Jim Grace, CEO of InsureMyTrip in the call center

Jim Grace, CEO of InsureMyTrip in the call cente

Tribune Content Agency

It would have been a perfect vacation day, if not for the emergency room.

After a bad fall on a Colorado ski slope, the ski patrollers who brought me down the mountain thought I was seriously injured, thus the ambulance trip to the ER, the extra oxygen in high altitude and a CAT scan. Fortunately, I wasn’t as badly injured as they thought, but we didn’t find that out until several hours had passed and we’d racked up more than $1,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Luckily, I had travel insurance that picked up all those out-of-pocket expenses. I know most families don’t think they need travel insurance, but it really can save the day — and lots of money as costs can run into six figures when someone must be evacuated in a medical emergency. And, as travel insurers note, that is as likely to happen at a Mexican resort as on a cruise ship in some exotic locale.

“You can be in a taxi and get in an accident,” notes Dr. William Brady, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Virginia Medical School, who also serves as the medical director for Allianz, one of the largest travel providers in the world. A baby’s cold develops into a serious respiratory infection, for example, when you are vacationing on a small Caribbean island. Dr. Brady oversees the team deciding if someone with Allianz insurance needs to be medically evacuated and has handled cases where children have had to be evacuated for various ills because appropriate medical care wasn’t available.

According to Dr. Brady, most Americans traveling overseas simply assume medical care will be comparable to what they are accustomed to in the United States, but that is not necessarily the case. Families also don’t realize that many travel insurance policies (figure the cost at 5 percent to 10 percent the cost of your trip) cover kids under 17 free when traveling with an insured immediate family member, said Lynne Peters, product director at Insuremytrip.com. (Just make sure to read the fine print — will the kids be covered if traveling with grandparents? Is it one child per one insured adult?)

Remember medical evacuation is just one way travel insurance comes into play. Consider that each year, Allianz receives 8,000 requests for help, but only 400 require medical evacuation for seriously injured or ill customers. Consider how much it could cost if:

— Your child gets an ear infection and you must reschedule flights

— Your father gets sick and you have to cancel the trip that you’ve already paid for

— Weather causes airline delays that keep you from getting to your vacation destination for several days — or leaves you stranded when you miss your connecting flight.

— Your luggage gets lost — and doesn’t reappear before you board your cruise ship

— You fall on a cruise excursion and break a bone

— The school schedule is extended because of snow days and you have to postpone your trip

I’ve either experienced these situations, or know of people who have — in most cases, without travel insurance and incurring hefty unexpected expenses as a result.

But before purchasing a policy, read all of the fine print:

— Can you cancel for any reason, if you have a certain upgraded policy?

— If you are going to an exotic locale, do you have enough coverage in case a medical evacuation is required?

— Are all of your kids covered free?

— Do you have to pay expenses upfront? (In some countries, patients are required to pay first. Travel insurance can guarantee those costs.)

— Should you buy the resort or cruise company’s policy? (Third-party insurance is often more comprehensive compared to what is offered from the cruise line, says Rachel Taft, a spokesperson for the travel insurance comparison site SquareMouth.

— Are you covered if you have a pre-existing condition?

If you are still thinking travel insurance isn’t necessary this winter, consider the unpredictable weather. According to Taft, inclement weather accounted for a quarter of the claims last winter.

Airlines typically don’t help you with anything other than rebooking a flight — and that might be three days later — if weather is to blame. One year, we had to scuttle an entire Caribbean vacation when a blizzard stopped air traffic in the northeast for several days. By the time we could have gotten a flight, we would have had to come home to get back to work. Others were stuck at their vacation destinations, having to pay for several more nights of lodging.

And there is the domino effect. When 1,200 Chicago flights were canceled one day in mid-December, those connecting through Chicago were in trouble, as were those elsewhere in the country when planes and crews couldn’t get where they were scheduled to be.

Travel insurance can help travelers with expenses like hotels, meals and prepaid expenses (for the nights they miss at a resort or on a cruise ship), said Taft, as long as you have bought your policy before the storm is named.

Travel Delay coverage may cover the unused part of your prepaid expenses or reasonable extra expenses you incur during your delay, said Daniel Durazo, the spokesman for Allianz. He noted the company’s most popular Classic Plan provides coverage of $200 per person per day with a maximum of $800.

I wish we’d had that when we were delayed overnight in Minneapolis with our three kids. Bad weather delayed our first flight from Wyoming and caused us and an entire plane full of people to miss their connections.

The best part of travel insurance: the de-stress factor. You’re worried enough when vacation plans get derailed, especially when there’s a medical emergency.

With travel insurance, you make a call and they’ve got your back. That’s worth it to me.

(For more Taking the Kids, visit ttk-old.o2dev.net and also follow “taking the kids” on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)