If you're about to hit the road, it's probably a good time to think about trip insurance.
If you are taking an expensive trip, it's a good idea to pay the extra money. If you travel for business, the odds are in your favor without insurance, but if you travel occasionally and have saved up for a trip, travel insurance can offer peace of mind.
Travelers can protect air travel and a cruise under the same plan, so if your flight is late and it causes you to miss the cruise, you'll be covered. I recommend buying through a third party for better coverage.
When purchasing a cruise vacation, the airfare can be more expensive if you purchase it through the cruise line. But if your flight is delayed or canceled, the cruise line will get you to the next port.
Last year, some cruise ships left port hours early because of an approaching storm and Royal Caribbean flew only the passengers who had purchased airfare through the cruise line to the next port to catch up with the ship. Make sure you have a passport when taking a cruise that goes to foreign ports because you can't fly into the next port if you don't have one, even with trip insurance.
Get to the departure city a day or two early, so you have time to make it to the ship if there are delays.
You can usually cancel a hotel room ahead of time without penalty, so you probably don't need trip insurance. But if you purchase a nonrefundable air and hotel package, it's good to have insurance because you are prepaying. The advantage of purchasing hotel and air together is that you often get better prices.
Changing a nonrefundable airline ticket can be expensive, with fees of $150 on most carriers for domestic travel and $250 on international tickets. But when weather forces delays and cancellations, the airlines often waive change fees for travel within a certain time period. If you get stuck during a vacation, having to pay for extra hotel days can add up, so you might want to get insurance.
Volcanic dust was the last thing on the minds of people who flew to Europe a couple of years ago, but many got stuck, some for 10 days, and hotel rooms were not cheap.
If you are experiencing bad weather when your flight is scheduled to depart, call the airline to change your travel plans instead of doing it at the airport.
In December 2010, New York had one of its worst snowstorms and passengers who gave up their hotel rooms and went to the airport were stuck for days. If you are vacationing in the Caribbean and a storm hits, you won't see flights for at least 24 hours and sometimes up to 72 hours, so call ahead to change your flight. If you hear that a hurricane or winter storm is coming, you might want to leave early; in most cases, the airlines will allow you to get an early flight out without paying the change fee.
Some credit cards offer travel insurance. Even if your card doesn't offer insurance, it's a good idea to purchase travel with a credit card and not a debit card because it is easier to dispute charges and protect yourself.
If you are traveling abroad, you should also check your health insurance coverage. Your health insurance policy might not cover medical expenses while you are out of the country.
You can get travel insurance up to 24 hours before departure. However, if you are traveling to an area where there is a tropical depression, storm or hurricane, you cannot get covered for any issues related to the storm, unless you purchased at least 24 hours in advance of when the storm got named. You have to purchase at least 24 hours in advance of when a severe winter storm warning or watch is issued.
The primary reason to get trip insurance is to cover canceling the trip. If you have to make changes to your trip that are not related to weather, a natural disaster, etc., you will be responsible for airline change fees, any increase in airfares and the first night of the hotel stay.
If you need to make a change, you might be better off canceling your entire trip and rebooking it. It can take three or four weeks to be reimbursed. You also must cancel your vacation prior to the scheduled departure time or you could be out the entire amount spent. Get a confirmation number to give to the insurer because they will need that to verify the cancellation.
At Bestfares.com, we use Travel Guard to insure packages. We checked rates for a four-night package from Dallas to Cancun departing in late September. Rates were $508 for the air and four-star hotel package, and the insurance cost $49.95 per person for a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason.
If you buy a policy, read the fine print and make sure it covers weather, illness, natural disasters, mechanical issues and anything else you think might cause you to cancel or change your trip. If you get stuck, save your receipts for additional expenses. You often have to pay those expenses upfront and get reimbursed later.
Most good travel insurance policies average between 6 and 10 percent of your trip cost, but rates vary on the type of coverage and age of the traveler. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association has information about trip insurance, including what to look for in a policy and a directory of companies. Visit ustia.org.
Tom Parsons is CEO of bestfares.com.