If you're a traveler headed for a familiar domestic destination on short notice, with few or no reservations, you probably don't need to worry about travel insurance. But insurance may be worth a thought if you're buying a cruise or tour package that requires hefty prepayments and penalizes you heavily for late cancellations. Travelers headed for relatively dangerous destinations, too, might consider buying extra coverage.
Trip cancellation/interruption insurance typically covers your losses if a family medical crisis or certain other emergencies force you to abandon or abbreviate a trip.
Emergency medical coverage covers emergency transport or medical care or both. Insurance companies frequently offer "bundled" coverage that includes both types, along with a few other provisions, such as coverage if your bags are lost or you die.
For cancellation/interruption insurance, prevailing premium rates are $5.50 to $6.50 per $100 of trip cost. Hence it typically costs $110 to $130 to cover a $2,000 trip. A package of "bundled" coverage usually costs a few dollars more. Some insurers, like Travel Guard, don't offer separate cancellation/interruption coverage. Others, such as Travelex Insurance Services, sell no more than $1,000 in stand-alone cancellation/interruption coverage, but will cover costlier trips if you also buy their bundled package of other coverages.
Three more details to remember:
* For many years, most insurers wrote policies to avoid covering recurrences of preexisting medical conditions. But since a burst of marketplace jostling about three years ago, most of the major companies have started saying they'll cover the recurrence of most preexisting conditions if you buy your coverage within seven days of making your first payment on the trip. (That way, the insurance company gets your money sooner, perhaps even six months ahead of your departure date.)
* Trip cancellation /interruption and bundled policies often include protection if your travel supplier (the tour operator, for instance) defaults. But in many cases, you only get that protection if you buy the policy straight from the insurance company, and not through the tour operator.
* At least two insurers, C.S.A. Co. and Globalcare Insurance Services, have set premiums lower for younger travelers, higher for older ones. Cutoff ages are typically 55 and 70, and the oldest travelers can end up paying twice as much as the youngest travelers for coverage of the same trip.
sumers can buy travel insurance through travel agents, cruise lines, tour operators and the insurers themselves via toll-free phone numbers. Travel insurance sources include:
Access America, tel. (800) 284-8300, which also administrates the American Express Vacation Protection Plan (not limited to cardholders), tel. (800) 756-2639; and the American Automobile Assn.'s TripAssist plan (membership not required); based in Richmond, Va.
The Berkely Group, tel. (800) 323-3149; based on Long Island, N.Y.
C.S.A. Travel Protection, tel. (800) 348-9505; based in San Diego.
Globalcare Insurance Services, tel. (800) 821-2488; based in Lynnfield, Mass.
Travelex Insurance Services, tel. (800) 228-9792. Until its purchase by a London-based financial services company in 1996, Travelex did business as Tele-Trip, a subsidiary of Mutual of Omaha; based in Omaha, Neb.
Travel Guard International, tel. (800) 826-1300; based in Stevens Point, Wis.
Travel Insurance Services, tel. (800) 937-1387 ; based in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Travel Insured International/The Travelers, tel. (800) 243-3174; based in East Hartford, Conn.
Travelsafe, tel. (800) 523-8020; sold through by Chester Perfetto Agency of Wyomissing, Pa.
Tripguard Plus, tel. (800) 423-3632; sold through M.H. Ross Co. in Northridge, Calif.
Worldwide Assistance Services, tel. (800) 821-2828; based in Washington, D.C.
Wallach & Co., tel. (800) 237-6615; based in Middleburg, Va. The company specializes in medical coverage, including HealthCare Abroad and HealthCare Global policies, but can include cancellation/interruption coverage.