help interpreting the travel insurance policy.

Photo credit: iStock/Atstock Productions

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