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:
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.
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.
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 Mastercard||BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard||BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard||National Bank World Elite Mastercard|
|Rewards Program||BMO Rewards||AIR MILES||Cash back||À la Carte Rewards|
|Annual Fee||$150 (FYF)||$120 (FYF)||$120 (FYF)||$150 (FYF)|
|– Coverage period||21 days||15 days||8 days||60 days (<age 54)|
31 days (55 to 64)
15 days (65 to 74)
|– Maximum age||Age 64 and under||Age 64 and under||Age 64 and under||Age 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 time||N/A – cancelation only||N/A – cancelation only||None||4 hours|
|– Allowable subsistence expenses||N/A – cancelation only||N/A – cancelation only||None||$250 per day (up to $500 total) per insured|
|Trip Interruption (after departure)|
|– Maximum coverage||Lesser of $2,000 per insured person or the partial amount charged to the card||Lesser of $2,000 per insured person or the partial amount charged to the card||None||$5,000 per insured|
|– Minimum flight delay time||N/A||N/A||None||6 hours|
|– Allowable subsistence expenses||$150 per day per insured person||$150 per day per insured person||None||$250 per day (up to $3,000 total) per insured|
|Flight Delay Insurance||Up 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 Baggage||Up 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 Baggage||Up to $200 for 12-hour delay or more||Up to $200 for 12-hour delay or more||Up to $200 for 12-hour delay or more||Up to $500 for 6-hour delay or more|
|Rental Car Collision Loss & Damage Insurance|
|– Maximum rental period||48 days||48 days||48 days||48 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|
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.
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.
70,000 À la carte Rewards
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.
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.
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