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Travel Assistance vs. Travel Insurance: What’s the Difference?

Knowing these essential differences in travel protection could greatly minimize your financial and medical risks while traveling.

There’s a lot of hope and optimism at the beginning of a vacation — you’re traveling to unfamiliar places to explore and experience new cultures, cuisines, historical and geographical landmarks, outdoor adventures and more. You expect to hit all of the stops on your itinerary, have a wonderful time, take hundreds of pictures, get home safely and brag about your trip to friends and family upon your return. 

Hopefully, that’s how the vacation turns out. However, travelers must also prepare for the unexpected. The best way to prepare is to ensure that no matter what scenario you might encounter, you have the right coverage and protection in place to get you through. 

Travel insurance and travel assistance have long been confused as similar products, but there are many important distinctions when comparing what each product is vs. what it is not. In short, travel assistance primarily helps arrange and provide transportation for medical emergencies during travel, while travel insurance typically handles reimbursements for prepaid, non-refundable expenses — such as cancelled reservations, lost luggage or medical expenses — at a later date. 

Because travel assistance is typically sold as an annual membership, there’s nothing left to pay for once the product is purchased. If you need assistance while traveling — such as an emergency medical evacuation, a nurse escort, medical transportation or arrangements for a traveling companion, among countless other services — a travel assistance product takes care of the arrangements and the costs at the moment they’re needed. 

Here’s a look at some of the major differences between travel assistance and travel insurance:


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Travel Assistance:

  • Worry-free, immediate assistance in case of an emergency while traveling – all arrangements are made on your behalf at no additional cost
  • Annual membership means services are available on any trip, anytime, for a full year — including trips within your membership year that you haven’t even booked or planned yet
  • Real-time destination services, like weather and security updates, that make a difference
  • No need to worry about submitting claims upon your return home
  • Services include emergency medical evacuation; transportation home after hospital discharge; return of vehicle; return of traveling companion; nurse escort; return of deceased remains and more
  • One annual fee protects all trips taken during that year.

Travel Insurance:

  • Compensates or reimburses travelers for financial risks — such as hotel reservations, airline tickets, lost luggage, medical emergencies and other expenses — due to unforeseen emergencies before or while traveling
  • Coverage is only good for one trip within a specific time frame
  • Requires travelers to file claims for reimbursement
  • Claims require thorough documentation, and approvals are not guaranteed
  • Plan can only be purchased after travel arrangements have been made
  • Price varies based on purchaser's demographics and trip details
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If I have both medical and travel insurance, do I also need travel assistance?

Most travelers have health insurance when they embark on an adventure, and some also plan ahead by purchasing trip insurance for nonrefundable costs or cancellations coverage. However, travel assistance products, like Emergency Assistance Plus® (EA+®), are going to take care of transportation costs for medical emergencies you may never anticipate while traveling. To be fully protected against financial or medical risks during a trip, it’s best to have all three types of protection in place. 

If you’re traveling alone and you end up in a hospital, services under a travel assistance plan would provide flights for a friend or family member to come to your bedside or provide arrangements for that person to travel with you upon release from the hospital. If you’re a grandparent on a trip to Disney World with your grandchildren, a travel assistance plan will ensure the grandkids get home safely if you become hospitalized due to a medical emergency. 

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Assistance in your time of need (an important distinction)


Emotions often go into overdrive when unplanned life events happen while traveling. In the midst of being faced with important decisions, there can be language barriers and unfamiliar bureaucracies that create additional chaos or confusion. Travel Assistance plans like EA+ step in to help members in those exact moments, arranging for services that would be cumbersome and costly to coordinate independently. 

These services are arranged at the time they’re needed, and in fact that is how the plans are designed. Without pesky claims to file or reimbursements to wait for, travel assistance offers peace of mind to travelers while they’re in the midst of a stressful situation. 

Travel Assistance plans like EA+ offer members these important services around the world. With 25 years experience assisting millions of travelers, members can rest assured knowing that these emergency travel- and medical-related services are just a phone call away.

These time-of-need services* include:

  • Emergency Medical Evacuation – from an inappropriate facility to an appropriate one
  • Transportation After Stabilization – to get you home safely after your hospitalization 
  • Nurse Escort – provided if your condition necessitates additional assistance on the way home
  • Return of Traveling Companion – gets your spouse and/or companion home, as well
  • RV/Vehicle Return – gets your vehicle home if your injury or illness prevents you from driving it home yourself

EA+ is committed to providing services that take care of its members and their families during medical emergencies while traveling. The level of care EA+ provides its members isn't typically provided by traditional health or travel insurance plans.


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Stressful travel scenarios saved by EA+ membership


From providing airline tickets and nurse escorts to arranging for vehicles to be transported home, EA+ member services are designed to remove stress during difficult situations. 

EA+ members Curt and Judy had been preparing for their road trip to Mexico for months. They couldn’t wait to go on their whale watching and cave painting tours. A couple days after their arrival, Curt came down with a terrible cough and couldn’t seem to catch his breath. The doctors found fluid in Curt’s lungs and diagnosed him with pneumonia and influenza. They told Curt that he needed to be transferred to a larger hospital—and soon. That’s when Judy called EA+. 

The EA+ team jumped in and after working directly with the attending doctors to get a better understanding of Curt’s condition, it was determined that they needed to evacuate him to a more appropriate facility that could properly treat Curt’s condition. The EA+ team arranged and provided an air ambulance for Curt and Judy to San Diego along with a medical team to monitor Curt’s illness.  In San Diego, the doctors were able to stabilize Curt’s condition. Curt said, “If EA+ had not got us there when they did, I may not have arrived alive.”

When the doctors and the EA+ medical team deemed it was medically safe for Curt to recuperate at home, EA+ arranged and provided flights for Curt and Judy to their home in Denver as well as a nurse escort to accompany them and ensure Curt received continued care, as it was medically necessary for his condition. Judy was finally able to relax knowing they’d soon be home. But then she remembered their car! It was still in Mexico. She told EA+ and the EA+ coordinators arranged for Judy’s friend to fly down to Mexico and drive their car back to Denver for them. Curt and Judy couldn’t believe the relief EA+ provided for them in such a frightening situation. 


Travel Assistance Article About EA+

About Emergency Assistance Plus (EA+)


EA+ is a travel assistance product that protects members whenever they are traveling away from home and become hospitalized due to injury or illness. EA+ delivers more than 20 services to help members in this time of need.

EA+ is a membership program, not an insurance plan. Once members pay the annual fee, they do not have to pay for any of the provided services. EA+ makes all arrangements and covers all of the costs for the services on the members’ behalf, so they never have to worry about submitting claims for reimbursement. Member’s have to call EA+ during their emergency to be eligible for services.

For more information about rates and membership benefits, click here.

*This is only an outline of the plan's features. Hospitalization (admitted as an inpatient) is a requirement to be eligible for some services. All services must be arranged and provided by EA+. Please read your Member Guide carefully to understand all the services available to you, as well as any rules and regulations. Click here to view a sample of the EA+ Plan details. Washington state residents must be traveling more than 100 miles away from home to be eligible for EA+ services.