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March 1998 Vol. 24, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Caught the Flu? Miss Your Live-aboard? Hurricane Brewing?

Is Trip Cancellation Insurance worth it?

from the March, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When planning a dive trip, do you consider what might keep you from making it, like an airline strike, a hurricane brewing hundreds of miles away, or catching the latest flu strain mid-flight? Do you consider trip cancellation insurance, which Consumer Reports says is probably the most overpriced of all travel services?”

One reader, taking his first dive trip ever, confesses that problems were the last thing on his mind when he planned for Cozumel. He considered trip cancellation insurance but decided it was just a gimmick to get more money. Then, three days before his departure, his thirteen-year-old son developed appendicitis.

Fortunately, his tour operator looked at the doctor’s statements and hospital bills he submitted and rescheduled the trip at no extra charge. He was lucky; they were not required to do this; had they not, trip cancellation insurance would have covered it.

You EAT the Whole Thing

Travel cancellation insurance usually comes as a take-it-or- leave-it package, with each company offering different mixes of insurance in specific groups: travel cancellation, interruption, delay, and inconvenience; baggage loss and delay; medical expense and evacuation; accidental death and dismemberment; assorted coverages such as collision damage waivers, travel document insurance, and repatriation (a dignified way of saying that if they must, they’ll pay to fly you home in a box).

Because these policies are expensive -- 4-7 percent of the total cost of a trip -- let’s try to demystify the fine print to help you decide whether to pay for a policy.

Most traveling divers, with the availability of DAN insurance, home owner’s insurance, and the like, are covered for most everything but trip cancellation, interruption, and delay.

Trip cancellation coverage kicks in when the cancellation occurs before the designated departure date. Trip interruption insurance reimburses you for the unused expenses when you start a trip but can’t complete it. And travel delay protection provides reimbursement (usually no more than $600) if you incur additional lodging costs because of weather-caused carrier delay, lost or stolen documents or funds, and extreme events.

Not every trip needs cancellation insurance. Reader Harold Davison from Canton, OH, canceled a dive trip to St. John due to the death of his mother in-law. His total cancellation loss was $125. Most of the time, he says, it costs less just to absorb cancellation charges.

However, many exotic packages require up-front payments that become nonrefundable weeks before departure. Here cancellation insurance can come in handy. Illness, illness or death of family members or previously designated traveling companions, disasters such as fires, floods, or hurricanes, jury duty, and even having a car accident on the way to the airport are usually legitimate reasons for reimbursement. However, business demands are not covered.

Subscriber Tabby L. Stone of Marina del Rey, CA, told me of another uncovered circumstance. On a stay at a Divi hotel, he was “involuntarily charged a single supplement when the roommate I requested asked for a different room to stay with a woman he met on the way down. His horniness was not considered a disease and the insurance company refused to pay for the involuntary upgrade. I was more angry with Divi than the insurance company.”

No Earthquakes Please

As you might expect, many restrictions apply. Weather conditions and disasters must have duration requirements to become covered reasons for cancellation. One insurer told me, in complete sincerity, that earthquakes would be excluded unless the actual tremors were sustained for a 48- hour period!

Trip cancellation due to the bankruptcy of a tour provider is usually covered, but cancellation due to operator nonperformance is not. So, if a dive operator is a simple no- show, it’s your problem and the travel insurer will not help you negotiate a refund. Recent bankruptcies of See & Sea Travel and Sea Safaris show that dive travelers are not immune from business failings.

Another restriction is a preexisting condition, which is any medical condition for which you’ve had treatment in the previous sixty days to six months. Should a preexisting condition force you to cancel your trip, the insurance would not cover your loss. Fortunately, most insurers waive preexisting conditions for trip cancellation insurance purchased within seven days of booking the trip, but wait longer and restrictions against preexisting conditions would apply.

Trip interruption coverage is another appealing option. Travelers with tightly-packed itineraries run the risk of having a delay by one carrier cause a missed connection with another. Usually, travel delays must be caused by weather of substantial duration to be covered; delays caused by aircraft mechanical problems are excluded. When a trip is interrupted, the insurance normally pays for additional transportation and lodging, including hotel charges, so that travelers can catch up with their itinerary.

