Will Travel Insurance Cover You in Snowbound Europe?

With the UK and Europe buried by record snows and immobilized by Arctic cold, can you expect travel insurance to cover missed connections, airport delays, hotel cancellations, and tour interruptions? The best we can say is: Maybe. This is where reading the fine print pays off.

Trip cancellation and/or interruption benefits are provided in most travel insurance policies, but the extent of coverage, and the conditions governing what is or is not coverable, vary a lot from policy to policy.

The first and most basic thing to remember is this: If the losses attributable to your trip cancellation or interruption are covered by your airline or destination hotel or tour operator (and you need to read their fine print too), your insurer is off the hook. Insurers will only pay out on prepaid, non-reimbursable fees—money already out of your pocket. The insurer’s trip cancellation/interruption benefit is coverage of last resort and it kicks in only if your carrier or hotel or tour organizer is not responsible and will not pay.

For example, some policies will pay out expenses up to certain limits (example: $150 per day) if you are forced by weather to pay for a hotel or spend the night in an airport terminal—but only if your air carrier does not have that provision in its ticket contract. Also, if you have not already prepaid your tariff at the ski resort or other destination hotel, you are obviously not out-of-pocket so there is no “reimbursement” called for.

Many Canadian travel insurers will also only pay out on a cancelled or interrupted prepaid tour if weather has shut down at least 30 per cent of the trip. In effect, if you still have 70 per cent of your ski trip in France available to you, no reimbursement is called for.

Another thing for you to watch is your government’s travel advisory or warning system. (Refer to our Travel Links to get the latest.) If your government has issued a warning for you not to travel to a given area before you booked and paid for your trip, cancellation or interruption loss coverage will likely not be applicable. If they issued the warning only after you booked, you will remain eligible for some reimbursement costs—but only up to the limits allowed by your policy and according to the conditions I have already described.

If you are expecting travel insurers to automatically pay out all the costs of your trip should it be snowed out, or wrecked by floods, volcanic ash, earthquakes, or tsunamis, you’d better go back to your agent and ask very specific questions about who is responsible for what portion of your trip.

Please understand, there is no such thing as absolute, first-dollar coverage for trip cancellation or interruption, no matter what the circumstances. On this issue, you need to know the fine print.

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