Credit Card Travel Insurance For Award Flights: The Best Cards to Use

by | Published Oct 21, 2022 | Edited Dec 3, 2022


Booking a flight entirely using points is what we live for here at Frugal Flyer. Whether it be Aeroplan points, WestJet dollars, Avios, or any Canadian bank loyalty programs, not paying for flights is a luxury of the credit card savvy. 

The flip side is that credit cards are also the primary means that most of us use to insure our flights and trips against various risks – be it trip delay or cancellation, damaged baggage, or medical emergencies.   

However, booking a flight with points adds a slight complication – many credit card insurance terms and conditions state that the entire cost of the trip must be charged to the card for the insurance to apply. How does this work when paying for the flight partially or entirely using points? Are you still covered? 

In this article, we break down how travel insurance works on award flights and how you can best ensure that you’re insured!

How Does Credit Card Travel Insurance Actually Work?

When you travel outside your home province or country, it’s generally recommended to have travel insurance to protect you in the case of an emergency.  Insurance coverage for travel generally falls under two categories:

  • Travel medical insurance protects you in the case of a medical emergency or health complication, including hospitalization, medical evacuation, and so on. You are covered for a trip duration of up to a certain number of days and a certain amount, based on your age. Most credit card insurances don’t cover seniors, unfortunately.
  • Trip protection insurance protects you in the case of various unexpected setbacks and logistical complications that can happen on a trip, including:
    • Trip cancellation/interruption: if your trip is canceled due to unforeseen circumstances or you need to return home for an emergency, you can be reimbursed.
    • Flight/trip delay: If your trip (generally the flight itself) is delayed for over a certain number of hours, you can be compensated.  
    • Lost, stolen, damaged, or delayed baggage: you can be compensated for replacing your baggage or essentials you’re missing in the case of a delay.
    • Rental car collision, loss, and damage: you can be covered for a certain rental period up to a maximum retail price, with or without coverage for personal effects. 

Credit card travel insurance is the same as other types of travel insurance offered by dedicated travel insurance agencies. Of course, like all insurance policies, there are subtle differences in the amount, type of coverage, conditions of coverage, and so on. These details are often hidden in the fine print.

Most credit cards, especially the higher-end premium credit cards like World Elites and Visa Infinites, offer these travel insurances to the primary cardholder, and often dependents of the primary cardholder as well. 

Emergency Medical Insurance: Flexible Eligibility 

With emergency medical insurance, almost all credit cards that offer this coverage have no stipulation that you charge the trip to the card in order to be eligible. You qualify just for being a cardholder. 

As long as you are leaving the province or country for travel, you will be eligible for coverage. For example, the wording in the insurance details for the National Bank World Elite Mastercard is as follows:

National Bank World Elite Mastercard coverage period description for emergency medical insurance

This means as soon as you leave the province for a covered trip, your coverage begins. There is no requirement at all for trip costs to be charged to the card. Simply hold the card open and you are eligible.

However, do be wary of specific exclusions and conditions. For example, if the trip duration is longer than the allowed coverage period, the entire trip will not be covered. There are usually exclusions for certain pre-existing medical conditions and if you partake in risky activities (like hang gliding for example). Some credit cards also require you to have public insurance in your home province to be covered by the credit card’s medical insurance policy.

So, although your credit card emergency medical insurance coverage is generally unaffected by booking using points, it’s another story when it comes to trip protection insurance.

Does Credit Card Trip Protection Insurance Apply on Flights Booked with Points?

The answer to this question is not straightforward: it depends on the specific card, type of insurance, and nature of the flight.

Many credit cards stipulate that for the coverage to apply, you must charge the entire trip cost to the credit card. For example, see the RBC Avion Visa Infinite coverage details for Trip Cancellation/Interruption insurance below.

RBC Avion Visa Infinite coverage period begin and end

Unless the entire trip cost is charged to the RBC Avion Visa Infinite, the coverage isn’t in effect. Note the exception for trips where RBC Rewards points are used – this is a common theme amongst all the bank rewards programs, be it Amex Cards with Membership Rewards bookings, WestJet Mastercard with WestJet flights booked using WestJet dollars, Scotiabank cards with Scene+ travel bookings, and so on.    

However, having to work around all these programs for a given trip is a bit of a hassle. Wouldn’t it be easier if a credit card offered insurance that covered award bookings made with points from any loyalty program? It turns out there are several cards in Canada that offer just that.

Which Credit Cards Cover Award Bookings with Any Loyalty Program?

There are a select few credit cards that flexibly cover all award bookings, regardless of which points program you use to book the award. These cards include the BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard, the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard, the BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard, and the National Bank World Elite Mastercard.

