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Travel plans gone awry; how to prepare for emergencies.

Before you take that next international business trip, family vacation, or Caribbean cruise for two, make sure you're covered in case of emergency. Exploring insurance options and policies for airlines, hotels, and other venues may save you from frustration and financial woes in the future.

Albert and Terry Martin of Philadelphia have taken vacation cruises since 1988, but have only once taken out any type of insurance policy. Last year's hurricanes convinced them of its necessity. The couple had declined to take out a policy through their travel agency before boarding a cruise ship to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola. "We were relieved when our American Express card offered insurance that aided in extra hotel costs incurred as a result of delays during Hurricane Frances," says Albert.

Although travel insurance is not a necessity for most domestic trips, it's worth getting for long overseas jaunts, "Timing is critical for travel insurance. The longer you wait, you don't get certain coverage," says Peter Evans, executive vice president and one of the owners of InsureMyTrip.com, an East Greenwich, Rhode Island-based company that offers clients policies and packages through 14 different insurers. For instance, persons insured under certain comprehensive plans prior to a tropical storm or hurricane that results in a trip delay or cancellation can be reimbursed for the cost of their vacation. However, those who wait until the storm hits and try to obtain refunds risk losing money.

There are three basic types of travel policies: bundled, custom, and flexible. Health and evacuation policies are often sold in combination with trip cancellation, baggage loss, and accidental death insurance. About 80% to 85% of InsureMyTrip customers opt for trip cancellation package policies, which cover those who may be forced to cancel due to inclement weather or other covered predicaments. Such policies range between 5% to 7 1/2% of the total trip cost.

But, before spending any extra money, check your current policies. See if your healthcare provider will pay for emergencies outside the U.S. Also, homeowners insurance and some major credit cards may cover various travel misfortunes, but they may not cover large claims for medical emergencies. They also may stipulate refunds according to how baggage is damaged (i.e., by fire or water only) when you seek compensation.

Ernie Ball, who runs Travels with Ernie Inc. in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania (www.twern.com) recommends clients take out insurance for smaller trips in case of mishaps such as lost luggage or severe flight delays. When buying travel insurance, find out how much coverage you will receive and if there are any restrictions, he advises. Pre-existing conditions and risk activities (such as mountain climbing and/or bungee jumping) won't be covered. Keep in mind that policies typically pay up to $10,000 in medical expenses and up to $50,000 in evacuation costs.

Taking out a comprehensive package through companies such as Travel Guard or Travel Safe may be a small price to pay in the larger scheme of things. A 36- to 50-year-old adult who spends $1,500 on a cruise would pay only about $50 for a basic policy.

"People think 'I'm already spending so much money.... I'll be fine without it,"' Ball says, citing how many see the expense as funds that can be used as spending money. "But if they have an emergency, they don't realize that all their spending money may be gone."
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Title Annotation:Consumer Alert
Author:Smith, Jennifer L.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:569
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