Credit Cards

Need Travel Insurance? How Your Credit Card Could Help

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Traveling is wonderful—until things go wrong, that is. Delays, cancellations and other travel snafus, especially when you're far from home, can sour any vacation fast. The good news is that the credit cards already in your wallet may be able to help if you're facing a travel emergency.

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Before you book a trip, take some time to check what travel benefits your cards may offer. They could help you in a jam—and get you back to the important business of relaxing and sightseeing.

The details of such policies are often buried in the small print, so make sure you check your card's benefit summaries carefully. For example, generally, you need to have paid for the trip with the card in order to take advantage of their benefits.

If you're uncertain about what kind of coverage is offered, call the customer service number on your card—preferably before you book—and ask them to outline their policies and send you details in writing.

Some travel insurance offerings from credit cards include:

  • Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption Protection: Coverage in case your trip is called off or delayed because of unforeseeable events.
  • Baggage Delay Insurance or Lost Luggage Reimbursement: Coverage in case an airline loses your bags.
  • Travel Assistance: Phone support while on your trip to help with unexpected snags or issues.
  • Travel Accident Insurance: Coverage in case you or your family member is injured on a trip.
  • Emergency Medical Coverage: If your regular health insurance doesn't cover a health issue while traveling, you can leverage this credit card benefit to get treatment without incurring huge expenses.

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Trip Cancellation or Interruption Insurance

Even the best laid plans can go awry. Sometimes trips are canceled because of poor weather, natural disasters or other unforeseeable events. In other cases, illness or a family emergency may force you to cancel a vacation.

In these situations, you may be able to recoup your losses if the credit card you used to pay for the trip offers some kind of cancellation or interruption insurance. This is a feature that some credit card companies use to entice you into applying for their card.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card provides both trip cancellation and trip interruption protection. Cardholders and their immediate family members can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per covered trip, with a maximum limit of $20,000 per occurrence and a maximum benefit amount of $40,000 during a 12-month period.

Suppose severe weather prevents you and your family of four from going on a vacation you booked with the card. If the cost of the trip was $3,000/person, then you would be eligible for a $12,000 reimbursement from Chase.

Trip delays may also be covered by your credit card. Say a flight delay on your first leg prevents you from making a second connection, and you have to wait till the next day before you can catch the next available flight. Your airline may offer hotel vouchers, but you still could lose money if your second flight was on a different airline or you already paid for your hotel at the destination.

Trip delay coverage can help you cover any costs you might incur in this situation. The Citi Prestige card, for example, will reimburse you up to $500 for expenses incurred during a delay that's longer than three hours, including lodging, meals and ground transportation.

The details of such insurance policies are often buried in the small print, so make sure you check your card's benefit summaries carefully. If you're uncertain about what is covered, call the customer service number on your card—preferably before you book—and ask them to outline their policies and send you details in writing.

Find the best credit cards in Experian CreditMatch.

Lost and Delayed Luggage Protection

Losing your luggage—or having it delayed on a chunk of your trip—can put a big damper on your vacation. Some credit cards will actually reimburse you for lost luggage or the expenses you might incur while you're waiting on your bags that are stranded on the other side of the globe.

The Chase Ink Business PreferredSM credit card offers one of the best deals around on lost luggage protection. If an airline or other carrier, like a train operator or cruise line, loses your bags, you can be reimbursed up to $3,000 for the missing luggage.

If your bags are delayed by 12 hours or more, the Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard will reimburse cardholders up to $100 per day for up to three days. To get the reimbursement, cardholders must submit documentation within 20 days of the occurrence.

Documentation is often required by card issuers, so make sure you keep receipts of what you spent, as well as documentation from the airline as proof of your lost or delayed luggage.

Travel Assistance

When you're in a new place far from home, it can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate travel problems or other emergencies, especially if you're in a foreign country. Having someone who can help you get assistance in your language can be a lifesaver. Many credit card issuers offers assistance hotlines for their cardholders when they're far from home.

Visa Signature cardholders have access to the company's travel and emergency assistance services 24 hours a day. Cardholders can call a toll-free number (or collect, if they're outside of the United States) to get help accessing a number of services when they're in a jam, including luggage locator services, legal referral assistance, emergency transportation, translation services and more. Customers are responsible for the costs incurred for such services.

American Express offers a similar service through its Global Assist Hotline. As long as cardholders are more than 100 miles from home, they can call this hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week for help with medical, legal, financial or other emergency service coordination.

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Medical Emergency Coverage

Maybe you're hiking in the Alps and twist your ankle, or you catch a nasty virus while exploring Mumbai. Being sick or injured in a foreign country is incredibly scary, and it's easy to rack up medical bills in an unfamiliar place. Some credit cards will help you pay those bills.

The Chase Sapphire ReserveSM Card, for example, offers a benefit that covers up to $2,500 in qualifying medical or dental expenses. Users must pay a $50 deductible, and the expenses must not be covered by your own health insurance. Chase also offers $75 per day, up to five days, for a hotel room if the doctor prescribes a hotel stay after being released from a hospital. Other cards help with medical evacuation, in case you need to be taken to another location or facility to receive treatment.

Find the best credit cards in Experian CreditMatch.

Travel Accident Insurance

It's not fun to think about, but it's good to know: If something goes seriously wrong on vacation, like death or dismemberment, your credit card may be able to offer some financial support in the situation. Some cards will offer a travel accident policy that covers both death and injury, such as loss of limbs, sight, speech or hearing.

Citi, for example, offers worldwide travel accident insurance up to $1 million to cardholders who are permanent residents of the U.S. In all cases of insurance, exclusions apply, so check with your issuer for details.