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Nervous travelers demanding 'layoff insurance'

  • Story Highlights
  • Travel insurance appears to be increasing in popularity
  • Many standard plans include "layoff insurance"; customers get trip refunds if laid off
  • Experts say to check details of a plan to ensure you know what you're buying
  • Several Web sites let travelers compare plan details
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By John D. Sutter
CNN
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(CNN) -- Does your boss raise an eyebrow when you ask to schedule time off?

Maybe you need layoff insurance for your next vacation.

With so many layoffs in the news, travel insurance companies and providers are seeing increased interest in their policies -- many of which offer refunds to people laid off before they were scheduled to ship out on a big vacation.

The policies usually cost a relatively small percentage of the trip price, depending on certain risk factors. For example, a package that includes layoff insurance on a $2,000 trip to China is running about $50 to $125 for a 30-year-old traveler.

Beware, though, some job coaches have questioned whether or not a person who fears a layoff should plan a trip at all. Video Watch tips for stay-at-home travel »

Plus, some of the travel insurance policies are tricky to read.

Layoff insurance is included in many basic travel policies, but the feature often is restricted to employees who have been with their companies for a certain amount of time -- usually one to three years. Travel experts said you should read the fine print carefully.

Then there's a confusingly named add-on: "cancel for work reasons."

Those policies typically allow people to get refunds if they cancel their trip because of a changed job assignment or a company move -- but not because of a layoff, said Chris Harvey, CEO of Squaremouth.com, a site where travelers can compare travel insurance policies.

"I don't think it was a trick, but I do think it's very, very vaguely worded," Harvey said.

Travel insurance experts said it's best to shop around for a policy that's right for you.

Insurance companies cater to certain demographics. So, if you're in your 20s, you probably would get a bad deal from a company that specializes in retirees, and the reverse is also true.

Some Web sites allow travelers to compare insurance policies from several companies at once. Two of the main aggregator sites, according to people contacted by CNN, are Squaremouth.com and InsureMyTrip.com.

At Squaremouth, users enter some trip basics -- destination, trip cost and the ages of travelers -- and then sort results according to price and other factors. So if layoff insurance is important to you, you can see the details of each plan -- whether it covers you if you're laid off and how long you need to have been at the company.

You can use that information to choose a policy that fits your needs and has the best price.

Site viewers can click on "plan details" to get the policy's exact wording from its backer. Most of the details have to do with why travelers would cancel trips: because of weather, injuries, health conditions, layoffs, etc.

The site also includes insurer stability ratings from the A.M. Best Co. That's important with so many insurance companies in financial trouble, Harvey said.

Harvey said his site sold about 6,000 insurance policies in February -- about double the number he sold in the same month last year, he said.

"February is shaping up to be the best month in our history, which is kind of strange," he said. "What we think it is that although fewer people are traveling, much, much more of those are buying insurance."

He attributes the trend to the shaky economy.

The travel insurance industry has been growing since 2001, and policy sales amounted to more than $1.3 billion in 2006, the most recent year of data, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association.

The trade association and travel insurance companies said it's difficult to say how many people are purchasing the policies because they want layoff insurance.

Harvey said his site has been getting frequent questions about layoff insurance since late last year.

"It never came up before -- it just was never an issue," he said.

Layoff insurance for travelers first became available about a year ago but has gained popularity as the economic recession has intensified, said Bob Chambers, director of operations for CSA Travel Protection, a major travel insurance provider.

"Typically a vacation is your third biggest investment after your house and your car," he said. "You protect those investments. Why wouldn't you protect this one?"

Chambers declined to release specific data on the company's sales increase.

Linda Kundell, spokeswoman for the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, said insurance policies are becoming common for lengthy and international trips. About 30 percent of all cruise goers, leisure travelers and international travelers now buy travel insurance, she said.

"If you're buying a high-ticket item, of course, you're far more likely to buy travel insurance because there's far more money at stake," she said.

Christina Tunnah, American marketing director for Lonely Planet, a brand of travel guidebooks, said all travelers these days should purchase insurance -- whether they fear job loss or not.

"The travel industry has been decimated, and so there's a lot of jitters out there," she said. "It's good to know there's something a traveler can absolutely bank on when the rest is so uncertain about their trip."

Harvey and Chambers warned against "cancel for any reason" plans, which give travelers refunds for layoffs or just about any other thing.

Chambers said those policies are expensive and difficult to price because there are unlimited risks for the insurance company.

He also said it's a good idea for consumers to check with the Better Business Bureau, ustia.org or watchdog groups to make sure the insurance company they're buying from is legitimate.

And one last warning: Some Web sites sell "travel protection" that isn't backed by a real insurance company, he said.

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But once you've sorted through the maze of policies and decided on one that fits you, Chambers said, one of the biggest benefits is stress relief.

"The peace of mind is worth something, too," he said. "You may not have any inkling that a job might be in jeopardy anytime soon, but, personally, I would rather have that assurance that I'm taken care of."

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