Personal Finance

The need for trip insurance amid the pandemic is reshaping the travel landscape

Key Points
  • The uncertainty of each country's travel restrictions has left travelers looking for insurance options now more than ever, says Naveen Dittakavi, founder and CEO of Next Vacay.
  • Travel insurer Seven Corners says Turks and Caicos is now the No. 1 destination clients book; it had never before cracked the top 100, said the firm.
  • Eight out of 10 medical travel policies Seven Corners sells now include coverage for Covid-19.
Saowakhon Brown | Moment | Getty Images

The ever-evolving Covid-19 pandemic is reshaping where Americans spend their travel dollars and how they protect that investment. That's according to the latest findings from travel insurance firms and the industry experts that track them.

Airfare comparison site Next Vacay said it analyzed Google searches about travel insurance over the last 12 months and found a 233% jump in users asking whether coverage is worth the cost.

"The uncertainty of each country's travel restrictions changing has left travelers looking for travel insurance options now more than ever," said Naveen Dittakavi, founder and CEO of Alpharetta, Georgia-based Next Vacay, in a statement. "It's no surprise that [Google] searches for 'is travel insurance worth it' have increased by 233% and searches for '[is] cancel for any reason travel insurance worth it' have increased by 200%." 

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Unsurprisingly, domestic travel remains tops with customers of travel insurer Seven Corners, which has seen 90% growth in trips within the U.S. this year compared with 2019. But the Carmel, Indiana-based company is seeing growing interest in travel abroad for 2022 — and a shift in preferred foreign destinations.

With international coverage outselling domestic plans by a factor of eight for trips next year, Seven Corners says Turks and Caicos is the No. 1 overseas destination among its clients, followed by Costa Rica, Mexico, Thailand and Israel. Mexico has always been popular among U.S. travelers, but Turks and Caicos had never before ranked among the top 100 destinations, according to Seven Corners.

Bookings among the insured to Costa Rica and Thailand have also grown amid the pandemic, while France, formerly the top spot, is now only No. 7. Other European destinations like Spain and the U.K. have also fallen in popularity with Seven Corners customers.

Americans reconsider travel abroad as Covid variant causes shutdowns
Americans reconsider travel abroad as Covid variant causes shutdowns

For its part, competing travel insurer Allianz Partners USA in Richmond, Virginia, has found that 55% of its clients plan travel within the continental U.S. for their next trips. Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii are collectively No. 2, at 24%, while 15% are planning journeys to Europe. (In July, the firm surveyed 1,362 customers who'd bought an Allianz policy through a retail partner from October through April.)  

"The major reasoning behind this change in destinations' popularity appears to be directly related to the destination's experience with Covid-19 and their requirements for visitors," according to Seven Corners. In fact, four of the top five destinations popular with the firm's clients do require proof of Covid-specific coverage for visitors upon arrival; Mexico alone has no such mandate.

Medical coverage abroad used to be an afterthought for many travelers but Seven Corners now reports that 80% of the travel medical plans it sells include a "specialized Covid-19 benefit." Younger clients, however, are less interested; only 29% of plans student travelers purchased covered Covid-related care.

We're seeing customers rebound to pre-pandemic interest levels, which has the potential to fuel travel enthusiasm into 2022.
Daniel Durazo
director of marketing and communications at Allianz Partners USA

Those who are insuring trips with comprehensive coverage are also doing it sooner, now buying international plans, on average, three months and six days before departure, compared with just over two months ahead of trips pre-pandemic. For U.S. trips, the lead time is now two months, 20 days, up from just two months.

Medical-only travel plans with trip cancellation benefits, however, are being bought closer in. While customers once typically purchased medical coverage 19 days before departure, on average, it's now just nine days prior.

Allianz Partners USA, meanwhile, has tracked how comfortable its insurance customers are with returning to various types of travel activity at pre-Covid frequencies. Majorities said they were OK with staying in a hotel, at 84%; flying in an airplane (79%); staying at a rental property (78%); and taking a train (70%). Only 4 in 10 felt comfortable taking a cruise right now, although 53% would consider a sailing by year-end.

Sixty-seven percent told Allianz Partners USA they already plan to fly to their next vacation spot, with 19% driving and 11% taking a cruise ship. Asked about how Covid has affected their feelings about cruises, 24% said it hadn't; of those who said they were now less comfortable, 72% "still plan to cruise again," according to the firm.

Insured before their trips, two-thirds of Allianz Partners USA customers plan to travel by November. "Confidence and certainty around travel is returning, and we're seeing customers rebound to pre-pandemic interest levels, which has the potential to fuel travel enthusiasm into 2022," said Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications at Allianz Partners USA, in a statement.

Despite the changes wrought by the pandemic, some longtime insurance truisms still hold water. Rajeev Shrivastava of travel insurance shopping site, based in Santa Clara, California, offers three tips when it comes to upcoming travel plans:

  1. For domestic trips, shop for third-party trip insurance rather than relying on airlines or credit cards so that nonrefundable costs like hotel stays can be recouped if travel is interrupted.
  2. Monitor official government advisories and notifications from airlines and other travel companies associated with travel reservations.
  3. Add "cancel for any reason" coverage to a trip insurance policy to allow for last-minute cancellation protection under any circumstance, including spikes in delta variant cases.