Story last updated at 11/26/2008 - 10:49 am
Whether you're going over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house, skiing in the mountains of West Virginia or soaking up the sun in Acapulco, getting to your destination on time with a minimum of problems is probably a priority.
If you're flying, there's a better chance this year than most that you'll experience some predicaments. More than one in four flights taken in 2008 did not arrive on time, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The airlines' on-time rate was 74.3 percent through the first eight months of this year, the DOT reports, making this the third-worst period for delays in the 14 years records have been kept. Additionally, 45 percent of delays and cancellations between January and August 2008 were weather-related.
While you can't control the weather or the airlines, you can at least buy a little piece of mind, but few of us take advantage of it. The US Travel Insurance Association reported that most Americans still travel completely uninsured, or rely on coverage provided by credit cards and employee benefits - not realizing these sources may offer only partial protection.
Chris Harvey, CEO of Squaremouth, an Internet travel insurance comparison site, and an expert on travel insurance issues, offers tips on purchasing travel insurance:
Don't spend more than you need to. If you're a U.S. resident traveling in the U.S. and you have a company medical plan, you probably won't need any extra health coverage. You may still want to consider getting trip cancellation or interruption coverage, though, which lets you recoup the cost of backing out of a trip.
And you'll need to confirm how much coverage your spouse and children receive through your work policy, or if third-party insurance is needed to cover them.
Insure a pre-existing illness. Travel insurance covers most emergency and non-routine health issues. But make sure to buy insurance that specifically covers your pre-existing medical condition.
Don't expect insurers to pick up the tab for your loss instantly.
They won't. As is true of any policy, until you've been told what that delayed flight, unexpected hospital stay or hurricane-routed hotel has cost you, you can't claim for the loss.
Know all the coverage you already have.
You may be partially covered through your cruise line, airline, charter company, credit card, home insurance or employee benefits policy. Knowing what coverage you already have will speed up the claims process, since you may need to track down refunds from those sources first.
With medical policies, you could be asked to pay for treatment and be reimbursed later, or the insurer will cover costs up front.
It's always a cash claim. If you cancel a trip booked with air miles, you won't be compensated for the perceived value of those miles, although some policies reimburse the cost of re-banking frequent flier miles. Ditto your time share paid for a decade ago - you can't recoup the value of those weeks. So don't add in non-cash items when calculating the amount of insurance to buy. You'll end up needlessly paying more.
Don't buy the first policy your travel agent offers.
Often, travel agents will represent only one or two insurers, and they collect a commission for every policy sold. Your choice of insurance will be limited. And you could end up paying more than you need to for less than the coverage you require.
Research who the best insurers are.
If you are already on your vacation, this isn't the time to find out you'll need to haggle with your insurance company when problems arise. Before buying travel insurance, research who the reputable carriers are; the ones who can swiftly mobilize aid in a crisis.
Arlinda Smith Broady is business editor of the Savannah Morning News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.