Guest columnist Elsa Nystrom is a frequent cruiser who reads the fine print before buying her travel insurance plan. For the best coverage, she recommends that you compare and buy your travel insurance through a broker.
Editorial note: The editors of River Cruise Advisor recommend that you check with your travel counselor about insurance policies that they may offer. As our guest columnist suggests, the fine print on travel insurance policies requires informed scrutiny, which your professional travel counselor may be able to help you navigate, at no cost.
When discussing travel insurance, there is one question that always arises: Is travel insurance worth it? The answer is yes, though there are exceptions. If you have planned a weekend trip with minimal costs somewhere in the U.S., you probably don’t need to insure your trip. But what if you have booked an expensive stay on the beach through an agency? Might be a good idea.
When Americans set foot on foreign soil, they are not covered by Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and most other policies. If you suffer an injury or severe illness in a foreign country, you will have to pay up-front for medical attention so be sure to have a credit card with substantial limits in your wallet.
When my husband injured his back in Switzerland, we went to the hospital in Basel. After they checked him over, we got a bill for almost $2,000, which we had to pay up front. Luckily, because we purchased travel insurance, this expense was covered.
Travel insurance seems to be one of those expenses that people don’t like to pay because of the off chance of something going wrong. This “until it happens to you” mentality is a common one, but trust me, you will wish you had purchased it when you are handed a bill like we were in Basel.
So you have decided buying travel insurance for your cruise is a good idea. But what kind, and from whom?
Good question. Most cruise and tour companies offer their own insurance but buying from them may not be the best for you, even though their insurance is relatively inexpensive.
The coverage may not be extensive. The best thing about this type of insurance is that it is usually the same price for everyone. The cruise companies can offer this because they buy a large number of policies from the insurer and thus get a lower rate. Bargain insurance is not always a bargain; however, it can be. The key here is to read all the fine print carefully before you buy a policy. Also important to note, usually you can only buy their insurance on or before the day you pay for your cruise. Thus you need to do your policy homework before you pay for your trip.
What should you look for in a travel insurance policy?
Many people buy trip insurance for trip cancellation coverage. Of course, it is good to have the cost of your expensive trip covered, but policies may have exceptions or exclusion in their fine print regarding trip cancellation. You may find that your policy will not refund the full amount of your cruise, either due to an exception or because the refund is prorated depending on when you cancel. Policies that offer reimbursement for any cause are usually very expensive.
The main reason American travelers should buy travel insurance is for emergency medical and repatriation coverage. Everyone, not just seniors, should have some kind of medical insurance if they are traveling outside the U.S. Accidents happen, and one can catch any number of “bugs” overseas. Along with medical coverage, a policy should include transportation home for a seriously ill person. And finally, the worst case scenario, transport of a traveler’s remains back home or repatriation.
A friend found out how important travel insurance can be on a family trip to Cuba. One of the group suffered from a bowel obstruction that required medical treatment. His condition mystified the Cuban doctors. The patient finally called his own physician, who told him to get home immediately. The poor guy had to travel home on coach, and then to the hospital where he underwent surgery immediately. Medical Evacuation coverage likely would have facilitated for his transportation to home. Some insurers offer emergency assistance to the home hospital by medially equipped jets.
An important part of medical coverage is the pre-existing condition exemption. Some policies will not cover a pre-existing condition if you have a relapse on your trip, though some will. Here is one place you must read the fine print carefully, because each company has its own definition of a pre-existing condition and how it is covered.
Coverage of travel delays is also good to have as storms, low water, and other natural disasters, not to mention terrorism or aircraft malfunction sometimes result in trip interruptions of one kind or another. This usually includes lost luggage, although some airlines will refund partial cost of a lost bag.
Most policies have a long list of items that they can cover, which you can add to your policy if you choose.
So how do you find the best travel insurance for your trip?
The internet has made the process of comparing policies fairly easy. Just remember when you are searching for the right policy, many travel insurance companies discriminate against older travelers by charging them more, and you may suffer sticker shock at the cost. Though the cost is generally around 10 percent of the trip cost, you may pay considerably more for some policies at 75 years of age than you would at 45.
The easiest way to find the best policy for you is to check one or more internet travel insurance brokers. When you apply, you will type in your age, and the dates and cost of the trip, and at least one country that you will visit. With one click a number of policies that fit your criteria will appear, usually ranked by cost. You can then select and compare the policies, opting, of course, for those that provide affordable coverage and have had positive customer reviews.
Agency representatives are available to answer your questions and there is no obligation whatsoever. The advantage of an internet broker is that selling travel insurance is their job, and their websites are set up so that you can easily compare the benefits of several policies. Some even offer a look back period in which you can change your mind about your selection.
What about you? Do you have tips and advice about travel insurance? If so, please leave your comments below.