Accident and Rescue Insurance Tips — Part One

Post by blogger | August 30, 2016      

(Update 2016, this article is under heavy revision. While most of it is accurate, please verify before basing any financial decisions on our information. I’m bringing this up to the front per the start of a new ski touring season here in the northern hemisphere. Avoid adding hurt to your hurt; be sure you have the appropriate rescue and medical coverage for the countries you’ll be skiing in.)

Essential equipment for ski mountaineering?

Essential equipment for ski mountaineering? American Alpine Club membership helps support their library and publications, as well as getting you hut discounts in Europe. But not so fast on the 'rescue benefit.'

To begin this article I had a few paragraphs on the health insurance situation here in the United States. That’s in flux now and too confusing to cover in brief, so I deleted those grafs. Main point in regard to the backcountry travel and rescue insurance options covered below, is be sure you have some sort of accident-medical insurance that’ll handle your expenses AFTER the rescue. (Note, if you are truly indigent and have no medical insurance, contrary to worldwide mythology about the satanic U.S. you will not be turned away for emergency treatment and you’ll probably have your medical care paid for by the indigent care programs that many states have. Also note that those 64 years and older here in the U.S. are of course eligible for Medicaid, which is indeed the “one payer” medical insurance system that many would like to see extended to our entire population.)

Beyond your medical insurance, if you’re a backcountry recreator you need to be sure an injury and rescue isn’t going to bankrupt you. That’s what this article is about.

(Note, some rescue services are not technically “insurance” companies but rather provide a “service” and offer “benefits.” In this blog post, I use the term “insurance” loosely as a lay term of art for any service that you pay an up-front fee for in return for emergent services or possible later expense coverage.)

In our opinion the best general accident/medical insurance for traveling is that offered by Travel Guard as part of their trip insurance. Someone in our family had a major medical problem a few years ago. Travel Guard flew him back home first-class, and paid most of our medical expenses not covered by our medical insurance. Caveats with Travel Guard:

1.) Travel Guard only covers you while you’re traveling, according to the time period you specify when you purchase.
2.) After an injury or during illness, you must visit a doctor while you are traveling. Wait ’til you get home, and no coverage!
3.) Study the fine print and if necessary purchase the “extreme sports” rider, otherwise you may not be covered for skiing and climbing.
4.) Travel insurance is not cheap.
5.) We never buy travel insurance bundled with tickets, as doing so involves too many variables. Better to get the tickets first, then go to Travel Guard website and shop. You can get Travel Guard for an automobile trip but doing so is confusing as they’re set up for air travel.
6.) Some rescue expenses are included in the basic policy; read fine print and be careful not to throw money away by over-insuring yourself.

If you buy tickets with a credit card, you may have some limited medical coverage. As near as I can tell this only applies when you’re actually on the conveyance you paid for, and is so limited in scope (as well as not being primary insurance) as to be of little to no value. I actually attempted to use my credit card medical coverage once, and had zero success.

So, what about specific Accident and Rescue Insurance in addition to travel insurance?

Rescue in the U.S. and Canada is free, it’s usually a government service. But once you are transferred to an ambulance, then let the financial games begin. Rescue in Europe is not free, and rescue in 3rd or 2nd world countries is likely to involve expensive private services such as aircraft, not to mention bribes and such. You could even be asked to pay up-front. As in “DAME tu tarjeta de crédito, gringo!” which translates to (friend, use that good hand to hand me your credit card, then we’ll bandage the bad one!).

You can acquire rescue insurance or a “rescue benefit program” a number of ways. Beware, some of these are limited and lame — study the fine print like your wallet depended on it — because it does. For example, be aware that very little if any of this stuff covers the cost of a backcountry search. It covers the cost of rescue for a person or persons in a known situation and location.

1.) Travel Guard coverage, which of course only works for traveling. Study the fine print when purchasing and make sure it’s what you need. Beware of limitations but this can likely be all you need when combined with an alpine club membership that’ll take care of European rescue. As mentioned above, we’ve had good experiences with Travel Guard so long as we adhered to the fine print.

2.) Alpine club memberships.

American Alpine Club (AAC) has a member’s benefit program that they tout as “Protect yourself with $12,500 of rescue coverage.” Last time we looked at the fine print, $7,500 of that money is only available if somehow your rescue is “by or under the direction of Global Rescue personnel.”

It’s confusing.

In a _first world_ country, any astute backcountry traveler needing a rescue is going to call or otherwise contact the local authorities first who are the legal directors and commanders of any rescue. For example, in Europe you’re going to call their emergency phone number (is it 112?), or your guide is going to radio SAR directly. Again, you’ll need a club membership to be covered for that, otherwise you may be billed possibly huge amounts of money. In the U.S. and Canada, where rescue is nearly always free, you’re going to call 911 or even make a direct call to your SAR friends and the hospital helicopter service (or use something like a SPOT, which will result in their call center doing the same process of contacting local authorities).

BUT, if you’re in a third or second world country or in doubt about who to call for rescue, the best procedure is to contact the Global Rescue phone number first. Program their number into your satphone or DeLorme inReach, and test. In our opinion, having a 2-way comms device for this is mandatory. Global Rescue appears to agree. Thus, forget the SPOT device and carry either a satphone or inReach.

Adding to the confusion, the AAC website implies their coverage only applies if you are doing “human powered” activities. Does that pertain to Global Rescue? Or, does that mean the AAC rescue insurance of $5,000 is only for human powered activities?

Answer is that the coverage you receive through AAC is very inexpensive compared to direct coverage purchased from Global Rescue, but does have some limitations. Mainly, that you need to be engaged in a land based human powered activity (e.g., a kayak accident is not covered).

Thus, if your Global Rescue is acquired as part of AAC membership, one would assume that if you were in an automobile accident while doing a remote approach drive to a climb, say on a 4×4 trail, you don’t get any benefits? Further, apparently you’re not covered if you’re in an accident while riding a snowmobile, helicopter or other motorized conveyance, common situations for backcountry skiers. Also, be aware that the $7,500 provided by AAC membership can be minimal, I’d advise anyone to supplement with additional coverage (AAC gives a 5% discount on that).

