Whether it’s a natural disaster, political unrest or a quickly spreading pandemic, emergent situations tend to cause us to step back and take stock of our options and our insurance. In the wake of the developing coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to know exactly what your options are.
Does travel insurance through your credit card help cover a sudden disease outbreak, and are you entitled to revise your travel plans due to fear of exposure? What about cases where your doctor advises you not to travel?
In this article, we’ll look at coverage offered by popular credit cards, as well as what other options you may have.
What is the coronavirus?
First, let’s learn a bit about the coronavirus itself. According to the World Health Organization, the current outbreak of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first reported on December 31, 2019, in Wuhan, China. The “n” in its abbreviated name stands for “novel,” which means that this particular strain of coronavirus had not been known or detected before that first report.
The coronavirus family includes viruses that cause symptoms that range from common cold illnesses to severe respiratory infections. You may recall the SARS outbreak of 2003; SARS-CoV is in the coronavirus family, but it is important to note that SARS is not the same virus as the current outbreak.
As of the date of this writing, the World Health Organization’s Situation Report – 16 tells us that, while the majority of cases and deaths are contained to China, 2019-nCoV has spread to 24 other countries in Asia, Europe, Australia and North America. (View the most up-to-date situation report here.) Almost all cases outside of China have been linked to recent travel to China, but there are a few cases where 2019-nCoV has been transmitted outside of China. This means that there are many travelers out there who are apprehensive about completing their itineraries.
Let’s talk about what’s covered under your credit card travel insurance and, equally importantly, what isn’t.
Will my credit card travel insurance help me if I change or cancel my trip?
In general, don’t count on it, with one exception: if your physician advises you not to travel. We’ll go into more detail about specific cards below.
A select few American Express cards now come with a suite of travel insurances. Among these cards are the American Express Platinum and American Express Business Platinum, Delta SkyMiles Reserve and Reserve Business cards, and the Hilton Honors Aspire and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant cards.
In the event of illness, severe weather or other covered situations that result in an interrupted or canceled trip, American Express offers up to $10,000 per person and up to $20,000 per trip when your entire trip fare is purchased with your eligible American Express card.
Unfortunately, if you choose to forgo your trip in light of a global pandemic, then you essentially choose to forgo your insurance as well. However, in the event of your involvement in a quarantine or recommended quarantine, you are entitled to use your insurance.
However, you may not be completely out of luck. If your physician advises that your trip is not medically advisable and you immediately notify your travel supplier (airline, hotel, tour company, etc.), Amex’s trip cancellation coverage on select credit cards will kick in.
The Chase Sapphire collection gets a lot of decent press for being one of the better cards for frequent travelers, but can Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders depend on Chase to cover them during a pandemic?
The Chase Sapphire cards come with access to great travel insurance packages that include trip cancellation and interruption insurance, baggage loss and delay insurance and primary rental car insurance. As long as travel purchases (such as tickets, hotels, rental cars, etc.) are made with the Chase credit card, insurance will automatically kick in to cover the travel period.
Specifically, trip cancellation and interruption insurance can cover nonrefundable travel purchases up to $10,000 per person and up to $20,000 per trip if your plans are altered by severe weather, illness or other covered situations. However, your Chase insurance doesn’t necessarily kick in just because you are afraid of becoming ill; it simply covers the unavoidable effects of illness or your inability to travel because you’ve been quarantined.
So, if you choose not to travel because of the possibility of being exposed to a viral illness, that’s on you. Chase insurance won’t cover your trip cancellation unless you are properly prevented from traveling.
But, just as with American Express, if your physician notifies you that travel is not medically advisable and you notify your travel suppliers within 48 hours, your coverage should kick in.
Are you a Citi cardholder? If so, you’re completely out of luck in this department. As of September 2019, Citi dropped almost all of their travel and shopping protections. If there ever had been the opportunity to be covered by your Citi card insurance, you certainly aren’t now.
What other options are available?
Even if your credit card trip cancellation coverage won’t cover canceling your trip due to the coronavirus and you don’t have other travel insurance to fall back on, you’re not completely out of luck. Here are a few options worth considering.
Contact the Airline and Other Travel Suppliers
The first thing you should do is contact the airline you’re flying and other travel suppliers. This is a requirement to use your credit card travel insurance anyway, and you may be relieved to find out that your trip can be cancelled or rescheduled without paying a fee.
Some airlines and hotels have already announced that they are offering full refunds in response to the outbreak. And, if you’re traveling soon, many airlines have already cancelled flights to China in the coming weeks.
Consider Traveling Somewhere Else
If you have a trip booked to somewhere you feel uncomfortable traveling to right now, consider nesting another trip inside of that trip.
For example, if you are scheduled to travel to China and your airline won’t allow you to change or cancel your ticket without paying a fee, you could book a trip to Laos from China and keep your original flights. At the time of writing, Laos has no cases of the coronavirus, so you may feel comfortable traveling there even if you don’t feel comfortable traveling to China.
Consider the Risks and Your Risk Tolerance
We all have a different risk tolerance. There are people who have would have no problem traveling to China right now and others who would draw a hard line on traveling at all, plus every stance in between.
I’m not advising anyone to take an unnecessary risk to save a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for a trip, but consider your risk and your risk tolerance.
Personally, right now, I would not travel to China, but I would not have an issue traveling to other parts of Asia. That could change as things develop, and I know that I am less risk averse when it comes to travel compared with many other people. You’ll have to make up your own mind, and taking your physician’s opinion into consideration is never a bad idea.
Forfeit Your Trip
If none of the options outlined above work for you, all that’s left is to forfeit your trip. But, before you resign yourself to losing out on all of the money, make sure you contact your travel suppliers (again) and see if they are willing to work with you. They may be able to offer a partial refund, willing to change your trip to a later date for free or for a fee or able to offer a discount on future travel.
Worst case scenario, you wind up making an extra phone call and getting nothing from it.
Even though choosing not to travel within affected areas of the globe can be a responsible way to help slow the spread of disease and protect yourself from infection, your credit card insurance isn’t necessarily aligned with the same goals.
However, with a disease spreading at the rate of the coronavirus, you may have other options. It’s worthwhile to consult with your physician about whether travel is medically advisable. If it’s not, your credit card insurance may cover you.
Regardless of what your physician says, it’s worthwhile to contact your hotel and airline to check whether any emergency graces are being extended for your particular itineraries. You may have the option to reroute your trip to another destination or possibly change the date.
And, if your airline isn’t willing to work with you, it may be possible to nest another flight itinerary to a nearby country to which you still feel comfortable traveling before you give up on your trip altogether.
Additionally, some travel insurance companies have different eligibility requirements than Chase and American Express, and some offer coverage if your tickets were purchased before travel warnings were published. If you have travel insurance, it’s worthwhile to call.
At the end of the day, the choice to travel or not is yours. Just make sure not to bank on your credit card insurance to cover that choice.
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