As I ponder a subject for this month’s Travelwise column, we are in the midst of an unpredictable travel concern for many travelers — the coronavirus COVID-19, which originated in China. It has sparked global fears of an epidemic. The recent outbreak is affecting travel in a myriad of ways. As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the globe with canceled flights, cruises and tours and quarantines, travelers’ financial questions related to travel insurance are taking center stage.
My first suggestion: do not panic. While this is a serious issue, the first thing is to gather as much reliable information as possible. While the news reporters are trying to keep us informed with the latest updates, sometimes the situation can get disproportionate with the time allotted for current research before the next news report. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization’s websites for the latest official status.
If you want to cancel your trip because of a current situation in your destination, regardless of how it is progressing and you do not have insurance, keep in mind that you cannot just cancel your travel plans until you find out what penalties will be assessed. For example, you want to cancel your nonrefundable flight because you do not feel comfortable traveling at this time. If you wait until the airlines have canceled flights to the concerned areas, you will likely be offered a refund or future travel voucher to salvage your investment.
One positive advantage is stopping travel to areas where the virus exists. The unfortunate dilemma is that current travelers were stopped in their tracks, and many were and are away much longer than planned. Travel insurance would have saved travelers facing extended costs for unplanned medical bills, rearranged travel plans and additional time away from work.
Purchasing travel Insurance isn’t an expense you should make without asking questions, starting with what is covered. Not all policies have the same coverage. Just because a tour company or cruise line can add insurance to your total package, this doesn’t mean you have the coverage that is best for you. Ask for coverage details, and if you are uncertain about the information, ask for the provider’s name and contact them.
Does the policy cover you for secondary medical coverage or primary medical coverage? Does it cover an epidemic or pandemic? Do you pay out-of-pocket costs for a hospital stay and when returning home, file with your insurance company — or do you simply call the travel insurance company and let them handle the details?
What are the reasons you can cancel your trip? How much help does the policy offer once you are on your vacation? What if your trip gets interrupted or your return is delayed — who helps you with additional travel expenses?
What if you are concerned you are traveling to an area that you may not want to go at this current time? What exactly does “Cancel for Any Reason” insurance mean? In most cases, this is an additional cost to your original policy; it does not mean your money is returned. You may get 40 percent to 75 percent returned in the form of future travel certificates.
For those of you who are still apprehensive about purchasing travel insurance, just remember, sometimes unexpected and unplanned occurrences beyond your control may happen. Call your local travel professional to ensure a safe and exciting trip as you explore the world!