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travel insurance coverage gotcha

The One Word That Could Negate Your Travel Insurance Policy

With a travel insurance policy (and any other kind of insurance coverage) the devil is in the details—more specifically, the fine print. And one word can make a huge difference in your risk coverage: “unforeseen.”

If you’ve followed my travel insurance coverage at all, you might know these two important travel insurance basics: First, most policies exclude trip-cancellation (TCI) and medical coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. Second, many policies will waive that exclusion if you decide to purchase both TCI and medical coverage within a short time of making your initial travel insurance payment—about a week to a month after.

The ‘Gotcha’ Word in Your Travel Insurance Policy

But the word “unforeseen” in your travel insurance policy can nullify that additional coverage you’ve purchased, which takes effect only if you are medically able to travel at the time you buy the insurance. If a pre-existing condition would prevent you from traveling at the time you buy the insurance, you won’t be covered for any issues that stem from that condition. You can’t figure, “I’ll get over it,” or “I’ll cope,” and must be able to travel upon purchasing the insurance.

A typical policy allows you to travel with a pre-existing condition that’s under control thanks to medication—but it must be fully controlled when you buy the insurance. If you can’t live with that uncertainty, buy a “cancel for any reason” policy, but read the fine print before you do.

In many cases, people with chronic medical problems can’t insure their trips risk-free. If you’re in that position, you can minimize your risk by making all of your arrangements refundable or cancellable, with only minimal penalties.

The “unforeseen” limitation appears in most travel insurance policies, and can also come back to bite you in circumstances other than pre-existing medical conditions.

Say, for example, you’re considering a trip to Florida, and at the time you make arrangements, a named tropical storm is already developing in the eastern Atlantic. If it becomes a hurricane and hits Florida, is it “unforeseen,” or not? Here, my friends in the travel insurance business tell me, the answer isn’t clear. Some policies would cover cancellation; others might not. The same is true for similar possible areas of unforeseen problems like political unrest, terrorism, and strikes.

The risk is fairly clear for medical pre-existing conditions. But for many more ambiguous contingencies, your best bet is to contact one of the big online travel insurance policy agencies and ask for a policy that will cover whatever specifics risks are of concern to you.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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