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Chart Your Next Chapter: Understanding the Complex World Of Travel Insurance

Feb 19, 2024 | Resources

Navigating travel insurance can often feel like a maze of confusion and complexity. However, with just a few moments to delve into this article, you’ll gain the clarity to select the perfect insurance policy tailored to your needs.

Here, we’ll unravel decades of expert advice from Sphera Travel, drawing from over 30 years of invaluable experience in the world of travel. Presented in straightforward language accessible to all, this article is crafted with the luxury traveler in mind.

Join us as we demystify the intricacies of travel insurance, providing you with expert insights to ensure the peace of mind accompanies your extravagant journeys they deserve.

Whether relaxing at an upscale resort, enjoying a private exploration of historic sites, or setting off on a lavish global expedition, our advice is tailored to your needs. At Sphera Travel, we specialize in the distinct demands of luxury travel, emphasizing comprehensive health coverage and flexible trip cancellation options. Let us help you find the perfect insurance plan so that you can embark on your luxurious adventures with confidence and peace of mind.

What is Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance is about safeguarding your travel investment against potential setbacks, such as:

  • Financial Loss
  • Health and Safety
  • Travel-related Issues

As we proceed further into this discussion, we’ll explore the various types of coverage offered by travel insurance policies, helping you make informed decisions tailored to your specific needs and circumstances.

When contemplating the necessity of travel insurance, it’s essential to recognize that its significance extends beyond just the individual traveler. Considerations such as the well-being of loved ones, business commitments, and external factors like natural disasters or geopolitical unrest should all weigh into your decision-making process.

Example 1: Imagine planning a family getaway, only to face a sudden medical emergency like a family member’s stroke. If travel insurance was purchased within 14 days of booking, cancellation due to such unforeseen events may be fully covered. However, if purchased outside this timeframe, coverage eligibility might hinge on pre-existing condition clauses, often involving a 90-day lookback period.

Example 2: Picture yourself enjoying a sunny beach vacation when an urgent call from your business partner beckons you back to the office. Travel insurance might offer trip interruption or cancellation coverage depending on the circumstances necessitating your early return.

Example 3: Suppose you’ve meticulously planned a vacation for over a year to face looming strikes and travel disruptions at your intended destination. In such a scenario, travel insurance can provide guidance and financial protection, aiding in decisions regarding trip rescheduling, destination changes, or cancellations.

Do you need travel insurance?

The answer can be complicated.

In most cases, travel insurance isn’t mandatory. However, there are specific instances where having travel insurance becomes essential.

When exactly is travel insurance required? Some countries or destinations mandate insurance coverage to ensure that travelers can receive adequate medical care, including evacuation to a medical facility with standards equivalent to those in the US.

To determine whether your destination necessitates travel insurance, consult your travel agent or visit Sherpa for verification.

Additionally, visiting the official website of the destination in question can provide clarity on any insurance requirements or recommendations.

When is the best time to buy my travel insurance policy?

Understanding the optimal timing for buying travel insurance ensures comprehensive coverage throughout your journey.  Here’s a breakdown of when it’s best to purchase travel insurance in the travel planning process:

Immediately After Paying Your Deposit: The ideal moment to purchase travel insurance is right after making the initial deposit for your trip. This ensures you won’t forget to buy insurance, which must be purchased within 14 days from the deposit to cover any pre-existing medical conditions.

Anytime before trip departure:  You can purchase trip insurance at any point before your departure. However, it’s crucial to note that such coverage is unlikely to extend to preexisting conditions or specific events like named storms. Two key factors influence the timing of the purchase.

  1. If you require cancellation protection before your departure, you’ll typically opt for standard insurance offering coverage for cancellation due to covered reasons. This type of coverage tends to come at a higher price point, reflecting the increased risk for the provider.
  2. Post-departure coverage (must be purchased before traveling) includes medical emergencies, evacuation needs, or flight-related issues while traveling. This option is ideal if you’re committed to traveling regardless of unforeseen circumstances and prioritizes coverage during your trip itself.  For post-departure coverage, enter a zero trip cost when requesting a quote.

Please note: A post-departure policy does not cover trip cancelation.  This ONLY provides coverage while you are traveling.

No Insurance Coverage After Departure: It’s important to note that you cannot purchase a travel insurance policy once your trip has commenced. Therefore, planning and securing coverage before embarking on your journey is imperative.  You must purchase your policy at least 24 hours before departure to be fully covered.

Understanding Pre-Existing Conditions

So, when we talk about a “pre-existing condition,” we’re referring to any illness, disease, or health issue you had just before your new health insurance started kicking in. This includes any situation where you:

  • Went for a test, check-up, or got some medical treatment;
  • We’re told you should get a test, check-up, or medical treatment or
  • Started taking or were prescribed any medication.

