THE IMPORTANCE OF (TRAVEL) INSURANCE

Ducks in a row: Copyright 2008 and photo by Jason Holland of Travel Simplicity

THE IMPORTANCE OF (TRAVEL) INSURANCE.

No matter how well your ducks are in a line, things can go wrong. Here I am a travel butler, arriving at the gate of a well known (and respected) airline last week on my way to Las Vegas for a conference. Walking up just in time to hear what I thought would be a normal pre-boarding announcement for those who need a little assistance such as families with young children, I was surprised to hear "if you are in rows 27-33, those rows do not exist on this airplane". I almost laughed out loud in a "I can't believe what I just heard" kind of moment. It never fails to amaze me how ridiculous and apparently random things can happen to interrupt good, well-intentioned travel plans - even those laid with the utmost care. In case you are wondering, the plane that was scheduled to be there according to the computer reservation systems was a different, larger plane than the one actually sitting so serenely on the tarmac - a smaller plane, sans rows 27 to 33. Well fortunately I was seated closer to the pilot who is apparently a pretty important piece to the whole flying experience so I was able to make the flight without any nasty interruptions but there were a number of pretty shocked, angry people waiting at the customer service desk trying to find out which flight was the next one to include their elusive seats. Why do we mention all of this? Well for (1) because it makes me laugh with the absolute absurdity of the situation and want to share it with you and (2) to remind you of the importance of (travel) insurance.

Travel insurance comes in all types and flavors and I will not get into the gritty details but I'll describe a few of the benefits and what some of the policies cover. Don't worry, it won't be too long winded. Travel insurance is just that - insurance. It is designed for use in situations that are unplanned, usually frustrating and possibly even an emergency. No one likes to pay for insurance until it is necessary at which point you want to kiss the person who provided it to you (no we are not condoning this behavior).

Writing about things that can go wrong with travel is no fun so there are some random beautiful pictures (call it product placement) to remind you why it is worth seeing the world. In this case, they really have nothinig to do with the article so enjoy!

Smiles and drinks in the Dominican Republic: Copyright 2012 and photo by Jason Holland of Travel SimplicityWhat does (most) travel insurance cover? We speak in broad generalities. For specifics be sure to contact the insurance provider.

1. Trip cancelation and trip interruption. For covered reasons such as the sickness of the insured person, a traveling companion or even immediate family members a trip can be refunded in its entirety if the trip has to be canceled completely before it began or is interrupted so that you have to return home before the trip is complete. Some other covered reasons may include a workers strike that causes complete cessation of travel services at the point of departure or the destination, the financial default of an airline, or being required to serve on a jury. Typically there is some sort of additional coverage for trip interruption towards airfare only to help curtail additional expenses that may be required such as a ticket change fee.

2. Trip delay. If your trip is not canceled but is delayed, causing you to spend money for things such as additional lodging or food, and the delay is caused by a covered reason then you are entitled to reimbursement up to a certain amount each day, adding up to a maximum benefit amount. For instance, say you arrive at the airport ready to go on that perfect honeymoon to Tahiti only to realize that you have lost your passport. Fortunately you are close to a passport center where you can get a new one, but this causes you to miss your flight. You are delayed over 6 hours from your initial scheduled departure. Reasonable costs like meals, taxi fares and even lodging may be covered. Be careful because some policies may require you to be delayed for longer periods of time as much as 24 hours.

3. Missed connection. Say that a storm, call it Sandy, wrecks havoc on the airport. You are able to still fly to your destination, but the delay has caused you to miss your cruise ships departure. You may be able to get reimbursed for the additional expenses to join that already departed trip. Travel Simplicity says, "arrive a day early to help prevent undue stress and the increased likelihood of missing an important departure."

4. Medical expenses. In the event of injury or sickness while on a trip, the travel insurance provider will cover "reasonable and customary charges" up to the maximum amount on your policy. This benefit will continue to be in effect for 1 year of the accident/sickness date provided that it was initially treated during the trip. Get a weird, rash that will not go away? You might find out that you are allergic to Mango trees as I did and be grateful that you can go to the doctor in Thailand without needing to be concerned about the out of pocket expense. Does your current medical coverage in the States cover you abroad? Probably not, but ask your provider. One story goes - "of course we cover you overseas. Your deductible is $20,000."

5. Emergency evacuation. If you are insured and get injured or sick to the point of needing emergency evacuation to the nearest adequate facility, you may be covered according to your policy. There are also supplemental annual medical evacuation policies which come into effect anytime you are more than 50 miles from home. Sometimes these will allow you to choose which medical facility you are evacuated to such as the familiar hospital in your hometown.

Flying a kite at Da Conch Shack in Turks & Caicos: Copyright 2012 and photo by Jason Holland of Travel Simplicity6. Baggage and Personal effects. If things such as your baggage, passports or personal items are lost, stolen or damaged during travel you may be covered. If your luggage is "misdirected" to Hawaii and you are in Florida and the baggage delay is 24 hours or more, you can get reimbursed for necessary personal effects which you purchase until your baggage arrives. Be sure to keep the receipts which you will have to submit to the insurer.

7. Accidental death and dismemberment. The happiest part of travel insurance is last. In the event that you lose a limb or even die monies can be paid to a surviving member or your family or mentioned beneficiary. The loss of your big toe is apparently not enough to qualify, but lose an eye or a whole hand and talk to the insurance company.

8. Notable items. (1) Certain pre-existing conditions may be covered when traveling but typically this is only covered if the travel insurance policy is purchased within a certain amount of time from the initial trip deposit. (2) Cancel for any reason may be added to many policies and increases the reasons for which you can cancel a trip and get reimbursed. Some policies already allow happenings such as job loss to count in the covered situations. (3) You may be able to increase the medical benefit portion of your travel insurance, add coverage for the injury or loss of life during flight, and even add car collision insurance.

Whoever you use, be sure that they have a 24/7 global access number which you can use in the event of an emergency to replace prescriptions, get a physician referral or arrange for medical evacuation. Always be aware of the local emergency contact number as well.

Relaxing in a waterfall in Ontario, Canada: Copyright 2008 and photo by Jason Holland of Travel Simplicity

On a happier note. Along with the protection benefits, some insurance providers also include worldwide travel assistance, basic translation services, identity theft restoration help and even concierge services to arrange tickets for a local show.

What did we learn? Traveling the world is an exciting, wonderful, life-changing experience. Go and enjoy it! Just know that it is worthwhile being as prepared for the unexpected as possible. After all, you never know what might happen. You might be taking the hotel shuttle to the airport when the back doors suddenly open up (unbeknownst to you) and your luggage spills on the highway getting lost amongst the traffic. Of course it was only your bag that was lost, no one else's. (true story)

Platinum Policy by TravelguardFor an example of the details of travel insurance coverage, check out this Platinum policy by Travelguard.