All of these cards generally offer coverage as long as there is at least a partial charge to the card. For example, if you book a flight with Aeroplan points, paying the taxes and fees with your National Bank World Elite Mastercard would make you eligible for the card’s travel insurance. 

National Bank World Elite trip cancellation or delay insurance description
Notice the mention of “a portion” for National Bank’s trip interruption insurance.

I would definitely recommend everyone hold at least one of these credit cards as a keeper card so that you always have a way to access travel insurance benefits when booking award flights. But which one should you choose?

See the table below for a handy comparison.

BMO Ascend World Elite MastercardBMO Air Miles World Elite MastercardBMO CashBack World Elite MastercardNational Bank World Elite Mastercard
Rewards ProgramBMO RewardsAIR MILESCash backÀ la Carte Rewards
Annual Fee$150 (FYF)$120 (FYF)$120 (FYF)$150 (FYF)
Emergency Medical
– Amount$2,000,000$2,000,000$2,000,000$5,000,000
– Coverage period21 days15 days8 days60 days (<age 54)
31 days (55 to 64)
15 days (65 to 74)
– Maximum ageAge 64 and underAge 64 and underAge 64 and underAge 76 and under
Trip Cancellation or Delay (before departure)
– Maximum coverage$2,500 per insured (up to $5,000 per account)$2,500 per insured (up to $5,000 per account)None$2,500 per insured
– Minimum flight delay timeN/A – cancelation onlyN/A – cancelation onlyNone4 hours
– Allowable subsistence expensesN/A – cancelation onlyN/A – cancelation onlyNone$250 per day (up to $500 total) per insured
Trip Interruption (after departure)
– Maximum coverageLesser of $2,000 per insured person or the partial amount charged to the cardLesser of $2,000 per insured person or the partial amount charged to the cardNone$5,000 per insured
– Minimum flight delay timeN/AN/ANone6 hours
– Allowable subsistence expenses$150 per day per insured person$150 per day per insured personNone$250 per day (up to $3,000 total) per insured
Flight Delay InsuranceUp to $500 per account (minimum 6-hour delay)Up to $500 per account (minimum 6-hour delay)Up to $500 per account (minimum 6-hour delay) Up to $500 per person (minimum 4-hour delay)
Lost, Stolen, or Damaged BaggageUp to $750 per insured person ($2,000 per account)Up to $750 per insured person ($2,000 per account)Up to $750 per insured person ($2,000 per account)Up to $1,000 per insured person
Delayed BaggageUp to $200 for 12-hour delay or moreUp to $200 for 12-hour delay or moreUp to $200 for 12-hour delay or moreUp to $500 for 6-hour delay or more
Rental Car Collision Loss & Damage Insurance
– Maximum rental period48 days48 days48 days48 days
– Maximum retail price$65,000$65,000$65,000$65,000
– Personal effects coverage$1,000 per person ($2,000 per rental period)$1,000 per person ($2,000 per rental period)$1,000 per person ($2,000 per rental period)None
A reminder to always check the insurance certificate for your credit card to confirm details and eligibility. The above is just a summary.

As you can see from the chart, the National Bank World Elite Mastercard edges out the competition in most categories of travel insurance, including a vastly superior medical insurance amount of 5MM, with a longer trip duration and a wider age range. There is also a bit more leeway in minimum trip delay time (4 hours vs. 6 hours for flights, 6 hours vs. 12 hours for baggage, etc.). Rental car insurance is comparable, although the National Bank doesn’t cover personal effects from theft.

National Bank World Elite

The National Bank World Elite card earns À la Carte Rewards points and offers cardholders benefits such as $150 in annual travel credits and access to the National Bank VIP lounge in the YUL International terminal. Due to it’s stellar travel insurance and purchase protection benefits, we deemed this card the Best Overall Insurance Credit Card of 2022.

Check out our National Bank World Elite review for full details about this card.

BONUS
70,000 À la carte Rewards
MINSPEND
$12,000
NET VALUE
$700+
ANNUAL FEE
$150 (FYF)
FOREX FEES
Yes

It’s also important to mention that with baggage delay, the National Bank World Elite coverage won’t apply if the full cost of the flight wasn’t charged to the card. 

If you decide to sign up for the National Bank World Elite Mastercard, don’t forget to apply via Frugal Flyer rebates to get some additional cash just for applying!

Which Credit Cards Should I Use When Booking with Aeroplan Points?

While I don’t recommend chasing every credit card with every program to maximize insurance coverage, Aeroplan is Canada’s premier points program and it’s worth mentioning that Aeroplan co-branded credit cards also extend travel insurance benefits to trips booked using Aeroplan points. Just remember to charge the taxes and fees to the card.

