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When planning a trip, we think about the destination, the sights, the history, and the fun that we’re going to have while away from home and our everyday lives.
We tend to think less, and for good reason, about the things that can go wrong. Why spoil the fun when things usually go according to plan?
Unfortunately, our travels don’t always go off without a hitch. Planes are delayed. Luggage gets lost. Limbs are lost in a horrific dismemberment. Wait, what?!?
As unlikely as a joint disarticulation may be while away from home, would it be at least a little bit comforting to know that you may already have a credit card that will reward you for such a calamity? No? Well, we’re going to talk about it, anyway.
One final piece of the puzzle is evacuation coverage, which you likely do not have unless you have one of two popular premium credit cards that offer it. One has a more generous benefit than the other.
Credit Card Perks: Travel Insurance Benefits & Medical Evacuation Coverage
Traveling to Ecuador
We’re about to embark on a two-month trip to Ecuador. The last time my wife and I visited the country, we were part of a tour that hopped from one Galapagos Island to another and another. We also visited the capital city of Quito and the port city of Guayaquil.
It was an amazing trip. We saw Darwin’s finches, swam with sea turtles, said hello to Lonesome George before he and his species became extinct, and slept in cozy and unique lodgings far from civilization.
Did everything go perfectly? Not exactly. When I think back on the trip, I recall the site of penguins, blue-footed boobies (tee hee!), and thousands upon thousands of iguanas. I also recall having cerebrospinal fluid dripping from my nose and my wife’s suitcase disappearing as we were transported from a ferry boat to a bus.
Years later, I would learn from a head CT of my sinuses that my cribriform plate is not fully formed, and the pressure differential from some free diving I did while snorkeling created a temporary communication between my brain and my nostrils.
Uncannily, one of the other 16 or so people on our tour was a neurosurgery resident. In a late evening consult, we determined that the clear, warm fluid coming out of only one nostril was indeed very likely CSF, and that I ought to consume plenty of fluids, sleep with my head elevated and take it easy. Fortunately, conservative treatment was successful.
My wife wasn’t so lucky. Her luggage was almost certainly stolen. I’ve never been a fan of leaving my luggage outside the door for someone else to handle, but that was the way this trip was set up. The only silver lining of her bag disappearing was the fact that it occurred at the end of the trip rather than the beginning.
If I had required further medical treatment, that would have required emergency evacuation from one of the Galapagos islands to who knows where. I can only imagine what that might have cost us.
Credit Cards and Travel Benefits
In the eight years since that trip, I’ve learned a lot about the benefits of various cards. We’ve used the points from different welcome bonuses to travel for free, and in preparation for our upcoming travels that include two months each in Ecuador and Spain, I’ve started to study the travel perks that individual cards have.
The main benefits that I see are in the following categories:
- Airport Lounge Access
- Trip Cancellation & Interruption Insurance
- Travel Accident Insurance (payable upon death or the aforementioned dismemberment)
- Lost or Delayed Luggage Benefit
- Rental Car Insurance
- Evacuation Coverage
Airport Lounge Access
I’ve only started using this benefit in the last year or two. I’ve been able to take advantage of the benefit about a half-a-dozen times, and it’s been pretty stellar.
By virtue of carrying both the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express (rates and fees) and the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card (rates and fees), I’ve been granted 20 Priority Pass lounge visits per year.
In the summer of 2019, the Priority Pass for American Express cardholders became less attractive, as they no longer allow cardholders to use their pass for discounts at certain airport restaurants that were typically good for $28 towards food. You can, however, still use the pass at non-restaurant airport lounges, which typically offer free food and drink, including alcohol, good wifi, and comfortable seating.
My family and I didn’t mind the long wait we had in the Tegucigalpa airport after our most recent medical mission. The grownups sipped on beers and cocktails while eating sushi, and the kids ate way too many sugary snacks while downing big bottles of Gatorade.
If you have the Priority Pass via the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, the restaurant credits are still fair game for you, as are the airport lounges, and you’re not limited to 10 visits per year.
There are additional lounges outside of the Priority Pass program. The Platinum Card from American Express (rates and fees) gives you access to a host of lounges in their Global Lounge Collection, including their upscale Centurion Lounges and Delta Sky Club lounges, which you can also access with a Delta Reserve Card from American Express (rates and fees). Terms apply.
