Trip Circumstances Dictate the Need for Insurance

A healthy young person going to London for a week probably doesn't need travel insurance, but for longer trips to less standard destinations and for someone who's older, the issue becomes more complex.

Here's my perspective on insurance you probably don't need:

* You probably don't need flight accident insurance unless you're feeling unlucky. This coverage has been sold in airports for decades to gullible, nervous fliers. It usually insures against death or major injury during one round trip by air. You have a greater chance of being run over by a car than of dying in a plane crash. Commercial flights are among the safest forms of transportation, making the odds astronomical against collecting on your policy.

Travel Guard actually gives a $25,000 policy free to anyone who calls (800) 437-6142. The person answering then asks if you want to increase that coverage, up to $500,000 for $27.

* You probably shouldn't buy coverage offered by a cruise or tour operator. If that cruise or tour company declares bankruptcy after you pay but before your trip is finished, you have no recourse. A policy from a reliable, independent travel insurance company should include a financial-default clause that protects you if fiscal problems at an airline, cruise or tour operator cause "a complete cessation of services." Look for that clause.

If you think unexpected bankruptcy is a farfetched notion, you're mistaken. On Sept. 14 last year, 2,800 passengers were aboard five Premier cruise ships in the Bahamas, Mexico and Canada when the line shut down. Those lucky enough to have travel insurance were reimbursed, others got compensation through their credit cards, and still others lost their money and had to fly home at their own expense.

Here's insurance you might not need:

* Insurance against medical costs while on a trip often is redundant for people with solid health policies, even if they're traveling outside the country. "Many U.S. insurers provide some medical coverage overseas," says a spokeswoman for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Assn.

Ask your health insurance provider specifically what is and isn't covered. Then ask the same questions of your credit-card companies. A few credit cards provide emergency medical benefits that include evacuation.

Evacuation, especially on visits to underdeveloped countries with poor medical service, can be a major financial issue. Americans often assume that if they get into serious medical trouble overseas, the nearest U.S. Embassy will send in a chopper. They're wrong. The government will not pay to evacuate a citizen, although it can help with wiring money, contacting family and so on, says a representative of the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Medical evacuation insurance can be expensive. If you find that your health plan and credit cards don't cover it, you might want to consider your age and general health, as well as the kind of travel you're doing. If you're a young person who's going on a shopping spree in Milan, Italy, you probably don't need evacuation insurance. If you are going skiing and break a leg, you might need it.

Comprehensive travel insurance usually also protects against baggage and other possessions that are lost, damaged or stolen. But again, some insurance industry experts say this coverage duplicates what many people already have through their homeowner or renter policies.

Homeowner's insurance for losses during travel usually covers your belongings up to 10% of the insured amount of your home's contents. You still must pay the deductible, however, and this might be sizable. That means if your new $500 camera slips into the Pacific during a cruise, you probably won't recover the loss--unless you have travel insurance. And because travel-insurance coverage has no deductible to pay first, you should get the full $500 to replace your camera.

Here's insurance you probably do need:

* One of the best reasons to buy travel insurance is to protect yourself from canceled, interrupted or delayed trips. Depending on the policy, this can include an array of common problems.

Many good travel insurance companies will reimburse the cost if you must cancel or interrupt your trip because you or a family member is injured, is ill or dies, for example.

Other covered reasons often include bad weather, a labor strike or a disaster to your home. You usually also are covered for missing your cruise ship because a flight was delayed, something that happens frequently.

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