Editorial Policy

4 travel perks your card might have

Allie Johnson

May 14, 2015

All kinds of catastrophes — from food poisoning to a train crash to a hurricane — can derail a dream vacation. But the travel insurance on your credit card might get you back on track.

“There are many unforeseen things that can happen — you can trip on a cobblestone street, you can fall off a tour bus, you can have a skiing accident,” says Linda Kundell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Travel Insurance Association. “You never know.”

Many travel rewards credit cards, and some other cards, offer trip cancellation coverage and other travel benefits as a perk. However, the coverage is skimpier than a comprehensive travel insurance policy you'd buy separately, says Damian Tysdal, editor of TravelInsuranceReview.net, where consumers can learn about and compare travel insurance policies.

“But there is some protection there,” Tysdal says. “It's a nice add-on benefit.”

Here are four types of travel coverage that might be included on your credit card:

1. Trip cancellation/delay insurance — When you're forced to cancel, delay or cut short a trip for certain reasons, you get reimbursed for travel expenses you've paid. Coverage amounts can vary widely. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card offers $1,500 in trip cancellation coverage. But the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers up to $10,000 in coverage per trip if you can't travel for reasons such as sickness, injury, severe weather, a change in military orders or a hijacking or terrorist attack. It's important to look at the dollar limit and the list of covered reasons for cancellation, Tysdal says.

2. Lost luggage protection — If your suitcase gets lost, damaged or stolen while you're traveling on a boat, bus, plane or train, lost luggage protection will reimburse you for your missing items. For example, the Capital One Venture card will pay the difference between the amount you get from the airline or other carrier, and the actual cash value of your lost stuff up to $3,000. However, there's a long list of exclusions, including artificial teeth, consumables, eyeglasses, perfume and traveler's checks.

3. Travel accidental death insurance — Some cards offer accidental death and dismemberment insurance for travel on cruises, flights, buses or other carriers when you buy the ticket with your card. For example, the Capital One Venture card offers $250,000 in coverage for “accidental loss of life, limb, speech, sight or hearing.” And Discover offers $500,000 accidental death coverage for flights.

4. Travel concierge services — Credit cards also may offer travel and emergency assistance. For example, a representative might help you replace a lost ticket, offer emergency translation services or point you to a nearby doctor or pharmacy.

“If you're not doing the sort of travel where you'd buy travel insurance separately, then credit card coverage is great to have,” Tysdal says.

The downsides of credit card travel coverage

There's one major area where credit cards fall short: Most do not offer coverage for medical emergencies or medical evacuation during your trip, Tysdal says.

However, comprehensive travel insurance you buy separately typically offers both types of coverage. For example, one plan from Allianz Global Assistance offers $25,000 in emergency medical and dental coverage and $500,000 for emergency medical transportation to the nearest medical facility and back home.

“Always know what's covered and what isn't.”
–Linda Kundell, U.S. Travel Insurance Association

If you're on an international vacation and you have a heart attack, a stroke or a catastrophic accident — such as falling off a cliff — you might have to take a medically staffed private flight halfway across the world to get home, which could cost $100,000 or more, Tysdal says. “Evacuation can be a devastating cost,” he says.

Credit cards also typically require you to pay for the trip with the card to be eligible for the benefits, Kundell says. “With travel insurance, it doesn't matter how you paid for the trip,” she says.

Rely on your card or buy travel insurance?

Don't just assume your card will cover your trip. Instead, take these three steps to make sure you have the travel insurance you need:

Read the fine print for your card. Delve into your credit card's guide to benefits, which spells out the details of coverage. Look at what types of coverage are offered, along with dollar limits and exclusions. “Make sure what you think you're getting is actually there,” Tysdal says.

Assess your other insurance. Check your health insurance and other policies to see what coverage you have and what you lack, Kundell says. For example, will you have to pay extra for out-of-network care if you get sick while traveling out of state? And does your health insurance plan have a medical evacuation benefit? Your medical insurance probably won't travel with you internationally, Tysdal says.

Consider travel insurance for a big trip. If you're spending $5,000 on a cruise, $10,000 on a safari or $20,000 on a round-the-world trip, it probably makes sense to buy a travel insurance policy, Tysdal says. “That's a very large amount of money to lose,” he says. A comprehensive travel policy typically costs 4 to 8 percent of the total amount of the trip, so $400 to $800 for a $10,000 trip, Tysdal says. Travel insurance is an especially good idea if you're paying in advance for transportation, food and lodging, such as with an all-inclusive vacation package, he says.

Even if you do buy travel insurance, it's still important to make sure you're fully covered. For example, most travel insurance policies exclude coverage for risky activities such as skydiving, parasailing or scuba diving, so you might have to buy a specialized policy, according to the travel insurance association.

“Always know what's covered and what isn't,” Kundell says.