Editor's Note: This story is designed to give general information and tips for those considering a trip insurance purchase. We believe trip insurance is a valuable asset for all cruisers on vacation. But we also highly recommend you talk with your professional travel agent before buying any trip insurance for your specific journey or itinerary. Ask questions. See what options are out there. Compare plan features.
Cruise Travel Insurance:
To Buy or Not to Buy?
Given the state of today's airline industry, airport security issues, airline flight delays or cancellations and other "unexpected" problems -- like lost luggage -- may crop up at any time. To protect your vacation investment, buy travel insurance.*
By Carol Eannarino
Hooray! You’re going on a cruise and can’t wait for the fun to begin. But, before you pack your bags, wait a minute. Have you given any serious thought to purchasing travel insurance?
While most industry experts agree that travel insurance is a must, many cruisers leave home without it for a variety of reasons, including these two major misconceptions.
Misconception #1: "Travel insurance may duplicate the coverage I already have."
Truth? The reality is that many health insurance policies, including Medicare, don’t cover policyholders when they’re outside the U.S.
If you’re cruising on a foreign-flagged ship, any medical expenses you incur onboard or ashore will be your responsibility. Keep in mind, most cruise ships serving Americans (such as those from Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International and Costa Cruises -- shown at right*) are registered in foreign countries.
And even if your credit card may offer some travel protection, it’s usually nowhere near the coverage of a travel insurance policy.
Yes, it's a fact that even by having travel insurance, you might still have to pay up front for certain medical services overseas - like doctor's office visits or tests. But if you save the receipts and follow instructions of your travel insurer you'll be able to file for reimbursement when you return home.
So, you won't have to mortgage the house or to jeopardize your financial future. With proper documentation and by following the insurer's guidelines, you'll be reimbursed up to the plan's limits.
Misconception #2: "Travel insurance is only needed if you're elderly or have an illness."
Truth? That’s an absolute fallacy, according to Judy Sutton, director of product development, Travel Insured, one of several respected companies in the travel insurance field (800-243-3174 or www.travelinsured.com).
“People say ‘I don’t need travel insurance -- I’m hale and hearty’ but they don’t realize many things besides health could go wrong.” stresses Sutton. “A comprehensive policy protects a traveler’s investment prior to, as well as during, the trip. There are so many things that can affect their plans, even before leaving home.”
Mother Nature is often the culprit, according to Sutton. “A storm could cause a tree to fall on their roof, forcing them to miss their cruise. Or the weather might create havoc at the airport, resulting in missed connections. Then there’s illness and medical emergencies…and so on."
Sutton emphasizes that "travelers who’ve purchased travel insurance don’t have to worry about the ‘ifs.’ They can relax, knowing that everything is taken care of. Travel insurance is peace of mind.”
Purchasing Peace of Mind
Where should you buy travel insurance? If you’re booking through a travel agent, he or she can explain the details and sell you a third party insurance policy.
Cruises are a terrific vacation investment and have the highest satisfaction rating of any type of vacation. But while this happy scene at right is what you hope to have, what if a child gets sick overseas and needs medical attention?*
In fact, many travel agents make clients who don’t purchase insurance sign a waiver that it was offered, but declined.
Why? Travel agents have years of experience. They've "been there, done that" and also know some clients who have returned with tales of unexpected hospital visits or flights delays that caused them to "miss the ship's departure."
Editor's Note: Two months ago my neighbor was on a cruise ship just a few miles from Port Canaveral; a young boy slipped, broke his leg and the ship returned to port and offloaded his entire family. He was taken for medical treatment and the family's cruise was over almost before it began. Then, consider the frequency of flight delays or cancellations! Problems happen.
Always pay for any travel purchase - tour, cruise, hotel, air tickets or travel insurance -- with a credit card in the highly unlikely event that your agent might go out of business before your trip. But it's just a good precaution for any major purchase you make with any business entity.
It’s also possible to book insurance through your cruise line, though Sutton stresses that not all cruise line policies are as extensive as many sold by a third party insurer. She also says maximum benefit limits offered by cruise lines are usually lower than those offered by third party providers.
“Most individual policies are broader in scope, allowing more flexibility in reasons for cancellations, for instance, than cruise line plans,” she says. Still, do your homework when offered any policy. Read about the benefits, limits for coverage, pre-existing condition coverage and compare policies closely.