Now, there’s a little catch about medication. Suppose your condition was kept under control just with prescription meds, and you didn’t need to change your medication routine during the period right before your insurance starts. In that case, it doesn’t count as a pre-existing condition.

However, by “changing your medication routine,” we mean things like changing the dose, how often you take it, stopping it, or even starting new meds because your condition got worse. But don’t worry, not all changes count. If you’re just switching between the same medication from a brand name to a generic one, or if you need to tweak the insulin or blood thinners dose, that’s all good and doesn’t count as a change.

What is a look-back, and why does it matter?

Understanding the significance of a look-back period is crucial when considering travel insurance. A look back is a period of time (set by the insurance company) before your effective date of coverage in which the insurance company will “look back” to determine whether any pre-existing medical conditions existed during that period.

Your travel insurance plan will only cover pre-existing conditions that existed during your lookback period if you qualify for a waiver of the pre-existing conditions exclusion. This is typically included, provided you purchase your policy within 14 days of the trip deposit.

Sphera Travel recommends you purchase travel insurance within 14 days of paying your deposit on your trip.  By doing so, you will not need to worry about pre-existing conditions of look-backs.

Who is considered a family member for insurance purposes:

A family member means any of the following:

  • Your or your traveling companion’s legal spouse (or common-law spouse where legal)
  • Your, or your traveling companion’s, your domestic partner’s, or your civil union partner’s:
    • legal guardian, parent, or ward
    • brother or sister
    • son or daughter
    • grandparent or great-grandparent
    • grandchild or great-grandchild
    • aunt or uncle
    • niece or nephew
    • domestic partner or civil union partner
    • caregiver or child caregiver

This includes adoptive, foster, step, and in-law relationships.

How much does trip insurance cost?

When budgeting for travel insurance as part of your overall trip cost, a general guideline is to anticipate the insurance policy to amount to approximately 5-10% of your total trip cost.

To illustrate, if your flights, river cruises, and tours collectively amount to $10,000 and you are between the ages of 60 and 68, you can expect the insurance premium to fall within the range of $700 to $950. Including this estimate in your planning process is crucial to avoid any last-minute financial surprises.

Several factors influence the cost of your travel insurance policy, including:

  • Your Age
  • State of Residence
  • Length of Trip
  • Base Cost of Your Trip
  • Chosen Policy and Riders

Pro Tip – Sphera Travel advises incorporating the insurance costs into your overall budget from the outset of your trip planning process. This ensures a more accurate financial plan for your journey.

Does my US health coverage work in other countries?

Understanding the limitations of your US health coverage abroad is another reason to prioritize a travel insurance policy. 

Usually, standard US health insurance policies do not extend coverage to medical care received overseas. Even if your medical plan states that it covers foreign countries, navigating the complexities of international healthcare systems can pose challenges. Hospitals and care centers abroad may be unfamiliar with US insurance providers or hesitant to accept them, potentially leaving you in a precarious situation.

What Benefits are included with travel insurance? It’s so much more than JUST trip cancellation.

To understand the benefits of travel insurance, refer to the graphic below for a breakdown of standard options. Coverage amounts will vary based on the policy purchased. Your choice of plan will dictate the specific coverage amounts provided. Discuss questions and specific needs with your insurance company before purchasing a policy.

What Is Not Covered with Travel Insurance?

Understanding what travel insurance does not cover is just as crucial as knowing what it does cover. While travel insurance serves as a safety net for unforeseen circumstances, it typically excludes losses resulting from factors within your control.

Cancellation Due to Change of Mind: Trip cancellation benefits only apply if the cancellation is due to unforeseen events beyond your control, as listed in the policy. To avoid this risk, purchase a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) rider to your policy.

Policy Exclusions: It’s essential to review the policy exclusions and limitations before purchasing and familiarize yourself with what is not covered. For instance, travel medical insurance often excludes costs such as elective procedures, mental health care, participation in adventure or extreme activities, and routine pregnancy. War, invasion, acts of foreign enemies, hostilities between nations (whether declared or undeclared), or civil war are all typically not covered.

Cancellations Due to Fear or Anticipation: Travel insurance policies typically do not cover cancellations from fear of potential events, such as war or crime waves.

Can I cancel my trip for any reason with travel insurance?

This is a commonly asked question, and for most policies, the answer is no. You can only cancel for reasons explicitly listed in your policy, usually around 30 specific circumstances. However, with some policies, you can opt-in for an optional coverage upgrade called  “Cancel for Any Reason” (CFAR). In that case, you can cancel your trip for any reason and be refunded for a portion of your non-refundable trip costs.

What other optional coverage upgrades are available?

In addition to standard coverage options, you might be surprised by the various policy riders available to enhance your travel insurance protection and safeguard your investment against unforeseen circumstances.