Global Rescue gets mixed reviews. Even their example rescues on their website are mixed. For example, they describe a mission in Alaska they claim as a success, but as far as we know the same rescue would have occurred if the Alaskan authorities had been contacted, and Global Rescue had not been involved. Also, Global Rescue may require you stick perfectly to their fine print. From what I gather, that includes them hiring the helicopter — and you needing to be bad enough off TO REQUIRE IN-PATIENT HOSPITALIZATION. In other words, they’re not going to help you unless you’re so hurt or sick you need at least one night in the hospital. (More on this below.) Also know that Global Rescue does not organize or pay for searches, they deal with rescue. Further, their maximum rescue budget is $500,000, and much less than that for the transport of “mortal remains.” Their fine print is here for a direct purchase of Global Rescue, we are unclear as to whether any fine print is available for the specific AAC agreement with Global Rescue.

For example, let’s say you dislocate a shoulder and you’re in the middle of nowhere, three days walk from safety and you can’t carry a pack. Your injury doesn’t require hospitalization. In that case, it is possible Global Rescue (AAC or direct purchase) will not help you (though it sounds like they give benefit of the doubt, see comments below). Instead, you may need some other form of rescue insurance.

More about Global Rescue’s party line: “Global Rescue is not an insurance company – we do not reimburse members at a later date for costs incurred. We are a membership organization and provide upfront services only, not reimbursement… As a service provider, unlike insurance, Global Rescue or one of our contracted providers must perform the rescue. In order for this to happen, we must be contacted and a request placed for our services.”

In other words, if Global Rescue decides you need a helicopter, they hire it and pay for it. That’s why unless they are contacted first and “direct” your rescue, you’re not going to get anything out of them except a phone conversation. For example, let’s say you trigger a rescue using your SPOT device. The GEOS center that receives and acts on SPOT alerts is going to be the first “coordinator” of your emergency. This obviates any financial or other benefit you could receive from Global Rescue. Again, part of using Global Rescue is the pretty much mandatory requirement of a 2-way communication.

As of 2016 here are some of the the summarized “Transport Rules” available on the Global Rescue (GR) website. We’ve heard they’re fairly liberal in interpreting their rules. Nonetheless, as you can see they have broad discretion as they’re the ones to determine the situation after you describe it using your 2-way communication device. My notes notes in parenthesis:

  • Hospitalized or in need of hospitalization more than 100 miles from home. (Meaning this is absolutely useless for those of us living in mountain towns and climbing or skiing local)
  • Field Rescue services will provide transport to the nearest appropriate facility if the member’s condition requires hospitalization or is likely to cause serious permanent injury or death if they are unable to get to a hospital. (Gives broad powers of interpretation to GR, which they clearly need, but could result in your being refused service.)
  • Country where patient is hospitalized must be able to safely accommodate Global Rescue aircraft, ground or sea transport. (Again, could be problematic, Antarctica?).
  • If the member is able to safely fly commercially with a medical escort, Global Rescue will make all necessary arrangements for this alternative
  • All services must be arranged and provided by Global Rescue. (The big gotcha, call them first using satellite comms or you’re out of luck.)
  • Individual members are limited to two (2) transports per year. (Reasonable, but be aware of this, luck happens.)
  • Family membership transports are limited to (1) transport each for a common accident or two (2) transports in aggregate
  • Members who become ill on cruise ships must disembark at an accessible medical facility or port. (Please define ‘cruise ship.’)

The other $5,000 part of the AAC “benefit” is a “Domestic Rescue Insurance Policy.” You can only claim this after a rescue in the United States. Since most U.S. rescue is free, this benefit is of limited value though it could come in handy if your rescue involved a private party, or could perhaps be invoked to help SAR recoup some expenses. If you did need to hire a private aircraft for a rescue, $5,000 is a mere pittance in comparison to what you might end up owing a helicopter service. Again, beware the fine print, especially the need for you to be “Certified by a licensed medical professional to require evacuation to prevent serious imminent bodily harm, injury or death.” I’m not sure what that means. You break your leg, you call 911. Where in that process are you “certified!?”

Again, the tried and true way to avoid rescue costs in Western Europe is to purchase a membership in any of the major alpine clubs. To do so in English, use the UK website for the Austrian Alpine Club. Main thing is that while all the alpine clubs including AAC reciprocate hut discounts, you need a European club membership to have their rescue insurance.

Beware of over-insuring yourself. For example, if you are ski touring in Europe and have a European alpine club membership, you might choose to not buy other forms of rescue insurance, though you might consider travel insurance accident coverage as well.

WARNING: If you have multiple insurance policies, know that if you require reimbursement for an insured expense, they don’t all pay at once. The process can take hours of work and you may not see results for months or literally years. The gotcha is that the companies will attempt to point fingers and claim they are not the “primary insurer” and ask for proof that you’ve made a claim against primary insurer first. You can end up going in circles with this, while financing your expenses with a credit card loan. To prevent such problems, Travel Guard for example is specific about whether you’re buying “primary” insurance or not. Check and be sure your best insurance is your primary insurance, so you’ll get reimbursed quickly.

3.) Bundled with your purchase of SPOT or other personal beacon device.

Here I refer to the infamous $12.95 a year appendage you can purchase when you buy a SPOT. So much fine print and limitations this is obviously just a scam to drop coin in SPOT’s pocket. As I’ve written before, offering this cheapens SPOT’s otherwise good name. Can also be bought as stand-alone, if you’re looking for a way to waste money. Instead, cover yourself with Global Rescue and-or your travel insurance.

4.) Bought stand-alone from,
This is the same Global Rescue we covered above, that’s offered as part of an AAC membership. It’s expensive, with a few mixed reviews, but when used correctly for the right situations (and you’ve purchased a high enough level of coverage) this outfit is functional. Not necessary for U.S., Canada or western Europe, but might be what you need if you’re traveling in third or second world. Short term available, but beware of overlap and conflict with normal travel insurance. Remember you’ll need a 2-way satellite comms device and that this is a rescue and medical consultation service, they don’t do searches.