In summary, top cards for lounge access include:
- The Platinum Card from American Express
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Hilton Honors Surpass
- The Business Platinum Card from American Express
The Hilton Honors Surpass has a welcome bonus good for 130,000 points redeemable for free hotel nights. Additional free weekend night after $15,000 in spending annually and Diamond status after a $40,000 annual spend. 12x points at Hilton properties. 10 Priority Pass uses every year. $95 annual fee.
Trip Cancellation & Interruption Insurance
Every time you book a flight online, you’re prodded to purchase trip protection. You can’t even buy the ticket without accepting or declining the fee. Did you know that you may already have that benefit as a part of your credit card benefits package?
This is an area where Chase cards shine and most others are lagging. Citi Bank recently ended their trip cancellation protection and American Express plans to add it to some cards in 2020.
Trip Cancellation can reimburse you if you need to cancel for certain reasons before the trip, and trip interruption protection covers you when you have to end a trip early.
The covered reasons include medical emergencies for you or an immediate family member, severe weather, jury duty, military duty, or a tour operator going belly up. You will not be reimbursed for most other reasons, including a change of heart, pre-existing condition of the heart or any other organ, or any trip that exceeds 60 days, regardless of the reason. A more complete list can be found on Chase’s website.
Note that part or all of your fare needs to be paid for with the particular card for you to qualify for this protection.
Top cards for trip cancellation and interruption insurance include:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred ($10,000 coverage)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve ($10,000 coverage)
- Chase Ink Business Preferred ($5,000 coverage)
- The Wold of Hyatt Card from Chase ($5,000 coverage)
- Chase Freedom ($1,500 per person up to $6,000 coverage)
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is an excellent first (or only) rewards card. New in 8/2021 is a $50 annual hotel credit for bookings via the Chase UR tavel portal & 5x points for all travel via the portal. 3x points on dining, 2x on other travel. Flexible rewards good for cash, travel, or transfer to travel partners, great travel protection and perks, plus Peloton, Lyft & DoorDash perks!
Travel Accident Insurance
You visit extended family for the holidays when some punk kid with thick glasses and a Red Ryder BB gun shoots your eye out.
You’ve just finished a set drumming for Def Leppard, you’re waving to fans outside the tour bus, and Boom! There goes your arm.
Aren’t you glad you booked your travel with a card that has travel accident insurance? Not only will you be covered in the event of simple dismemberment, but you’ve also got coverage in the event of your untimely death. Your next of kin thank you.
American Express even has a chart that defines the payout for a variety of gruesome outcomes.
Citi recently did away with many of their benefits for purchases starting 9/22/2019, including worldwide travel accident insurance. Bank of America and Discover don’t offer it, either.
Chase and American Express cards are your best bets. Most of their cards offer some level of travel accident insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve leads the pack with $1,000,000 in coverage. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Business Preferred each offer $500,000 worth of insurance, as does the United Explorer Card.
Dozens of cards from American Express offer this coverage, often with $500,000 in coverage. If I’m innocently birdwatching and a rare Ecuadoran condor swoops down and makes off with my left arm, I’ll be $250,000 richer.
Lost or Delayed Luggage
The benefit for delayed or lost baggage is not seen as often, although this is one of the more common travel mishaps, second only to loss of limb by act of condor, I believe.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve shine in this category. You’ll be covered for reimbursement of up to $3,000 for the value of lost luggage. In the event of delayed luggage, up to $500 in necessary expenses will be covered.
For business travelers, the Chase Ink Business Preferred offers the same benefit.
American Express cards do not offer baggage delay coverage, but some cards do offer protection for lost, stolen, or damaged luggage.
The Platinum Card from American Express provides coverage of up to $2,000 for checked bags and $3,000 total between checked and carry-on bags. The Gold Card’s protection is up to $500 for a checked bag and $1,250 for carry-on bags.
I was unaware of these coverages when I absentmindedly left about $1,500 in camera equipment under the seat in front of me a few years ago. I didn’t think to look into it when my son left a couple of mp3 players and headphones in the seat pocket this spring, either.
It turns out my Hilton Honors Surpass card has the same baggage coverage as the AmEx Gold card, but a claim should be filed within 30 days. Now I know!
In summary, the top coverage for luggage protection belongs to these three Chase cards:
Rental Car Insurance
Many credit cards offer secondary coverage for rental cars when traveling. That is, your primary auto insurance will be used first when needed, and the credit card’s insurance would be supplemental to that.
There are a handful of Chase cards, however, that offer primary rental car coverage.
Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve give you primary rental car coverage, meaning you may not have to involve the insurer you use on the cars you own in the event of an accident while driving a rental car.
The United Explorer Card also offers this benefit.
The Chase Ink Business Preferred is another card with primary auto coverage, and like the Sapphire cards, has the benefit of no foreign transaction fees. The Chase Ink Business Cash and Chase Ink Business Unlimited Cards also offer primary auto insurance, but do charge 3% foreign transaction fees.
You can save a lot of money by declining the insurance the folks at the rental counter will try to upsell you. It’s a good idea to know exactly what coverage you do have, so check your documents before you take the keys for your next rental car.
Medical Evacuation Coverage
Last, but not least, is coverage in the event you need to be evacuated in the case of a medical emergency. Such an event could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Not many cards offer such coverage, but two of the cards with many other travel benefits also offer emergency evacuation coverage.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers supplemental evacuation insurance for up to $100,000 in transportation costs for you and your immediate family.
There are a few stipulations. First, at least part of the travel fare must have been charged to the card.
Second, the trip cannot be for fewer than five days or more than 60 days. Additionally, the transportation must be pre-approved by a benefit administrator.
A second card that offers evacuation coverage is the Platinum Card from American Express. I have read elsewhere that there is no cap to their benefit amount, but the fine print tells me the maximum benefit is $100,000 per beneficiary. Terms apply.
Also, the incident must occur within the first 90 days of your trip, and there is no minimum trip length. I have also read that being a cardholder qualifies you for this benefit even if the card was not used to book the trip, although I have yet to verify this.
The transportation does need to be coordinated with a benefits administrator.
The more generous timeframe makes the Platinum Card’s coverage superior, in my opinion. We’ve got two trips of 60 or 61 days coming up. I’m not sure the Chase Sapphire Reserve would cover either of them even if we used the trip to book the fare, whereas the timeframe easily qualifies under the Platinum card, perhaps whether or not we booked the fare with the card.
Alternatives to Credit Card Travel Insurance
If you don’t travel that often, don’t like credit cards with annual fees, or want more comprehensive travel coverage, consider purchasing an individual policy to cover the dates of your travel from an agency that specializes in travel insurance.
The nature of these policies is beyond the scope of this article, but you can learn more about the coverage options and receive quotes from the following reputable carriers:
Which Credit Card Do You Choose?
There are a number of travel rewards cards with excellent travel perks. My research has shown that Chase and American Express clearly lead the way, and the higher-end cards offer the best coverage.
A rule of thumb with any type of insurance is to cover the costs you cannot easily cover out of pocket. Most of these coverages are for incidents that might cost you a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. Or one arm.
But it’s the potential six-figure expenses that scare me the most. Actually, the voracious condor scares me even more, but the two are interrelated.
While I wouldn’t want to deal with a lost bag or eat the cost of four flights with a last-minute cancellation, I can afford to do so. A medical evacuation could really set us back, though.
With that in mind, I would choose one of the following two cards, which seem to offer the best perks across the board.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers great travel perks including Priority Pass lounge access, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ and a $300 annual travel credit. When using Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, get 10x points on hotels and car rental & 5x points on air travel. 3x points on other travel & dining. Elevated Peloton, Lyft and DoorDash benefits. $550 Annual Fee
The Platinum Card offers a generous welcome bonus, Centurion Lounge access, $240 digital entertainment credit, $200 in airline fee credits, $200 Fine Hotel & The Hotel Collection credit, Uber VIP status worth $200 in savings & a $100 Saks 5th Ave credit & emergency medical evacuation coverage. $179 annual CLEAR(R) credit for expedited TSA screening. Elevated status in several hotel and car rental loyalty programs. $695 annual fee.
For Business Owners
Although it does not offer evacuation insurance, with many other excellent travel perks and an unparalleled 100,000 point welcome bonus after spending $15,000 in three months, the Chase Ink Business Preferred stands out as the top travel card for small business owners.
The Chase Ink Business Preferred offers 3 points per $1 spent on travel & select business categores. 1 point per dollar on all else. No foreign transaction fees (unlike other Chase Ink Business cards. $95 annual fee.
Which travel benefits do you find to be the most valuable? Which have you used? Have you ever purchased travel insurance independently?
To see rates and fees for featured cards from American Express: Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express (rates and fees), Hilton Honors American Express Business Card (rates and fees), Platinum Card from American Express (rates and fees), and Delta Reserve Card from American Express (rates and fees).
Physician on FIRE has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Physician on FIRE and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.