“Standard travel insurance is very valuable, but not in the context of the coronavirus,” said Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com. “If you have concerns about what may happen traveling to your destination, that isn’t insurable. Because underwriters are pricing risk. They can’t price the risk of fear.”
Viral outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics are not on the risk list, either.
But there are travel insurance policies that will give you some peace of mind — and a good bit of your money back — if you decide to cancel your trip for a reason like coronavirus. Here’s what to look for.
Coverage for coronavirus concerns
Death in the family, hurricanes, even unexpected jury duty are all covered reasons for cancellation under most standard travel insurance policies. Concerns about a disease outbreak? No.
But one kind of policy — a Cancel for Any Reason, or CFAR, insurance policy — might cover you.
“A Cancel for Any Reason policy becomes relevant because it is the one kind of policy that can get you some cancellation coverage due to coronavirus,” said Sandberg.
A CFAR policy is a luxury upgrade to a standard travel insurance policy, so it’s pricey. CFAR policies come at a premium of about 40% to 60% more than standard travel insurance. And with as much as 50% or 75% of the trip costs reimbursed, you wouldn’t even get all of your trip covered, said Sandberg.
“But you can cancel just because you decide you don’t want to go,” said Sandberg. “If you are fearful or uncomfortable traveling to a destination you can get coverage with a CFAR.”
But be aware that CFAR upgrades aren’t available on all policies nor to all travelers.
How the coverage works
CFAR policies have several rules and restrictions.
First, because of insurance regulations in New York state, residents there are not eligible to purchase this upgrade to their insurance.
Next, the entire cost of the trip must be insured — not just the airfare. Also, if canceling under a CFAR policy, that decision must be made more than 48 hours prior to departure.
If you are not a resident of New York and can purchase CFAR insurance, the policy must be bought within a certain number of days of making your first payment on the trip. Often it is 21 days, but it can be as few as seven.
“If you booked a spring break trip months ago and you now have concerns about coronavirus, you couldn’t purchase a CFAR plan now,” Sandberg said.
But, he said, if you just booked your trip or are in the process of planning travel, a CFAR policy would provide some protection going forward.
Should you pass on a standard policy?
At Seven Corners, a travel insurance company in Indiana, callers with questions about coverage have increased significantly in the past month, according to Jeremy Murchland, the company’s president.
“The most common thing we’re hearing is, ‘If I can’t go on my summer trip, am I covered?'”
In most cases, unless they purchased a CFAR policy, Murchland said the answer is no. But he said a standard policy isn’t useless.
“If there is a flight delay or you get sick while traveling, provisions for those will kick in,” he said.
If you buy travel with a credit card that includes travel insurance as a perk, you likely have coverage, but it won’t provide Cancel for Any Reason coverage.
“The policies can vary from issuer to issuer, but they all seem to agree that if you just want to cancel because you are scared of catching coronavirus, you are probably out of luck,” said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards.
But these standard policies may cover some circumstances that could come up, he said.
“If you are quarantined, there may be some coverage,” he said. “If you get sick before you travel or during your trip, the trip insurance policies may help, once you provide a doctor’s note or other documentation.”
So far there has not been a huge increase in the number of claims coming in, according to Murchland. At least not yet.
“Right now we’re getting the sense people still want to go on their trips, but they want to know what their options are and what their benefits will be if they change their mind.”