Keep in mind, though, that unlike typical travel insurance, cruise line policies don’t protect travelers in the event the line itself ceases operation suddenly. Most large companies are well-funded. But market conditions change. Do you remember the "late" Renaissance Cruises, Premier Cruise Lines or American Classic Voyages? Enough said.
Buying travel insurance online or by phone is another option. One popular Web site, www.insuremytrip.com, offers helpful information and links to a number of reliable insurance providers.
While it is possible to book online, many Web surfers prefer to first read about a policy and then purchase it over the phone so a “real person” will answer any questions they might have. Wherever you buy your travel insurance, be sure you understand all the details, including the small print.
What Should a Policy Include?
Typical coverage from major travel insurers includes: trip cancellation, trip interruption, trip delay, baggage and personal effects, baggage delay, accident and sickness medical expenses and emergency medical evacuation.
When you think of a cruise vacation, sometimes you just want to be alone -- relaxing in style on your own private balcony. But you definitely don't want to be on your own when unexpected medical or travel issues arise. Choose a good travel agent and buy trip insurance.*
A more comprehensive policy provides a higher dollar amount of protection in a number of areas, including medical evacuation, which is often a very good perk to have. Any cruiser who has experienced a medical emergency while away on a cruise will tell you it is the number one reason to purchase travel insurance.
All major cruise lines have at least one doctor and nurse on board.
For example, skilled medical staff are shown at left looking at a patient's test results onboard a Carnival Cruise Lines ship*).
Still, a more serious injury or condition typically means that the passenger must be transported to the nearest “best care facility.”
Translation? If the ship is in port an ambulance might be called. While at sea, you might need a helicopter air lift off the ship -- very pricey.
Plus, the patient has to get back home -- generally, traveling first class on a commercial carrier for the patient and a companion.
This type of evacuation could cost a non-insured cruiser $35,000 or more – recommended coverage is $100,000 -- depending on location and medical condition. This is one expense a travel insurer will pay for promptly upfront.
A growing number of travelers are opting for membership in air ambulance clubs which, for a yearly fee (typically several hundred dollars), offer medical repatriation from anywhere in the world back to the U.S. Since these plans are not technically considered insurance (and, as a result, aren’t regulated by the insurance industry), they don’t require claim forms or an insurance company’s affirmation that the trip back home is medically necessary.
Nor do they usually base fees on pre-existing medical conditions, as most travel policies do, although, like many other plans, there are age restrictions. Often travel insurance plans have an age cut-off or rate increase and other restrictions for those ages 75 and over.
Details on several air ambulance plans, including Medjet Assist, are included on www.insuremytrip.com. Or visit www.medjet.com for that firm's specific details.
Editor's Note: While the age cut-offs are a fact with some insurance policies, Medjet, for example, offers AARP members a discount. Often you might find a plan that will -- for a price -- cover elderly folks even with pre-existing medical conditions. I bought travel insurance through one private insurer to take my mother (80 at the time and with a heart condition) on a cruise. It helps to buy insurance months in advance; that way you might be eligible for coverage that includes pre-existing conditions.
But What Will Insurance Cost Me?
Third party prices are generally based on a traveler’s age (not so for most cruise line policies) and cost of the trip.
A typical policy for passengers ages 36-50 sailing on a seven-day Caribbean cruise starts at under $100 per person.
Many policies, though, don’t offer family plans, charging instead a separate fee for each child 17 and under, even those traveling “free” in a parent’s cabin (like this child at right on a recent Caribbean cruise*).
“Kids don’t really travel for free,” explains Sutton. “There are airline tickets, medical costs and travel delay benefits." Therefore, if a cruise costs the parents $2,000 per person, a portion of that would apply to a child when assessing a policy’s fee.
Considering the coverage included, travel insurance is a veritable bargain. And, to paraphrase Travel Insured’s Sutton, how can you put a price on peace of mind?
Freelance travel writer Carol Eannarino started her writing career in family travel. She is currently managing editor for a major travel magazine, specializing in cruise travel and trade issues.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Susan J. Young, Costa Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruise Lines and variouis travel insurers. All rights reserved. Do not copy nor link to these photos. Thank you.