Conclusion: Covering yourself for rescue expenses reimbursement is a complicated endeavor. You can easily throw money away. One incorrect phone call or ignorance of fine-print can result in you receiving no benefits from “insurance,” financial or otherwise. Nonetheless if at all possible always cover yourself with rescue insurance if you’re mountaineering in a country without free rescue.

See Part Two – Accident Insurance. And please folks, all comments appreciated as I’m certain many of you know way more about this stuff than I do.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


73 Responses to “Accident and Rescue Insurance Tips — Part One”

  1. Josh Masur June 12th, 2013 11:56 am

    Not sure where this fits into your rubric, but I’ve been paying for air transport insurance through Calstar for several years now . It’s cheap (looks like it’s going up $5 to $50/family/year now), reciprocity covers evac from the areas where I and my family ski, and it means that I won’t be stuck with a $20k bill if I ever need to be choppered out. Haven’t had to use it, and hope I never will, but I think it’s a reasonable investment in peace of mind.

  2. John Yates June 12th, 2013 12:05 pm

    The Canadian health care system is not, strictly speaking, “socialized medicine”. A socialized health care system is one in which the government owns the medical facilities, as is the case in the UK. The Canadian system is a single payer system, where the government pays private hospitals, doctors, etc. for their services.

    Given that words like “socialized” are so emotionally charged for many people, I think it’s good to be precise.

  3. Steve June 12th, 2013 12:05 pm

    Like Josh just said, I’ve got my family covered with Omni Advantage. They’ll cover the difference between the total bill and what my regular health insurance pays for air med services. That includes non-wilderness or accident related air ambulance services too. $50 a year, $40 for groups like ski patrol, etc. Considering it’s like $10k just to fire that heli up, and a normal deductible is 20%, I figure there’s an unfortunately good chance that someone in my family in the next 20 years will need that service. Their website shows the covered network.

  4. Joe June 12th, 2013 12:20 pm

    Note, a chopper evac is normally only around $800. It is the medical attention that costs you. And NO, buying a fishing license to your state does not provide free evac, it merely DONATES to their budget. Calling search and rescue is free, and the evac is provided by your local tax dollars…just in case people were about to argue that point.

  5. Lou Dawson June 12th, 2013 12:23 pm

    Yates, I’ll change the wording, good point. Thanks, Lou

  6. Lou Dawson June 12th, 2013 12:32 pm

    Thanks for the additional ideas you guys. I’ll read the fine print and perhaps add some options to the blog post. Beyond that, I’d suggest that you do intense study of the fine-print for any gap or rescue insurance. It has amazed me how tough it is to actually receive $$$ coverage, rather than just the good feeling of thinking we are covered. Much of that has been the result of my own mistakes in not following the fine-print. But in my own defense, what am I supposed to be doing with my life, sitting here memorizing 4 different insurance policies so in the off chance event something happens, I behave correctly and can actually get some coverage that’ll keep us from going broke? Yeah yeah, the Affordable Care Act will solve that? I happen to be a doubter, but am keeping an open mind.

  7. Lou Dawson June 12th, 2013 12:34 pm

    I’ll admit that I did watch Sicko even though I can’t stand Michael Moore (grin). That way I’m qualified to whine about insurance (grin).

  8. Wookie June 12th, 2013 12:51 pm

    Are you sure about reciprocity with the Austrian Alpine Club (ÖAV)? I seem to remember that they do not have reciprocity with the Germans (DAV) at least, perhaps others.
    This tends to be a moot point for most locals here as the majority of Germans and Austrians are touring in either Austria or Bavaria, and while the Austrians do not honor DAV memberships, they DO honor Bavarian ones – which, it so happens, are given to anyone who joins the DAV IN Bavaria.
    So you are covered, unless you go out of Austria or Bavaria or South Tyrol, (say France) and want coverage. Or you buy your Alpine club membership out of Bavaria or Austria and need help in Austria.
    I’m not sure about this. Once had it explained over Glühwein on a cold Christmas holiday.

  9. Lou Dawson June 12th, 2013 12:59 pm

    Wookie, we’ve had 100% success with reciprocity. Including just using the AAC card and my OAV membership. Often they ask if you’re an Alpine Club member and don’t even ask for a card. Essentially, from what I’ve seen the club rate is the going rate and the rack rate is there just because it makes the “discounted” club rate look like a discount. Trying to think which countries we’ve used it, Austria, Switzerland, Germany for sure, can’t remember if I’d used it for Italy or France.

  10. Steve June 12th, 2013 1:58 pm

    Like you say, SAR in the U.S. is generally free (unless you’re a total bozo). I don’t have any experience internationally, but I have a friend who’s had two air med evacs in his family. One in the Wind Rivers when his daughter started having severe abdominal problems that turned out to be kidney stones. They ran into an outfitter with a sat phone who called it in. No SAR involved, only the air med. The second was him, when he got his helmet smashed by a rock on Mt. Moran in the Tetons. I called that one in from the ledge next to him. The rescue off the mountain was free, but the air med flight to Idaho Falls wasn’t. I can’t remember how exactly what his copay was, but it was in the neighborhood of a couple nice touring setups.
    I think the biggest small print question is the “medically necessary” clause. As determined by whom? My Omni Advantage form says “determined by my Insurance, based on information from the attending physician.” So if the SAR guys think, say, a displaced humerus fracture with diminished CMS needs an air evac, can the Insurance guy say “well, it’s just an arm, you could’ve walked out” ? I don’t know. I guess I’m trying to be blissfully ignorant and hope I never have to find out.

  11. Mark sickles June 12th, 2013 2:09 pm

    To avoid language problems for the Austrian Mountain Club, OEAV, use their UK section website. It is all in English

  12. Ricardo June 12th, 2013 2:27 pm

    Great article. Looking forward to hearing what you have to say about accident insurance. Maybe for a third part you could add a life insurance post as well?

