Retirees, Cover Your Trip and Your Health, Too

Travel insurance may protect you if have to cancel or interrupt a trip, or if you get sick while on the road.

Packing your bags for a big trip? don’t forget the travel insurance. It can protect you if unforeseen circumstances force you to cancel or interrupt a trip—or if you get sick while on the road.

Retiree John Murtagh says health coverage was a key reason he purchased travel insurance earlier this year. He knew that Medicare wouldn’t provide coverage outside the U.S. So before embarking on a two-week voyage in May from Miami to Southampton, England, the 66-year-old bought a WaveCare travel insurance policy that’s designed for cruises from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection for about $500. “I travel quite a bit,” Murtagh says. “It’s essential coverage.”

To maximize a travel policy’s benefits, “the number-one thing to remember is to buy travel insurance right after making the first payment” for the trip, says Carol Mueller, vice president of Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Purchasing insurance within 14 days of that first payment typically ensures you will get coverage for preexisting conditions, experts say, and mitigates the risk of not being covered if a hurricane, terrorist attack or other disaster ruins your trip before it begins.

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Policy premiums depend on the traveler’s age and the length and cost of the trip. “You want to cover anything prepaid or not refundable,” says Erin Gavin, an insurance product analyst for If you have nonrefundable transportation costs of $1,200 and a refundable hotel reservation for $2,000, buy coverage just for the transport costs. Generally, Gavin says, the premium will run 4% to 10% of the cost of the trip.

Picking a Policy

You can shop policies at sites such as or, which let you compare the features and prices of policies from multiple carriers. “A higher price tag doesn’t mean more benefits or better service,” says Jenna Hummer, director of public relations for SquareMouth.

You can buy standalone medical coverage, but in many cases, it makes sense to buy a comprehensive policy that includes trip cancellation, trip interruption and medical. A policy that lets you cancel for any reason gives you the most flexibility but also costs more. Frequent travelers should weigh the costs of single-trip policies versus an annual travel policy. “You buy it once and have coverage for all the trips and travel emergencies you might face in a year,” says Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications for Allianz Partners USA. Allianz offers annual policies that start at $135.

Whether you have private health insurance or Medicare, check whether your insurance will cover you while traveling, particularly if you are headed overseas. Traditional Medicare typically doesn’t cover health care outside the U.S. and its territories. But some Medigap supplemental insurance plans offer coverage for foreign emergency health care. Medicare Advantage beneficiaries may run into coverage issues while traveling abroad and even within the U.S. Advantage plans generally have limited service networks, and traveling outside your local area can throw you out of network, making needed care costlier.

Make sure the activities on your trip agenda aren’t excluded. Active boomers seeking thrills on vacation by rock climbing or heli-skiing can buy travel insurance policies that will specifically cover those more risky activities. Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection offers a policy called AdrenalineCare geared to active travelers, and recently launched an “Adventure & Sports Travel Insurance” section that lets you search policies specific to active travel.

You can also buy travel insurance geared toward cruises, as Murtagh did. Such a policy could come in handy if you miss the boat at a port of call or need health care beyond the scope of the ship’s doctor.

Before buying a policy, check the coverage for medical evacuation. Without it, you could be on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in transport costs if you have to be flown to the nearest hospital or back home because of a medical emergency.

Rachel L. Sheedy
Editor, Kiplinger's Retirement Report