Should I buy insurance even if I DIY my trip?

We highly recommend purchasing Travel Insurance anytime you travel more than 100 miles from home.

Who is covered by Travel Insurance?

Image of a passport and travel insurance form.

Regarding who is covered by travel insurance, the policy typically extends coverage to every traveler specified in the policy. Generally, individuals from the same household are included in one policy, while friends traveling together from different households need separate policies.

Here’s a breakdown of the available policy options:

  • Individuals
  • Couples
  • Family: This typically covers one child for each adult included in the policy. For example, a family of four with two parents and two children would be covered under this policy. It’s important to note that the costs are based on the two adults, and with certain policies, there is no additional charge for children.
  • Group Policies: Post Departure Medical Coverage for Groups of 5 or more. 

Most travel insurance policies are designed for specific trips, offering coverage for the duration of that particular journey. However, options are also available for more extended coverage:

  • Annual Plans: These policies provide coverage for a traveler for a year or multiple trips within a specified timeframe. By opting for a yearly plan, frequent travelers can enjoy continuous coverage and save on costs compared to purchasing separate policies for each trip.

Typical Age – Pricing breakpoints for travel insurance

Graph by Sphera Travel showing the typical age price breakpoints for Travel Insurance

Is Travel Insurance worth the cost?

Travel insurance safeguards travelers facing unforeseen circumstances, providing financial protection and peace of mind. Here’s why purchasing travel insurance is often deemed worthwhile:

Protection for Nonrefundable Expenses: If you’ve made substantial payments for a nonrefundable vacation, travel insurance can mitigate the risk of financial loss in the event of trip cancellation or interruption. 

Coverage for Medical Emergencies Abroad:  International travelers, in particular, benefit from travel insurance coverage for medical emergencies. Traveling to unfamiliar destinations exposes you to different healthcare systems and potential health risks. 

Peace of Mind: Travel insurance provides reassurance, knowing you’re protected against potential risks and disruptions during your trip. Whether it’s flight delays, lost luggage, or unexpected illnesses, having insurance coverage can alleviate stress and uncertainty.

Financial Safety Net: Travel insurance acts as a financial safety net, offering reimbursement for unforeseen expenses incurred due to covered events. 

Pre-existing Conditions Coverage: For travelers with pre-existing medical conditions, travel insurance that covers pre-existing conditions provides essential protection. 

When NOT to purchase Travel Insurance?  

While travel insurance offers valuable protection in most situations, there are instances where purchasing a policy may not be necessary.

  • No Non-refundable Deposits: If you’re not making significant non-refundable deposits for your trip, such as flights, accommodations, or tours, travel insurance may not be essential. 
  • Coverage by U.S. Health Plan: If you travel domestically, your U.S. health insurance may provide adequate coverage at your destination.
  • Financial Flexibility for Trip Cancellations: Travel insurance may be unnecessary if you can afford to absorb the penalties.
  • Business Travel: Check whether your employer provides business travel insurance and medical coverage. 
  • Inexpensive Domestic Trips: Travel insurance may not be cost-effective for low-cost domestic trips. 
  • Existing Coverage: You may already have some travel insurance benefits through credit cards, homeowners’ policies, or airline add-ons. 
  • Baggage Insurance Redundancy: If you have homeowners’ or renters’ insurance that covers baggage loss. 

What if I need assistance while traveling?

Almost all travel insurance policies offer travel assistance before, during, and after your vacation.

Examples of travel assistance services:

  • Worldwide travel, medical, emergency, and security assistance
  • Pet Assistance
  • Concierge services
  • Embassy and consular service
  • Medical referrals
  • Language interpretation
  • Assistance with lost or stolen luggage and personal items
  • Coordination of personal effects collection and return
  • Assistance with the return of minor children
  • Arrangements for aircraft and car return

Tips for using your travel insurance policy.

We highly recommend utilizing travel insurance when necessary to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip. For instance, lost or delayed luggage, flight delays requiring overnight stays, and additional meal expenses can affect your vacation experience. While unforeseen events may occur, making the most of your journey is essential.

Before travel:

  • Familiarize yourself with your insurance coverage shortly before your trip to understand what is included.
  • Understand the duration of luggage delay required for coverage to apply.
  • Be aware of what your policy covers regarding delayed flights to avoid surprises if you encounter flight disruptions.
  • Capture images of all your travel documents and passports for easy reference.
  • Create a general list and take pictures of items packed in each suitcase and carry-on for reference in case of loss.

During Travel:

  • Prioritize addressing any emergencies that may arise.
  • Keep track of receipts and photograph them to prevent loss.
  • Review your insurance policy to ensure you understand the extent of your coverage.
  • If you need to make unplanned purchases, retain receipts and photograph them, but avoid overspending on items not covered by your policy.

