The Best Travel Insurance
Whether you’re planning a month-long honeymoon in Asia or just renting a car for the weekend, travel insurance is there to smooth things out if the going gets rough. While you don’t always need all the bells and whistles that come with some policies, the best travel insurance can be a lifesaver (literally) in the event of an accident, helping you pay for expensive medical care, stolen property, or the cost of canceling a dream vacation you’re suddenly unable to take.
Travelex, our pick for most family-friendly provider, automatically covers kids under 18 when they’re traveling with a parent, with no adult to child ratio limits. In addition to offering comprehensive protection against all the big potential mishaps, its add-on protection is organized into customizable upgrades. The Additional Medical Coverage upgrade provides an additional $50,000 in Medical Expenses and $500,000 in Medical Evacuation.
If you’re not traveling with kids, consider John Hancock. Like Travelex, its policies cover travel practically anywhere in the world, with primary (first-payer) medical plans that simplify the claims process if you get sick or injured abroad. But what really differentiated John Hancock for us was its telephone customer service. The rep we spoke to not only knew the in’s and out’s of each plan, but was warm and friendly too — we felt like we were talking to an old friend, not a sales agent. If you’re in a crisis far from home, there’s nothing more helpful than being able to turn things over to an experienced professional.
IMG and Allianz are also worth considering for their comprehensive plans. They didn’t wow us in customer service or extra coverage the way John Hancock and Travelex did. However, IMG stands out for its extreme sports coverage; coverage for activities like scuba diving or hang gliding comes standard with every policy. We also like that Allianz, like Travelex, will cover trips up to a full year in length.
How We Found the Best Travel Insurance
To begin, we searched the web for all the travel insurance providers we could find that sell individual policies nationwide (excluding sites like InsureMyTrip and Squaremouth that simply compare quotes). Travel coverage comes in many shapes and sizes — some providers sell only medical, while others let you customize your plan around a few specific risks. But we felt that to truly be the best, a company had to offer a policy with all five major coverages, even if you don’t end up buying them. They are:
- Trip Cancellation/Interruption. Reimburses you for pre-paid, non-refundable expenses such as flights, hotels, and tours, should you need to cancel your trip or cut it short
- Emergency Medical Care. Covers the cost of treatment for a medical emergency while traveling
- Medical Evacuation & Repatriation. Arranges and pays for medical transport to a treatment center, or to return you home if necessary
- Baggage/Personal Item Loss and Delay. Covers lost, stolen, or damaged bags and personal items; reimburses for clothing, toiletries, and other essential items if baggage is delayed
- 24/7 Worldwide Assistance. Help to deal with claims, medical emergencies, and other travel-related assistance during your trip
In all, 22 companies met these criteria, so our next step was to compare their relative strengths in terms of financial stability and coverage details.
We required a Financial Strength Rating of ‘A’ or higher from A.M. Best.
As the only major ratings agency dealing solely in insurance, A.M. Best is the gold standard for Financial Strength Ratings among travel insurers. A rating of A or higher from the agency means that a company has its financial house in order, and you can rest easy knowing it’ll have the cash to pay your claims.
We required companies to offer primary emergency medical coverage of at least $50,000 for treatment and $100,000 for evacuation.
Our experts agreed that emergency medical coverage is the most important piece of travel insurance, in large part because most US health plans don’t cover you abroad. That means that if you break your leg or catch pneumonia in a foreign country or on an international cruise without travel insurance, you’re responsible for the entire bill.
So how much medical coverage do you need? Megan Singh, of travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth.com, recommends enough to cover at least a week in the hospital — about $50K.
Medical evacuation is a separate coverage item, but it’s just as critical. If you need to be airlifted in a medical transport helicopter or flown home to the US on a medically staffed flight, those costs can easily exceed $50,000. A policy with $100K in evacuation coverage should cover a worst-case scenario.
Evacuation expenses are separate from treatment costs, so even if your American health care pays for treatments overseas, it almost certainly doesn’t cover your return back to the USA.
We also required both medical coverages to be primary rather than secondary. Primary means that your travel insurance effectively replaces any other medical insurance you already have, which helps in two important ways. First, it speeds up claims-processing times. Because there’s no need for your travel insurer to coordinate with your health provider back home, you’ll get reimbursed months faster, without as much paperwork. Second, in the rare event that your US plan is in effect, your travel insurance will still kick in first. That means you won’t be responsible for multiple deductibles, and there’s no risk of hitting any annual or lifetime health insurance limits.
When you consider that the cost difference between primary and secondary coverage is typically only a few dollars, there’s really no reason not to have primary travel medical insurance for emergencies.
Then we compared their specific coverage details.
Above, we listed the five general coverage types in a comprehensive plan, but the specific benefits within them can vary. To see how they stack up, we combed through each company’s policy details and scored them on both available options and generosity of coverage.
