Trip Interrupted: Recovering Expenses When Nature Acts Badly

Major weather events like tornadoes, hurricanes, and winter storms cause thousands of flight cancellations around the world each year. The SARS outbreak of 2003 and the 2010 volcano eruption in Iceland are two examples that resulted in unexpected changes to vacation and business travel plans.

Travellers are not just frustrated by events alone. Also frustrating are expenses incurred for extra meals and accommodation, and even airline tickets, when trips are interrupted. Some may be unable to recover pre-paid expenses when they are forced to delay or cancel a trip.

Fortunately, natural upsets are relatively rare. This helps keep it affordable to insure against such losses, whether due to weather and natural disasters or other disturbances in life. But it can be a challenge—without the help of an informed distributor—to find the plan with the best coverage at an affordable rate.

Trip disruptions are rare, thus affordable

Between 2004 and early 2013, the number of flights cancelled in the US ranged from 1 to 3.55 per cent per year. Only when the highly destructive Hurricane Sandy blew through in October of 2012 did the monthly percentage of cancelled flights climb to nearly 12 per cent at Newark Liberty International. February 10, 2010 stood out as an exception when nearly a quarter of US flights were cancelled, according to the Department of Transportation. Find more US flight statistics.

Generally, it’s cheapest to buy coverage for trip cancellation and interruption in combination with travel medical insurance. Most Canadians know they should buy medical coverage because the cost of hospital care out of country can be so high.

The terms of medical and non-medical plans will vary by insurer, and prices can vary by the age and health status of the traveller. Frequent travellers may find it cheaper and more convenient to buy a multi-trip annual plan.

You can’t predict the weather

Natasha Fernandez of Toronto was forced to stay in St. Louis, Missouri an extra two nights when tornado warnings in May 2013 led to flight cancellations. Her meals and hotel room cost her nearly $400.

Fernandez snapped the photo while she and others squeezed into a public washroom for shelter.

“It’s a myth that the airline will reimburse you for your costs if a flight is cancelled because of a storm,” says Fernandez. “The most they will do is, maybe, help you find a hotel and possibly give you a 10 per cent discount.”

It was the first time she had ever seen a sign for a tornado shelter, or a public washroom serving that dual purpose. So she snapped a photo as a reminder of her experience.

For those who have out-of-country medical coverage through their employer—but not the extra non-medical coverage—it’s cheaper to buy both interruption and cancellation coverage in a comprehensive package than to pay for separate policies.

The cost of coverage will vary with the cost of the vacation or business trip planned, and will likely provide better coverage when purchased from an insurance specialist than from a travel agent or airline.

Before you leave the country: Consider this

Consumers should be aware, as with any contract of insurance, that it is important to read the language of their contract before travelling or attempting to make a claim. The insurer will naturally require evidence of a loss, and will expect the traveller to first seek out any refunds that may be available from their airline, resort, hotel, cruise line, or travel agency. Travellers should also note:

  • limits and exclusions may apply if a trip is cancelled or interrupted because a travel supplier goes bankrupt
  • premiums for trip cancellation protection will vary with trip cost
  • a plan may not provide reimbursement for a pre-paid vacation that was at least 70% complete

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