The cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland that has shut down airports all over Europe is just the latest event to disrupt travel.
Hurricanes and other natural disasters, along with political unrest and personal problems, ruin vacation and business travel plans all the time.
One way to hedge against such events is travel insurance. For a relatively small fee — typically 4 to 8 percent of the cost of the trip — you can buy protection for your trip.
Typical policies cover costs for delays, like extra hotel stays or the price involved in changing plans; the nonrefundable costs for interrupted or canceled trips; lost or stolen luggage; medical emergencies and even medical evacuation. Older travelers and those who take more expensive vacations can expect to pay the higher prices.
But you can no longer get coverage for next week's planned trip to Europe.
The travel insurance industry has designated the eruption of the volcano beneath an Icelandic glacier as a "known event," explained Jill Rosenberg, manager of group and executive travel for AAA New York. That means you won't be able to buy coverage for trips that may be canceled or otherwise impacted by the volcano.
"It's sort of like buying homeowner's insurance while your house is on fire," said Jim Grace, president of Insuremytrip.com, which sells policies from 24 companies online.
Similar rules apply to a hurricane once it has a name, said Carol Mueller, a spokeswoman for the insurer Travel Guard.
Mueller said about 75 percent of claims in the industry are related to canceling trips, usually because of illness for the traveler or a family member.
Here’s some tips for buying travel insurance:
- Purchase your policy within seven to 14 days of booking your trip to get the most comprehensive coverage.
- Ask questions to make sure you're getting the coverage you need. Grace said about 90 percent of the companies that sell policies through his website are covering volcano-related cancellations.
- Adventure travel and high-risk activities may require extra insurance on top of the standard policy.
- Extra protection is available through policies with "cancel for any reason" riders, which are more expensive. Some of these policies may not reimburse the full cost of a trip, so make sure you know how much coverage you're buying.
- Theft or damage of personal property is usually covered, but there are typically price limits. Homeowner's or renter's insurance may provide backup for expensive items like electronics or jewelry, but check before you leave home.
- Many booking Web sites offer travel insurance at the time you make a reservation, but you can also buy it separately through an aggregator like insuremytrip.com or directly from company sites. Prices vary, so it makes sense to shop around.