We gave the most points to providers that offered a “Cancel for Any Reason” option, which reimburses a portion of your non-refundable costs (usually 75 percent) if you decide to call off your trip for a reason that’s not expressly covered under the policy. That means if your basement floods the night before you’re scheduled to depart, or your traveling companion doesn’t feel up to the snorkeling trip you booked months in advance, you’ll still be reimbursed.
We also gave preference to companies with optional medical coverage for hazardous, “extreme” activities like scuba diving (never covered under standard emergency medical), as well as coverage for children at no additional cost. Digging deeper, we graded the requirements for particular coverages to kick in — for instance, how many hours your bags must be delayed before you’ll be reimbursed for clothes and toiletries — as well as dollar limits.
A few big names surprised us in this round: Berkshire Hathaway, run by billionaire Warren Buffett, offers relatively spartan coverage with very few extras (no extreme sports option or included coverage for children, and super-low benefits for things like missed flight connections beyond your control). Trawick International lost points for requiring that your flight be delayed a full 12 hours before it’ll reimburse for things like food and a hotel room.
After reviewing the details of each policy, we moved forward with the seven providers that scored above-average: Allianz, April International, AXA, IMG, John Hancock, Travelex, and TripAssure.
And finally, we put their customer service to the test.
We called and emailed our seven finalists to experience the human side of those dense, wordy policies. Great customer service not only factors into the claims process, but also can help you purchase the right coverage in the first place — not to mention help you understand how to use it.
While most companies were quick to respond, there were some noticeable differences in the depth of knowledge each brought to the conversation. It was super easy to tell, for example, which reps had actual claims-handling experience versus those who were just reading the policy to us over the phone.
Take AXA and Allianz. While their coverage is generous, their reps came across as impatient to make a sale, pushing for personal details before they’d answered our questions about their policies. Allianz, to its credit, was the only company to offer a mobile app to file claims. TripAssure was essentially cut for having no way to send an email — no address, plus no working form on the site. On the whole though, the companies whose coverage impressed us most also delivered on customer service, strengthening our faith in them.
You should still compare quotes from each provider.
Even though cost is likely to be the main factor in your choice of travel insurance, we didn’t compare premiums. There are just too many variables for us to reliably say which company will give you the best price. Company A could have better rates for your family’s trip to Canada than Company B, but Company C might be cheapest for your Australian rock-climbing sojourn.
In general, however, you should expect your policy to cost between 4–10 percent of your total trip cost. The main factors that determine premiums are trip cost and length, the age of the travelers (older people are more expensive to insure), and any options you select (things like extreme sports coverage and Cancel For Any Reason). To find the best price for your trip, we recommend getting a quote from each of our top picks.
Our Picks for the Best Travel Insurance
Best for Families
Travelex wins this distinction for being the only insurer to cover kids under 21 at no additional cost. There are a few restrictions: You have to purchase the Travel Select plan, which caps medical treatment coverage at $50K, but does provide an additional $50k with the Additional Medical Coverage upgrade. The total trip cost cannot exceed $10,000 (though if you’re spending that much on a vacation, you’re probably not too concerned about paying a little extra for your kids’ coverage).
We like how Travelex packages its optional coverage, too: as Customized Upgrades designed around specific trip types.
Customer service was on point as well. Our email was answered within four hours, and our phone call in less than a minute. The rep we spoke to was knowledgeable, friendly, and didn’t push us once for personal data, which was refreshing. Travelex’s underwriter, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance, has an A++ rating from A.M. Best.
Best for Solo Travelers
John Hancock impressed us at every stage of our testing, but really pulled ahead in the customer service evaluation. Attentive customer service is crucial — especially during unexpected, stressful situations when you’re away from home.
It bears noting that John Hancock’s customer support (their sales and claims departments) is actually managed by Seven Corners — another insurance company that just missed the cut for not offering primary medical coverage. When you call about a John Hancock policy, you’ll be speaking to someone from Seven Corners. Even with this extra layer, a policy with John Hancock offers first-rate coverage backed by the best customer service reps we spoke to.
Our test call was answered after less than a minute by a woman named Ynez who had worked for years in the company’s claims department and knew the coverage backward and forward. She was warm, patient, and sounded genuinely happy as she recounted a story about a woman she’d helped evacuate from a safari after she fell ill. We’re confident that, if we had to call in an emergency, we’d be in good hands.
Each of its three comprehensive tiers (Bronze, Silver, and Gold) offers add-on options for extreme sports/activities as well as Cancel for Any Reason.
