By Milan Korcok
It may be some time before tourism gets back to normal, but one thing the COVID pandemic should have taught Canadians is that they should be paying just as much attention to trip cancellation/interruption insurance as they do to out-of-country medical emergency coverage.
The recent example of cruise ships being forced to cancel or divert trips for which their passengers have already prepaid several thousand dollars emphasizes that travelers could be at significant financial risk very quickly through no fault of their own. And though cruise companies have responded with pledges of refunds for interrupted or aborted voyages, those refunds usually take the form of credits for future cruises—not cash. Such credits don’t always confirm vacationers’ schedules or their changing attitudes about the cruise experience.
A 2019 survey by travel insurance vendor Kanetix revealed that 65 percent of prospective Canadian travelers do not buy travel insurance or even know if they have cancellation or interruption benefits in their policies—which in Canada are heavily skewed to medical emergency coverage. By contrast, over 80 percent of American travel insurance policies are purchased primarily for trip cancellation/ interruption coverage, and fewer than 10 percent for major medical benefits.
The survey also indicated that 36 percent of Canadian travelers who choose not to buy trip cancellation policies believe them to be too expensive, while 28 percent assume they are covered by their credit cards. That’s a risky assumption as credit card coverage is primarily designed for short-term travel and is not as inclusive as a stand-alone policy designed for an individual traveler’s specific medical needs.
Generally, Canadians have come to see travel insurance as a medical necessity largely because provincial health plans pay so little (Ontario nothing) of the hospital and medical costs charged by out-of-country providers. It has become tangential to medicare so much so that over 70 percent of Canadians wouldn’t think of leaving the country without it.
But that same concern has not extended to protection of the substantial investment Canadian travelers make in planning their annual vacations, which some surveys show cost more than $6000 per couple on average. Perhaps the current pre-occupation with global travel shut-downs may change some of that thinking.
As we have explained in previous articles, trip cancellation/interruption insurance is designed to protect money that has been prepaid and is non-refundable. If you haven’t paid for it, you’re not covered for it.
And because what you’re buying in trip cancellation insurance is protection of your investment over time—that means any reimbursement you are due from your insurer diminishes as you get closer to the date of your departure.
Understand too that the reason for which you can cancel matters. Unless you have a Cancel for Any Reason policy (which costs more) you can only cancel and expect recompense for specified reasons, such as a new illness, death in the family, call to jury duty, interruption of employment, house fire, etc. etc. But those qualifying conditions must be listed in your policy. Read and understand them.
And as we have explained before, when you buy your policy matters. For example, if you bought trip cancellation coverage before there was any warning issued about the coronavirus threat, you would have been eligible for benefits if your cruise ship or land tour to China had been cancelled, or your government had warned you not to travel to that location. But your policy also would have warned you to leave the restricted area if possible, and as soon as possible, in order to keep your benefits intact. That’s not a new wrinkle. It’s been part of travel policies for a long time.
Trip cancellation policies need to be read thoroughly and preferably discussed with the agents selling them. You need to understand your own responsibilities in adhering to the terms of coverage. And that may not be easy as travel insurers still have a way to go in writing policies that are user friendly and more easily comprehensible than they are right now.
But until then, it’s up to you to take all steps to protect your travel investment. Your broker, or the agent selling you your policy can help, but you can’t avoid your own responsibility in insisting on learning the details of your coverage and paying attention to them. It’s your money.
© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.