How Does Travel Insurance Through Your Credit Card Work?

Written By Cathy Lovering
Last updated May 12, 2021

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May 12, 2021

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

One common perk of holding a credit card is the built-in travel insurance. But does this mean you can forget about the travel insurance add-on offered by a third party when you book your trip? That depends—your credit card might not give the full protection you want. Here’s what to ask to stay informed and have a safety net in case an unfortunate event occurs.

Most credit cards offer travel protection. But like any perk, the level of travel insurance you can get from your credit card depends on the terms of your card. A higher value card—such as one that charges an annual fee in exchange for rewards points—may offer more comprehensive insurance than a straightforward cashback card with no annual fee. Some cards, such as prepaid or guaranteed credit cards, may not offer travel insurance at all.

Tip: Visit your card issuer’s website to review the contract on your card. Or, call the credit card company to ask about your coverage details.

The good news is that sometimes credit card travel insurance offers the same level of protection you can get with an outside provider. But it’s good to read your contract to find out for sure. Among the benefits you may have include:

  • Trip cancellation insurance reimburses for a non-refundable trip canceled under certain conditions
  • Trip interruption insurance pays you for expenses when you have to end your trip unexpectedly
  • Travel delay insurance covers the cost of unexpected delays, like a long layover that requires a hotel stay
  • Medical insurance pays for injuries or hospital stays during your trip
  • Baggage insurance covers the cost of replacing lost, missing, or stolen luggage

Your card may cover one or a combination of these events. But there are often a number of conditions on any claim. That’s why it helps to know not just what’s covered, but what’s hidden in the details.

Insurance companies are notorious for sticking close to the rule book when they consider claims. Travel insurance through your credit card is no different. So even if you have coverage, ask yourself these questions. They can help you decide if you need an additional policy. Getting informed before you take your next trip can help you make sure you know what steps to take to file a claim.

Who’s covered?

Typically, your credit card insurance covers the cardholder. It may also extend to the cardholder’s spouse and children, but check this detail. If you buy airline tickets for yourself and your spouse, and both don’t fall under the policy, you could be out a lot of money.

Ask a similar question about business credit cards. You may have travel insurance on a business card and it may be under your name. But double-check the details—the coverage may only cover expenses for business, not personal, trips.

What’s covered?

Your credit card insurance may only cover expenses you paid for using the card. So if you plan to rely on this insurance, stick to this one card. Track your purchases and keep receipts. You probably can’t claim anything you charged to another payment method.

What if there’s other coverage?

Most people have other safety nets for travel-related expenses. Here are some examples:

  • Health insurance policy
  • Third-party travel insurance
  • Reimbursements offered by airlines or hotels for inconvenience

It is common that you will have more than one policy that may cover a single expense. Most insurance contracts have a clause that explains what happens. If your credit card travel insurance is not your primary policy, you may have to claim through another policy first. You may have to then claim on the credit card insurance for the excess.

For example, your health insurance policy may cover emergency hospitalization when you travel. If you also have this benefit through your credit card insurance, you may have to claim first on your health insurance. If you meet the limits of that coverage, you may be able to get the rest through your credit card company.

Insurance companies will not cover something that another party will already reimburse. For example, even if you have travel delay insurance, the insurance company won’t pay for the hotel if the airline provides it for free. You can expect your insurance company will ask about these details when you file a claim.

What are the triggering events?

Even the most generous insurance policies have conditions. These are the terms under which your insurance will payout. Rare is a policy that will pay for you to cancel your trip except for specific reasons. Know the triggering events for your insurance. Some common ones include:

  • Injury, illness, or death
  • Political instability
  • Natural disaster

Just as triggering events are common, so are exclusions. Your policy may cover emergency hospitalization, but not if it’s the result of a pre-existing condition. Have a look at what your card covers and make provisions—with additional coverage or a cash fund—to fill the gaps.

What proof do you need?

You will have to prove your expenses, even if they are charged to your credit card. Sometimes there isn’t enough detail on your statement for the card company to know whether your charge falls under the policy. Keep your receipts so you can show what each amount was for.

Sometimes, the insurance company asks for additional documents. If you have had an unfortunate event like theft, they may request a police report. Keep track of everything you experience, and don’t let go of those pieces of paper you receive along the way.

Travel insurance is an excellent perk of your credit card. But too often cardholders expect this insurance to cover all the crises that come with trips. Before you start your vacation, get to know your insurance. Buy more if you need and always budget for the unexpected.

About the Author

Cathy Lovering

Catherine Lovering has written about personal finance and health for over 10 years, with bylines on IvyExec.com and Healthline.com. She holds an LL.B. (J.D.) from the University of Victoria.

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