  13. AndyC June 12th, 2013 3:15 pm

    FWIW, my neighbor’s son had an accident on his dirt bike at an ORV area and the paramedics called for a heli evac: it cost him and his family $25,000. The family is low income and didn’t have insurance. The father will be making monthly payments on the hospital bills for the rest of his life. Yes, there was a reduced amount, but the bill is huge. The reduction (and unpaid bills) are passed on to those with health insurance to the tune of $1,200/yr in premiums.

  14. Scott June 12th, 2013 4:20 pm

    I second what mark suggested. Joining the uk chapter of the AAC was easy as pie. Just remember to take your membership card with you when you actually go to Europe, doh.

  15. John June 12th, 2013 7:39 pm

    Global Rescue added an additional fee for travel to North or South pole. They may be the only viable option for such, as was the case a few years ago.

  16. Chris Simmons June 12th, 2013 7:57 pm

    Lou, I don’t think you’re entirely correct about calling for a rescue. According to this page:

    “To use your Trailhead Rescue benefit, AAC members must call Global Rescue as soon as possible during an emergency. When injured within the United States, members should call 911 immediately and then contact Global Rescue as soon as possible during the course of the rescue. The 24-hour Global Rescue Operation Center phone number is 1-617-459-4200.”

    So I read that as ‘contact us as soon as you can’. Clearly, they’re not going to step in and take over rescue ops from the local SAR team.

    Maybe try contacting Steve House for his perspective. He required a rescue from North Temple in Canada and used AAC / Global Rescue and in public spoke positively about the experience.

  17. Bob Coleman June 12th, 2013 9:16 pm

    I’ve used Travelex with adventure option and REGA in Switzerland. Didn’t need to use either. I think I’ll go with Travel Guard in the future. Seems their reviews are better. I had great confidence that REGA would come get us if needed. I am looking at using Aiut Alpin Dolomites next year for the dolomites area.

  18. Erik Erikson June 12th, 2013 10:52 pm

    Regarding the Austrian alpine club (OEAV):
    – They do have reciprocity with every other alpine club at least in europe (and I am sure also America), you have all advantages also in germany, italy and so on
    – insurance is valid worldwide, see here (lower part of the page in english) or for more detail here . Costs for a rescue are covered up to 25000 Euros for example
    – Further advantages: Sleeping on huts is not only much cheaper, but you also have the right to get a place there in any case;
    You can lend guide – and other books from the library of the club, they have quite a lot, especially in the offices of the larger cities (Innsbruck, Salzburg…);
    You also can lend all maps you ever could need for free; You can lend gear (crampons, beacons and so on) for very little money;
    Last but not least: With your membership-subscription you support the alpine club in taking a stand for issues backcountry skiers would normally support (for example building no more skilifts in great backcountry-/Touring areas and so on)

    Lou, If you have problems in understanding the german-language webpage of the OEAV: I´d be glad to translate parts of it for you if necessary – problem could be, that maybe my english is also hard to understand… 😉

  19. gringo June 13th, 2013 5:53 am

    I’ll second the REGA option if you can get it.
    They have a private fleet of aircraft to the tune of 17 helis and 3 small jets, not only will they pluck you off of a mountain with a long line, snatch you from a car wreck if there is bad traffic and the ambulance could be delayed, but they will also come with the jet to repatriate you from Pakistan if needed. All this of course for a yearly premium of only 30 chf.

    best deal in the business if you ask me.
    I have been happily paying them for a piece of mind or several years now.

  20. Murray Chapman June 13th, 2013 7:50 am

    Even the UK isn’t socialized medicine. Whilst the government own many hospitals they’ve also used private providers for years. The tendency now is to have more specialized units. For example, my mother in law was recently treated in a private clinic specializing in upper spine operations. The NHS commissioned and paid for the work.

  21. Jon Miller June 13th, 2013 9:09 am

    My skiing/climbing partner and I used Global Rescue in Nepal a couple of years ago. He blew up his ankle near base camp and we were looking at a long and painful evac via yak and horse.

    We called Global Rescue via our sat phone. They were very helpful, and willing to use our experience and contacts to get a helicopter as cheap as possible. To get a bird it was $7000 up front, they paid the $5000 and we did the rest. So not really and insurance, but a coordination and cash kick start to the process. A great bonus to AAC membership in my opinion!

  22. Lou Dawson June 13th, 2013 10:06 am

    All, I was away from the computer for 12 hours (up at WildSnow Field HQ). Thanks for the comments. Erik, your comment was being held in moderation due to the links, apologies.

    From what I’m seeing here, the problem with uncertainty about Global Rescue could be easily solved by them re-writing and editing their website for more clarity, and publishing a number of examples of how their service was used by real people. Problem is, clarity does not work in their favor, as the more vague their written policy the easier it is for them to adjust their level of service. The part that concerns me most is their requirement that the injury or illness be severe.

    I of course understand that they can’t be paying for evacs of folks with hangovers, but on the other hand it seems problematic if your evac is hanging on their interpretation of your injury during a satphone call that’s possibly only lasting minutes before dropping service. What is more, they’re obviously not going to respond to a one-way communication such as SPOT, as they need to know if you really need an evac.

    Frankly, I was thinking about calling Global Rescue, but in my experience these types of companies just basically read policy off their website when called, and waste time.

    The comments are golden to help with more clarity.

    Jon, your story is good. How did Global Rescue decide you fit their criteria for a helicopter?

  23. Jon Miller June 13th, 2013 1:31 pm

    We were a 9 day trek from Lukla with a lower leg injury. We basically told them it was a helicopter or nothing. Fortunately they didn’t hassle us on the issue. They also didn’t bring up anything about an overnight hospital stay or anything. The guy I talked to said we were the first operation they ran in Nepal. We actually hooked them up with our trekking agent to get all the logistics worked out. Did a nice job in the end.

    I skipped the bird and hiked out myself. There was a 10 day general strike in Kathmandu, by the time I got there my partners looked like something out of Fear and Loathing.

  24. wfinley June 13th, 2013 5:23 pm

    My wife got frostbite on Aconcogua. We descended to base camp and were advised to not walk out. We called Global Rescue and informed them we’d like to coordinate a flight out. While they scrambled to figure out what was going we were able to coordinate a flight out via the base camp operator we had hired to haul our stuff in (Grajales). I called Global Rescue back and informed them that Grajales had coordinated a heli flight. Global Rescue then coordinated direct payment to Grajales. Was on the phone with Global Rescue all of 10 minutes and found them to be pretty easy to work with.

