Is Travel Insurance Needed?

My parents plan on taking my 89 year old grandmother on a 5500 mile trip this spring. She wants to make one last trip to visit my uncle who moved far away shortly after graduating from college. For her age I think my grandmother is in great health. She still lives at home alone and is able to walk unassisted.

The biggest problem is that she often doesn’t feel well. She doesn’t necessarily have a cold or anything, she just feels tired and run down. In essence, she doesn’t feel like she can leave the house.

Of course, from day to day she never knows whether or not she’ll feel well. Some days she wakes up feeling great and happy. Other days she simply doesn’t want to leave home. So how can my parents plan a cross country trip when they don’t know how she will feel on the day they leave for Hawaii?

I told my dad I would look into travel insurance, but after reviewing the details online I can’t quite make heads or tails of it. It seems like all three of them need to be insured so that if my grandmother is ill they will receive money back for all of their tickets, but I’m not exactly sure how that works.

I’m also not certain how insurers define ‘ill.’ I doubt the policy will pay out just because my grandmother says she doesn’t feel well. I would assume she needs some type of medical proof of her illness. Given that she isn’t necessarily ‘ill’ by medical definition, but rather just exhausted and tired I’m pretty sure that she would not be covered.

After talking it over with my dad I wonder if she really needs travel insurance at all. Perhaps she just needs to purchase more expensive, refundable tickets that would allow her to change or cancel her flight all together.

I need to gain a better understanding of the role and rules of travel insurance, but at first glance it does not appear to be particularly straight forward. I would hate for my family to purchase something they don’t need, but given my grandmother’s age and frailty I would also hate for them to lose money if she wakes up on the day of their trip and doesn’t feel well enough to fly.
Is anyone familiar with the rules of travel insurance? Do you think that travel insurance is necessary for my grandmother’s trip or are refundable airfare tickets all that she needs?

14 thoughts on “Is Travel Insurance Needed?”

  1. A lot of travel insurance covers illness that prevents a trip from happening. Not all travel insurance covers illness while ON the trip. i read that this week on someone’s blog and for the life of me, I can’t remember who.

  2. Hi Frugal Girl,

    One of my relatives had a bad experience with travel insurance. I suggest that you read the policy’s terms and conditions very carefully. There are often very specific statements concerning what constitutes a “covered event” AKA illness and pre-existing conditions.

    As you suggested, it might be simpler to build flexibility into the travel planning. Unrestricted tickets are one option. Other options include selecting an airline with a decent change policy, or a deeply discounted ticket with an acceptable change fee. If there is a $500 difference in the ticket price and a $150 change fee… it might make sense to go with the less expensive fare.

    IMO the consumer page on itasoftware(dot)com is a great search tool for airfares. They do not sell tickets so there is no bias . Their focus is providing software solutions to airlines and travel firms.

    You could also try posting to flyertalk. It’s a community of road warriors. The members may have a suggestions that you may not have considered.

    I hope that your parents and grandmother have a great trip.

  3. I would suggest AGAINST travel insurance. My mom took a recommended policy out for her and my sister’s trip to NZ to see me, and lo and behold, my sister got sick two weeks before the trip was to happen. Travel insurance refused to cover it, because it was a mental illness, even with proof from the doctors that she was unfit to travel. The airlines likewise refused to give any sort of refund for the tickets. I highly suggest flexible, refundable tickets and great health insurance with a wide network instead.

    Hope the trip is wonderful for your parents and grandma!

    • That’s exactly my fear Sense. That my folks will fork over money for the insurance and then the company won’t pay out if my grandmother gets sick. I guess it’s clear if my folks get insurance that they read the policy three or four times before signing on the dotted line.

  4. If the trip is going out of the country, I would absolutely get travel insurance. A year ago my mother broke her ankle in the Caribbean. The local hospital would not take their American medical insurance but they did require a $1000 cash bribe just to have someone look at her. Travel insurance reimbursed them for the bribe, but also put them on the next flight back home, covered a limo from airport to hospital, and then covered the surgery and physical therapy she needed for the next eight months. They also covered the cost of the nights she wasn’t able to stay in the hotel after being hurt. All that for $39.95!

    Obviously you want to read the policy carefully, but all travel insurance is definitely not a scam.

    • The trip is to Hawaii, so it’s not out of the country, but that’s good to know for the next time I fly overseas! Thanks for commenting.

  5. this would be a great time for you to chat with a travel agent. you may not know that travel agents do not cost you anything – they are paid by the companies they book for (i.e. – us airways, sandals, etc). we use a travel agent for all our travels, and she actually saves us significantly more than we could find online ourselves. an agent is also a wealth of knowledge and could guide you in your quest to determine insurance v. no insurance. anyway…..our travel agent is alex case with exley travel (located in charlotte, nc). her email is i’m sure she would love to help answer some of your questions, payment free!!

    • Thanks for the travel agent suggestion. I hadn’t thought about that, but I suggested my dad call someone to get advice and to see if they could book the trip for a better price. I gave my dad your agent’s email address.

  6. I know if I book anything right now, it will definitely be with travel insurance and I will be sure to read the policy. My husband’s career is so up in the air, I just never know if we will actually be able to go on our trip less than a week beforehand.

    If you do find a good travel insurnace, please let me know!!

  7. It sounds like you need a refundable ticket. I believe travel insurance for an illness would only cover something with a doctors note. That doesn’t sound like your grandma’s case.

    • Well my grandmother could go to the doctor and say she didn’t feel well, but I’m not exactly sure if that would be a good enough reason to forfeit a flight. I’m not sure what qualifies though. If the doctor writes that she feels dizzy, has a cold, etc. it still might not be enough to trigger the insurance company to pay.


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