Savvy travelers already book airline tickets and reserve hotel rooms and rental cars over the Internet. Now they can also go online to buy travel insurance, selecting from options that include medical coverage and evacuation and trip-cancellation insurance.
The new trend is a natural, given the buying habits of most consumers. Travel insurance is often either a last-minute decision or neglected altogether. Up to 30 percent of travelers wait until two weeks or less before departure to inquire about travel-insurance coverage, industry experts say.
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So, turning to the Internet to buy travel coverage makes sense, both for procrastinating travelers and for those who have just decided to squeeze in a vacation before the end of the summer. Coverage typically goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on the day of purchase, the next day, or on a date specified by the traveler, if the trip is in the future.
Right now, only a handful of companies offer travelers the opportunity to complete the entire transaction via the Internet. Many companies have Web sites that explain the products available but require a faxed or mailed application in order to buy. Officials at insurance companies that don't yet offer Internet transactions say they are investigating the service and will probably offer it soon.
Not Entirely Paperless
Even some companies that promote the buying of travel health insurance via the Net do not actually complete their transactions in cyberspace. Customized Service Administration (CSA) Travel Protection, for instance, began selling online in 1998 but still follows up with a hard copy for coverage verification, says Bob Chambers, vice president of sales and marketing for CSA.
CSA Travel Protection (www.travelsecure.com; 800/348-9505), underwritten by Commercial Union Insurance Company
Travel Guard (www.travel-guard.com; 800/826-1300), underwritten by CIGNA
Highway to Health (www.highwaytohealth.com; 888/243-2358), underwritten by Continental Assurance Company
Caveats before Buying
As quick and convenient as online buying is, consumers should research the plan and the company before buying. Be sure the company is licensed in your state of residence, says Scott Edelen, a spokesman for the California Department of Insurance. That's good advice no matter how you buy, but critical if you're buying from a Web site rather than, say, a longtime family travel agent who is accustomed to buying from licensed companies.