Travel Insurance You Can Actually Use

By Eric Reed

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- There are two things people generally mean when they talk about travel insurance.

The first, otherwise known as trip insurance, covers airfare in case you have to cancel your flight; most airlines offer it with most tickets. In my experience, it's usually a rip off, as the policies come with so many exceptions and escape clauses as to be generally worthless. They're great if you break your leg, but not so much if your boss decides you have to work this weekend.

Ask yourself which happens more often.

The second is medical insurance, which is especially important since many American policies stop at the water's edge. Some kind of medical coverage is a must, but unfortunately finding medical coverage for an overseas trip involves a few more moving pieces than usual. Figuring out health insurance is hard enough when it's in your own back yard. Trying to predict what you'll need in India makes life a whole lot harder.

This is what interests me about the self-styled "lifestyle insurance company" Protect Your Bubble. Unlike most insurance companies that focus on large, single issues such as health, homes or automobiles, Protect Your Bubble covers the investments people make in everything else including, of particular interest here, travel.

"We have this philosophy," company president Stephen Ebbett told MainStreet, "that everything sort of sits in this fragile bubble, and bubbles by their nature can be burst. We can get ill, we can lose things, damage can happen to our possessions, and when that happens, our bubbles are burst and the emotional pain and the financial distress can be severe. Our philosophy is that we're here to protect your bubble."

A lofty goal, but how well does it work?

The first, and probably best, aspect I noticed about Protect Your Bubble is how it simplifies the process of travel planning. One package covers you for airfare, medical and property losses, where ordinarily you'd have to find coverage for each independently, if at all. According to Ebbett, prices start as low as $14, although when I researched a theoretical $2,000 trip to Asia, my quote started at $68 per month for the most basic package, $103 for all the bells and whistles.

After some more looking it seems that basic policies generally cost about 3% of the overall trip price, and deluxe policies cost five.

To be fair, there are some pretty great bells and whistles.

My first interest was airfare coverage, because, honestly, it's something I've always wanted to see done right. Buying a $1,200 coach seat to Bangkok always leaves me feeling exposed, and I'm not comforted by insurance plans that demand proof of death or dismemberment.

Ebbett agreed with me.

"Trip cancellation is really important," he said. "The average American, in particular, who's traveling abroad is spending $3,000 to $4,000 on their holiday, and if you have a death in the family or something that came up that made it so you couldn't travel, then we provide coverage."

A basic trip policy from Protect Your Bubble fits into the general mold of most others, protecting fliers in case of illness, layoff or provable family emergency. The plan also includes coverage for delays and missed connections, yet I found that less compelling since in practice almost all major airlines cover those costs already.

The deluxe plan is much better, offering business coverage for when circumstances simply change. If you have to cancel a trip, because something came up at the office, you don't have to lose your investment. If you cancel for any reason at all, you get protection up to 75% of your costs.

I like this feature a lot. Having protection in case of a catastrophe is important, but those situations are also thankfully pretty rare. Most of the time, it's the everyday stuff that upsets our plans, like something coming up at work or a poorly timed project at school. For me, in one memorable case, it was winning a Malaysian beer pong tournament and sleeping through my flight the next day.

It's nice to finally get a little sympathy.

The medical insurance also offers a great choice for someone on a short term vacation. It provides local transportation, $50,000 in coverage and the all-important option to airlift you to a country with better care (not so important if you get sick in France, critical if something happens in Cambodia). The coverage cap of $50,000 isn't high enough for a long term traveler who has no insurance back home, but for everyone else it's more than enough. As a nice touch, if your vacation gets canceled for illness, Protect Your Bubble will arrange to get the rest of your group home.

Finally, and very interestingly to me, is the included property coverage. The growth of smaller gadgets means that we can and often do bring our smart phones, laptops and expensive cameras along for the ride. It's a serious loss if they get stolen.

"When you go away on holiday you take possessions with you," Ebbett said. "The claims that we tend to see are either claims for baggage that got lost by air handlers, and that can happen, or items that are stolen from your transportation or your hotel or residence. In some rare cases people even end up desperately short of money. In that case we will wire money to them."

It's a nice and certainly useful touch. Since coverage only goes as high as $1,000 for the deluxe package ($500 for the basic), it won't be replacing your stolen laptop any time soon, but it's more than enough to keep some bad luck from ruining an expensive vacation.

What Protect Your Bubble offers fits a niche that's never quite been done right. Like many companies they don't offer anything new, they offer an existing product done better.

Combining health, trip and theft into one plan takes an enormous amount of the hassle out of planning your vacation and helps people find insurance they probably wouldn't have thought to look for otherwise. What's more, the policies are very good for their target market of short-term vacationers.

As someone who travels for a living, I like this company. It looks like an easy, consolidated way to buy plans that are as good as or better than anything else currently on the market.

Written by Eric Reed for MainStreet

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