2009-08-07 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER Most people love to get away from life's worries, whether it be a week at the beach, a trip to visit friends or relatives, or traveling to an exotic overseas destination.

It is easy to forget, however, that vacationing can come with its own set of concerns. There are a myriad of events that can impact your trip, ranging from terrorism to natural disasters to lost luggage. With so many factors out of your control, you may consider purchasing some peace of mind with travel insurance.

Such protection can save you a good deal of money in the event that you are unable to travel or complete your trip, but it can also add hundreds of dollars to the total cost of your vacation

Before making such a purchase, it is important to consider whether travel insurance will meet your needs.

Identify what you think may go wrong on your trip, what the chances are of that event happening, and whether travel insurance will be beneficial if it does. Most policies cover cancellations due to severe weather, your death or serious illness or that of an immediate family member, or if the tour operator, cruise company, or airline cannot meet its obligations.

However, if you simply change your mind about the trip or develop a conflict, chances are you are not covered. Moreover, for an additional fee, some policies will cover a percentage of the trip, depending on when the cancellation occurs, regardless of the reason. Finally, some companies consider terrorism or State Department warnings valid reasons to cancel, while others do not. Since there are numerous travel insurance policies available, offering a myriad of coverage, it is important that you thoroughly research your travel insurance options and needs before purchasing.

It is also important to be aware of the fact that, depending on your reasons for concern, you may already be protected. Travel insurance policies contain a multitude of coverage options, including accidental death or dismemberment, lost baggage, car rentals, and medical costs.

Many life insurance policies already include accidental death or dismemberment provisions. Airlines and cruise companies will compensate you for lost baggage and other travel delays if they were at fault; if you lose your belongings, you may be covered under your homeowners or renters insurance. Many auto insurance policies and automotive clubs will cover domestic and international rentals. Some credit card companies also offer varying levels of insurance if you use their card to pay for the trip.

Your current health insurance may provide you with adequate medical coverage, depending on your destination. However, some plans do not cover overseas trips.

Basic Medicare, for example, does not cover health expenses incurred outside the United States. You may also wish to consider purchasing additional coverage if you are going to a developing country or a remote area or doing a high adventure trip where the chance of injury is greater. You should check with your current insurance provider to see what they provide.

Should you decide to purchase travel insurance, shop around to find a policy that offers the best coverage for your needs at the best price. While travel agents will recommend you buy their package, it is important to remember that they work on commission, so be sure to compare the coverage they are offering with other policies. You should also purchase travel insurance as soon as possible after booking the trip to ensure you can get the most coverage. In addition, many providers offer extra benefits, such as a waiver of pre-existing medical conditions, if you purchase the insurance within a limited time after your initial deposit.

For more information, you can point your web browser to the following websites. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association devotes a section of its website (http://www.ustia.org/) to information for travelers considering insurance. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners maintains a record of how many complaints have been filed against an insurance company at www.naic.org. You can also check an insurance company's rating with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb. org and, if the company is licensed to operate in New York State, you can verify its credentials with the Insurance Department at www.ins.state.ny.us.

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