    As for the Alps… prior to a recent trip there I called Global Rescue and asked about the process for rescue. They said that while they would like to be contacted first they understood that the Alps are different in that rescue is practically immediate if you call directly. In an event where you call direct for rescue they said they needed to be informed as soon as possible if we wanted to make a claim.

  25. Lou Dawson June 13th, 2013 6:05 pm

    Super you guys, thanks. Pretty weird they act one way and state different on their website. Perhaps they’ll read this and re-write the copy on their website… Lou

    P.S., I guess you need a satphone or cell phone with service for them to function?

  26. Global Rescue June 19th, 2013 9:10 am

    Hi Everyone,

    Global Rescue here. It’s great to see such an active discussion, especially including some Global Rescue members. Most of the information regarding Global Rescue is correct, but we thought it might help to clarify a few points. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us directly. Our team is available 24/7 on +1-617-459-4200.

    A few important points:

    1) Our operations centers are staffed 24/7 by our team of critical care paramedics, physicians, emergency room nurses and security specialists. When you call Global Rescue, these are the individuals who you speak with immediately and the people who manage your case from start to finish. While the trigger for Global Rescue to cover the costs of an evacuation is a condition requiring inpatient hospitalization, it’s important to note that GR isn’t just for emergencies. All of our memberships provide unlimited telemedicine support and we encourage our members to contact us, no matter how minor an issue may seem. There have been many instances where a member has called us for advice for what they believe is a minor issue, when in reality, our team determines that it’s actually something much more serious (sometimes requiring an evacuation). In addition to the paramedics and nurses as first line call takers, Global Rescue was founded in partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine and expert medical oversight is provided from over 2,400 of their specialists.

    2) All of our full memberships provide for evacuation from the exact point of illness or injury, all the way back to a member’s home country hospital of choice (AAC members get a 5% discount when upgrading to a full Global Rescue membership). All of our full memberships provide and pay for up to $500,000 of a member’s medical evacuation costs and if a member has upgraded to include security coverage, we will provide and pay for up to $100,000 of their security extraction costs.

    3) The Trailhead Rescue benefit we provide to AAC members offers up to $5,000 of international rescue coverage, as long as it is arranged by Global Rescue. When injured in the United States, members should call 911 immediately and then contact Global Rescue as soon as possible during the course of the rescue. In order to qualify for an evacuation through this benefit, an AAC member must be in need of an evacuation due to an illness or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization or to prevent serious imminent bodily harm, injury or death. The member must be beyond the trailhead to qualify for the services.

    4) Since Global Rescue is a membership organization, as opposed to insurance, we can’t reimburse a member for evacuation costs they have incurred independently. In the event of an emergency, our members should call us immediately, so that we can manage, coordinate and pay for an evacuation.

    5) While a SPOT device is a useful tool for determining the location of an individual, from a Global Rescue perspective, we strongly recommend a device that allows for 2-way communication. For Global Rescue to perform an evacuation, we need to understand the nature of the emergency, so that we can evaluate the appropriate response. Using the SPOT SOS function does not automatically void GR coverage, but obviously, if an independent rescue is triggered as a result of this and we have not been involved, we would not be able to reimburse these costs. SPOT provides an effective bundled SOS service within the U.S., where there is a network of emergency response services (still largely free to the end user), but outside of the U.S. any effective rescue would be through a private, paid-for provider. To facilitate and pay for such an evacuation would require additional coverage such as full Global Rescue membership or AAC Trailhead Rescue coverage.

    Thanks, everyone. Like I mentioned above, our team is available 24/7 and we’re happy to answer any questions you have.

    Don’t hesitate to reach us at I 800.381.9754 I +1.617.459.4200 INTL.


    The Global Rescue Team

  27. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2013 9:35 am

    Perfect! Thanks. But I hope your rescue response is quicker than how fast you comment on (grin). Lou

  28. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2013 9:40 am

    Seriously though, while this comment takes care of my question about the “call them first” issue, the “in-patient” fine print is worrisome. These days, a vast majority of hospital treatment is out-patient. The person’s comment above does NOT address this issue. So I’m left with the conclusion that the vast majority of medical conditions or injuries requiring rescue/evac will not be paid for by Global Rescue. Thus, I see their service as very limited in value since it’s essential a “major medical” version of rescue “insurance.”

  29. Global Rescue June 19th, 2013 9:40 am

    Thanks Lou…we weren’t followers but certainly are now!

  30. Global Rescue June 19th, 2013 10:26 am


    Our trigger to cover the costs of an evacuation is what it is and it is great that forums such as this can make that clear. It is important.

    There are certainly cases where a member is seeking a rescue and does not meet the trigger however it is not the case that this applies to the ‘vast majority’. We execute hundreds of successful rescues/evacuations every year and it is a small percentage that are not paid for by Global Rescue because the trigger is not met.

    I’d also (of course!) have to disagree with the ‘very limited in value’ assessment. Putting the rescue and evacuation piece to one side for a minute, a big part of what we do on a daily basis is advisory in nature. A member is calling us with a medical concern, wanting to talk directly with a medical professional and get a second opinion. This front line call taker is a critical care paramedic and every single case (no matter how minor) is reviewed by a team of internal physicians. Once you overlay the oversight from Johns Hopkins Medicine, I think you have a level of medical support that is of incredible value. The majority of these cases are relatively minor in nature but every so often we have cases where our teams pick up on a potentially very serious issue that has been missed by the member themselves. This may well result in the need for evacuation.

    In my mind there is a fundamental difference between a crisis response company such as Global Rescue and an insurance company. One is structured to respond when you need help, the other to reimburse after the fact. Both have a place but we believe talking to a paramedic upfront and talking (if your lucky) to a claims adjuster after the event are two very different things. Slight tangent but I think it is an important point.

    You mentioned that it would be helpful to see how a service such as our works in practice. Feel free to visit out blog, we have a host of testimonials and accounts of past evacuations that might help.


