The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
The Vexing Questions About 'Travel' Insurance
October 8, 1994 -- No topic is more vexing than travel insurance. In fact, even the term itself is confusing. But rather than drone on with an official talking-head explanation, allow me to answer specific insurance questions you've sent my way in recent months. There may be a little overlap, but the more you know ...

Q: Do you have any recommendations on a travel insurance company?
A: There is no such thing as "travel insurance" per se. For example: One company that advertises to travelers sells a package of 12 separate types of travel coverage, ranging from lost-baggage assistance to an accidental-death benefit. Each person's needs are different, of course, but we believe there are two types of benefits important for every traveler: trip-cancellation and trip-interruption coverage, which offers financial reimbursement should you cancel or curtail your prepaid travel itinerary; and comprehensive medical coverage, which should cover the cost of emergency medical treatment, and, if necessary, emergency evacuation.

Q: My husband and I are planning a Caribbean cruise and want to purchase travel insurance. Should I buy it from my travel agent or from the cruise line?
A: Buy your travel insurance from whichever supplier offers the coverage that best fits your particular needs. The source of the insurance is much less important than the substance of its coverage. If there is a possibility you may have to forgo your cruise after purchasing your tickets, for instance, buy trip-cancellation coverage. Worried about having to cut short your holiday during your cruise itinerary? Then make sure your insurance includes trip-interruption coverage. The medical portion of your travel insurance is particularly important: it must cover the cost of treatment and the cost of an emergency evacuation. Pay special attention to the fine print if you have any pre-existing conditions. Not all travel insurance plans cover pre-existing conditions.

Q: I've heard that the free rental car protection supplied by credit card companies is not always valid internationally or on many types of automobiles. What are the guidelines?
A: The coverage varies depending on the bank or financial institution that issues the card. Broadly speaking, however, you are covered in most domestic situations except for specialty vehicles. For example, American Express words its restriction this way: "Certain expensive cars, trucks, vans and commercial vehicles are not covered. Four-wheel-drive sport/utility vehicles are covered unless used off-road." Visa's coverage for gold card holders excludes an "expensive, exotic, or antique automobile." International rentals are more troublesome because the local franchises of the major car-rental firms do not always follow the stated corporate policy. Credit card companies routinely insist their coverage is valid everywhere except Italy and New Zealand. Over the years, however, travelers have had problems at car rental counters in Spain, Mexico, and eastern European countries. I recommend purchasing an international supplement to your personal automobile policy if you plan on driving overseas.

Q: For all the talk about buying travel insurance, isn't it true that many facets are already included in other types of coverage? Can you supply an overview?
A: In the last frantic days before leaving for a trip, too many travelers buy insurance that actually duplicates the coverage they already have from sources such as their homeowner's policy, car insurance or credit cards. Here's where to look.

Credit card coverage As the competition for your charge business escalates, card issuers not only have lowered interest rates and eliminated annual fees, they've larded cards with useful travel coverage. American Express, for example, automatically gives cardmembers $100,000 worth of travel-accident insurance whenever they charge an airline, train, bus or cruise-ship ticket to the card. Visa Gold cardholders automatically receive $150,000 worth of coverage. Many credit cards offer car rental insurance whenever you charge the rental to that card. This insurance is limited--it covers only damage to the rental vehicle, not medical costs or liability --but it allows you to safely decline the rental company's "collision damage" coverage. (Rental firms charge as much as $15 a day for similar insurance.) Card issuers also routinely offer emergency worldwide medical and legal assistance plans. Other coverage offered with certain credit cards include: lost-baggage insurance; trip-delay plans; replacement of lost or stolen items that were purchased with the card; and roadside assistance.

Your homeowner's policy Buried in the fine print of most standard homeowner's policies are several types of valuable travel coverage. In fact, whatever is scheduled for coverage at home is also protected when you take it on the road. If your hotel room is burgled, for example, most policies will cover some or all of the cost of stolen jewelry or apparel. Lost or stolen passports, tickets or even cash can also be reimbursed.

Your automobile coverage Six out of ten car owners have automotive insurance that includes coverage of the cost of any damage you might do to a rented car, says Joe Russo, a spokesman for Hertz. Virtually all automobile policies also cover liability to any third party injured in an accident with your rented car, he adds. In other words, most anyone who owns a car is duplicating their coverage if they buy optional insurance packages from a car-rental firm. But beware: Standard personal auto insurance is only valid in the United States.

Words of caution Just because you have travel coverage bundled into other types of policies, don't assume you don't need any additional travel insurance. In fact, the more often you travel, the more likely you'll want the reassurance of having separate coverage for costly exigencies such as emergency medical evacuation. Check all your existing coverage carefully for loopholes and liabilities, then purchase the travel insurance you need to fill the gaps.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

This column is Copyright 1994-2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.