That airline travel insurance might not be as comprehensive as you assume it is. Here's what you need to know.

By Joni Sweet
Updated August 22, 2018

You finally found a great deal on a flight for your next vacation. Or maybe you just splurged on a ticket you’ve been saving for. You check (and double check!) that your details and dates are right and get ready to book. But wait—should you add travel insurance during checkout? You might want to think twice before shelling out on the travel insurance offered by your airline, according to a recent investigation.

In his report, “Flyer Beware: Is Travel Insurance Worth It?,” Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts and members of his staff evaluated travel insurance offered by nine major airlines (including Delta, American Airlines, and United) and seven popular online travel agencies. They found that while companies promote these policies as “flexible” and “extensive,” they often fail to protect travelers in situations they’d expect to be covered.

What if your child gets hurt in a little league game the day before your vacation? Or there’s a natural disaster or health scare at the destination, and you want to postpone your trip? At first glance, it might look like the travel insurance offered through an airline covers unexpected events like these, but the fine print may leave the traveler on the hook for hundreds of dollars—if the policy covers the situation at all.

Worse yet, it can be a challenge to figure out which situations are actually covered. In complaints to the Better Business Bureau mentioned in the report findings, travelers said they struggled to find the insurance policy details at the time of checkout and were surprised when claims for major travel disruptions (like hurricanes) were denied.

These policies can be hard to turn down, though. Eager to rake in a portion of the billions jetsetters spend on travel protection each year, Markey’s report found that some airlines and online travel agencies used high-pressure sales tactics—like requiring travelers to proactively tick a box to decline coverage or issuing harsh warnings like, “No, I’m willing to risk my [full-price flight]”—to push insurance policies onto customers or make them second-guess decisions to opt-out.

The report also found that majority of the insurance policies offered by airlines and online travel agencies comes from two companies: Allianz and AIG. Both insurers, in statements to Travel Weekly, said their products add value to trips.

Markey’s report makes recommendations to airlines and online travel agencies but the bottom line for travelers: Read the fine print of policies before you buy—it might help you avoid paying for insurance that isn’t as comprehensive as it looks.