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A person looking through binoculars at snowy mountains from the deck of a cruise ship.

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When you book most forms of travel these days, you’re often asked if you’d like to purchase travel insurance. Different airlines, cruise ships, and hotel brands might have different names for this, such as “vacation protection,” but these are optional products that are designed to make sure that if something goes wrong, you aren’t on the hook financially.

To be fair, I typically decline travel insurance for flying. Since all of the major airlines allow you to change your flight for free, if I get sick and can’t travel, I simply use the value of my ticket toward a future flight.

However, cruises are a different situation. Not only could you potentially get sick and miss the cruise altogether, but there are other things that could go wrong. What if you get so sick on board that you need to be medically evacuated back to the U.S.? What if severe weather in your hometown prevents you from getting to the cruise port?

With these and other potential scenarios in mind, here’s what you need to know about buying travel insurance for a cruise and whether it’s a good idea.

What does travel insurance cover?

Travel insurance is a type of insurance policy underwritten by an insurance company (not by the cruise line or airline itself). While the exact coverage can vary, here are some of the things it will typically cover on a cruise:

  • Trip cancellation protection
  • Trip interruption coverage in case you need to come home early
  • Baggage insurance to cover loss, damage, or theft
  • Baggage delay protection, which reimburses for essential items while you wait for delayed luggage
  • Medical coverage (Note: U.S. health insurance typically doesn’t apply when on a cruise ship or when traveling internationally.)
  • Evacuation protection, in case you need to be medically evacuated back to the U.S. while traveling

In addition, the protection plans offered directly through the cruise lines might have additional benefits. For example, Carnival’s Vacation Protection provides travel insurance underwritten by Nationwide, but also makes it easier to get a refund if you need to cancel.

Not only does it refund 100% of your trip’s cost if you need to cancel for a covered reason like weather or illness, but you can cancel for any reason whatsoever and get 75% of your money back (you usually can’t get a refund at all once the final payment date has passed).

Different options to consider

For travel insurance, there are two main options: You can buy single trip coverage (this is what the cruise lines and airlines offer) that will protect you on one specific vacation. Or you can buy an annual travel insurance policy directly from an insurance company. For example, Allianz is a major travel insurance provider, and in full disclosure, I have a policy for myself and my family through them.

If you travel more than once or twice per year, especially on cruises, it’s worth comparing the costs, as an annual travel insurance policy can often be more budget-friendly (and often provides better coverage). On the other hand, if you’re taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip, simply buying protection through the cruise line can be a better way to go.

It’s also worth noting that some travel credit cards have their own travel protections. They can provide their own trip cancellation insurance, trip interruption and delay coverage, baggage insurance, and a few other benefits if you use your card to pay for the trip. They may not, however, provide the medical and evacuation coverages that are highly important while cruising, so be sure to research all the details ahead of time.

Make sure you’re protected one way or another

The bottom line is that when taking a cruise, it’s highly advisable to make sure you have some sort of travel protection, especially for medical emergencies. The best choice for you depends on how often you plan to cruise, as frequent cruisers can typically save money by purchasing an annual travel insurance policy. But if you aren’t sure, it can be a smart idea to compare the costs before deciding.

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