Aeroplan has co-branded cards with Amex, TD, and CIBC, included in the below table.

Credit Card Welcome Bonus Net Value
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege 105,000 Aeroplan $1,606 Apply
American Express Aeroplan Reserve 90,000 Aeroplan $1,291 Apply
CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege 90,000 Aeroplan $1,291 Apply
American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve 85,000 Aeroplan $1,186 Apply
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite 50,000 Aeroplan $1,050 Apply
American Express Aeroplan 55,000 Aeroplan $1,035 Apply
CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite 45,000 Aeroplan $945 Apply
CIBC Aeroplan Visa Business 30,000 Aeroplan $630 Apply
CIBC Aeroplan Visa Business Plus 30,000 Aeroplan $630 Apply
TD Aeroplan Visa Business 30,000 Aeroplan $630 Apply
TD Aeroplan Visa Platinum 20,000 Aeroplan $420 Apply

If you already hold and use one of these cards and are an avid Aeroplan flyer, you can safely pay for your award bookings with these cards and rest easy knowing you’re covered by the credit card insurance benefits. 

Conclusion

Travel insurance is something you never plan to use. But in worst-case scenarios, it can be incredibly helpful to have. As a savvy credit card holder, you can benefit from the travel insurance provided by your credit card. However, you need to be especially careful when booking a trip using points. Read the fine print carefully on your credit card to make sure your coverage applies, and if not, you should consider adding one of the cards mentioned in this article to your wallet.   

Reed Sutton

Reed Sutton

Founder at Frugal Flyer
Reed is addicted to the science (and art) of earning and redeeming travel points, and frequently pairs his trips with his other hobby: photography. Through Frugal Flyer, Reed aims to distill some of the complex and esoteric points strategies into digestible information. Furthermore, he hopes to use his technical expertise to develop invaluable applications and tools for the travel community.

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6 comments on “Credit Card Travel Insurance For Award Flights: The Best Cards to Use

  1. How do you interpret “Charge at least 75% of the full ticket cost” and “Charge the full cost of your airplane, train, bus or cruise ship tickets to your Card” when redeeming Aeroplan points but charges taxes amount on the card? Would there still be coverage?

    Reply
    • No there wouldn’t likely be coverage. If you’ve got an award flight paid primarily with points, you are looking for the verbiage “partial cost” on the insurance description.

      Reply
  2. Hello, thank you so much for this article. I bought my Qsuite with my Avios and paid the taxes with my BNC WE. From Dubai to Montreal I’m on 2 separate reservation numbers with a 2 hours delay in Doha. Historically, that flight from Dubai to Doha is never delaid, but what if it is on the day I leave Dubai and I miss my flight in Doha? What will be my insurance coverage from my BNC WE? Will they reimburse only the taxes or the Avios as well? Will I be rescheduled in another Qsuite at the insurance cost?

    Reply
    • Hi Lucy,

      This is a bit of a unique situation – travel insurance will not cover if you miss a flight due to being booked on a separate itinerary. You would be protected if both flights were on the same itinerary, and thus, the carrier would have an obligation to get you to your final destination if you missed your second flight as a result of a delay.

      There are risks when it comes to positioning with two different itineraries; 2 hours would be a tight gap that I would be concerned about making.

      Hugh

      Reply
      • Thank you for your response, I’m back in Canada and everything went well. In the insurance booklet under trip cancellation, i think my situation would have been covered. I will avoid booking 2 flights in different reservation number in the future, but I’m wondering how the insurance with BNC WE works when we reserve with points. What will they reimbursed if the cancellation situation is accepted?
        https://www.nbc.ca/content/dam/bnc/particuliers/pdf/assurance/certificate-713705-3.pdf
        « a departing, connecting or return flight for the trip
        that he missed as a result of a mechanical failure
        of the means of transportation, weather conditions,
        a road accident, police-directed road closure or change of schedule by the common carrier (bus, train, etc.), provided that the original travel arrangements
        would have allowed him to arrive at least 2 hours
        before the flight »

        Reply
        • It does look like if there is a gap of 2 hours, you’d be eligible. However, you would not get reimbursed points, only what is charged to the account.

          “The unused and non-refundable portion of prepaid travel arrangements for the insured’s trip charged to the account,”

          You would be able to get reimbursed for hotel cost or cost for alternative travel expenses (eg. a rebooked flight in the lowest-cost economy class).

          These details are in the table on the page after the text you quoted.

          Regards,
          Reed

          Reply