Mike's Meanderings My 2-Cents-Worth

Trip Insurance? “Weather” or Not, It Might Make Sense

January 16th, 2020 the hype begins. Minneapolis weather forecasters on every local channel warn of impending doom. An apocalypse, of sorts. At least five feet of snow on the ground, maybe six. A monstrous weather system is brewing in the west. This system moves in early Friday afternoon and, most likely, won’t bat an eyelash at the complete havoc it’s creating until sometime Saturday afternoon. (Actually, I believe most predictions warn of 6 to 18 inches of snow, effectively scaring us into envisioning drifts so high we can’t see over the tops.) Schools shut down. Businesses close early. Crazed Minnesotans heed the warnings and raid the shelves of every local food chain. The clock strikes 1:52 PM on January 17th and the flakes fly horrifically in total whiteout conditions. Two hours and two inches later, they completely stop. No blizzard, no problem, right? Well … that’s not necessarily true since I opted out of the trip insurance protection during my travel booking.

Post Minnesota blizzard
Without trip insurance, the threat of a Minnesota blizzard shuts down our travel plans.

The Nightmare Begins …
Our noggins hit the pillow at about 9:00 PM Friday night with visions of an on-time takeoff dancing through our heads. With a 2:15 AM wakeup call distorting our thinking, it APPEARS our 5:50 AM flight is still on schedule. It isn’t until we walk up to the empty United Airlines check-in counter at the MSP Airport that reality sinks in. CANCELLED. No empty seats available on another flight until 5:50 AM Sunday morning. Dejectedly we slink into the Uber for a ride back home.

The next few hours are spent on the phone with a third-party merchant that the trip was booked through. After explaining the flight cancellation and the need to cut a night off the hotel and car rental reservations, we are exhausted, frustrated, and out a bundle of cash for our troubles.  The realization of our earlier booking blunders really hit home when the Expedia customer service rep informs us that none of our desired alterations can be made as requested since we don’t have any trip insurance.

First Ever Glitch in My Trip Plans?
I ponder past trips, thinking to myself, “I’ve never had to even remotely worry about cancelling a vacation before.” But upon further review I recognize that this just isn’t true.

Parker Injures himself
Injuries that occur pre-trip or during your trip can wreak havoc on your travel plans if you don’t have trip insurance

Last year’s January Key West excursion ALMOST came to a screeching halt when I slipped on a patch of ice while fetching the mail just one day prior to departure. Arms flailing, I landed hard, flat on my back. The flop cracked the back of my head on the pavement and chipped a chunk of skin and bone out of my right elbow. Amazingly nothing was broken or concussed, although I was awfully sore on the plane ride south. Fortunately, there were 360-some bars in a six square mile area to help dampen the pain once I arrived in Florida.

I also remember the Maui, Hawaii trip that almost wasn’t the previous year. A family member passed away just days before our departure.  Since refunds weren’t available at such a late date, we missed the first funeral (held in another state). Our consciences were slightly appeased knowing that there would be a second service held in our home city after our return that we would be able to attend. But not being there to support family at such a troubling time was still like a dagger to our hearts.

With these three consecutive years of travel hiccups and almosts, we nailed the trifecta of the leading triggers for trip cancellation or trip interruption. Illness, injury or death to you or a loved one prior to departure are the top causes. Weather-related cancellations or interruptions is a close runner up.

Parker Illness in bed
Illness or injury to yourself or a family member prior to your vacation is a primary reason for trip cancellation that can be covered with trip insurance.

What Should I Look For in Trip Insurance?
Since I had never really even considered buying trip insurance before, it was definitely time to investigate the process. There are many different options available in the travel insurance world, but a few things really jumped out at me.

  1. If you poured funds into you’re travel plans that you are not comfortable forfeiting in an unforeseen emergency, a trip insurance policy is probably a smart idea.
  2. If your own health is dubious prior to an upcoming trip, an insurance plan may be a way to protect yourself if an illness or injury progresses in the wrong direction.
  3. If a family member is weak or gravely ill a trip insurance plan can assure that you will have choices with your travel plans if things get worse.
  4. Are you traveling during severe weather times of the year: Hurricane season, winter blizzards, excessively windy conditions? Trip insurance can protect against losses incurred by delays, missed connections, evacuations and more.
  5. Also, if you take a ski vacation, travel to a foreign country, or embark on a trip that has a higher risk of injury or illness while travelling, trip insurance can help you cover unforeseen medical expenses incurred while you are away from home.

There are many additional reasons that trip insurance may or may not make sense for your vacation, but the five points above are probably the biggest items to consider.

How Does This Work?
Some rules do apply to obtaining trip insurance. The biggest requirement is usually that the travel arrangements you are insuring must be prepaid and non-refundable. For example, airline tickets, event tickets, hotel rooms or travel packages that were paid for in advance of your departure can usually be insured. Arrangements that you will pay for once you arrive at your destination are NOT insurable. Redeemed points and miles are also not usually insurable, but some provisions can be made for taxes or fees that are charged to reinstate your points or miles should you have to change travel plans.

