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Sunday, January 13, 2008
Tough new regulations for travel insurance have been announced in an attempt to curb confusion and "consumer detriment" surrounding one-off policies provided by travel specialists.
From January 2009, all connected travel insurance (CTI) sold with a holiday, travel tickets, accommodation or tours will be regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) under the same rules that apply to standalone travel insurance policies sold through insurance companies. Firms selling travel insurance will have to demonstrate that customers are advised and sold suitable products for their needs, that they can seek redress if things go wrong and that the information they receive is clear. Policy providers will also have to be able to prove they have appropriate resources and competent staff in order to trade.
The Economic Secretary, Ed Balls, said the move would reduce the risks consumers unwittingly place themselves at due to a "knowledge gap" over travel insurance: "Companies regulated by the FSA are better at getting consumers to make an informed choice," he said. "Consumers in the future buying travel insurance sold alongside their holiday will get the same core regulatory protection and rights as consumers buying stand-alone travel insurance do now."
In its most basic form, travel insurance provides trip cancellation protection that reimburses you for penalties imposed by cruise lines, tour operators, airlines and hotels, if you must cancel your trip. Illness, injury and the death of a family member or traveling companion are among the most common reasons for canceling a vacation. Cancellation benefits also can be triggered for a variety of other reasons including strikes, natural disasters or bad weather occurring before your trip begins.
Something else travel insurance does is provide protection if your trip is interrupted after it begins. Trip interruption would have kicked in if Tommy's appendicitis first occurred during the family cruise. In addition to providing reimbursement for lost deposits and prepaid expenses, benefits usually include the cost of one-way economy airfare to return home.
If your trip is only temporarily delayed, in most cases at least six hours, a good travel insurance policy includes benefits for hotel and meal costs incurred during the delay and additional costs you incur to catch up to your cruise or tour.
Vacations are special occasions that often create lasting memories of new adventures, hometowns revisited, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences you can cherish forever.
And then, there are some memories you would rather forget — the lost suitcase on the trip to Florida, the broken leg on the ski vacation to Steamboat Springs, or little Tommy's emergency appendectomy that forces the family to cancel its Caribbean cruise.
Unfortunate incidents like these can create hassles and unforeseen costs in the form of lost deposits, nonrefundable prepaid travel expenses, lost baggage and emergency medical expenses.
The solution is travel insurance. It helps you be ready for the unexpected.
On my last trip to Europe, I ignored my own best advice—I didn't purchase travel insurance. I figured I was young and healthy and could afford to buy new clothes if my luggage got lost. Besides, for all the times I've purchased travel insurance, I've never needed to use it.
My cavalier attitude came back to haunt me when I got really sick during the cruise. On my last night in Rome, I had to call a doctor to my hotel room. He diagnosed me with bronchitis, gave me a shot, and slapped me with a $200 bill. He also recommended that I not travel for five days.
I chose instead to fly home, but had I stayed, I would have racked up high bills for extra hotel nights and meals—not to mention phone calls to change my flights and notify my family. With no travel insurance, all of those expenses would be my responsibility.
TRAVEL insurance is one of those products that few travellers pay attention to, whether they are begrudgingly buying a policy or relying on cover provided through top-end credit cards.
For that reason, travel insurance remains one of the most complained about financial products in Australia.
"It's about 18 per cent of all our work for what would be a small partner in the insurance portfolio," insurance industry ombudsman Sam Parrino says.
"That is a lot of work for us."
In the first half of 2007 there were 2,574,787 travel policies issued, which amounted to about 8.5 per cent of all insurance policies on issue, according to the Insurance Ombudsman Service.
There were 169,329 claims made and 14,713 rejected by travel insurers, 8.6 per cent of the total.
While these figures sound large, the good news is that fewer claims are being rejected than in 2006, which saw a 228 per cent increase in travel insurance claims.
1. Don't forget to buy travel insurance: make sure you take cover to protect you and your family should the unexpected happen. Essentially cover will be provided for you becoming ill or getting injured whilst on holiday, are delayed at the airport or end up losing your luggage. Also, make sure you take your insurance documents with you as having telephone numbers and policy particulars at hand is crucial.
2. Check what's covered: if you're booking a holiday for the start of the skiing season in November, before booking any activity at a ski resort - such as glacier-walking, ski mobiling or cross country skiing - check your insurance to make sure the activity isn't excluded.
3. Cancellation: when you book your holiday, make sure you take your travel insurance cover out at the same time to ensure you are covered in case you suddenly fall ill / are not fit to travel and have to cancel your holiday.
