One of the criteria to consider when deciding whether to obtain a certain 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, such as flight delay, baggage delay, trip cancellation or interruption, or – touch on wood – 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.
Emergency Medical Insurance, Just By Being a Cardholder
Whether or not a card offers emergency medical insurance is what often distinguishes the strongest credit card insurance packages out there from those that are more run-of-the-mill. However, what many people might not realize is that among the cards that do come with travel medical insurance, the majority do not require you to charge the cost of the trip to the card for the coverage to kick in.
Most commonly, the eligibility criteria for the medical insurance is simply that you are leaving your province of territory residence on a trip whose duration does not exceed a certain number of covered days (which itself varies from card to card, usually 15–25 days if you’re below age 65 and a significantly lower threshold if you’re 65 or older).
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 in fact the case for almost every card out there that includes medical insurance (at least among the cards I’ve discussed here on the blog) – the Amex Gold, the Amex Cobalt, the CIBC Aventura, the RBC WestJet, you name it.
What does this mean? Well, 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. And in the latter case, 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 miles 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, such as existing medical conditions or undertaking risky activities. Moreover, do 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 (whether that’s by topping-up your credit card coverage or purchasing from a separate provider).
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, like flight delay, baggage delay, trip cancellation & interruption, or travel accident insurance.
These benefits typically require you to charge the full amount of the trip to the card itself, and that’s where those of us who primarily travel on award tickets might have a bit of a problem. After all, 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…
TD & CIBC Aeroplan Cards
TD and CIBC’s Aeroplan-branded credit cards extend their travel insurance benefits to any trips booked using Aeroplan miles, as long as the associated taxes and fees are billed to the card.
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 miles for the full ticket (perhaps by using your miles to pay for the taxes and fees, although that’s usually a terrible value), or redeemed Aeroplan miles for a portion of the ticket, with the remaining balance (i.e., the outstanding taxes and fees) charged to your card account.
Therefore, if you’re redeeming Aeroplan miles (whether it’s for a quick one-way flight or a 16-segment Aeroplan Mini-RTW) and 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 TD or CIBC’s Aeroplan-affiliated cards.
And if you regularly travel on Aeroplan miles, 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.
BMO World Elite for Any Award Travel
The other cards that sit in their own category when it comes to providing insurance on award travel are a set of cards that I have yet to cover in detail: the BMO World Elite MasterCard and the BMO AIR MILES World Elite MasterCard.
That’s because both of these cards’ insurance pamphlets stop short of mandating that the full cost of the trip be charged to the card, instead emphasizing that the “full or partial cost” is sufficient for coverage:
This means that whenever you’re redeeming any type of rewards currencies for a flight – whether it’s Aeroplan miles, British Airways Avios, or even some orphaned Ethiopian ShebaMiles that you might’ve earned in the past – you’ll be eligible for insurance coverage under the BMO World Elite MasterCards by using it to pay for the taxes and fees, since you’re fulfilling the criterion of “partial cost” in doing so.
The card’s far-reaching insurance proposition is one of the reasons why you might wish to pick up a BMO World Elite MasterCard (whether it’s the regular version or the AIR MILES version) and/or hold onto it in the long term. Indeed, when I do cover these cards in more detail here on the blog, this will definitely be one of the cards’ main strengths to emphasize.
Note that 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 via 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.
Other Credit Cards & Associated Programs
I do feel that the TD & CIBC Aeroplan-branded products and the BMO World Elite products are the leading credit cards in Canada for travel insurance on award tickets, with the former providing coverage of Canada’s most popular frequent flyer program and the letter serving as a catch-all option for almost any type of award travel.
However, it’s worth noting that 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 would include:
The WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard extending its insurance benefits to travel booked fully or partially using WestJet Dollars
The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite extending its insurance benefits to travel booked with Scotia Rewards points
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 BMO World Elite MasterCards as a fallback option.
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, while the TD Aeroplan, CIBC Aerogold, and BMO World Elite products can usually take care of the remaining types of coverage.
I 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, and 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.