Live-aboard Lottery

However, what if a flight delay causes you to miss your live-aboard departure and it’s heading 200 miles offshore? Most insurers will pay $500 in hotel and additional transportation charges to help you get there. Yet what if there was no way to get there, or if the only way was a helicopter ride that cost $15,000? Some insurers may handle this as a trip interruption, covering it only if the missed connection was caused by weather; benefits would generally be transportation home and the prorata charge for the unused portion of the trip.

C.S.A. said they had a hotline divers should call for instructions when they realize they will arrive too late to make their connection. If, after getting instructions from the hotline, the trip was delayed more than twelve hours, benefits would be available to reimburse for extra hotel rooms and transportation as well as up to 150 percent of the insured amount for the unused portion of the trip.

Access America, however, was less understanding. They said that if divers couldn’t get transportation to the live-aboard or decided not to spend $15,000 to get there, this would be considered a change of mind and no benefits would be paid.

If a traveling diver is injured and the injury was not serious enough to warrant evacuation, divers would be instructed to get medical attention either locally or at the next port of call. If the attending physician believed the injury was so serious that the diver could not continue (and if the diver got that in writing), coverage would kick in. A diver would be reimbursed for airfare and the unused portion of the trip up to the policy limits.

Last July, an Undercurrent subscriber was aboard the Sea Hunter at Cocos Island, 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. On the last day, the passengers were awakened with the news that the Cocos National Park Director had died unexpectedly during the night and that the Sea Hunter had agreed to perform a mercy mission by transporting his body back to the mainland.

Although the divers on board completed two of the last three dives scheduled (one passenger still grumbled about not getting all the dives he had paid for), what would have happened if a larger portion of the trip had been canceled? What happens if a passenger were seriously injured or died and the boat had to return to shore? Would their loss be covered?

I put this question to several travel insurers, and was surprised at the range of responses. True to form, Access America s response was basically tough luck: they said this fell under the “special circumstances provisions and would be a matter between the diver and the dive operator.

TravelSafe said their coverage would only apply if the deceased was the diver’s immediate family member or his traveling companion.

TravelGuard said the loss would be covered for both the unused portion of the trip and additional charges incurred for early return home, up to the policy maximum.

C.S.A. took the middle road, saying that the incident would probably be covered if it met the policy requirements that there be an actual loss and that the event be unforeseeable. This determination, they said, would be left to their adjuster’s discretion, but if it were covered it would be deemed a trip interruption and benefits would be payable up to 150% of the policy amount.

Roll the Dice

So, what’s it cost to get this coverage, which can be a crapshoot ? Most companies compute the premium on the total trip cost/person ($15,000 to $20,000 maximum) with other factors, such as the diver’s age, occasionally considered. Only Access America offers a simple trip cancellation policy without bells and whistles, but it’s no bargain: $6.50 for each $100 of coverage. C.S.A. clearly has the best price, but it doesn’t include the $25,000 accidental death benefit offered by Access America and TravelGuard. Still, that can’t be enough to justify the premiums in the 200-300% range.

The decision boils down to who will most likely pay the claim that you file. Of course, insurers, as they say, haven’t just fallen off a turnip truck; when it comes to explanations and excuses, they’ve heard it all. And, it’s tempting for some travelers with a last- minute business emergency to seek treatment for mysterious symptoms and get a doctor’s agreement to stay home.

Brian Yesland, Tropical Adventures owner, recommends Access America because “when coverage falls into a gray area they have been the most receptive to appeals.” He said they handle claims quicker than most other insurers. Ken Knezick of Island Dreams prefers Travel Safe because they have had a good record of paying his customers when the occasion has arisen.

While the price for complicated, limited, and perhaps uncertain travel insurance is very high, for complicated dive trips the gamble can pay off. If one isn’t worried about his or her family’s health, then for trips to the Caribbean or Hawaii, the insurance is probably not worth it. But, when headed for distant live-aboards, or places such as Sipadan where several flights are required, the value increases.

Either way, like all insurance, let’s hope you will never need it.

P.S.: Do you have any tales to tell, good or bad, about your travel insurance, DAN insurance, or whatever? Let me hear from you.

John Q. Trigger Editor

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