4. Plan ahead before you travel: Make sure you check the British foreign and commonwealth office (fco.gov.uk) for any warnings about travelling to your holiday destinations and to see if you require any visas prior to travel. Make sure that all your vaccinations are up to date and find out about any other suggested medical advice by visiting your health-care provider. Follow this advice and be aware of possible health risks during your trip. Websites such as dh.gov.uk\travellers are also a useful source of information. Check the weather ahead of packing for your holiday (bbc.co.uk\weather\world ).
Holidaymakers should steer themselves away from believing that travel insurance is only needed to cover flight cancellations, according to one expert.
Perry Wilson of insurance firm InsureandGo said that medical expenses are actually the largest part of travel cover and should be particularly considered by those jetting off on skiing and snowboarding holidays.
He stressed that travel insurance policies with the right levels of cover can include personal liability in the event of a collision on the slopes, as well as for the holidaymaker's own medical costs.
"I think travel insurance should be compulsory when you leave the UK," Mr Wilson went on to add.
Currently, travellers can make use of the European Health Insurance Card to obtain free or reduced cost medical treatment when in a European Economic Area country or in Switzerland. However, it does not offer full, comprehensive health cover.
But a lot of those policies are packed with exclusions. We’ve got The Real Deal on how the pages and pages of fine print leave some travelers beyond frustrated.
Romona and Donald Foran booked a flight online to spend the holidays with their daughter in Tennessee.
Right along with tickets, they purchased travel insurance.
They bought it in case anything happened, and something did. A few days before they were supposed to fly out, Donald had a bad reaction to a new medication he was on. He couldn't get in to see the doctor before his flight, so the couple decided to cancel and spend Christmas at home
Travel insurance should be a requirement for Britons before they leave the UK, it has been suggested.
Perry Wilson, spokesperson for InsureandGo, said that the importance of travel insurance is often underestimated by people who are going abroad.
Many travellers think that travel insurance is "about your flight being cancelled", he remarked.
"That is a part of it, but the biggest part of it is medical - accidental damage to yourself and also personal liability if you cause damage to someone else," commented Mr Wilson.
He added that it is important for people who plan to take part in adventure sport - such as skiing or snowboarding - to ensure that they are covered before they go.
Americans are traveling farther afield than ever. As they take to the nation's highways, jet-set for their jobs and buy vacation homes abroad, an industry has developed to transport those who face medical emergencies.
An estimated one in 30 international travelers will need some kind of emergency care while away from home, according to The Merck Manual, a medical reference book. A few years ago most of these would have been at the mercy of local hospitals.
A sprained ankle in London might not be so bad. But a broken back in Katmandu is another thing.
Companies including Global Rescue and U.S. Air Ambulance have made a niche of plucking travelers out of scary medical situations far from home.
Mike Weingart of Carlson Wagonlit Travels in the Galleria area said that as travel insurance packages have improved, many have added medical evacuation coverage. One policy he recommends provides $50,000 to $1 million in medical evacuation coverage in addition to coverage for lost baggage, trip delays and other travel snags, he said.
Gobbels, who declined to disclose company revenue, noted that MedjetAssist is not insurance. There is no reimbursement plan. Instead, the company acts like AAA for the body. While auto clubs send tow trucks to pick up disabled cars, medical evacuation services like MedjetAssist dispatch air ambulances and specially outfitted jets to pick up travelers who are injured in accidents, have heart attacks or otherwise become severely ill.
Membership fees range from $85 for one week of coverage for an individual to $895 to cover an entire family that lives outside the U.S. at least nine months out of the year.
To qualify for transport, members must be at least 150 miles from home and must be sick enough to be admitted to a local hospital and stabilized.
My 2008 travel plans are booked. Most bookings are refundable up to the 90-day mark. I consider travel insurance a must.
Choose a policy that not only covers medical emergencies but also a refund should you become ill and unable to start your travel.
Remember that a passport is required even if you do not intend to go ashore in a foreign country. I shop for not only the best prices but also memorable journeys.
This year offers a maiden voyage in the Baltics, April in Paris and autumn colors from Quebec to Halifax and Bar Harbor. If you have interest in joining in the fun, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for the specifics.
The world will be looking at Beijing during the August Summer Olympics. Showcasing Beijing to the global press will be a first for China.
In September Jeffrey Miller, a travel lawyer and consultant in Columbia, Md., wrote a piece in the trade magazine Travel Weekly titled “Losing Faith in Travel Insurance.”
After 15 years of encouraging travel agents to sell such policies, which can pay commissions of 25 percent or more, he wrote, “I no longer believe travel insurance to be a vacation staple.”
