Ask any expert to name the best and worst travel insurance companies, and you’ll probably get a noncommittal answer. “It depends,” they’ll say, careful not to sound like they have a favorite — or a least favorite.
But ask Michael Blank, and he’ll tell you about his experience with Seven Corners Travel Insurance.
Blank recently set sail on a Celebrity cruise to the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia. Along the way, both he and his wife contracted severe sinus infections, which sent them to the ship’s infirmary. A doctor treated the couple with antibiotics and billed them $313. Blank completed a quick online claim form.
“Seven Corners paid right away,” says Blank, a pharmaceutical research and development executive in Philadelphia.
Actually, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. The best travel insurance policies for your upcoming fall and winter trips offer extensive coverage. They also pay their claims promptly, according to customers, travel agents and experts. And the worst? Don’t even get me started.
These are the worst travel insurance companies
OK, do get me started.
The absolute worst travel insurance companies aren’t travel insurance companies at all. A few years ago, readers of my consumer advocacy site asked for help with their claims against a company selling something called travel “protection.” The company billed itself as travel insurance without actually claiming to be insurance in a clumsy attempt to evade state regulators. It refused to honor what appeared to be legitimate claims.
In the end, one of the company’s stakeholders tried to drag me into to court for writing about it. Fortunately, authorities caught up with the scam and shut it down.
By the way, if you want to read travel insurance horror stories, you can find plenty of them on my nonprofit consumer advocacy site.
Some travel companies, such as tour operators and cruise lines, also offer “protection” that isn’t insurance. Coverage is limited (for example, they only offer credit if you have to cancel, not a refund). And the restrictions are significant. Since the company itself underwrites the “protection,” the company’s bankruptcy would render it useless.
Note: Some travel protection products are totally legit insurance products and worth considering. For example, BHTP’s ExactCare Extra product combines fixed benefits with traditional coverage. It covers trip cancellation, trip interruption, medical coverage, emergency evacuation, but also flight cancellations and missed connections.
But in a sense, the worst travel insurance may be none at all. Too many travelers are turned off by the negative stories and bogus “protection” policies and decide to skip travel insurance altogether. It’s a decision they often regret when they have to cancel their trips and can recover none of their money.
Good travel insurance can cover you when medical insurance won’t, particularly for international travelers. It protects against trip delays, offers rental car coverage, and covers lost luggage and accidental death. Finding a great travel insurance plan and buying travel insurance doesn’t have to be difficult.
The best travel insurance companies
Every year, I survey my readers on the best travel insurance companies. Here are last year’s winners. (I’ll start the polling again in October, so stay tuned.) But in the meantime, I hear from thousands of travelers about their insurance experiences. Not all of them are positive, but many are. They merit a second look at about the halfway point through this year.
Here’s my current list of the best major travel insurance companies, based on reader feedback and the latest consumer surveys:
Allianz Global Assistance
Allianz Global Assistance is the largest travel insurance company. It’s owned by Allianz SE, the world’s largest diversified insurance company. Thanks to the scale of its parent company, Allianz can offer better insurance at a lower rate. The company typically works fast on claims and resolves most complaints quickly and to the customer’s satisfaction. Just in case it doesn’t, I publish the names of its customer service executives on my advocacy site.
Jim Angleton, who runs a credit card company in Miami, remembers a recent flight from the Middle East to Miami. With a hurricane bearing down on South Florida, his airline canceled the flight and told him to wait four days. “We ran and got the last four business class tickets on Emirates,” he says. Allianz quickly reimbursed him for the tickets.
“In today’s crazy travel world and climate it is very important — almost a must — to have trip insurance,” he says.
Talk about squeaky clean. I’ve received virtually no complaints about Amex Assurance products, which in and of itself is a powerful endorsement. Amex offers all kinds of protection and insurance policies, and you don’t have to be a cardmember to qualify for coverage. If you run into problems, I always publish the Amex executive contacts on my advocacy site, too.
Generali Global Assistance
Generali Global Assistance’s predecessor, CSA Travel Protection, has long been a recognized name in travel insurance. And Generali’s parent company, The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, has been around since 1963. Generali says its success is “built on the foundation of trust.” Based on the few cases we receive on my consumer advocacy site, they live up to their promises. I’ve had an opportunity to work with Generali on several stories since I published my last list. It has a true customer-centric corporate culture, which is great. (And just in case they forget, here are Generali’s executive contacts.)
Seven Corners is privately held and headquartered in Carmel, Ind. Blank’s experience, as described earlier in the story, is not unique. This low-key specialty benefit management company specializes in doing business with agencies of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and corporations. Their cases tend to get resolved quickly and with a minimum of publicity. Here are the Seven Corners executive contacts, in the unlikely case you’re the exception to the rule.
Travelex is owned by Cover-More Group, one of Australia’s largest insurance providers. I can count on one hand the number of Travelex cases we get. The company offers solid coverage and processes claims quickly. A vast majority of its customers are pleased with their travel insurance policies, which is as much as anyone could expect. Here are the Travelex executive contacts.
Christine Dailey, who works for a construction company in Los Altos, Calif., reported her positive experience with Travelex. She’d purchased coverage for a three-week European cruise.
“I had a fall on Portuguese cobblestones during a shore excursion and fractured a finger,” she says. “Incurred $910 in medical treatment by the ship’s doctor.”
At home, her health insurance covered her medical care. But not abroad. Travelex didn’t harass her with a lot of paperwork requirements for her claim. “I received payment in full within three weeks,” she says.
If you’ve never heard of Travel Guard, you probably know AIG, its parent company. Like the other insurance companies on this list, it has a sterling reputation for delivering insurance coverage to travelers. I’ve had several dealings with Travel Guard since I published my last list of insurance companies. Travel Guard processed its claims quickly and followed up to make sure the customer was happy. I’m impressed by their professional attitude and have absolutely no reservations about recommending a Travel Guard policy. Here are the Travel Guard executive contacts.
Travel insurance doesn’t solve everything
A few words of warning: While these are the best travel insurance companies, they’re not perfect. Too often, they oversell their products with large-print hyperbole, only to have fine-print restrictions that severely limit their coverage. The biggest: limits on pre-existing conditions. That’s a problem mostly created by their underwriters, who are trying to limit their exposure. You have to read the fine print very carefully to avoid getting stuck with a useless policy.
Also, there are items even the best travel insurance company won’t cover. That’s one reason many of the travelers who contact me buy more than insurance. For instance, they’ll pay $419 for a one-year medical evacuation membership like Medjet Assist. Medjet operates a fleet of more than 250 private air ambulances that can evacuate hospitalized members. Or they’ll sign up for International SOS, which provides global security to companies.
Travel insurance won’t cover everything. But you don’t really want to leave home without it.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.