Many people don't realize it, but their credit cards come with free travel insurance. Even if you didn't buy travel insurance for your last flight, and something happened—a lost bag, delay, or you had to cancel due to illness or accident and lost money as a result, you might have been covered, and even if you've returned home, in some cases you can still make a claim retroactively. It's interesting that credit card companies don't feature this coverage in their advertising much.

The United Explorer Card offers some of the best benefits of any card, rivaled only by the Chase Sapphire Card.

From what I can tell, you have from 20 days up to a year to file a claim, depending on the type of incident, so if you've suffered a loss within the last 12 months and didn't realize you were covered, see if you're still eligible. This card shines with its industry-leading $10,000 trip cancellation benefit (compared to $1500-$5000 on other cards). Plus, the definition of family and extended family covered is unusually broad under this policy. And it offers a bit more for trip delays than some other cards as well as up to $500 for lost electronics and valuables, compared to from nothing to $250 on others. Check the official contract (below) to see all the fine print.

Official contract

Who is covered?

The list is more extensive than with most other cards: You and immediate family members – spouse, domestic partner and children, including adopted or step children, legal guardians or wards, siblings or siblings-in-law, parents or parents-in-law, grandparents or grandchildren, aunts or uncles, nieces or nephews.

What's a covered trip?

Pay for at least a portion of the fare with the card; any trip less than 60 days (this compares favorably to other cards, some of which limit trips to 30 days and require that the entire trip be charged to the card).

Trip cancellation / interruption

What is covered?

Illness, injury, death in the family, severe weather "which presents a reasonable and prudent person from beginning or continuing on a covered trip," military deployment, terrorist action, jury duty or subpoenas, being put into quarantine by a physician, if your tour operator goes bankrupt. Up to $10,000 for each covered trip – for both cancellation and interruption.

What is not covered?

Change in plans, financial circumstances, pre-existing health conditions, war and all sorts of other fun stuff – for instance, if you're going to be "engaged in or participating in a motorized vehicular race or speed contest" shortly before your trip, don't get injured. You won't be covered. But that's industry-standard, even for some third-party travel insurance policies. If the airline cancels your flight, however, or if you you’re your connection, there's no monetary compensation.

Trip Delay

What's covered? 

Covered hazards are: equipment failure, weather and labor strikes. No other cause (and there are dozens of other reasons why flights are delayed) is covered. Up to $500 for each purchased ticket for reasonable expenses (hotels, meals, etc.) for a "covered hazard" resulting in a delay of 12 hours or more, or requiring an overnight stay. Excess coverage (so presumably, if the airline gives you a hotel voucher for $100, you must deduct that from payment).

Baggage loss

What's the maximum baggage loss payout?

The benefit covers checked or carry-on luggage up to $3,000 per person (you or immediate family members) but only up to $500 for each insured person for valuables such as jewelry and electronics (airlines don't cover electronics or valuables at all). As is industry standard it doesn't cover loss of documents, cash, tickets, travelers checks or furs.  This is replacement value minus depreciation, as determined by the insurance company. You must report the loss or damage to the carrier immediately and will be asked to provide proof that you submitted a report to the carrier. In other words, see this as a supplemental benefit that kicks in after the airline has done their part. One reason we like the $25 per trip insurance plan offered by AirCare: there's no depreciation, no receipts to file.

Baggage delay

This kicks in after a six-hour delay (some credit cards have a 12-hour delay, as does AirCare) and is intended for the emergency purchase of essential items, should your baggage be delayed or lost. You can get up to $100 per day for a maximum of three days for emergency items, including one cellphone charger cable. Things like contact lenses, glasses and valuables (cameras and such) are not covered. Save those receipts!

How to file a claim

Call 800-419-8027 to speak to a benefit administrator and request a claim form.

See the other articles in this series:

American Express

Chase Sapphire card

World MasterCard

Capital One Venture Rewards

You might also like: Miss Your Connection? Here's $500 from AirCare

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