In the last year, Miller said, many friends and clients had complained about insurers denying apparently legitimate claims. Confusion reigned over what policies cover.
After his article was published, he said, he “got a lot of grief from the industry.”
In separate letters, Brad Finkle, president of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association in Richmond, Va., criticized the Consumer Reports and Miller’s articles.
Finkle wrote that the “vast majority” of travel-insurance claims were paid and that consumers needed to take responsibility for reading their policies. Only travel insurance, he added, covers most losses from trip interruptions and cancellations, the most common claims.
Here’s a topic that inspires fear, loathing — and boredom.
Yes, we’re talking travel insurance. We fear illness and accidents, loathe thinking about them when we plan a trip and are too bored to plow through 20 pages of fine print on an insurance certificate.
“Nine times out of 10, they don’t read it,” Angela Norton, spokeswoman for CSA Travel Protection in San Diego, said of travelers who buy packaged policies for trip cancellation and interruption, medical costs and evacuation, luggage loss and other mishaps.
Now, some heavy-hitting critics are asking, “Why bother?”
First, Consumer Reports magazine in May ran an article titled “Travel Insurance: Why You Rarely Need It.”
The typical traveler can afford to forfeit trip deposits and is covered by medical insurance, homeowners’ policies or credit cards for most other losses, said one of the experts quoted, Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America in Washington.
In emergencies, he added, airlines and other suppliers might offer refunds or waive penalties.
January is traditionally the busiest time of the year for travel agents as up 15 million holidaymakers look for early cheap deals for their summer holidays, but for many travel insurance is left until the last moment.
While 34 per cent book holidays in January, some 20 per cent of people take no travel insurance, a poll by esure Travel Insurance reveals.
Furthermore 48 per cent of holidaymakers are not checking for potential severe weather warnings prior to leaving and 47 per cent do not look out for Foreign Office warnings – despite the demand for holidays in more exotic destinations increasing.
Jacky Brown, head of travel insurance at esure, said: "Most people love to jump on the bandwagon of the January sales season. A holiday deal may look great from the outset, but come holiday time - you could be caught out by flying out to your destination, such as Mexico, during the hurricane season.
"Delays and even flight cancellations in such extreme weather are inevitable therefore it's vital to make sure you have travel insurance to make sure you're covered."
If it ever comes to a claim, a little insider knowledge of the process won't hurt, either.
For example, Guillen's denial was completely preventable, if he had only reviewed the policy before canceling his vacation, according to Access America (www.accessamerica.com). His policy would have covered him if his airline had canceled the flight because of a hurricane, according to company spokeswoman Caroline Platt. "His claim was denied because there was no disruption in service by the airline," she said. "His plane took off as planned."
But Access America, one of the largest travel insurance companies in the world, is concerned that Guillen and others like him may be left with the feeling that they are covered when they aren't.The company has started simplifying the language of its policies through a campaign called "Plain English."
Before Sept. 11, about one in 10 Americans insured their vacations. Now, about one-third of all trips are insured, according to industry estimates. That's translated into big profits for insurers. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association, a trade group, estimates that the industry rakes in about $1 billion in annual revenues. In the past year alone, the association's membership rose nearly 40 percent, to 56 member companies.
It may be a good time to be in the travel insurance business, but is it a good time to buy travel insurance?
Depends. Before taking out a policy, it's important to determine whether you need protection at all. Experts say that with so many travel insurance products available, thorough research is critical -- and that means reading the policy in its entirety, not just the brochure.
Even with Hurricane Dean taking aim at Cancun, Mexico, last August, Miguel Guillen wasn't worried. After all, he had insured his vacation.
A quick call to his insurance company, Access America, left him with the impression that he'd get a full refund in less than two weeks. So as the Category 5 storm threatened to blow away his hard-earned getaway, "I was told to cancel my flight and file a claim," he said.
Then the hurricane changed course, leaving Cancun unharmed. Guillen's flight took off as scheduled, and his claim was denied. "It was unfair and it was inappropriate," said Guillen, a computer engineer from Seattle.
Guillen's story isn't that unusual. More travelers are buying insurance, and more are encountering the difficulties that sometimes ensue.
There are three basic categories of travel insurance; here's a rundown:
These provide financial reimbursement for trip cancellation, interruption or delay in situations arising from conditions such as illness, bad weather or baggage loss.
That often includes medical evacuation coverage in case you become ill or are injured while traveling, and other medical benefits that may not be covered under your health insurance policy.
Perhaps the fastest-growing type of coverage offers 24-hour assistance, provides help finding doctors, helps arrange accommodations, contacts your family or arranges other assistance in case of emergency.