Travel Insurance for Snowbird Season, Part 2: What Should You Look For When Shopping For Travel Insurance?

Early bird specials

These are plans sold at cheaper summer rates prior to new price increases going into effect. They can allow you some substantial savings, but remember that if your health changes in any way after you buy your plan and before your leave on your trip (e.g., new symptoms, changes in medications, referrals for tests or consultations), you must tell your insurer so your conditions of coverage and/or premium rates can be adjusted. Your coverage contract is based on your health status on the date your coverage comes into effect –not the date you purchased it. Failure to report such changes can invalidate your coverage.


Multi-trip annual plans

If your travel plans call for frequent, short-term trips rather than a single extended six-month sojourn, consider an annual multi-trip plan, the fastest growing travel insurance varietal in the marketplace.

Multi-trip plans are convenient in that you apply only once a year and choose the length of trip segments you want (15, 30, 45, 60, or more days). Different insurers provide various trip length options. You can then take as many trips—up to the maximum segment duration you have chosen—as you wish through the year, on condition you don’t exceed the chosen maximum, you don’t chain them together to form longer continuous trips, and you return to your home province for at least one 24- hour period before activating another trip.

Multi-trip plans are cheaper overall than single-trip plans because they are priced only on the maximum duration segment you choose. Obviously, your risk of encountering a medical emergency while traveling  is greater if you are abroad for 180 days rather than 45. That’s the rationale for the cheaper price.

The attractiveness of this option, and its growing popularity among Canadian travelers is that you apply only once and you don’t have to notify your insurer when you activate new trips.

Be aware, however, that if you generate a medical claim during one of your trips, you must contact your insurer immediately so that your premium can be adjusted to cover you for the remaining segments of your annual plan. And if you do generate a medical claim, you may be asked to submit documentary proof (such as a passport stamp or credit card receipts) to verify that the emergency claim occurred during one of your designated trip segments and you were abiding by the requirement that you keep the trip segments separate.


Single-trip long-term plans

The bedrock of snowbird travel has historically been the single-trip plan—which allows long-term vacationer/retirees to stay in the sunbelt as long as US law allows—up to 180 days total over any continuous 12-month period. That can be in one long stretch or an aggregation of several shorter trips.

With younger more mobile retirees joining the ranks of snowbirds, there is more demand for shorter trips to a greater variety of places—thus the increasing popularity of multi-trip plans.

But for snowbirds with condos, single home properties, or manufactured or mobile home, the single-trip plan remains the most convenient as it requires one application process—albeit the application must be just as thoroughly prepared.


Cautionary note

What about side-trips? Canadians make approximately 750,000 cruise trips annually, many out of US ports during the winter while residing temporarily in the US.  Many also travel to Mexico for short visits or to island countries in the Caribbean. Be aware that according to US border control laws, if your side trip out of the US and back, is for fewer than 30 days it will be counted against your 180-day visitors’ allowance. If the trip exceeds 30-days it will not be counted as such and your return to the US will be considered a separate trip.


Credit card trip insurance

If you plan on using credit card travel insurance, make sure you read the fine print as most credit card plans do not cover any pre-existing conditions (stable or not). They also usually cover you only for short durations (15 days), and they normally do not cover people older than 55 or 60. In addition, many basic credit cards do not cover medical emergency costs though they may assist you in locating medical services. Higher end, more expensive cards, do offer medical benefits, but they too have limitations so make sure you understand the coverage they provide as well as their exclusions.


Special risk policies

If you’re planning on deep sea diving, mountain biking, cliff climbing or other strenuous sports you might consider special risk policies designed for such purposes.  Most multi-trip or single-trip plans have limitations on such, higher risk, activities. Check out your plan if you anticipate such activities.

Coverage is available; even you’ve had serious illness. And if you’ve had a recent, major medical procedure or are under treatment for a continuing condition that precludes coverage, you may still be able to buy a policy that covers you for other, unrelated conditions. Discuss your special situation with your agent, but make sure to also consult with your physician so you know precisely what is covered, what is not, and how much risk you are prepared to assume.

Each year, Canada’s travel insurers broaden their range of products and make some adjustments to existing ones to keep pace with a changing marketplace. You need to keep up to date and we’ll help you with that. Remember that a policy that is perfect for your neighbor may be wrong for you. You need to find a plan that covers you, as an individual, not necessarily a member of a group. Take your time when assessing policies. Ask questions. Compare.


Buy travel insurance coverage for your upcoming winter escape!

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