Why travel insurance is booming during coronavirus, even though it doesn’t help flight changes and cancellations

March 5, 2020, 7:00 PM UTC

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Travelers booking flights now, be advised: Standard insurance policies will not cover flight cancellations and delays due to coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean you should swear off protection altogether. There are plans worth investigating that can help travelers recoup some costs, in the event they encounter coronavirus in their travels.

The primary reason that travel insurance won’t cover coronavirus is that the disease has dominated the news since January, so insurers consider it a known risk for travelers. In simpler terms, airlines think that anyone booking travel in the past month-and-a-half should have realized that the virus could upset their itinerary. 

The specific cut off date for when COVID-19 became a known risk varies by insurance company, but most put it between Jan. 21 and Jan. 27, Kasara Barto, spokeswoman for insurance brokership Squaremouth, tells Fortune

But standard travel insurance policies generally still cover medical costs, including treatment and evacuation, if a person is infected by the coronavirus while traveling, Barto says. So it might still be a worthwhile investment.

And though travel may be slowing—a Fortune poll shows nearly half of Americans are reconsidering international trips—interest in travel insurance is on the rise. According to Brandon Hughbanks, and agent with Travel Insurance Center in Omaha, sales and inquiries are about 200% higher than normal. Squaremouth has seen call volumes 300% above what they were before the outbreak, Barto says.

Travel insurance policy prices are based on age, trip cost, and duration. Standard policies usually cost about 7% to 10% of the total trip cost, which includes all non-refundable expenses purchased ahead of travel. But rates vary; policies for older adults can easily push past 20% of the trip cost, and cancelation policies are even more expensive. 

For example, two travelers between 55 and 70 years old taking a weeklong trip costing $8,000 could pay as little as $472, according to Squaremouth’s calculator. That is roughly 29% of the overall trip cost per person.

But cancel-for-any reason trip insurance—also known as a cancellation policy—would still pay out. The question is, at what cost to you, the traveller? In the example above, upgrading to a cancellation policy would cost $661, a 40% increase.

Cancellation policies typically reimburse 75% of all non-refundable trip costs, though the amount can vary by policy, so travelers should always read the fine print, Barto cautions. Inquiries specifically about cancellation policies are up by 108%, she adds.

If the outbreak persists—and more and more health officials expect it to last for months—travel insurance prices could increase, Hughbanks says. The reason, is clear: “They have to spread out however much they pay out,” he adds.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

How to think about COVID-19
—Coronavirus spreads to a previously healthy sector: corporate earnings
Coronavirus is giving China cover to expand its surveillance. What happens next?
—Coronavirus shows why we need vaccines before, not after, an outbreak
—Before coronavirus, there were SARS and MERS. Do epidemics ever really end?

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