We don’t like the absence of a pre-existing conditions waiver for the Bronze plan, but Silver and Gold have everything we looked for, including a tiny detail in trip delay coverage that stood out: up to $150/day for meals and other expenses if your flight is delayed by three hours, as opposed to five to 12 hours with every other company we reviewed. That means if you and your family are starving in the terminal as you await your flight, John Hancock will pay for everybody to eat a meal after a three-hour delay, which seems much more considerate than asking you hold out for five or more.
Still, families should prepare to shell out a little more to cover kids; John Hancock treats them as additional travelers subject to their own premiums.
Best for Adventurers
IMG offers one comprehensive travel packages: iTravelInsured LX designed for remote and tropical locations, which includes coverage for extreme activities, search and rescue, and an automatic Cancel/Interrupt For Any Reason provision. It’s an experienced company whose customer service impressed us (especially the Live Chat option, which only John Hancock matched among our finalists).
The only downside: its trip and baggage delay coverages don’t kick in until you’re delayed six and 12 hours, respectively, which seems long. Still, that’s a tiny difference in the grand scheme, and the rest of IMG’s comprehensive coverage is plenty robust.
Best for Long Trips
Allianz is a big name in the industry (we often see its collision coverage offer at the end of the rental car booking process), but surprisingly, it only offers one plan that met all our criteria: the Classic Plan with Trip+. Its coverage is fairly thorough with one notable exception: no Cancel for Any Reason option.
Less important but still absent is “hazardous activities” coverage for things like scuba diving or zip lining. That said, if you’re planning a trip longer than six months, Allianz is one of your best options. Most providers (excepting Travelex) limit their coverage to three months, but Allianz will insurance trips up to one year in length. If you’re spending the year studying aboard or backpacking across Europe, its coverage is generous enough to see you through a worst-case scenario.
However, out phone experience with Allianz customer service was mediocre at best: We were on hold for more than five minutes initially, and then we were connected with someone who seemed to know less about the plans than we did. If we had to file a claim or urgently needed help, we’d expect to hit a few bumps.
Did You Know?
The best time to buy travel insurance is within 10 days of your initial trip payment.
Three important coverage options are only available for a limited time after you start planning your trip, since they’re designed to protect against things that can happen before you depart (the typical window is 10–14 days, although some companies allow up to 20). After that, these extra benefits are off the table.
The waiver for pre-existing medical conditions exclusion is the most important; it stops the insurance company from using your previous health history to deny a medical claim. Imagine if you or your traveling companion has a well-managed condition that you’re not expecting to be an issue, only to have it flare up close to your departure. With the waiver, you only have to prove that you were medically fit to travel on the day you bought the policy for your claim to be covered. Without it, your claim could be denied as long as there was evidence of the issue in the two to six months prior.
The other two time-sensitive options are known as Cancel for Work Reasons and Cancel for Any Reason. Each lets you cancel for reasons beyond the standard ones — most often a medical emergency or severe weather.
- Cancel for Work Reasons will reimburse you for lost trip costs if you’re forced stay home for work, but requires verification in writing from your boss that you had the time off and had to unexpectedly cover someone or something that came up.
- Cancel For Any Reason is more expensive (usually an extra 40 percent in premium), but lets you nix your whole trip up to two days before you’re supposed to leave and still recoup 75 percent of your costs.
Read the fine print, and don’t hesitate to call with specific questions.
Every insurance plan comes with something called the Policy Certificate that lists all covered scenarios. If it’s not on the list, and you didn’t buy the option, it’s not covered. For that reason, it’s vital that you read the certificate before purchasing the policy (or at least in the first 10 days when most insurers will let you cancel for a full refund). Depending on where you’re headed, some policies offer better coverage than others, particularly if it’s a third-world country or there’s been civil unrest in the region.
You may already be covered for certain risks through your renters or homeowners insurance.
Many comprehensive travel plans offer benefits for things like lost property, rental car collisions, identity theft, and accidental death, but these risks might also be covered by your existing insurance. For example, most homeowners and renters policies cover belongings anywhere in the world, and many credit cards have rental car damage waivers that extend internationally. Still, only travel insurance can offer immediate emergency medical coverage.
Since you won’t be able to collect benefits from two different companies for the same loss, it’s best to check your existing policies for duplicate coverage before you buy travel insurance.
Credit card benefits aren’t substitutes for comprehensive travel insurance.
Although some credit cards come with a travel insurance benefit, there’s usually an annual coverage limit of $1,500–$2,500, and a very limited number of covered reasons for cancellation or delay. Far more important though, is that no credit card provides medical treatment/evacuation coverage abroad.
Keep your assistance card on you.
Megan Freedman, Executive Director at the US Travel Insurance Association advises travelers to be aware of the 24-hour travel assistance services provided by every plan: “It’s really important for travelers to keep that contact info handy.”
The wallet-sized card you get from your travel insurer can be useful in both emergencies (like if you lose your passport) and non-emergencies (like if you just want a quick way of getting tickets to the opera).