    The Global Rescue Team

  31. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2013 10:40 am

    Team, your point about your EMS over the satphone service is well taken. Actually does sound like added value.

    As for keeping track of what people are saying, try Google Alerts…

    ‘best, Lou

  32. Dan June 30th, 2013 3:42 pm

    RE: The way I read the fine print for the British Section of the Austrian Alpine Club (OEAV): If you are injured, need rescuing, etc., the OEAV will want passport info on the initial call. Thus, I always have my passport with me. BTW, The last time I skied in Europe (2011), we received a 10 euro/night discount on the huts (DAV and Swiss).

  33. Lou Dawson July 1st, 2013 6:05 am

    Dan, I almost always carry my passport with me when I’m in countries other than U.S., in a ziplock, sometimes in a chest pouch. Got in that habit years ago in South America and it seems like a good idea in Western Europe, while driving, hut skiing, or whatever. You never know when you’re going to need it.

  34. Wookie July 1st, 2013 6:28 am

    Hi Lou –

    I wanted to comment on the passport thing earlier – but I thought it would be a bit off-topic, but since you mentioned it – here goes:

    Most US visitors will need to carry their passport with them wherever they go in MOST of the EU. This is not due to some nefarious plan – its due to the fact that in most of the EU, you get a personal identification card, which is your ID. This is different from your driver’s license and also different from your passport – but your passport can be used as ID – whereas a drivers license CANNOT.
    This has the interesting effect of making foreign nationals required to carry their passport with them at all times – as it is the only form of government issued ID that I have as an American citizen – and being able to identify oneself with proper documentation is (at least in Germany) law.
    If I get stopped by the cops – for whatever reason – I am required to show a government issued ID – and since I am an American, a passport is all I have. Additionally – if you try to pay with a credit card someplace, and they ask to see ID – often they will turn you away if you pull out a drivers license. So it makes sense to carry it with you – but tuck it safely away – as losing it is a BIG pain in the butt when you want to fly home.
    Anyone from the EU or many other countries with a national ID card can just use that to prove they really are who they say they are – at huts or anywhere else.

    BTW – if you do get stopped someplace and DON’T have ID on you – its just a headache. Often you get escorted to your hotel to fetch it immediately, and you have to pay a fine – in my case under 50 Euros – but nothing that would make you break out in sweats – at least in Germany and Austria.

  35. Lou Dawson July 1st, 2013 8:45 am

    Wookie, that is wonderful information from a directly informed source! Thanks!

    I like where we’ve been going this summer with subject matter — prep for next winter’s travels!


  36. Dan July 1st, 2013 10:07 am

    A tiny bit off topic and probably just “Gee Wiz” info: A local Border Patrol officer recently told me that a US passport is worth about $10K on the “Black Market”, making one’s passport a very tempting item for knowledgeable thieves…be careful out there.

  37. Lou Dawson July 1st, 2013 10:43 am

    When I was in South America many years ago, $1,000 was the going rate. Had several offers, and it was much easier to return without one back in those days. Have to admit I was tempted. Sold my Rossi SM skis instead, for $200 in Portillo. A fortune back in 1980 for a beat up pair of skis.

    Problem now with stolen or sold passport is it could be used for major ID theft. Scary as all getout.


  38. PETER ACKROYD November 14th, 2013 11:58 am

    Hi Lou,

    Thank you for your useful information. I am an AAC member and have spent a lot of time in some remote corners of Nepal. Because of the mixed reviews about Global Rescue and the minimal coverage that comes with membership, I much prefer the evacuation insurance offered by the Divers Alert Network. As a diver I have been a member for many years but their member coverage works wherever you are and whatever you are doing. I personally have not had to use the service yet but a friend who did was very impressed and had no problem being reimbursed for self initiated helicopter service despite the fine print. I recommend people check them out and you can add other trip services for a fee, such as trip cancellation etc. but I if evacuation is all you need just join! Here is a link:


  39. Dan Powers February 20th, 2014 11:42 am

    This seems like one of those issues that the more I read about it the more confused I get.

    Bottom line, if we’re going touring in Italy this spring, get the Austrian Alpine club membership and we’re covered?


  40. Lou Dawson February 20th, 2014 11:49 am

    Definitely get Austrian alpine club membership, using their UK site so it’ll be in English. I think there is a link somewhere above. I’m embarrassed to say I forgot to renew ours for last trip, but we did have Travel Guard with the extreme sports rider so we were probably covered, though we would have had to pay for the heli then get reimbursed.

  41. Lenka K. February 20th, 2014 1:21 pm

    Hi Dan,

    the Austrian Alpine Club membership will also get you discounts on club-owned hut accommodation (as a member, you pay half the price for your bed (NB: NOT board)) at a hut, not just Austrian huts, but all club-owned huts in alpine countries). The discount amounts to about 10Euro/night, so in a week’s hut-tour you’re recoup the membership fee!

    Lenka K.

  42. Dan Powers February 20th, 2014 2:45 pm

    Thanks, we’re AAC members as of an hour ago.

  43. Wookie February 20th, 2014 2:53 pm


    If my info is correct, what you say is not true, everywhere. The AAC does not have reciprocity with all alpine clubs in Europe. They are kind of a standout in this. Notably, you dont have reciprocity in Germany generally – only in Bavaria.

    Its a minor point, but one to be aware of.

    Also – it pays to shop around a bit. Many of the clubs have very different membership fees. (60% difference between Munich Oberland and Sonthofen for example) But… can be really hard for a foriegner to navigate all this.

  44. Lou Dawson February 20th, 2014 3:26 pm

    Lot’s of the huts I’ve been to just ask about club membership and don’t even look at documentation. It seems that the club rate is pretty much the rack rate. But not always. Ethics would say just get the club membership, but if you’re the mythological dirtbag perhaps just tell them that yes, you have a club membership, the club of life or something (grin). Lou

  45. Lenka K. February 21st, 2014 10:16 am


    Sorry Wookie, your info is not correct.

