Tidewater Traveler - January 2007

The Other Side of Travel Insurance


George Sellers

   Most travelers recognize the value of purchasing travel insurance to protect their investment from the financial loss of a cancellation or trip interruption due to illness, injury and many other unforeseen circumstances. If carefully selected, a good travel insurance policy can offer so much more than basic cancellation/interruption coverage – features and services that you would not expect from an insurance company.
    Consider – you have arrived at Fairbanks International Airport and your luggage has not! It might be somewhat comforting to recall that before leaving home you placed an identification card from your travel insurance company on each piece of checked luggage. On the card is a unique ID number for your insurance policy and a toll-free number that can be called by the airport baggage personnel where your wayward bags come to rest.
    Imagine – you are seated in the emergency room of a city hospital in Florence, Italy, while your wife is being examined and tested to determine the cause of a nasty stomach malady. Since you don’t speak or understand Italian and the doctor speaks very little English, your stress level is climbing. And then your wife, doubled over in pain, asks, “Do you have that insurance card that the travel planner gave us?” Oh yes, now you remember!
    There are phone numbers on the card accessible from around the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And by calling one of those numbers, you can gain access to a medical referral service, and more important to the immediate situation, you can reach a language interpretation service that will close the communication gap between you and the doctor.
    Ponder – a week before your honeymoon, your travel planner calls with the horrible news that the ships of a cruise line, loved and trusted by all, have been seized and repossessed due to financial default. (This too has actually happened.) Won’t you be glad that you declined the insurance offered by the cruise line; instead you purchased your insurance product with default protection from an independent insurance company.
    Contemplate – the TV coverage brings back dreadful memories. Terrorists have struck again; and this time in the city that you are planning to visit in just three weeks. You have wanted badly to visit the museums and parks there, and you have been planning this trip for over a year. The trip is fully paid and most of the cost in non-refundable. You want to be bold and go, but the pit in your stomach just won’t let you comfortably proceed with your plans. Will your travel insurance policy cover a cancellation due to terrorist activity in or near your vacation destination? Some policies do. Many do not. Shop carefully.
    Think about – Medicare and some private medical insurance programs do not pay for physician, hospital or medical expenses resulting from injury or illness outside the United States. So if you are a senior traveler and need medical services while out of the country, who pays for it? You do! . . . unless you have purchased a travel insurance product that includes coverage for medical expenses. Be careful with this one. Usually to have more complete and primary coverage, a rider must be added to the travel insurance product. Some travel insurance policies offer medical coverage; some do not.
    Reflect – a message from home regarding a family emergency has thrown your vacation into a tailspin. You need to get home as soon as possible; flights need to be cancelled and rebooked; you need to arrange a ride to the airport; it is imperative that you somehow relay a voice message or e-mail message to someone at home, but you know you cannot reach them right now. If you were at home you would contact your travel planner, but that is not going to be efficient under the circumstances. And then you remember your travel planner pointing out the phone numbers on the insurance card and telling you about the 24-hour service available to help you with ALL that needs to be done in an emergency. Look for services like this when you choose a travel insurance product.
    Imagine – the bag that contains most of your cash and your passports has disappeared from beside your chair at the sidewalk café in Cabos. Panic! Now you remember (actually, your wife remembers) why your travel planner suggested that you place your travel insurance ID card in a separate location from your other valuables. A call to the emergency hotline arranges a cash advance, and sets the wheels in motion for getting replacement passports.
    Consider – you are driving on the left side of a very narrow road in rural Britain. The stone walls on both sides of the road seem to close in as you meet a friendly goat herd, and then you hear the scraping sound that removes the passenger-side mirror and reallocates the paint and metal down the entire side of the rental vehicle. Ouch! You are reminded of the wisdom of your decision to purchase the renter’s collision insurance as a rider to the travel insurance product your travel planner had recommended.
    It is very important to take the same care when shopping for your travel insurance product as you do in choosing a hotel, cruise line or tour company.
    Beware – some tour companies offer cancellation waivers (sounds like insurance, but it is not). Often such plans sound wonderful: “Cancel for Any Reason!” But you must ask the question – can you “show me the money”? Many such policies do not restore your loss in the form of money, but instead issue travel credits that can be used only for their tour company and that must be used within a specified period of time. Make sure your insurance product will show you the money, not credits toward the purchase of a toaster or blender.
    Here’s a thought – a fairly inexpensive travel insurance product can make non-refundable airline tickets refundable if you must cancel your flight for a covered reason – covered reasons are typically injury, illness or death of a traveler, an immediate family member of a traveler, or a travel companion.
    Some higher-end insurance policies include international access to a concierge-like service through which a traveler can get assistance with:
? Dining referrals and reservations.
? Coordinating car or limo arrangements for transportation from and to airports or meetings.
? Obtaining tickets to sporting, theatre, concert or other events.
? Scheduling tee times and making course recommendations
? Coordinating floral delivers for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and special occasions while traveling.
    Just a caution – never assume that any of the ancillary features described in this article are automatically included in every travel insurance policy that may be offered to you. Rely upon the guidance of a travel professional and the support literature for the insurance plans that you are considering.
    May all of your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers and his wife Priscilla are Certified Travel Counselors and Accredited Cruise Counselors who own Travel Selections by Priscilla and George, Inc. and the popular travel web site www.sellerstravel.com