Travel insurance: When you need it and when you don’t

Travel insurance: When you need it and when you don’t

This is a great time of year to get good deals on vacation packages, but should you pay extra for travel insurance?

Hilary Daninhirsch took her daughter Natalie on a special trip to Paris as a combination graduation-birthday gift.

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“We had a great time for the first four days, got to see all the sights in Paris, had a wonderful time together,” Daninhirsch remembered, smiling.

But then, on the last day, Natalie’s birthday, the unexpected happened.

“She ended up in the hospital getting her appendix out,” Hilary explained. “It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life.”

Luckily, they bought travel insurance, which covered the medical costs of emergency surgery, trip interruption and a new flight home. Even more helpful, it provided critical guidance to get Natalie the care she needed.

“It was terrifying. Luckily, I spoke the language, but my mom didn't,” Natalie, who’s now back at college, said. “We were in a foreign country and we didn't know how to navigate this healthcare system at all.”

All told, for a cost of about $250, the travel insurance they bought covered about $7,000 in expenses.

Natalie’s dad said it was well worth it.

“Just throughout the whole process, I think I talked to them probably half a dozen times, and each time they had information about who I should contact, how I should deal with getting the bills or paying the bills at the time. So, it was all very helpful,” Mike Daninhirsch said.


Whether booking a cruise or trip overseas, both are times when it’s a good idea to invest in travel insurance.

“Anytime you leave the U.S., travel outside the country, it’s extremely important to have that,” Tom Diecks, owner of Greater Pittsburgh Travel in McKees Rocks, said.

Diecks has been in the travel industry for 40 years and has seen travel insurance pay off many times.

“The cost of the airfare will be refunded, the cost of the whole package transportation accommodations. If it's an all-inclusive package, the whole cost of the package is refunded,” Diecks explained.


Pam Selker-Rak is one of Diecks’ clients and learned the hard way not to skip insurance when traveling abroad.

“Murphy’s law struck, and everything went wrong,” she remembered.

Selker-Rak and her nephew were at Pittsburgh International Airport, about to leave on a trip to Ireland, when severe weather disrupted the plan.

“A microburst occurred when we were sitting at the airport waiting. All of the flights got canceled, and then the rest of the trip turned into a nightmare,” Selker-Rak said.

They tried everything to get there, but after missing their connection, the airline had no more flights to Ireland that week.

“We were exhausted. We were up almost all night long. Both of us looked like we aged 10 years in one day,” Selker-Rak explained.

After losing several thousand dollars on that trip, Selker-Rak now always buys insurance when traveling out of the country.

“My take is you’re better safe than sorry,” Selker-Rak said.


Whether you’re booking a trip yourself online or using a travel agent, it’s important to look at the contract to see exactly what they call the “covered reasons” for trip delay, interruption and cancelation.

“Most of the main ones are illness, hospitalization, death in the family,” Diecks explained.

Generally, travel insurance also covers less common things, like having to cancel for jury duty or a recent terrorist attack in a country where you’re traveling. In addition, there are lost baggage benefits, coverage for medical emergencies, and even repatriation of remains should someone die.


If you’re flying in the U.S. and didn’t spend a lot on an expensive package, you’re probably safe to skip it.

“Just insuring airline tickets isn’t really a good investment because, most airline tickets, if you had to cancel, you can pay a penalty to reuse it,” Diecks said.


Travel insurance can tack on anywhere from a hundred bucks to more than a thousand, depending on three factors:

  • Age
  • Length of stay
  • Overall cost

Your travel insurance will cost more the older you are, the longer you’re gone and the more expensive your package is.

Another thing to keep in mind is it’s important to purchase travel insurance when you put down your deposit on a trip. Otherwise, it won’t cover pre-existing conditions if you have a medical emergency.

“Get the travel insurance. We are the poster children for getting the travel insurance,” Hilary Daninhirsch said, laughing.

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