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You may be eager to return to traveling, even if you’re a bit cautious about finalizing plans at this time. Perhaps you’re planning trips with shorter notice, as Covid-related situations evolve both in the US and internationally.
“With the emergence of new variants and a constantly changing landscape of travel advisories and entry requirements, traveling during the pandemic has been a ‘wait and see’ period,” says Lisa Cheng, spokesperson with World Nomads, a travel insurance company. “That’s why more people are choosing to book at the last minute. But if you are waiting until the 11th hour to purchase travel insurance, there are a few things to watch out for.”
Related: Compare & Buy Travel Insurance for 2021
Here’s what you need to know about purchasing last-minute travel insurance.
Your Coverage May Not Kick In Right Away
When you purchase travel insurance very close to your departure, you could be subject to a waiting period, which is a specified amount of time before your coverage goes into effect. “The terms vary from insurer to insurer but, as an example, you may have to wait 24 hours before you could be eligible for any type of coverage,” says Cheng.
Additionally, you can’t wait to buy insurance until you know you’re going to make a claim. Cheng says travel insurance is only for unexpected events. For example, you can’t buy insurance when a big storm has already been named as a hurricane or tropical cyclone and is headed toward your Caribbean vacation destination. You can’t buy travel insurance when you already have symptoms of a sickness that will affect your trip plans.
Some travel insurance companies are stricter than others with cut-off dates for purchasing a policy.
“Some companies won’t allow you to buy a policy too close to the departure date or after your departure,” says Cheng. But with World Nomads, she says, you can purchase travel insurance at any point of your trip—even if you’ve already boarded your flight or have hit the road. Just remember that plans may have a waiting period before coverage goes into effect.
If you’re not sure whether your plan has a waiting period, call the company or its 24/7 travel assistance hotline.
Understand the Scope of Your Coverage
Ideally, you should purchase a travel insurance policy when you book your trip, or when you put down your first deposits. If you don’t buy it right away, a good rule of thumb is to purchase travel insurance within two weeks (or less) of booking your trip. That way you can reap all the benefits that your plan offers.
One of the main purposes of travel insurance is to protect your trip investment if you need to cancel your trip for a reason covered by the policy. These reasons include a death, serious illness or injury, severe weather, a family emergency, or an act of terrorism either in the US or at your destination. So when you purchase your policy as early as possible, you are taking advantage of the trip cancellation coverage for the longest duration.
“If you buy a comprehensive plan on the day before departure, you are essentially buying for just the post-departure benefits and you’re foregoing ‘trip cancellation’ benefits,” explains Meghan Walch, spokesperson with InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance comparison provider.
You should also be aware that you may be outside the timeframe for getting certain valuable benefits:
You can typically get a pre-existing medical condition waiver only within 15 days of booking your trip and putting down your deposit (deadlines vary by company). This important waiver provides coverage during your trip for pre-existing conditions. “So while you may have emergency medical coverage on your plan, if it is determined that the illness you’re claiming was related to something pre-existing, your claim may be denied,” explains Walch.
You can generally add “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) coverage only within 14 days of your initial trip deposit (some companies have a longer deadline). This add-on allows you to cancel a trip for a reason not listed in the base cancellation policy and still receive reimbursement—usually 75% of your pre-paid and non-refundable trip costs. But you have to cancel 48 hours or more before departure in order to make a CFAR claim. If you’re buying last-minute travel insurance, you’re probably too late to snag this coverage.
Related: Best “Cancel for Any Reason” Travel Insurance of 2021
“The ‘cancel for any reason’ add-on is really the only way for a traveler to recoup some of their pre-paid, non-refundable trip costs if they decide not to travel because of a spike in (Covid-19) cases,” says Walch at InsureMyTrip.
In addition, standard travel insurance policies do not allow travelers to cancel a trip because of Covid-19 fears or because you don’t want to do the testing or quarantine requirements of another country. But you can cancel for those reasons if you have CFAR coverage.
How Can You Purchase Last-Minute Travel Insurance?
You can easily purchase a travel insurance policy online, whether it’s long before your trip or last-minute. “If you enter your departure date, our system will display only the plans that are available for purchase,” notes Walch with InsureMyTrip.
She says comprehensive travel insurance plans are available until the day before departure. “Some travel medical plans must be bought before departure,” says Walch. “There may be some travel medical plans available on the day of departure, but there will be very few options.”
Erica Lamberg is a personal finance and travel writer based in suburban Philadelphia. She is a regular contributor to USA Today and her writing credits include NBC News, US News & World Report, Business Insider, Oprah Magazine and Creditcards.com.