Simple steps for accessing your insurance when traveling

When traveling, unexpected injuries or illnesses can occur, but with a travel insurance policy, accessing assistance is straightforward. Here are simple steps for accessing your insurance while traveling:

In Case of Medical Emergency:

  • If you experience a medical emergency, immediately proceed to a qualified medical facility.
  • Call your insurance provider using the international phone number provided in your policy. 
  • Your insurance provider can assist with directions, guidance, and additional changes to your vacation plans, such as evacuation or returning home for further medical follow-ups.

For Non-Emergency Situations:

  • Even for non-emergency situations, your insurance provider is a valuable resource.
  • Examples include lost medication, negotiating complex issues, or adjusting plans due to an illness back home.
  • Call your insurance provider using the international phone number and ask for assistance. They have experts, translators, and knowledge of nearby pharmacies, among other helpful information.

How do I file a claim with my Travel Insurance Provider?

Filing a claim with your travel insurance provider has become simpler with the convenience of smartphones and 24/7 access to policy assistance. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to file a claim:

While Traveling:

Step 1: Call your insurance provider using the international phone number provided in your policy. If you’re receiving medical treatment, they can work directly with the care facility and assist with arrangements. You’ll need to provide additional information as required.

Step 2: File online. Instructions for filing online will be available in your travel insurance documents. Make sure to keep receipts for any expenses incurred due to travel-related issues.

After Returning Home:

File online or via mail. Instructions for filing a claim after returning home will be accessible online.

If Sphera Travel plans your vacation, contact us to provide the necessary invoices to file your claim.

Comparing Third Party Travel Insurance with Travel Insurance from Cruise Lines, Airlines, or Vacation consolidators.

Third-party travel insurance typically originates directly from an insurance company and covers your entire trip.

Supplier travel insurance is from entities such as cruise lines, airlines, or vacation consolidators like Delta Vacations, Funjet, or Celebrity Cruiselines. However, a key limitation of travel protection is that it only covers what was booked directly with the supplier offering the protection.

Example 1: Suppose you book a wonderful luxury cruise with Silversea but arrange your flights separately or using points. If your cruise is delayed, necessitating changes to your flights, the travel insurance the cruise line offers won’t cover the flight modifications or cancellations.

Example 2: Consider a scenario where your flight experiences delays, resulting in a missed connection. While the airline will ensure you reach your destination, the next available flight isn’t until the following day. The airline may arrange accommodation in a 2-star hotel and provide meal vouchers. However, with Third Party Insurance, you could stay in a higher-rated hotel, receive reimbursement for transportation expenses, and have the flexibility to choose your meals.

Comparing Credit Card Insurance vs Third-Party Insurance

In your quest to select a suitable travel insurance policy, it’s crucial to consider the coverage provided by your credit cards. However, there are a couple of essential factors to keep in mind.

Firstly, it’s essential to research the specific coverage amounts your credit card offers. While some cards provide travel insurance benefits, coverage can vary.

Secondly, credit card insurance may offer lower coverage than third-party insurers’ policies. 

We recommend thoroughly comparing the coverage provided by your credit cards with that offered by third-party insurers.

Is a Travel Insurance Policy the right choice for you?

Requesting a quote is simple. Follow the link, and we’ll provide you with all the necessary details to make an informed decision.

We trust this article has equipped you with the essential information to make a sound choice.

Disclaimers and Transparency


The authors of this article are seasoned travel agents with over 30 years of experience in the industry. We’ve witnessed countless vacations proceed smoothly without insurance throughout our careers, including our experiences. However, we’ve also encountered situations where having insurance could have significantly improved a client’s travel experience.

Based on our collective expertise, we strongly advise all our clients to consider purchasing travel insurance. We aim to ensure you can enjoy Discovering the World Together with as few worries as possible. 


Travel agents are not Insurance Agents. While travel agents often facilitate the purchase of insurance policies, it’s important to note that they are not insurance agents themselves. They act as intermediaries, passing along quotes and information from insurance providers. If you have technical questions or need to amend your coverage, you must speak directly with the insurance agent.

We strive to help our clients through every step of travel, and full disclosure: We earn affiliate commissions when you click through the affiliate links on our website. Rest assured that all of our recommendations are made wholeheartedly with the intent of helping travelers like you Discover the World Together.

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Sue and Andy Ball of Sphera Travel in Budapest

Sue & Andy Ball

Travel Experts | Grand Rapids, MI


Sphera Travel is a luxury travel design company founded in 2020.  We serve Empty Nesters and Retirees from all across the USA.


Dive into a world of refined luxury with Sphera Travel. Our specialty? Crafting unforgettable, tailor-made vacations for empty nesters. Embark on journeys full of enriching activities, celebrated milestones, and meaningful connections. Experience the world alongside like-minded individuals, friends, or family.