    As an AAC member you have reciprocity with ALL ALPINE CLUBS/UIAA member clubs in Western Europe. I’m not sure about former Eastern Bock countries like Slovakia or Slovenia. But I was an AAC member for 15 years and never had problems at CLUB-owned huts in Austria, Italy, Switzerland or France.

    In the Alps there are also plenty of private huts, especially in Italy, where you obviously do not get any discounts. In Austria and Germany, there’s also a fairly large organization called “Naturfreunde”, where you normally do not get a discount as an AAC member, but you can add a couple of euros on your AAC-membership fee and obtain a reciprocity right even in their huts. Most of them are nevertheless located in the lower, non-Alpine ranges of Germany and Austria.

    Perhaps this is what you mean by huts located outside Bavaria?

    Lenka K.

  46. Wookie February 21st, 2014 12:20 pm

    That’s not the information I have, but I’ll check it out tomorrow at the Sektion. I’ll post what I find out.

  47. JCoates February 21st, 2014 7:54 pm

    I agree with Lenka. If the hut gives a discount for an alpine club membership, it is supposed to honor any nation. I’ve never had a problem with my DAV membership nor my GF with her SAC membership and I’ve had several friends use their AAC card the same way.

    Also, Lou (and I’m suprised you would say this), but I would caution against BSing the hut wardens to save a few dollars: 1) Its a hard way of life working the huts and they do it out of love for the mountains–most are barely scrimping by as it is. 2) Many are also the “mountain rescue” for that area–it’s going to be them that initiate the rescue when you ski into the crevasse or can’t find the hut in a white-out. 3) Americans are considered rude enough as it is on this side of the world. Don’t make it worse. 4) Just buy the damn membership to an alpine club–I only pay 60 euro/year and it pays for itself after staying in 3 huts/year. Plus, I get rescue insurance and can check out unlimited ski maps and books from the local DAV. It’s worth it.

  48. Lou Dawson February 21st, 2014 8:43 pm

    JCoates, you are correct of course, I just let my inner dirtbag out for a stroll, chased him down, he’s under control now (grin).

  49. Erik Erikson February 21st, 2014 9:15 pm

    Lenka for sure is right concerning reciprocity as I know from my own experience.
    And I´d like to repeat another good reason to join the AAC (said that already in my post June 12th):
    With your membership-subscription you support the alpine club in taking a stand for issues backcountry skiers would normally support: For example building no more skilifts in wilderness areas but keep them for back country skiers; preserving nature and so on. That´s one of the main reason I myself am a member. Wilderness areas are much more rare here in the alps than in the US I guess, to much untouched nature is sacrified to (winter-)tourism

  50. Daniel February 22nd, 2014 8:48 am


    Happy with my DAV membership for the same reasons.

  51. Geoff February 22nd, 2014 11:07 am

    I worked at an OEAV hut in Tyrol for a few seasons, so I’ll add a few cents:
    – On reciprocity: an OEAV (“AAC”) membership will absolutely get you a discount at all Alpine Club huts in every western European country (and most eastern European) countries as well.
    – To Lou’s point about the huts never asking to see a membership card: this is a result of how their reimbursement is usually structured. Hut wardens in Europe, who are usually not direct employees of the Alpine Club (rather more like franchisees), tend to have an arrangement in which they get to keep most of the profits from food + beverage sales at the hut, but must remit all revenue from bed fees back to the Alpine Club. Non-member guests who arrive at the hut expecting to pay more for their bunk often spend that same money on an extra beer or two instead.
    Thus there are some built-in incentives for the warden to simply “assume” that all guests are Alpine Club members – at our hut we were told not to even ask.

  52. Wookie March 3rd, 2014 7:35 am

    Hello everyone – I was out for a week touring at the Fanes Hütte, so it took me a while to get back to this….

    I went down to the Munich Section and spoke to a lady at length about the issue of reciprocity between the alpine clubs. I’ll go to bullets to keep it short:

    – as far as huts go, nearly every alpine club in Europe is covered. Only exceptions are weird ones unlikely to get visits (former east block, but not CHS or Poland)

    – the insurance coverage varies CONSIDERABLY between clubs.

    – It was difficult for my conversation partner to give specifics as she only has access to the coverages provided by the DAV

    – The German and the Swiss clubs provide full coverage for incidents occurring both inside and outside of the home country of the club

    – In particular, my conversation partner had experienced situations where the Austrian clubs had reduced levels of coverage for incidents occurring outside of Austria

    – Italian clubs also provide a lesser level of coverage for incidents outside of Italy

    – She pointed out something to me that I hadn’t thought of either. One of the benefits of club membership are club trips and courses. Large Sektions like Munich, have TONS of these, and they are cost-effective. If you are a member of one of these large Sektions, you can go to all their courses and trips for much less than if you are a member of another Sektion. For someone looking to do Europe on the cheap, with a guide, in a group – nothing could beat those prices. But only if there are a series of offerings available when you want to come. The big Sektions naturally have a much larger offering.

    If interest is high enough – I might could be persuaded to gather all the info from the major clubs and create a one-time insurance and comparison chart. I’ll wait on a go-ahead from Lou on that one, as this thread is getting waaay long.

  53. Lou Dawson March 3rd, 2014 8:11 am

    Wookie, thanks for the excellent info. Not sure it worth the time to do a comparo table, as it would go out of date so quickly unless maintained with regular updates. If you do want to do something, if you kept it super simple that would be better, and don’t touch the project until you contact us so we can make sure it’s done in a format we can publish without a big re-work. Lou

  54. Bill H March 19th, 2014 10:46 pm

    Something similar to this may be above, but I’m too lazy to search the whole thread and a keyword page search didn’t turn it up,. I was shopping around today because the guide service we are using for an upcoming trip to Italy requires that you show up with documentation that your personal travel insurance covers heli-evac and guided alpine mountaineering.

    If you are looking to add this kind of rider to your US plan, but not concerned about paying the additional fees for trip cancellation etc, you can skip TravelGuard or the like and head to a more limited policy that just covers the basics like evacs and foreign hospitalization. Two companies I found were World Nomads and Global IHI.

