Real Travel Insurance Help for Military Families

family sitting in airport waiting area
(Lance Cheung/DVIDS)

Because the orders always change, amiright?

There’s a bucket-list vacation you and your spouse want to take. You’ve been squirreling away money. You’ve got an “Amah-zing Vacation” board on Pinterest. You’ve been Googling, and planning and dreaming. Lots and lots of dreaming. Dreaming about that vacation is what’s getting you through allergy season and the end of the school year right now.

Or maybe that’s just me.

But you’re afraid to start buying plane tickets and booking hotels because you don’t want to lose your deposits, or worse — the full payments — if and when your spouse’s orders change and leave gets revoked. And if you don’t purchase soon, that incredible fare or deal you found will be as gone as that pint of Ben & Jerry’s you thought you’d carefully hidden in the back of the freezer.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Good news, fearful travelers! There are two ways to book that dream trip and still be protected, and one of them is probably not what you think.

First things first, the obvious one: Buy travel insurance.

But there’s a catch. Buying travel insurance is great advice — for civilian families. Travel insurance policies cover most of the things that could happen — to civilians — that would prevent them from being able to take dream trips.

“With my military family clients, I make it a point to reiterate that they make sure to read the fine print very carefully. Many travel insurance policies only allow military to cancel their trips if called to duty for a natural disaster, not a combat zone deployment or simple TDY or leave revocation,” Casey Coté told me. She’s a military spouse herself and a travel agent, so she knows exactly where we’re coming from with these fears.

I called a certain travel insurance company to ask about that leave-gets-revoked scenario. (I’m not going to name-check that company here because it turns out their policy is pretty standard and other companies impose the same limitations):

Me: Your policy says it covers military who have to cancel because they are called to war. How do you define “war”?

Representative: We cover it if they have to go to war or if they are called up to respond to a national disaster.

Me: Yes, but how do you define “war”?

Representative: What do you mean? We define it as “war."

Me: But what if my husband got sent to a place that isn’t officially a “war zone." Like, what if he got sent to Syria? We’re not technically at war there. Would that be covered? Or what about a humanitarian mission?

Representative: I have no idea. We would have to review that on a case-by-case basis after it happened.

Me: You mean after we’ve purchased this expensive trip and this expensive travel insurance policy, you would decide later if the insurance policy would actually cover us? That doesn’t really sound like insurance to me.

Representative: I’m sorry, Ma’am. I wish I had a better answer for you. We do cover illness and death in the family.

Me: Okay, so what about non-war orders? What if my husband doesn’t get sent anywhere to fight but something comes up and his orders are changed? Would that be covered?

Representative: Again, I really don’t know. We’d have to have a letter from the commander explaining the situation and then we’d consider it on a case-by-case basis.

Me: Again, that doesn’t really sound like insurance.

Coté says this case-by-case basis thing is really common with travel insurance companies.

“When you start peeling away the layers of jargon on these policies and ask in-depth questions, agents freeze up and have no clue what to tell you,” she said.

Coté also said that many travel insurance policies have a "cancel for work reasons" clause that should cover military duty — emphasis on the “should” — but sometimes doesn’t.

“I've run into some travel insurance companies who give me the runaround when I mention that scenario, because the word ‘military’ seems to change everything,” Coté said.

TravelGuard is the travel insurance company Coté said she most often recommends to both military and non-military clients. She said TravelGuard's “cancel for any reason” clause seems more cut and dry than most, the coverage limitations are clearly defined and the staff in the call center are typically able to answer coverage questions.

Section 2 of TravelGuard’s Gold Plan benefits explanation states that TravelGuard will reimburse the full cost of the trip if, among other things, “the Insured or Traveling Companion is called to active military service or military leave is revoked or reassigned.”

But even with that clearly spelled out, you can never be too careful, Coté said.

“As I recommend to all my clients, if you are unsure of any part of the policy or do not fully understand any of the certificate jargon, call the insurance company before purchasing your policy and sort those questions out, and be as specific as possible when describing your travel and military needs. Only they can shed light on specific terms as they relate to your travel needs. If you need to buy a more comprehensive plan to cover your needs, then do so. It may come at a higher cost, but that cost will likely outweigh the risk of traveling without having all possible travel snafus covered,” she said.

There’s one other option for travel coverage that you may not have thought of: Your credit card.

Useful for more than just running up debt and jimmying the lock when your toddler locks himself in his bedroom, your credit card might — emphasis on the “might” — offer you some travel protection.

I stumbled across this tidbit of information when planning a trip recently and called my credit card company to ask. No dice. Mine offered some travel protection, but not the kind that would cover our military concerns.

So I started digging and discovered Chase’s Sapphire card was mentioned on several travel websites as the best card to have when traveling, for a number of reasons.

There may be other cards that offer the same, similar or even better travel benefits, I’m certainly not saying Chase is the only one. Also, it’s worth noting that I’m specifically talking about the Chase Sapphire card. Other Chase cards do not feature the same travel protection.

Here’s why I like the Chase Sapphire card: The insurance on the Chase Sapphire card specifically covers any change in military orders. And they cover it for both the card holder and a traveling companion, not just an immediate family member. The Chase Sapphire card also covers multiple people in a family — so if the service member has to cancel, the entire family can recoup the costs. It covers cancellations and interruptions for other reasons, too. And, yes, I called Chase, spoke to several representatives, and confirmed all of this, right before I applied for the card.

The representatives did tell me that the amounts can change from cardholder to cardholder and that there’s a cap on the amount it will cover. For the card I got, that cap is $10,000 per person with a maximum of $20,000 for a family — which is more than enough to cover any trips we plan on taking.

In any case, before you buy travel insurance or make any big purchases on a credit card that offers travel protection, take 15 minutes to call to talk to the representatives, and then get them to email you the information they report so that you’ll have it in writing. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but you’ll sure be glad to have it if you do.

Keep Up with the Ins and Outs of Military Life

For the latest military news and tips on military family benefits and more, subscribe to and have the information you need delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues