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Trip Protection vs. Travel Insurance: What's the Difference?

Two empty beach chairs looking out into the ocean as the waves roll in.

Most people think about travel insurance when booking their vacations. After all, it's good to have security in case of the unexpected -- right? So that's why the "trip protection" or similar add-ons can seem like a good deal. Why wouldn't you pay a little extra, if that small investment gets you money back in case of cancellation?

But it isn't that simple. Certainly, that add-on offered by an online booking site can be a great option for some travellers. But it can fall short of offering you full security against potential mishaps. Here's a primer on what different policies offer and where you can buy the coverage that's right for you.

Trip Protection

In some cases, trip protection isn't even really insurance. It's just a promise on behalf of the booking site in case you have to cancel your reservation. But there are many potential exclusions. You may only get credit for costs you've paid for upfront, and you may only get a portion of those expenses back. Some companies won't even refund your money -- they will just give you a credit for future travel.

Trip Cancellation Insurance

This type of policy offers much more security than "trip protection." It is usually purchased separately from your accommodation and flight. You can claim for flight, hotel and travel expenses when you must cancel your trip before leaving. You can get coverage for a host of cancellation reasons, from illness or job loss to visa denial or government travel advisories.

Typically, trip cancellation insurance covers your trip's non-refundable expenses. Often this is available for up to 48 hours before you depart.

Trip Interruption Insurance

Trip interruption insurance is usually included as part of trip cancellation insurance. Your interruption benefits protect you in case of you need to end your trip early. You can imagine when this might happen: an illness, travel advisory or other event that forces you to pack up and leave before your scheduled departure. There are other things you can claim under trip interruption, such as flight delays, lost baggage, and other glitches that prevent a smooth journey.

Of course, the specific details of when you can claim for trip interruption depend on your policy.

Travel Medical Insurance

If you are travelling outside of Canada, medical insurance may be a must. This covers unexpected costs if you get sick or injured and need assistance. Coverage may include emergency care, hospitalization, prescriptions, and even costs to return home. This coverage kicks in alongside any reimbursements that you may get through your provincial health insurance plan.

Some travellers might believe their credit card or workplace extended health insurance has sufficient medical coverage for trips abroad. But it's a good idea to check the details. Travel medical insurance can help fill the gaps, especially if you anticipate needing help while you are away.

Travel Insurance

A comprehensive policy is often called just "travel insurance." It includes protection for your trip expenses, as well as medical coverage. This type of insurance gives you peace of mind. It may include some life insurance and other benefits too.

Premium policies may also let you claim for any number of losses, such as pet boarding fees if you are delayed getting home or personal assistance finding medical treatment at your destination.

Where Do You Buy Insurance?

Before deciding on the right type of insurance, there are a few things you'll want to consider. First, review the coverage you already have, including any travel insurance from your credit card company or workplace. You'll also want to check with your travel provider to see what kind of protection is provided through them when you book a trip.

Finally, compare these policies with the coverage you could purchase separately, using an insurance comparison website like Rates.ca. In any case, it's essential to know exactly what you're buying and what it does and does not cover. Bear in mind the exact terms may vary, so remember to read the fine print before buying any policy.