    The minimum WN policy that met the requirements of our guide service was $70 US (as opposed to ~$170 for the Gold Plan from Travel Guard for the same duration trip). That difference will buy a significant amount of strudel.

  55. Seth H March 30th, 2014 11:21 am

    Thanks Lou, and everyone, for the great information here. It’s tough to understand the subtleties of these things without hearing the experiences of folks who have used the evac services.

    On that, can anyone provide any further discussion of DAN (Divers Alert Network) evac insurance? The person above provided a useful perspective. I’ve read the fine print for both DAN and AAC and don’t feel much more knowledgeable than when I started. Would love to hear a side-by-side comparison if anyone has experience with both.


  56. judy August 10th, 2014 5:57 pm

    My daughter and I are going to Switzerland in a few weeks for a competitive ski camp. I’d like to purchase insurance for her- medical coverage/evac/hospitilization. I saw a few recommendations but wondering if there are any other names out there that people have used.



  57. Lou Dawson 2 August 10th, 2014 7:41 pm

    We still go for Travel Guard with the extreme sports rider. You have to get it in advance of your trip so don’t delay. Lou

  58. geoff February 7th, 2016 9:17 am

    Quick question to the wise. Some travel policies with medevac (e.g. Amex)) do not specifically exclude any sports, but have a general exclusion: “deliberate exposure to exceptional danger”. Does anyone have real data on what that includes, e.g. where is the boundary between insured and non-insured: side-country, guided backcountry touring, unguided backcountry touring, glacier travel, bootbacking a couloir, roped mountaineering, etc. Many of us would not consider these things exceptional danger as long as they are undertaken using “best practice” (training, equipment, etc.), but what would an insurance company or court argue?

  59. Lou Dawson 2 February 7th, 2016 1:43 pm

    Geoff, my understanding is that if you’re on a rope or otherwise “climbing” some of the travel policies will indeed try to deny coverage. We like Travel Guard because it has an extreme sports rider that makes it clear we are covered while ski touring and climbing. We also buy their primary coverage rider, meaning we can collect from them first instead of a year or more later after all other insurance is cycled through. It’s all a racket. We’ve done well once or twice with help with injuries, but many times have not had any success collecting money. Lou

  60. Lou Dawson 2 August 30th, 2016 10:03 am

    Did major revisions, comments appreciated!

  61. slcpunk August 30th, 2016 10:40 am

    Lou – some interesting developments in the heli evac side of things too, just stateside. Not so relevant for travel, but definitely for backcountry adventures.

    Been following this topic on air ambulance companies in the Salt Lake Tribune. Short story: you can be billed for quite a large sum for an air evac, and you really have no say in the matter.

  62. Lou Dawson 2 August 30th, 2016 11:11 am

    SLC, wow, thanks for the link!

  63. See August 30th, 2016 8:12 pm

    Yeah, thanks SLC. That story further sharpens the focus on some issues that go way beyond air ambulances, like the role of the credit rating agencies in the last recession, military outsourcing, private prisons… “You need to either give the accreditation companies the money, or do it yourself.” Word.

  64. Carlos Danger August 31st, 2016 8:38 am
  65. Ivar August 31st, 2016 2:56 pm

    A few tips from Europe:
    Calling 112 is not always the smartest thing to do if you don’t have a lot of time, like an avalanche or serious injury. It wil reroute your call to Paris, and will take a lot of time to get your details and the right resque squad. Better to put these phonenumbers in your phone and call mountain resque directly.

    PGHM Chamonix +33 (0)4 50 53 16 89
    PGHM Briancon +33 49 222 222 2
    PGHM Grenoble +33 (0)4 76 69 48 18
    PGHM Bourg St Maurice +33 (0)4 79 07 01 10
    PGHM Modane +33 (0)4 79 05 18 04

    I’d like to add that a lot of places in France are similar to the US because it’s not a private party flying the choppers but the “mountain police” PGHM. So in many cases you flight off the mountain can be free of charge. Still, most of the costs will be medical so insurance is always smart.

    For Switzerland:
    Direct emergency REGA: 1414 (or +41 33 333 33 33 if you’re not in Switzerland at that time but close to the border) I’m unsure if 1414 only works on a Swiss phone. otherwise use the other number.
    Keep in mind that they will fly you off the mountain for practically anything in Switzerland. Even if you break an arm on the skislope. They fly nearly 30 times a day just in Zermatt, so be sure you have insurance there.

    I’m not in Austria a lot, but the regular emergency number is 144.

    For Italy it’s 118.

  66. Scott August 31st, 2016 3:38 pm

    I have been subscribed to MedJet as an evacuation service and they seem to have a very reliable program. I have not needed to use them yet, but glad to have that backup!

  67. Trent September 1st, 2016 6:22 am

    Ivar, brilliant. Thank you. Anyone have similar beta for Austria and Italy?

  68. Lou Dawson 2 September 1st, 2016 7:51 am

    Thanks Ivar!

    Another issue has come up. Apparently it’s important to realize that in many situations “search” and “rescue” are entirely different as to what insurance or government provides. While something like Global Rescue might be easily triggered for rescue support due to a satphone call from the scene in the field, one has to wonder how they deal with a person or persons who are simply missing, say on a climb? Anyone from Global Rescue care to answer? Are you strictly “rescue” of persons in known location, or will you pay for and organize a search?


  69. Lou Dawson 2 September 1st, 2016 7:56 am

    By the way, here is the Global Rescue fine print. Kudos to them for actually providing on a website for public access.

  70. Lou Dawson 2 September 2nd, 2016 8:54 am

    Working again today on clarifying the Global Rescue and insurance content in this post. Lou

  71. Dan September 2nd, 2016 9:24 am

    @Ivar: Thanks for that info. Hopefully, I will never need it.

  72. mike October 19th, 2017 3:27 pm

    any updates on this topics in the last 12 months?

  73. Lou Dawson 2 October 19th, 2017 4:14 pm

    Hi Mike, I haven’t done much in the way of fact checking on current information, thanks for asking, I don’t want to leave this published and dated, if I can help it. If you find out anything please let me know. The travel and rescue “insurance” situation tends to be a mess. Lou

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