When does travel insurance coverage start?

“When does travel insurance coverage start?” sounds like an obvious question, but the answer really depends on which provision of a travel insurance plan you’re referring to.

In general, you might think travel insurance coverage only applies when you are on your trip. For most people, their trip starts when they walk out the door with their suitcase and ends when they get back home.

That’s sort of right for most of the coverages, but not right for the pre-departure coverages, and generally not usually how travel insurance plans work.

When coverage starts

The good news is that your plan coverage starts at midnight after you pay your plan premium, so you may be protected if you cancel your trip for a covered reason during the time leading up to your vacation. In the travel insurance world, this is referred to as your pre-departure window.

Also, if you rent a car and have car-rental coverage as part of your travel plan, you’re covered from the moment you sign the rental agreement and take possession of the car. So you see, coverage starts at varying times.

Some plans cover you only from the time you arrive at the airport and check luggage to when you reach your final destination – even if there are steps in between, like a bus or a train, or a drive.

Under that scenario, if you got in an accident on the way to the airport and the plane took off without you, you’d be out of luck.

Read your plan carefully and you can always call the travel insurance provider with all your “when does this coverage start?” questions before you make your final plan purchase.

When coverage ends

As for when coverage ends, trip cancellation coverage ends when you either cancel your trip or you start on your trip … because you can’t cancel a trip you’re already on.

Unwrapping this further, your car-rental protection ends when you return the rental car, because it’s not in your possession anymore.

All the other stuff that’s in your travel insurance policy – the medical coverage, the luggage protection, and so on – ends either when you end your trip or when you’re supposed to end your trip … and those are two completely different things.

To help you distinguish between the two, here’s an example: You specify an end date for your trip when you buy travel insurance, but what happens if your cruise ship is stranded at sea for a week? It’s not bad enough that you’re pitching from side to side in the North Sea, but now your travel insurance has run out.

Fortunately, there’s something called “extension of coverage.” All that means is that if your trip has to be extended due to circumstances outside of your control, your coverage could be extended as well.

This coverage not only includes your transportation but your luggage, through something called “baggage extension of coverage.” So if your baggage is pitched into the roiling waters two days after your trip was supposed to end, you’re still covered.

All these things are found in your policy, but you have to hunt for them. Added together, they’re a good reason to read your policy – and a great reason to buy travel insurance.