You've probably been enticed to buy travel insurance directly from your airline or online travel agency. It seems relatively cheap and easy, but what kind of protection do you actually get? As with all things, you get what you pay for. Airline-sold policies, even if underwritten by a major travel insurer such as Access America, isn't the same thing as buying insurance directly from the travel insurer underwriting the policy. For instance, buy from the airline and you won't get protection if your airline goes belly up. And in general, pre-existing medical conditions are not covered, as the chart below shows.

Sample travel insurance coverage bought directly from airlines and online travel agencies

Source Underwriter Typical cost per ticket

Cancel/interruption coverage

Covers airline default? Covers pre-existing condition?
Spirit Airlines Insure America $12 $300 no no
AirTran Stonebridge $14.99 $300 no no
Travelocity BerkleyCare $15.95 $500 no no
American Airlines Access America $18.75 up to $3000 no waiver at additional cost

Buying from the source

Buying insurance directly from the travel insurance companies themselves, although more expensive, offers better protection, but there are still many exceptions and loopholes.

AIG My Travel Guard

Sample cost:  $35 (approx, varies with cost of trip, age, other factors)
Cancellation/Interruption: Entire quoted trip cost
Default/Bankruptcy coverage:     Yes, with upgrade
Pre-existing condition waiver: Included in upgrade
Medical expenses: Extensive, can purchase additional upgrades
Good to know: AIG sells a flight insurance policy as well, for prices more in line with what you pay via a third-party (under $20).

AccessAmerica Classic with Trip Cancellation   
Sample cost: $40 (approx, varies with cost of trip, age, other factors)
Cancellation/Interruption: Entire quoted trip cost   
Default/Bankruptcy coverage: Yes, 7 days after policy start    
Pre-existing condition waiver: Yes, with restrictions   
Medical expenses: Extensive
Good to know: Access America sells a more affordable policy comparable to the third parties but with beefed up medical coverage, sample cost $22.

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