Americans planning to travel abroad may be looking nervously as coronavirus spreads to multiple countries and wondering how much protection they have if they want to change or cancel their travel plans. They may have questions about what's covered if something happens on their trip.
The most important thing to remember is that standard travel insurance does not cover you if you decide not to travel because of the outbreak. Nor does the type of insurance that comes with certain credit cards. Travel insurance can cover you though in case of a disruption while you're on your trip, such as a quarantine period. But you'll pay extra for a policy that allows you to cancel because of coronavirus.
Travel insurance providers note that it does not matter if the U.S. State Department or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise Americans to reconsider travel to a country or to not travel there. These advisories do not invoke coverage for standard travel insurance policy holders if they decide to cancel or change their plans.
As the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted international travel, airlines have offered waivers that allow people to cancel or change their flights without the usual penalty. Cruise ship operators have paid for passengers' flights home and reimbursed them for the cost of the cruise. Some hotel chains are waiving cancellation fees.
Those who are booking travel now may want to consider cancel-for-any-reason insurance policies. According to SquareMouth, a travel insurance comparison site, such policies cost 40% more than standard policies and will reimburse up to 75% of the insured trip cost.
Those who choose this option must purchase the policy within 14 to 21 days of making the first payment for the trip and must insure 100% of the trip cost.
For example, a standard travel insurance policy for a two-week, $5,000 trip might cost $137. To upgrade that policy to cancel-for-any-reason would cost $267, but a traveler could get back as much as $3,750.
Though it's more expensive and doesn't fully cover your travel costs, this option could help travelers manage the unpredictability of the coronavirus outbreak.
Disrupted en route
Two cruise ships, Holland America's MS Westerdam and Princess Cruises' Diamond Princess, made headlines in recent weeks because of the disruptions their passengers endured. Multiple countries declined to allow the Westerdam to dock because of coronavirus concerns.
The Diamond Princess passengers endured a quarantine period at the port of Yokohama, Japan, with hundreds ultimately contracting the virus, including as many as 42 Americans.
According to SquareMouth, a change in itinerary such as docking at a different port than scheduled, is not reimbursable with a standard travel insurance policy.
However, passengers may be covered for their meal and hotel expenses while waiting for a return flight. Because of the extraordinary nature of the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on their passengers, cruise companies have shown themselves willing to cover these costs, plus the expense of the return flight.
Holland America did that for its passengers who found themselves unexpectedly in Cambodia this month. The company is refunding the diverted passengers the cost of the cruise and offering them credit toward a future cruise.
Standard policies should cover prepaid, nonrefundable expenses, such as tours and hotels travelers miss if they are quarantined. According to SquareMouth, they should be covered for their return flight, as well, though the cruise operator may offer to pay for that expense.
Princess Cruises is refunding just about everything for the passengers quarantined in Japan, including airfare, hotel, ground transportation and prepaid tours onshore. It has also offered the passengers vouchers to cover the expense of a future trip.
According to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, travelers should be covered with a standard policy if they are quarantined at an airport, at a port of entry or on a cruise ship. In any event, travelers should check with their insurance providers to see what specific scenarios are covered or not.
Choosing a provider
Airlines offer the option of insuring your flight. That may be fine for a short trip that doesn't involve a lot of prepaid activities, but according to Nerdwallet.com, the best options are sold by independent parties.
The U.S. Travel Insurance Association recommends its member companies, which adhere to the group's standards. You can also compare companies to find out which one offers a policy that best fits your needs.