Comparing a few travel insurance policies for your upcoming trip? Use this guide to help you figure out what's worth paying for.

By Joni Sweet
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The only thing more disappointing than needing to cancel your vacation is discovering that you’re out tons of cash for those non-refundable reservations. A comprehensive travel insurance policy (the kind you probably won’t find through your airline) can help protect your vacation investment. But with so many options on the market, it can be tough to find the perfect policy for your needs.

So what should you look for in travel insurance? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to protecting your trip. Here are some features you should consider in a travel insurance policy, according to the experts.

1. Trip cancellation protection

From an illness to a work-related emergency, any number of life’s little hiccups can force you to back out of a trip at the last minute. Trip cancellation protection can help you get reimbursed for otherwise non-refundable travel arrangements, like plane tickets and hotel reservations.

Every policy has its own list of covered reasons for a canceled trip. Typically, these include death or illness in your family, your airline going out of business, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack at your destination, getting laid off from your job, or getting summoned for jury duty. “Most trip cancellation policies will provide cancellation coverage for big reasons,” said Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, a travel insurance comparison website.

Read the fine print of the policy (or better yet, call the insurance company) to learn exactly what’s covered.

2. The ability to cancel for any reason

One upgrade you should consider for your travel insurance policy is the ability to “cancel for any reason.” It typically comes at an additional cost, but gives policy holders some added flexibility to get reimbursed for a vacation if they need to nix plans, usually up to 48 hours before their scheduled departure.

Timing is everything if you’re hoping to take advantage of this service. Usually this means you have to purchase it within 7 to 21 days from the time you paid your first deposit on a trip, according to Sandberg.

In other words, if you’re worried about pre-travel jitters or think your schedule might change, look into extended coverage when you’re making your arrangements—not when you need to cancel.

3. Coverage for baggage delays (or bags lost all together)

Delayed bags are more than just an annoyance—they can actually add a lot of unexpected costs to your trip as you purchase replacements for your missing items. Baggage delay coverage can help you recoup costs of things you buy on the ground if your bags are delayed more than 24 hours (most common, but check your plan).

“I was traveling to Costa Rica with my family, and our bag with flip-flops, toiletries, bathing suits, and sunblock didn’t make it,” said Sandberg. “We made a claim with our travel insurance with baggage delay to buy the things we needed, which covered several hundred dollars’ worth of costs.”

If your bags are lost altogether, typically the airline offers a certain amount of coverage. But for suitcases that just don’t show up on time, baggage delay coverage can ensure you have the stuff you need while you wait for your luggage.

4. Medical coverage

No one expects to get sick or injured when traveling. But if it happens to you, travel insurance with medical coverage can help you arrange to see a doctor and cover the costs of hospital stays and medicine.

“A lot of people don’t realize that their health insurance plan at home often won’t cover them internationally except for in urgent care situations,” said Sandberg. “I always purchase travel insurance with medical coverage for my family because clinic visits can run into hundreds of dollars or more.”

It’s a good idea to look for a travel insurance policy that also covers emergency evacuations. While it’s extremely unlikely you’ll need to be airlifted out of a country, the costs of that service can be devastating. Travel insurance with emergency evacuation coverage can help you get the care you need—and avoid financial ruin—in the event of a life-threatening emergency.

5. Adventure sports coverage

Travel can push many of us to do things outside of our usual comfort zones. If that means ATV rides, hang gliding, horseback riding, or other adventurous activities, you might want to look for a travel insurance policy that covers injuries from dangerous sports.

“For the most part, travel insurance plans will cover skiing on marked trails and recreational diving at or near a resort,” said Sandberg. “There are companies that also offer hazardous sports coverage as an upgrade to a base plan that will give you coverage for losses incurred as a result of things like mountaineering, Scuba diving, and other high-risk activities.”

While not necessary for everyone, hazardous sports coverage can give you some added peace of mind if extreme sports are on your itinerary.

6. 24-Hour global assistance

Most people purchase travel insurance to ensure they’ll be reimbursed for a canceled trip or medical expense incurred on the road. But did you know that travel insurance can also help you get personalized help if you experience certain emergencies abroad?

“Twenty-four hour global assistance can be really important in travel insurance policies,” said Sandberg. “If you’re going somewhere where you don’t know the language or customs, a specialist can be very helpful in that regard.”

The exact services offered through 24-hour global assistance will vary depending on the company offering the policy. It tends to be a comprehensive service, though, helping with everything from language translation, legal referrals, and medical issues to locating lost property and replacing prescription medications and glasses.