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Before you head to Europe, consider travel insurance

Although you're more likely to get hit by lightning than be killed in a terrorist attack, Europe-bound travelers should consider insurance. However, be sure to read the fine print.

October 24, 2010|By Jane Engle | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

This is a troubling time for Europe-bound travelers. The U.S. State Department on Oct. 3 issued a travel alert that cited "the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe" but stopped short of warning travelers against going there. Sporadic labor actions in France, Greece and elsewhere have interrupted thousands of flights, trains and other transportation.

Neither terrorism worries nor transit strikes should keep you from going to Britain or the Continent. But this is a good time to weigh your options, especially on insurance. Some thoughts:

Terrorist attacks: While horrifying, these pose only a remote risk to the American traveler.

"You're more likely to get struck dead by lightning than be killed by a terrorist in Europe," said Bruce McIndoe, president of IJet Intelligent Risk Systems, a travel security company based in Annapolis, Md.

Fewer than a dozen private U.S. citizens (excluding military and government personnel) died last year in terrorist attacks in foreign countries; most of those were in Afghanistan and none were in Europe,  according to the State Department.

But terrorism could affect your trip in other ways, and for those perils you should consider travel insurance.

If a terrorist attack occurs in a city you are in, or one that is on your itinerary, most policies will reimburse you for the pro-rated part of your trip that you don't use plus expenses you incur to get home, said Dan McGinnity, spokesman for Travel Guard North America, an insurance company based in Stevens Point, Wis.

If an attack occurs in a city within a month before you're scheduled to visit, you may be entitled to cancel your vacation and get your trip deposits back if you have insurance.

One exception: A few policies may deny coverage for a terrorist attack in Europe if you bought your policy after Oct. 3 because they say the alert meant that such an attack was a foreseen event.

In any case, if you're just worried that an attack might occur in your destination, you generally can't cancel and expect to collect, McGinnity and other experts say, even if the State Department issues a travel alert, as it did for Europe, or a stronger statement, called a travel warning, that advises against visiting an area.

Most underwriters don't want the risk of insuring against such anxiety, said Peter Evans, executive vice president of InsureMyTrip.com, an online travel insurance agency. With more than 30 countries recently under travel warnings, the result could be "catastrophic loss." he said.

One option for nervous travelers is a so-called cancel-for-any-reason rider, which allows them to cancel trips for any reason, or no reason, and receive some money back. Expect to pay up to 50% more for a policy that includes this rider.

Transit strikes: Most insurers say they will reimburse you if a labor strike against airlines, buses or other transit keeps you from embarking on your trip, delays you along the way or forces you to cut your trip short. Europe is notorious for such strikes, and this year workers are especially restive.

Whether you can collect depends on the policy's rules. For those, look to the "Certificate of Insurance," which can run 30 pages or more; check the insurer's website for coverage updates; and call if you have questions.

Read before you buy. After an air traffic controllers' strike in Paris grounds your flight, causing you to miss your $3,000 cruise, is not a good time to learn you won't get one euro back.

Maybe you bought your policy after Sept. 6, when French workers authorized a general strike. Until there's a resolution to the dispute, Travel Guard generally will deny coverage because the union decision turned future labor actions into foreseen events, McGinnity said.

Or maybe your policy excludes "a general strike whereby all or most of the workers of a country, province, state, city or town cease work." I found that phrase under the "organized labor strike" definition in a policy sold by Travelex of Omaha.

Chances of being attacked by a terrorist in Europe? Almost nil. Chances of losing thousands of dollars because you failed to read your insurance policy? Pretty high.

jane.engle@latimes.com

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