One of the most common ways that trip insurance is purchased is through the add-on policies offered by booking sites including Expedia, VRBO, Orbitz, Travelocity and other travel vendors at the checkout portion of your transaction. According to TravelInsuranceReview.net, a travel insurance review website, it’s usually not a smart move to purchase the “opt-in” insurance from these booking sites.

For one thing, at this portion of a booking you are usually in a mode to finish up the process and secure your trip. No-one wants to let their credit card information float around out there in cyberspace while they methodically sift through the fine points of a policy. The policies take some time to read and understand. Also, not all of the rules and exceptions are fully explained, you aren’t taking the time to compare apples to apples with other policies, and you may not have access to the insurance upgrades that you desire. For all of these reasons, think twice before just checking that add-on insurance box.

What Else Should I Avoid?
This valuable website also recommends that you avoid insuring refundable trip costs. Airfare purchased directly through the airline almost always offers a voucher for a future flight if yours is cancelled. Since this was a refundable loss, the travel insurance policy has no obligation to provide reimbursement to you for those tickets. And if your hotel won’t be paid for until you arrive at your destination, don’t insure that, either, as non-paid items won’t be reimbursed so there is no sense in incurring extra insurance costs up front.

Other suggestions include skipping car rental coverage (your auto provider usually covers a rental with the same coverage you have at home), don’t go overboard on evacuation coverage (only extreme cases will ever cost more than a few hundred thousand dollars — insuring for a million dollars is probably way more than you would ever need), and avoid “Cancel for any reason insurance” unless you prefer to pay more and change your mind about travel plans a lot at the last minute. Most other reasons for cancellation will be covered under the other portions of the policy.

How Do I Navigate All of This?
Many insurance plans offer an a la carte menu allowing you to purchase the specific options you need. Available coverages include full comprehensive policies, trip cancellation, medical options, evacuation, vacation rental damage, and more. It all depends on the insurance company you choose.

To be honest, the more research I did, the more confusing the whole process became. There are a ton of different (mostly reputable) insurance companies out there offering trip insurance. Some of the popular options you may have heard of include: AIG Travel Guard, Allianz Travel, Berkshire Hathaway, First Allied Limited, Generali Global Assistance, GeoBlue, Global Alert, Good Sam Travel Assist, John Hancock, RoamRight, Seven Corners, Travel Insured, TravelSafe, Travelex, TripAssure, USI Affinity Travel Insurance Services, World Nomads … and that just scratches the surface.

In the end I found a few websites that compared a complete list of quotes for you. A few of these “do the research for you” sites include: Aardvarkcompare.com, InsureMyTrip.com, and Travelinsurance.com.

Although I didn’t use any of these quote services all the way through to completion, I did input some info to get the comparative quotes I was looking for. All of the sites mentioned above were fairly easy to navigate. Aardvarkcompare.com was the only one that required an email address to receive your comparisons. The other two (InsureMyTrip.com and Travelinsurance.com) both provided a computer screen instantaneous options once you hit the compare button.

When Should I Buy Insurance?
Most often you can purchase trip insurance right up until the day before departure. But not all aspects of the vacation are insurable until the last minute. Failure to purchase within 10 to 21 days of the initial trip deposit or payment may void your eligibility for some time sensitive benefits such as: pre-existing condition waivers, financial default, terrorism, cancel for any reason option, and cancel for work reasons, to name a few. Take this into consideration and start researching your insurance options as soon as your plans are booked. If possible, try to pick your insurance plan a week or so after your first trip payments are made.

Is Trip Insurance Expensive?
As far as price goes, the comprehensive coverage quotes seem to range from a starting point of about 4 percent of the total trip cost to a whopping 11 percent of the total trip cost for the highest quote I found. Whether or not this cost is worth it depends on your willingness to gamble on an unforeseen cancellation or delay in your plans. Sometimes the peace of mind gained by obtaining travel insurance more than outweighs the cost of the insurance package.

In my most recent case the delayed flight did cost us one day of our trip. Insurance really wouldn’t have saved us much, as the flight was rescheduled (I believe deeming it “refundable and non-insurable” on most policies.) Negotiations for the hotel room went well. After explaining the situation, we obtained the same hotel room at an identical rate with the unused night refunded to us.

We did take a little hit on the car rental. Since we were unable to pick up the vehicle within 24 hours of our predetermined time we had to cancel our reservation and rebook the car for one less day. Since it was a short-notice reservation, the billing rate was higher, and we ended up paying more to rent the car for 3 days than we had originally paid for 4 days of rental. But since we hadn’t paid for any trip insurance either, it all came out about even in the wash.

Have you had any experience with Trip Insurance? Was it easy to get a refund or was there tons of red tape that made the experience a nightmare? We’d love to hear your thoughts or past experiences in the comments box below. Or email us at ParkYourselfOutdoors@gmail.com. And if you’ve got any questions, shoot those our way, too. We’re definitely no expert on this subject, but we’ll do the best we can to find answers for you. Insured or not insured, we want to wish you all Happy Travels!

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