Something to consider when choosing a credit card is the strength of its travel insurance benefits. Frequent travellers often look to their credit cards for protection and reimbursement when something unexpected occurs on their trips, be it flight delays, baggage delays, trip cancellation or interruption, or major accidents and medical emergencies.
A widely-held belief regarding credit card insurance is that it only applies if the full cost of the trip is charged to the card. So, if you were purchasing a flight on the airline’s website, you’d have to pay for the flight using a certain card for that card’s insurance benefits to kick in.
But what happens when you redeem miles for travel? How can you take advantage of your credit card’s insurance benefits when you’re travelling on an award ticket? The answer varies from card to card, and can even be different depending now which type of insurance coverage you’re looking at.
Let’s take a closer look at credit cards that offer insurance for award travel.
Emergency Medical Insurance: Just By Being a Cardholder
Whether or not a credit card offers emergency medical insurance is what often distinguishes the stronger insurance packages from the weaker ones.
However, what many people might not realize is that the majority of cards that come with travel medical insurance do not require you to charge the cost of the trip to the card for the coverage to kick in.
Rather, to be eligible for medical insurance, you simply need to be leaving your province of territory of residence on a trip whose duration does not exceed a certain number of covered days. The number of covered days varies from card to card, but is usually 15–25 days if you’re below age 65, and much less if you’re 65 or older.
For example, the Amex Platinum Card’s insurance pamphlet specifies the following:
The RBC Avion Visa Infinite’s pamphlet specifies the following:
And the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite’s benefits booklet defines “trip” as the following:
As you can see, travelling outside of your province or territory of residence is all that’s required for the emergency medical insurance to kick in, and there’s no requirement for the trip’s costs to be charged to the card itself.
This is the case for almost every card out there that includes medical insurance, including the American Express Gold Rewards Card, the American Express Cobalt Card, the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite, and the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard, amongst others.
Whether you’re taking a road trip to the next province over or jetting off to distant lands, you’re covered for any emergency medical expenses as long as you’re a current cardholder on one of these cards. Importantly, the coverage applies to your trip regardless of whether you booked your flight with cash or with miles.
For the purposes of award travel, then, whether you redeemed your Aeroplan points for a simple domestic round-trip flight, or you’ve pieced together a full-blown multi-segment trip using several different rewards currencies, you’ll be covered in the case of emergency medical assistance as long as you keep one of these premium travel credit cards open.
Of course, make sure you carefully read the insurance pamphlet on your credit card, since there are always certain exclusions to which the medical coverage wouldn’t apply. Most often, preexisting medical conditions or undertaking risky activities will void the coverage.
Moreover, note that the coverage typically only lasts for a certain number of days on your trip, so you may still need to purchase additional insurance if you’re travelling for a longer duration. You can do this by topping-up your credit card coverage or purchasing a policy from a separate provider.
Other Types of Travel Insurance: Use the Right Credit Card
Now, while most premium credit cards provide travel medical insurance to their cardholders regardless of whether the trip was billed to the card, the same generosity is usually not extended to other types of insurance.
To be eligible for coverage for flight delays, baggage delays, trip cancellation & interruption, or travel accident insurance, you’ll most likely need to have booked the trip with the credit card. This can be an issue for anyone who primarily travels on award tickets, as a flight that’s paid for with miles can’t really be charged “in full” to any card at all.
Thankfully, that’s where a few select credit cards on the market can fill the gap.
Aeroplan Co-Branded Credit Cards
Aeroplan co-branded credit cards extend travel insurance benefits to any trips booked using Aeroplan points, as long as the associated taxes and fees are billed to the card.
There are currently 11 Aeroplan co-branded credit cards available in Canada, issued by TD, CIBC, and American Express.
For example, here’s what the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite’s insurance package has to say about ticket eligibility for flight delay, delayed and lost baggage, trip cancellation and trip interruption, and common carrier accidents:
And here’s the equivalent language on the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card‘s insurance pamphlet:
As you can see, the insurance benefits on these cards will apply no matter whether you charged the full fare to the card, redeemed Aeroplan points for the ticket and charged the taxes and fees to your credit card, or redeemed a hybrid amount of Aeroplan points and cash using the Points + Cash feature.
Therefore, whether you’re redeeming Aeroplan points for a quick one-way flight or a complex trip and you want to enjoy the full insurance protection of a premium travel credit card on your trip, then it’s best to put the taxes and fees onto one of Amex, TD, or CIBC’s Aeroplan-affiliated cards.
And if you regularly travel on Aeroplan points, you might find it worthwhile to continuously keep one of these cards open for the purpose of giving yourself some peace of mind along your points-funded trips.
Credit Cards with Other Loyalty Programs
Most Canadian credit cards that have a loyalty program associated with them will typically extend their insurance benefits to travel booked through that specific points program as well. A few examples are as follows:
Therefore, whenever you’re looking to redeem one of the major Canadian points currencies for a flight, you’ll usually be able to take advantage of the insurance perks on whatever credit card is associated with that points program (which is probably the card that you had used to earn the points to begin with).
And if that plan doesn’t work out for some reason, you can always charge the remaining balance to one of the following cards as a fallback option…
Credit Cards That Cover All Reward Bookings
There are a few select credit cards that offer insurance for reward bookings regardless of the loyalty program that you book with. These include the BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard, the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard, and the National Bank World Elite Mastercard.
The insurance coverage for these cards don’t mandate that the full cost of the trip be charged to the cards, but rather only require that the “full or partial cost” is charged to be sufficient for coverage.
This means that whenever you’re redeeming any type of rewards currencies for a flight, be it with Aeroplan points, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Alaska miles, or Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles, or Ethiopian Airlines ShebaMiles, you’ll be eligible for insurance coverage with any of the above cards, since you’re fulfilling the criterion of “partial cost” in doing so.
These credit cards’ far-reaching insurance proposition is one of the reasons why you might wish to pick them up and/or hold onto them in the long term.
Note that in the case of the BMO Mastercards, while the above holds true for flight delay, baggage delay, and trip cancellation & interruption, the Accidental Death & Dismemberment coverage is one exception here.
The language in this section of the insurance pamphlet specifically states that the “entire cost of the Passenger Fare(s) is charged to Your Mastercard Account”, with the additional provision that “passenger fare(s) obtained through the redemption of loyalty points earned under the Mastercard reward program are also covered”.
So, in the case of the Accidental D&D coverage, you’d be covered if you’re redeeming BMO Rewards points or Air Miles that you earned with the BMO Mastercards, but not if you were redeeming other mileage currencies. Of course, hopefully this is the one type of insurance that you’ll never have to invoke in the first place.
While it may initially seem that the travel insurance on your credit card requires you to pay for the flight in full using the card, thus making your life difficult if you primarily travel on points, the reality isn’t quite so bleak.
Emergency medical insurance is generally active as long as you’re travelling out-of-province and your card account is in good standing. Meanwhile, using a co-branded credit card through TD, CIBC, American Express, or BMO can usually take care of the remaining types of coverage.
I’d definitely recommend reading the fine print very carefully when it comes to a topic like insurance, since by nature it’s something that depends a lot on your specific circumstances. While it’s hopefully never needed, it can certainly make or break the trip in case something unexpected happens when you’re on the road.