Planning your first big trip? Advice and humor to get you through the process.
Travel Insurance Primer
I always buy trip insurance before a big trip. On a trip around the world, I forked out $700 for a top of the line policy that I never needed to use. (The policy was underwritten by AIG, before I was aware of any of their financial problems. The company's policies are still widely available and worth considering.)
Key things I wanted coverage for included: - Trip cancellation in case I got injured or sick and couldn't go. - Emergency evacuation, in case I got sick or injured overseas and needed to get to a reputable doctor asap. - Replacement for lost baggage or rerouting of flights in case of a problem. - Overseas medical insurance.
Fortunately, I've never had to make a claim on a travel insurance policy, but my mother did and it was a hassle. Moreover, reports of phony insurance policies, unlicensed carriers, and companies that go bust are common. Though everyone -- including me -- recommends buying insurance for expensive trips, the process is fraught with hazards.
Here's how to avoid trouble. 1. Buy "insurance" not "protection." Insurance is regulated by your state. Protection is what you pay local hoodlums so they don't break into your car every other day. Be sure to ask the sales person for clarification and then double-check the paperwork.
2. Check up on the underwriter. Legit travel insurers are backed by regulated underwriters that are insured and financially sound. Check the underwriter's status at the worldwide insurance rating agency, A.M. Best . Also, verify that the company is a member of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association
3. Buy from a licensed agent. Not only must the policy the insurance be legit, but the agent as well. If in doubt, call the state insurance commissioner to double check. Click here to find your state insurance Web site.
4. Read the policy before buying. The policy should offer a grace period for reviewing and canceling. Also, read up on limitations on pre-existing conditions. Often if you purchase the policy long before your trip, you'll be covered -- but double check.
5. Pay with a credit card. If there's a problem at least you can have your card company behind you. More
What to do if you have a problem If you file your paper work promptly, haven't been reimbursed within a couple of weeks, and feel like your getting the run around, here's how to proceed:
1. Call the insurer and get the e-mail for the appropriate customer service contact
2. Send a polite e-mail to the company expressing your concern.
3. After another week, send a cordial note expressing your concern and copy your state insurance commissioner.
4. After another month, send a more forceful note copying your attorney and MSNBC travel columnist Christopher Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org