What Is Credit Card Travel Insurance?

Quick Answer

Credit card travel insurance helps protect you from unexpected trip delays, interruptions and cancellations by reimbursing you for prepaid non-refundable travel expenses, such as hotel stays, airfare and excursions.

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No matter how much time you spend preparing, things don't always go as planned when traveling. Airlines cancel flights. Luggage goes missing. People get sick. Rental car accidents happen. Not only are these events inconvenient, but they can also cost you money. The good news is credit card travel insurance can help you recoup travel expenses if your trip takes an unexpected turn. Here's what you need to know.

How Does Travel Insurance Work?

Travel insurance reimburses you for expenses covered by your plan if your trip is canceled, delayed or interrupted due to circumstances out of your control. That last part is important. For example, let's say a severe thunderstorm is pummeling the city you're supposed to be leaving from. The airline cancels the first leg of your flight, and you miss your connection to your final destination. In this situation, your travel insurance will typically kick in. But you're out of luck if you oversleep and miss your flight.

Expenses typically need to be non-refundable, and you must pay for them with a credit card that includes travel insurance to qualify for reimbursement. Some plans may also cover unexpected expenses you incur for trips that end earlier than planned. Reimbursable expenses may include prepaid hotel stays, flights, excursions and more. However, as with any insurance, coverage amounts, terms and conditions vary, depending on the card.

Because you never know when your trip may experience an unexpected delay, interruption or cancellation, keep all your receipts in case you need to file a claim. And if the unexpected does happen, act quickly. Some credit card travel insurance plans limit the amount of time cardholders have to file a claim to receive reimbursement.

What Does Credit Card Travel Insurance Cover?

Credit card travel insurance can cover different things depending on the card you have. Check your card's benefits guide for complete details about whether your card offers travel insurance, what it covers, how much it covers and what exclusions apply. While terms and conditions vary by credit card, here's a list of common protections a card may offer.

Trip Cancellation and Interruption

This benefit kicks in when you must end your trip early or call it off altogether due to unforeseen circumstances. Common covered reasons include illness, injury, death of a family member and severe weather, but your card may also cover other emergency situations. If your trip is interrupted rather than canceled, you'll only be reimbursed for the portion you miss—not the entire trip. Maximum reimbursement amounts apply.

Trip Delay

If you find yourself spending extra time in an unfamiliar city because your flight is delayed, this benefit reimburses you for additional expenses, such as a hotel stay or meals while you're waiting to catch the next flight out. Your original flight must typically be delayed by a certain number of hours to qualify for reimbursement under your credit card's travel insurance plan. If the flight will be taking off within an hour or two of its scheduled departure time, don't go on a spending spree thinking you'll get reimbursed. You won't.

Lost or Damaged Luggage

This benefit reimburses you for items in your bags, whether they were damaged from a bumpy landing or because the airline lost your luggage between when you checked in and when you arrived at your destination. However, not all items qualify. Jewelry, electronics, cameras and more aren't usually covered, but clothing and toiletries typically are.

Rental Car Insurance

No one wants a fender bender to derail their vacation, but accidents happen. Some credit card travel insurance plans offer coverage if your rental car is stolen or damaged in an accident. To qualify for rental car coverage under your credit card plan, you usually need to waive collision coverage from the rental company. But remember, the coverage your card provides only pays for physical damage or theft of your rental. It doesn't cover your liability to other drivers or injuries you may sustain.

Medical and Evacuation

If you get sick or hurt while traveling abroad, this benefit can help cover your medical costs if your primary insurance won't cover the costs. It may also cover transportation to a medical facility in a different location if you can't receive the treatment you need in your current location.

Travel Accident Insurance

If you are seriously injured, maimed or die on your trip, this benefit may pay you or your beneficiaries. Payment amounts vary by card, and eligibility depends on the extent of the injury and where it occurred.

Travel and Emergency Assistance

If an emergency arises while you're traveling, this service can help you navigate it. Travel and emergency assistance services can help you send messages to family members back home; find nearby doctors, dentists and hospitals; and get prescription assistance. It may also include referrals for English-speaking attorneys, U.S. embassies and consulates, emergency translation services and more. However, the cost of all services you receive is your responsibility.

What Doesn't Credit Card Travel Insurance Cover?

While credit card travel insurance can provide some protection if the unexpected occurs while traveling, it doesn't cover everything. Here are some common exclusions that aren't typically reimbursable.

  • Travel for medical treatment: If the purpose of your trip is to obtain medical treatment, the benefits for emergency medical care and evacuation likely won't apply.
  • Pre-existing conditions: If you have a pre-existing condition that results in canceling your trip or cutting it short, travel insurance won't cover you.
  • A change of heart: Credit card travel insurance reimburses you for circumstances out of your control. If you change your mind and decide not to go on your trip, you'll be on the hook for any non-refundable expenses.
  • Adventure trips: Are you a daredevil planning to go skydiving, parachuting or hang gliding? If so, don't count on coverage if you get hurt. Travel insurance often excludes coverage for adventure trips and high-risk activities.
  • Pandemics: If you travel during a pandemic, you're on your own for expenses you may incur due to travel disruptions because of it.
  • War: Your insurer may not cover losses resulting from war or civil unrest.
  • Substance abuse: Don't expect your travel insurance plan to cover illnesses or injuries that occur while using alcohol or controlled substances.

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Which Credit Cards Offer Travel Insurance?

Not all credit cards offer travel insurance. Travel insurance is typically available with general travel cards, airline cards, hotel cards and other premium credit cards. Many of these cards charge an annual fee. When you get a card with an annual fee, it's important to ensure that the benefits you receive outweigh the cost of carrying the card.

Is Credit Card Travel Insurance Worth It?

Whether credit card travel insurance is worth it depends on your perspective. But consider this. In 2023, 1 in 5 U.S. flights was delayed. What if you were relying on one of those flights to get you to a cruise terminal by a specific time so you could board the ship—but by the time you arrived, the ship had already left port? Without travel insurance, you may have no way to recoup the money you paid for the cruise and any excursions you had booked. But if the credit card you used to pay for the cruise, tours and other non-refundable expenses has travel insurance, you may be able to get some or all of your money back.

The Bottom Line

Credit card travel insurance can help protect you from financial losses you may incur if your plans are disrupted due to circumstances beyond your control. Having a credit card with this benefit and other travel protections can come in handy for trips. If you don't already have one, Experian can match you with travel credit cards based on your credit profile.

But credit card travel insurance doesn't cover everything, and policy limits may be low. If you're counting on your card to protect you from delays, cancellations and interruptions, it's crucial that you understand what your policy will and won't cover before your trip begins. If you travel extensively, a stand-alone travel insurance policy with more comprehensive coverage may be worth considering.