Most vacationers dread the thought of being rushed to a foreign hospital or flying home early on a stretcher. So they focus on travel insurance for such big-dollar risks and, in so doing, may overlook all of the other benefits that vary from plan to plan. If only they knew they could find relief from smaller financial pains or secure access to emotional support. It might be time for them to broaden their horizons. If you are one of these travellers, start thinking about potential pitfalls and alternatives, as you should when purchasing any type of insurance protection.
Those extra expenses
If your medical emergency takes you a long distance from the place you have already paid to visit, there may be benefits to paying for those extra expenses. Some travel policies will provide meals and nearby accommodation to your travel companion. Other policy clauses may cover airfare to bring a loved one (with their own travel medical coverage) to keep you company. There are often other provisions to fly home your travel companion, children under your care, pets, cars, and––dread the thought––your casket. Daily and total dollar amounts for hotels vary from one policy, and level of coverage, to another. So ask your broker for advice about the coverage that’s the most generous. To stretch those extra benefits further, look to websites (e.g., hotwire.com) that offer last-minute discounts on hotel and car rentals, or others for cheap flights.
Temporary visit home
Some Canadian single-trip travel medical plans do not force you to reapply for coverage if you have to return home mid-trip. While some policies end once you are back in your home country, others allow for a temporary return without a lapse in coverage. So, if you think your vacation might include a trip back home, look for a more flexible policy that allows a temporary visit.
Rental vehicle damage
Some policies will supplement or replace the coverage that a car rental agency will offer to sell you, as some credit cards will do. But you may already have better coverage across Canada and within the continental United States with your existing auto insurer––particularly liability coverage if you were to injure someone or cause a tank truck explosion. Sound extreme? A rental customer was once blamed for just such an explosion in the Bronx. Lawsuits led to the distress sale of Tilden Rent-a-Car of Canada in 1996. Ontario later limited the potential liability of car rental agencies to $1 million, but the liability insurance of the driver, and perhaps a spouse, would be expected to pay before the rental company. So talk to your broker about your coverage for non-owned vehicles. Investigate the rental company’s coverage, and if you don’t own a car, you would be wise to investigate short-term coverage in the country you visit. Many US states require a minimum liability coverage that is much less than what is required in Canada, and inadequate insurance could have some scary consequences. In the end, it could be cheaper to leave the driving to someone else.
Identity fraud recovery
Some medical plans provide a few thousand dollars of coverage for expenses related to identity theft or fraud while away, as some financial institutions try to sell. You can reduce or eliminate the risk of such losses by guarding your debit and credit cards, your personal identification documents, and the emergency contact information for card issuers in money belts and hotel safes. You may also be surprised to learn that some multi-peril home and tenant insurance policies automatically include identify fraud coverage. Make sure to read your policy and talk to your broker or agent about the relative cost of upgrading your plan, and to verify your understanding of the coverage.
Trip cancellation coverage
Most trip cancellation policies, or the similar benefits attached to medical policies, only cover cancellation costs fully for specific reasons, such as illness or death in the family. But at least one policy, like the Manulife Global Trip Cancellation policy, will cover half of the cost of cancellation for any reason, provided the trip is cancelled at least 14 days prior to departure. After booking a family cruise with Royal Caribbean, one Canadian engineer recently discovered that his daughter would be excluded for being more than 24 weeks into her pregnancy at the end of the trip. Cancellation insurance would not cover the family because this was deemed a pre-existing condition, and only 25 per cent of the cost would have been refunded if he had not had a long-standing business relationship with the cruise line.
Guaranteed stability options
One option that Travel Underwriters offers with its Quest plan will add $150,000 of coverage for expenses related to pre-existing medical conditions—if you would not meet the plan’s requirement for medical stability prior to travel. Another policy option adds $150,000 of coverage for medical conditions that become unstable after the purchase of coverage, but before departure. In some rare circumstances, those coverage limits would not be sufficient. But it’s an option you could discuss with your broker, your doctor, and perhaps your future heir.
Your usual travel medical plan may include some of these pleasant surprises, while other plans might suit you better. Allow for some time to get advice and dig deeper into the policy language. Be open to new possibilities. Also bring your specialist in automobile or home coverage into the discussion. You may already have more coverage than you could find in the ever-changing world of travel insurance––or not. Never assume. Always check.
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