Taken for a Ride: What Does Trip Insurance Protect You From?

Vacation plans undone by the unpredictable – it’s something that happens more often than you think. It’s the reason why travelers who hope for the best, but plan for the worst often bite on trip insurance and think they’re totally protected.

“I thought it was a slam dunk,” Bill Mayhew told NBC 6 Responds.

Another traveler said, “I thought that the purpose of travel insurance would be our safety net if something happened.”

But according to a national consumer group, those consumers thought wrong.

“While they say it’s total protection against trip cancellation or trip interruption, it’s not total protection at all,” said Kevin Brasler, executive director of Consumers’ Checkbook.

What it is, according to a recent report by Consumers’ Checkbook: a bad deal for consumers.

“There’s just so many exclusions built into these policies that they really are rendered almost worthless,” Kevin said.

Exclusions like natural disasters that begin before you buy insurance, war, acts of terror, an epidemic, medical evacuation, pregnancy or childbirth, mental or emotional disorders, pre-existing conditions and anything not listed in covered items.

“Total protection to me means something very different than a plan that comes with a 20-page insurance policy that is full of things that it actually doesn’t cover,” Kevin said.

Consumers who decide against buying the insurance have to navigate a maze to keep saying no, dealing with pop-ups with language like: “Cover your trip” to avoid “the threat of substantial cancellation fees” and “No, I’m willing to risk my $220.99 flight”.

“They don’t let you pay until you’ve said ‘no, I don’t want to protect my trip,’” Kevin said.

According to Checkbook, what is not disclosed is that the airlines and travel companies that push these policies often get a chunk of each one sold.

“They came up with these absurd fees, they’re making billions off them, and now they’ve invented a way to protect you from their own ridiculous fees,” Kevin said. “It’s a bizarre thing.”

But Kevin said there is one group of consumers who may benefit from travel insurance: those who travel abroad, especially consumers who rely on Medicare, which does not cover foreign health care costs.

“If you’re going abroad … it’s worth thinking about buying one of these stand-alone medical insurance plans,” Kevin said.

Consumers should also consider that some credit card providers throw in coverage as a perk. But according to Checkbook, travel insurance is a waste of money for most vacationers. NBC Responds viewers from across the country agree. In Miami, Bill Mayhew’s claim was denied after his wife was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer right before her trip.

“This should have been a no-brainer,” he told NBC 6 Responds. “You see the report, you give us the check, over.Instead, we had to go out and fight Goliath.”

In Dallas, a mom filed a claim for her son who has asthma, after heavy smoke from California wildfires killed his trip. Her claim, she said, was denied.

“I spent countless hours making calls, being on hold and getting nowhere,” she said.

And in Chicago, Ron Brown got the bad news about his claim: denied based on a “pre-existing condition”.

“Previously existing meaning that I knew I was going to have problems from surgery,” Ron said. “If I knew that, why would I make the reservation?”

In response to these issues raised by Consumers’ Checkbook, the travel insurance industry said millions of repeat customers have found insuring their travel to be valuable and that the industry works hard to make terms and conditions clear.

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