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February 2007 Vol. 22, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When Do You Need Dive Travel Insurance?

consider other trip hazards besides the bends

from the February, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Two years ago, Undercurrent subscriber John S. Wilson (Boulder, CO) planned a Christmas dive trip to Little Cayman with his daughter and son-in-law, paying a deposit of $3,500 each on the trip package in advance. Because he was the senior citizen on the trip, Wilson and the other two purchased Travel Guard trip insurance just in case he had some illness or age-related condition that would result in trip cancellation. Ironically, it was his son-in-law who experienced the problemhe found he had a serious heart problem before the trip and needed immediate open-heart surgery. After receiving documentation from the doctor and the travel agent, Travel Guard refunded all the money they paid for the trip, saving the Wilson group more than $10,000, minus a few hundred dollars each for the insurance premium.

Trip cancellation and trip interruption
insurance can be pricey

You arent likely to need trip cancellation insurance if youre just getting into the car and driving 50 miles to the beach. But if youre planning a major dive trip that requires a good deal of money and flight time (especially abroad), its something to consider.

The longer you book in advance and the more expensive your trip, the more you should consider buying travel insurance just in case the trip is canceled or something happens, said Damian Tysdal, an independent travel insurance agent in Boston and founder of the blog TravelInsuranceReview.net. He said only 30 percent of U.S. travelers now buy trip insurance. Contrast that to the English, 80 percent of whom regularly purchase trip insurance.

Issues to consider

There are a few factors to consider about the need for travel insurance, including age, budget and family situation. Younger divers with smaller budgets may not see a reason to spend more on trip insurance, and if they are in good health, traveling cheaply, and going on major carriers to the Caribbean during non-hurricane season, there is really no need. Divers in their golden years who have more than the standard aches and pains, however, may feel more secure with insurance just in case a health issue acts up before or during their trip. Anyone with major issues in their life, such as an ailing family member or job insecurity that may require them to back out of a trip, should also consider insurance in case the worst happens near vacation time.

Also consider the type of trip you are taking and what trip insurance will and wont reimburse you for. Major airlines offer refundable tickets, and if your flight is canceled, you can apply most of the cost of your cancelled ticket to another flight, so youre really not losing much money. If you are putting down a nonrefundable deposit of 50 percent on a liveaboard trip a few months ahead of time, that is another story.

Read the fine print

Trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance can be pricey, costing between 5 percent and 8 percent of the trips travel price. The cost can run closer to 12 percent for travelers 70 and older.

Using the website InsureMyTrip.com, a 60-year-old couple from Chicago who are spending $12,000 total for a 10-day liveaboard trip and airfare to Papua New Guinea would find trip quotes ranging from $571 from Travel Guard to $1,049 from Access America. A few reasons for the price difference: The Access America policy covers more expenses if your trip is interrupted or if your baggage is lost. It also starts paying hotel and meal expenses if your trip is delayed for more than six hours, while the Travel Guard policy makes you wait until the 12-hour mark.

But you need to be clear on what the triggers are, and that means clarifying issues before you buy. Subscriber Hilton Fitt-Peaster found out the hard way. He was on a trip in Peru and covered by Travel Guard. An airplane didnt arrive to pick his group up as scheduled, so they had to seek alternate transportation and lodging, which affected their entire trip. Travel Guard didnt pick up the costs. We fought with Travel Guard and lost, Fitt- Peaster said. We thought we had bought full, complete and as much coverage as we could purchase, but we did not get even one penny from the insurance company. It turns out that most of Travel Guards trip cancellation/ interruption policies typically cover flight cancellations due to bad weather conditions, labor strikes and airlines financial default, but not carrier-caused mechanical problems.

That is something to keep in mind if you are going to exotic locales like Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The more remote the dive site, the less frequently planes will fly there. Those local airlines are not very predictable and their small puddle jumpers may not be well-maintained, so chances are they have a fair amount of missed flights due to mechanical problems. Insurance for that type of flight can be a good idea because if you miss the flight to pick up a liveaboard in the Galapagos or Costa Rica, youre out of luckthey wont wait for you. Many policies will reimburse travelers for expenses they incur if their trip is delayed but they generally dont cover changes in itinerary, e.g., if a dive boat returns to a different port.

Dont forget about hurricanes, which often occur in the Caribbean from August through November, some of the best months for diving. Keep an eye on the weather forecastyou cant make a claim for losses related to the storm if it was given a name before you purchased your insurance. So you may be risking it by buying trip coverage for that Belize dive package if a tropical depression hovering 500 miles south has just turned into Tropical Storm Wanda.

