The Best Travel Insurance
To find the best travel insurance, we looked at 22 of the nation’s top providers. Our mission: find the ones that offer primary medical coverage, generous limits, few exclusions, and top-notch customer service. The cost will depend on you, your trip, and who’s coming with — which is why it’s important to compare quotes from multiple providers. Our four top picks are a great place to start.
How We Chose the Best Travel Insurance
Travel coverage comes in many shapes and sizes — some providers sell only medical, while others let you customize your plan around a few specific risks. But to truly be the best, a company should offer a policy with five major coverage options, even if you don’t end up buying them.
The best travel insurance should cover:
- Emergency medical care
- Medical evacuation and repatriation
- Trip cancellation/interruption
- Baggage/personal item loss and delay
- 24/7 worldwide assistance
The five general coverage types form a comprehensive plan, but the specific benefits within them can vary. To see how they stack up, we combed through each company’s policy details and scored them on both available options and generosity of coverage. We gave extra points to generous providers such as those who provide the option to “cancel for any reason” and free coverage for children.
International travel insurance ensures that you’ll stay covered when traveling outside the country. While travel insurance is useful for traveling around the states — health insurance often doesn’t travel over state lines — it’s absolutely essential abroad. We made sure all of our top picks provide medical and emergency insurance that will cover you anywhere in the world.
Robust emergency medical coverage
The travel industry experts we spoke to agree that emergency medical coverage is the most important piece of travel insurance, in large part because most US health plans don’t cover you abroad. That means if you break your leg or catch pneumonia in a foreign country or on an international cruise without travel insurance, you’re responsible for the entire bill.
As for the amount of medical coverage you need, Megan Singh, of travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth.com, recommends enough to cover at least a week in the hospital — about $50K. We agreed and proceeded to nix any providers that fell below a $50K minimum coverage requirement. Most providers offer at least one plan that matches our cutoffs, so we focused on minor differences to find the most well-rounded coverage.
For example, we prioritized companies with optional medical coverage for hazardous or “extreme” activities like scuba diving or helicopter tours. These are never covered by standard emergency medical coverage, and we wanted to ensure our providers would cover the most adventurous among us. The difference gave providers like Travelex the edge over competitors like Travel Guard.
Reliable medical evacuation coverage
Standard medical coverage will cover your treatment, but medical evacuation is a separate coverage item that is just as critical. If you need to be airlifted in a medical transport helicopter or flown home to the US on a medically staffed flight, those costs can easily exceed $50,000.
Megan Freedman, Executive Director of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, explained, “A medical evacuation can easily cost $50–100K.” A policy with $100K in evacuation coverage should cover a worst-case scenario, so we made it a requirement. Most providers had at least one plan that met our minimum requirements, so we gave preference to companies like John Hancock whose cheapest plan starts with a generous $250K in evacuation coverage.
Primary medical and evacuation coverage
We also required both medical coverages to be primary rather than secondary. Primary means that your travel insurance effectively replaces any other medical insurance you already have, which helps in two important ways.
First, it speeds up claims-processing times. Because there’s no need for your travel insurer to coordinate with your health provider back home, you’ll get reimbursed months faster, without as much paperwork. Second, in the rare event that your US plan is in effect, your travel insurance will kick in first. In other words, you won’t be responsible for multiple deductibles, and there’s no risk of hitting any annual or lifetime health insurance limits. This meant providers with secondary coverage such as World Nomads were out.
To compare the financial strength of each company, we consulted A.M. Best, the gold standard for Financial Strength Ratings among travel insurers. A rating of A- or higher from the agency means that a company has the financial stability to pay your claims, no matter how large. So, we made sure each company’s policies had an underwriter with an A- (excellent) score or higher to ensure financial reliability.
Best-in-class customer service
We looked for companies with knowledgeable and patient reps who were upfront about their coverage options and claims process. We called each company with questions about their coverage options to see which reps had actual claims-handling experience and which were just reading the policy to us over the phone — something we could do on our own.
We passed on providers like AXA whose reps came across as impatient to make a sale and pushed for our personal details before answering our questions. When it comes time to file a claim, we wanted providers who had our best interests in mind, not profits.