If you’re struggling to hold down the rising costs of your summer vacations, turning to “free” credit card travel insurance for personal or family protection can be a high-risk proposition. Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s a good deal.
Credit cards do not provide the same protection as standalone travel insurance. Even if you carry the high-end credit cards* that charge $120 to $150 annually and require a substantial household income, your emergency medical coverage is usually limited to short trips (15 to 21 days), is not available to people over 65, and will not cover pre-existing conditions to the extent that standalone insurance allows.
If you carry the free credit cards or ones that require relatively low annual fees, there will be no out-of-country medical coverage. Neither will there be trip cancellation or interruption benefits, or any of the benefits offered by standalone plans. Many of the free/low-cost cards advertise medical emergency assistance—but that simply means they will help you find a physician or hospital in your destination area, not that they will pay for those services. They won’t. Neither will they repatriate you by air ambulance if you need it, nor bring someone to your bedside, nor carry your body home if you die. You or your family will have to make and pay for all of those arrangements on your own, and doing that in a foreign country, with its own rules and regulations, is a complicated business only professionals can handle.
If you’re on any medication, or regularly visit your physician for chronic conditions—even mild ones that appear to be under good control, like high blood pressure—or if you’re over 65, or planning a trip longer than 15 or 21 days, standalone travel insurance is a safer alternative. It can offer coverage for your pre-existing conditions and you can travel for up to 365 days if you wish. If you have a pre-existing condition, you may have to meet some eligibility criteria or complete a medical questionnaire, but if you meet the insurer’s requirements your conditions will be covered. Credit cards don’t have the same flexibility to tailor a plan to your specific needs.
Before you count on credit cards to provide medical coverage outside of the country, learn precisely what their limitations are. You may be surprised.
*The high-ends card include such well-known titles as Aerogard, Aventura, Infinite, Passport, Avion, World Elite, and some others.