Does travel insurance cover extreme heat?

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Standard travel insurance policies typically are priced at 5% to 10% of your total trip cost.

The Acropolis altered its operating hours in July as a result of the extreme heat. A number of insurance providers are suggesting cooler alternative destinations on their websites. Photographer: Yorgos Karahalis/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) — With global temperatures reaching records each month this summer — and unprecedented wildfires destroying parts of Greece, Canada and Italy — heat is increasingly becoming a consideration in the way people travel. Shifting destinations is one strategy; buying travel insurance is another.

Neither is black and white. Weather is unpredictable everywhere, and travel insurance policies can vary tremendously. Plus, heat can affect travelers in myriad ways, ranging from the uncomfortable to the inconvenient (flight delays) to the downright dangerous (heatstroke). Some policies will cover certain risks but not others — and all must be secured ahead of your departure.

A new option in the U.S. market is Freely, a travel insurance platform and app that’s officially available to all American travelers after a year of testing. One of its more innovative perks is free 24/7 access to medical and emergency specialists — via app, phone or email — through Canada-based World Travel Protection, a service normally available to corporate executives.

“Say, for example, you’ve got a bit of heatstroke,” says Douglas Skoog, head of marketing at Freely. “You can call, and you’ll get through to an accredited and experienced medical professional that can tell you what to do immediately and guide you on what medical assistance to look for wherever you are.” Those specialists can also tell you if you should file a claim, then mobilize support around it.

But Freely, like other insurance providers, has its limitations. Its Achilles’ heel is that it doesn’t include cancel-for-any-reason (CFAR) policies. CFAR policies are the only option for those who may want to nix a trip for reasons beyond illness, injury or inclement weather that makes it impossible to reach their destination.

“Unfortunately, extreme heat isn’t something that would be covered [as a reason] to cancel a trip under standard trip cancellation,” says Steven Benna, marketing manager at Florida-based Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison engine with access to 102 policies through 21 insurance providers.

Standard travel insurance policies typically are priced at 5% to 10% of your total trip cost; CFAR policies can cost roughly 50% more. Freely’s prices are on the more affordable end of the spectrum: Insuring a weeklong $5,000 trip to France in mid-September this year, for example, would cost just $101. A similar policy from competitor Seven Corners would cost $280, according to a quote from Squaremouth.

How you protect your next vacation, then, is a highly individual choice, coming down to the concerns that weigh most heavily on your mind. Here are some questions to consider:

Does travel insurance cover flight delays?

Extreme heat is a bigger culprit of flight delays than most people realize.

“Some policies that are a bit more flexible cover any delay of a common carrier,” says Squaremouth’s Benna, adding that there’s often fine print stipulating that a delay must last a certain amount of time — typically 3 to 12 hours — before coverage kicks in.

Although Freely’s base policy, underwritten by Zurich American Insurance Co., focuses more on “essentials” — emergency medical expenses for as much as $500,000, emergency evacuation and repatriation for $1 million, trip interruption coverage of up to 150% of your prepaid trip cost — it also offers coverage “boosts” that protect from lost luggage ($20 per trip) or weather-related flight delays ($20 to $25 per trip).

Another unique option comes from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Its AirCare coverage lets you get insurance just for your flights, covering such inconveniences as flight delays, flight cancellations, tarmac delays, missed connections or lost luggage.

Similarly, flight plans changed by the airline as a result of smoke delays or airport closures can lead to compensation. Take the fires that broke out in Sicily in July, causing two airports to shut down for a period of time and sending flights into cancellation chaos. Although this is a rare occurrence, such heat-related impacts on airports and carriers would trigger your travel insurance policy’s trip interruption coverage. This means getting reimbursed for the prepaid expenses related to any part of a trip you miss, including airfare.

I booked activities that got canceled because of heat. What can I claim?

If you book tickets to a suddenly closed attraction as part of a tour package, however, Benna recommends going through the operator for a refund. And if your operator has fine print protecting it from weather-related cancellations, you might try your credit card company as a fallback.

The same logic applies to outdoor activities you’ve booked, though Freely has an “adventure” boost that can help secure reimbursement if, say, you’d planned to go surfing and the temperature was predicted to reach dangerous levels that day. Staying on top of fine print is important here: You’ll have to make sure you’ve canceled your excursion in accordance with the tour provider’s terms.

What if the heat makes me feel sick?

If you fall ill during your travels as a result of the intense heat — you suffer from heat exhaustion or heatstroke, for example — emergency medical coverage benefits could apply. These are baked into most insurance policies and provide coverage for doctor visits, prescription costs and ambulance fees.

This is separate from medical evacuation and repatriation coverage, which pays for expenses to transport you back home or to a hospital nearest your home in the event of an emergency medical condition. Some policies will also offer a nonemergency evacuation option, which covers transportation expenses to get you out of a dangerous location to a place of safety as a result of, say, a natural disaster or civil unrest — though this tends to be a costly add-on.

Are there other precautions to take besides buying insurance?

A number of insurance providers including Freely are suggesting cooler alternative destinations on their websites. If you’ve already booked a trip, however, you’ll have to go as planned — or leverage a CFAR policy to get roughly 75% of your trip costs back and relocate your plans.

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