Your Credit Card Might Save Your Spring Break

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  • Spring break plans can be canceled for many reasons, and if you booked nonrefundable travel, you may be out of luck if you don't have some sort of travel insurance.
  • Many travel rewards credit cards offer complimentary travel insurance, including trip cancellation coverage, trip delay reimbursement, and even lost baggage coverage.
  • Check your benefits documents to see what your coverage includes and when you need to file a claim.

Canceling nonrefundable travel is getting kicked while you're down.

As schools take their spring breaks, everyone from college kids to families are planning trips to escape the last bits of winter and enjoy the new season. Unfortunately, for too many of these would-be travelers, life is going to get in the way.

And if they booked nonrefundable travel, they could be out hundreds. Unless, of course, they used the right credit card.

Many popular travel rewards credit cards have high annual fees. But those fees are often considered worth paying for the perks. When it comes to canceled travel plans, the perk with the most to offer: travel insurance.

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Lost bags, canceled trips, and more

The travel insurance that comes with your travel rewards card will vary a lot depending on the specific card you own. In general, the high-end cards -- those with $500-plus annual fees -- will have the most extensive coverage. That said, a few mid-tier cards also have impressive insurance perks.

Some of the most common things covered by credit card travel insurance include:

  • Trip cancellation or interruption coverage: This insurance can reimburse you for nonrefundable travel if your trip is canceled (before you leave) or interrupted (while traveling) for a covered reason.
  • Trip delay coverage: If your trip is delayed for a covered reason (usually because of a common carrier delay), then you may be reimbursed for things like hotel stays and food.
  • Lost luggage reimbursement: If the airline (or other common carrier) loses your luggage, you could be reimbursed for the cost of the contents.
  • Delayed baggage insurance: Sometimes your luggage isn't all the way lost -- just not where you are. Necessities, like clothing and toiletries, you purchase could be reimbursed.
  • Emergency evacuation and transportation: Vacations off the beaten path can be relaxing. But most quality healthcare is somewhere on the path. If you need emergency transportation, this perk could potentially reimburse the cost.

Every type of travel insurance will have caps on how much you can get and how often you can make a claim. Read your card's benefits guide to find out the details on what you can expect.

You must use the card to pay for your trip

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about credit card travel insurance is that it usually only kicks in when you pay for your travel with that card. Simply being a cardholder isn't enough.

For example, say you need to cancel a nonrefundable flight due to a medical emergency. If you paid for your flight entirely with your card, you're covered. If you used multiple cards or another card entirely, you're likely out of luck.

The only exception to this rule is when you use rewards. But not just any rewards. They generally need to be rewards from the same issuer.

For example, say you have an American Express card with travel insurance. To enjoy coverage, you would need to pay for your travel with your Amex card and/or with Amex Membership Rewards points.

Most card policies also have time limits for how long you have after the cancellation to file a claim. This can be as little as a few weeks, so file your claim as soon as possible.

Accidents, weather often covered

There's minor variability in what counts as a covered event between issuers. But most policies will have similar allowances:

  • Accidental bodily injury, sickness, or death of the covered traveler or their traveling companions (or their families)
  • Inclement weather (we're not talking a little rain; as Amex puts it, the weather needs to be severe enough that it "prevents a reasonable and prudent person from traveling")
  • Change in military orders for the covered traveler or their spouse
  • Terrorist action or hijacking
  • Jury duty or subpoena that cannot be postponed or waived

The list of covered situations provided by issuers can be vague -- often on purpose. So if you have an event that isn't specifically on the no-go list (more on that below), it may be worth trying to file a claim even if your reason isn't directly listed.

Schedule conflicts, finances NOT covered

While many of the most common reasons we cancel travel are considered to be covered events, just as many are not covered. This list is long, and it can include:

  • You changed your mind / changed your plans
  • Your financial situation has changed
  • You need to cancel due to a pre-existing medical condition
  • You are traveling against the advice of a physician
  • You are traveling into a warzone (declared or not)

Another common exception is when part of your travel has been canceled by a common carrier. As Chase puts it, cardholders aren't covered for "travel arrangements canceled or changed by a common carrier, tour operator, or any travel agency unless the cancellation is the result of severe weather or an organized strike affecting public transportation."

It's also good to note that you typically won't be reimbursed by your card's travel insurance if you were already reimbursed from another source. If you purchased a separate travel insurance policy, for instance, your card's policy may require you to file your claim with the third-party service first.

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