Also dont assume you are covered in a mandatory evacuation, because it is not true for most policies; the term mandatory evacuation usually applies to nonweather issues. Instead, look for the term complete cessation of your common carrier services for 24 hours, meaning the airport must be closed for at least a day before a claim is valid. If your hotel is evacuated but the airport stays open, you cant make a claim. The term complete cessation of your travel supplier services for 24 hours means your hotel, condo or other licensed room supplier (you cant claim if youre staying at a private house) is so flooded or damaged so much that you cant continue to stay there. However, youll probably be evacuated from your room long before a hurricane touches down because hotels will push guests out the door at even the slightest threat.

Most policies have a list of reasons why you can cancel, such as you get sick, theres a death in the family, or your home is burned down or burglarized. But some reasons people often cancel trips arent covered. Youre generally not covered if you suddenly change your mind, or your financial situation changes, and you dont want to go, Tysdal said. And some policies have pre-existing medical condition exclusions.

He also recommends writing down the key issues for which you may need trip insurance before you buy it. If you think you may need to leave early because your mother is sick, make sure thats included. If youre carrying a lot of expensive camera gear or a rebreather, you may want the policy that covers $2,000 in lost baggage instead of one that covers $500.

Pursue and persist

If you do file a claim and the insurance company gives you trouble, subscriber JoAn Ferguson (Herndon, VA) has some advice: When they deny the claim, dont give up. Provide more objective evidence and they will reconsider. Also, dont expect a fast responsethey have no reason to process claims quickly. She usually gets trip insurance for dive trips because she cares for her elderly father, but last summer she had to cancel a dive trip to the Bahamas because her teenage sons ankle required surgery. The insurer, Travelex, initially denied the claim since he had seen a doctor before the trip, so Ferguson had to show proof that those visits were actually made to clear him for the trip. She received a check for the full amount of the claim.

Subscriber Mark Bornanyak (Topeka, KS) also received a full claim from Access America when he and his wife had to cancel their dive trip to the Solomon Islands due to her fathers sudden death, but the process took much longer than he expected. I also didnt like having to talk with different claims representatives when I called in to inquire about the status of the claim, but Id still [purchase from] Access America again.

All insurance companies have a toll-free number you can call to ask as many questions as you need with staff representatives. To compare plans and prices online, you can go to InsureMyTrip.com. You can even buy online using a credit card and youll receive an instant e-mail confirmation guaranteeing your coverage.

DAN and PADI Policies

The majority of divers carry DAN medical insurance, but now it and other dive organizations like PADI offer straight trip insurance to cover beyond strictly dive-related hazards. PADIs Travel Protection Plan offers $50,000 for emergency evacuation, but only $10,000 for emergency medical care. DAN offers trip cancellation/interruption coverage through Travel Guard, providing $20,000 for medical expenses but no emergency evacuation.

Subscribers Larry and Judy Walters (West Chester, OH) like DAN trip insurance but say dealing with the Travel Guard intermediaries is frustrating. They put you through the ringer with all the documentation required and every i dotted and every t crossed! The most frustrating thing under these circumstances is not dealing with DAN, but their underwriter, which is a third party to us.

Brian Merritt, president of DAN Services, explains that DAN has no control over who does the underwriting because it is an agent through TravelGuard. We know of members who had problems, and then weve worked with TravelGuard to resolve the issue to everyones satisfaction.

Subscriber Cheryl Jones was surprised to see that DANs trip insurance does not cover default by the dive operation or their cancellation of the trip/reservations for whatever reason. I bought DAN travel insurance, then had a dive operator cancel trips because the dive boat needed major repairs. Insurance didnt cover the loss for me or my dive buddies, and weve yet to collect a refund. Merritt was surprised to hear this, but said that DAN is working with TravelGuard to make them understand that divers have different trip situations than typical travelers.

DAN recognizes that some claims are incorrectly processed. One case Merritt is aware of is that of a diver who booked a shark-diving trip to the Farallon Islands with Golden Gate Expeditions out of Alameda but filed a claim with TravelGuard when his tour was cancelled due to bad weather and he was unable to reschedule. He was told that because the boat was not a common carrier like airlines or cruise ships, he would not get a refund. James Moskito, the expedition leader, called TravelGuard and was also told that no dive boat can be a common carrier. Thats a mistake on TravelGuards part, Merritt said, and he is trying to contact the diver who made the original claim.

Its an ongoing learning experience for DAN and TravelGuard to get it right, he added. Were trying to help members translate their situation into insuranceese so that TravelGuard can re-evaluate policies for our clients.

Vanessa Richardson

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