"Travel insurance is awesome if you get sick, or something that's covered by the policy that's out of your control stops you from travel," says Michael Giusti, an insurance expert for InsuranceQuotes.com.
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However, it's not one-size-fits-all. Not everyone needs it. Policies and what they cover can vary wildly. And everyone's will be priced differently.
"Travel insurance is not like a big-box store warranty for a toaster or something like that," says Joshua Bush, CEO of the travel agency Avenue Two Travel.
Giusti says it makes the most sense to get insurance if you have to pay for the whole trip upfront (e.g., an Airbnb rental with a strict cancellation policy, a cruise or a stay at an all-inclusive resort). It doesn't make sense if you're driving to your parents' house for the weekend or booking a stay at a hotel with a flexible cancellation or rebooking policy.
Bush says he gets travel insurance for most trips he takes. A domestic flight that cost a few hundred dollars? He'll skip insurance. A $10,000 vacation to Italy? Absolutely.
Before you throw down money on a policy, Bush recommends finding out the ways you are already covered. Your existing medical, car or homeowner's insurance (not to mention your credit card) may take care of more than you think. Your personal plan may extend to other members of your family. Once you know where you are vulnerable, you can purchase a travel insurance policy that will fill in the blanks.
"You don't want to get overinsured, but you also don't want to assume something is covered and then get really upset when you have to go make a claim," Giusti says.
Is your biggest worry getting coronavirus while you're traveling? Make sure you get a policy that explicitly covers that concern. For his luxury travel clients, Bush looks to companies like Covac Global and Medjet that will provide medical evacuation.
To calculate the price of your travel insurance, a company will look at your age, the overall cost of your trip, where you're going in the world and what you'll be doing. Policies should cost about 4 to 10% of the nonrefundable cost of your trip. That is, unless you're buying a "Cancel for Any Reason" policy, which Giusti estimates can cost about 30% more than the norm.
That expensive Cancel for Any Reason has been particularly popular in the past year and a half because, contrary to popular belief, standard travel insurance doesn't normally cover outlier situations such as pandemics, terrorist attacks and government crises. It also doesn't cover your fear of those kinds of scenarios, either.
"If you're like, 'Oh, my God, look at Florida. It's a hot spot. I don't know if I want to go there anymore,' you're out of luck when it comes to travel insurance unless you buy the more expensive Cancel for Any Reason," Giusti says. "Just like its name says, you can back out just because you feel like it."
Note that Cancel for Any Reason does not mean you're getting 100% of your money back if you do end up canceling. Giusti says travelers can expect to get a percentage of their money back, usually about 70% of it.
Additionally, those who want to purchase Cancel for Any Reason coverage need to do so within a certain time frame, which varies with each policy. Other requirements may also apply, so check the fine print.
Should you have to call on your travel insurance for help, know that "filing a claim is never easy," Giusti says. "You've got to work for it. I think the more organized you are, the more protected you're going to be."
Unless it is an emergency, check with your travel insurance company before you pull the plug on a plan or run to a doctor's office.
"Some of these travel policies do have a clause where you have to talk to them before you get treatment," Giusti says. "Communicate in advance as much as you can."
Lastly, keep every little receipt and prepare yourself for a battle through red tape to get what you are owed.