With winter snow storm season upon us, it’s a good time to think about trip insurance. As we saw with last week with Sandy and this week with a Nor'easter wreaking havoc on travel plans.
If you are flying from Dallas to Houston on a cheap fare, you probably don’t need to get trip insurance, but if you have saved up and are taking expensive trip of a lifetime, it’s a good idea to pay the extra money for trip insurance. If you travel all the time for business, the odds are in your favor without insurance, but if you are one of those people who travels occasionally and you have saved up for a trip, travel insurance can offer you peace of mind.
If you are taking a cruise, you want to protect your air travel and cruise under the same plan, so if your flight is late and it causes you to miss the cruise, you’ll be covered. The plan doesn’t have to be purchased through the cruise line and I recommend buying through a third party for better coverage since many cruise lines have policies that favor themselves and not the passenger.
When purchasing a cruise vacation, the airfare can be higher if you purchase it through the cruise line. You should still price fares and if it’s the same or a little higher, you should buy the airfare through the cruise company because if your flight is delayed or cancelled, the cruise line will get you to the next port.
Last year some cruise ships left port hours early due to an approaching storm and Royal Caribbean only flew the passengers who had purchased airfare through the cruise line to the next port to catch up with the ship. You also need to make sure you have a passport when taking a cruise that goes to foreign ports because you can’t fly into the next port if you don’t have one, even if you have trip insurance. Plus if there is a family emergency and you need to fly back from a foreign port, you can’t fly without a passport.
If your cruise takes off and you are stuck in the snow in Dallas, you will have to catch up to your cruise by flying to the next port, or cancel your trip completely. I always advise getting to the cruise departure city a day or two early, so you have plenty of time to make it to the ship if you have any delays. Murphy's Law can happen to anyone-- flat tire on the way to the airport, a storm delays the arrival of your plane, trip over the kids toys when walking out the door and break your leg, etc. Many people get nervous if they are flying on the same day they are scheduled to cruise, but if you fly early, you can relax and tour the port city and not have to worry about missing the boat, and being 'ship' out of luck!
If you’re worried about taking a trip during hurricane season it is better to be on a cruise ship than on an island that is in the path of a storm. I was on a cruise during a hurricane and the cruise ship stayed far away from the storm, which was far better than being stuck on an island that can’t avoid the storm.
If you have a hotel room, you can usually cancel without penalty, so you probably don’t need trip insurance, but if you purchase a non-refundable air and hotel package, it’s good to have trip insurance because you are pre-paying for your travel. The advantage of purchasing hotel and air together is that you can often get better prices. If you book hotel separately, be sure to cancel your hotel reservation ahead of time, or you could be charged for one night.
Changing a non-refundable airline ticket can be expensive, with fees of $150 on most carriers for domestic travel and $250 on international tickets, but when weather forces plane delays and cancellations, the airlines often waive change fees for travel within a certain time period, so you can change your flight without penalty.
One thing to consider is that if you get stuck during a vacation, having to pay for extra hotel days can add up, so you may want to get insurance. Volcanic dust was the last thing on the minds of people who flew to Europe a couple of years ago, but many people got stuck, some for 10 days, and hotel rooms were not cheap.
If you are experiencing bad weather when your flight is scheduled to depart, call the airline to change your travel plans instead of doing it at the airport. In December 2010, New York had one of its worst snowstorms and passengers who gave up their hotel rooms and went to the airport were stuck for days. I wouldn’t give up my hotel room in those conditions because I want to be comfortable and I don’t want to sleep at the airport.
If you are vacationing in the Caribbean and a storm hits the island, flights many not resume for at least 24 hours and sometimes up to 72 hours, so call ahead to change your flight. If you are on your vacation and you hear that a hurricane or winter storm is coming, you may want to leave early, and in most cases the airlines will allow you to get an early flight out without paying the change fee.
Some credit cards offer travel insurance, so check with yours before purchasing. Even if your card doesn’t offer insurance, it’s a good idea to purchase travel with a credit card and not a debit card because it is easier to dispute charges and protect yourself.
If you are traveling abroad, you should also check your health insurance coverage. Your health insurance policy may not cover medical expenses while you are out of the country.
You can get travel insurance up to 24 hours before departure, so if you get nervous close to your departure day you can get covered. However, if you are traveling to an area where there is a tropical depression, storm or hurricane, you cannot get covered for any issues related to the storm, unless you purchased at least 24 hours in advance of when the storm got named. The same thing goes for winter storms, you have to purchase at least 24 hours in advance of when a severe winter storm warning or watch is issued.
The primary reason to get trip insurance is to cover cancelling the trip. If you have to make changes to your trip that are not related to weather, a natural disaster, etc., you will be responsible for airline change fees, which can be $150-$250, and any increase in airfares, and the first night of the hotel stay. If you need to make a change, you may be better off cancelling your entire trip and rebooking it.
For frequent flyers, or business travelers that travel every other week or so, travel insurance may not be as important. If I bought insurance on every trip I have ever purchased I would be out way more money than whatever expenses I have incurred over the years for delays, bad weather and having to cancel a trip due to illness. But if you only travel a few times a year or have a lot of money on the line with a big vacation you may want to purchase insurance when you book and have peace of mind that you will be covered when it comes time to take the trip.
Just remember that it can take three or four weeks to be reimbursed and if you can’t cover the cost of the new trip before you are reimbursed, you may have to rebook your trip for a later date. You also must cancel your vacation prior to the scheduled departure time or you could be out the entire amount spent. Make sure you get a confirmation number to give to the insurer because they will need that to verify the cancellation.
At Bestfares.com, we use Travel Guard to insure our packages and we checked rates for a 4-night package from Dallas to Cancun departing September 21. Rates were $508 for the air and 4-star hotel package and the insurance cost $49.95 per person for a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason.
If you buy a policy, read the fine print and make sure it covers weather, illness, natural disasters, mechanical issues and anything else you think might cause you to cancel or change your trip. If you get stuck, make sure you save your receipts for your additional expenses. You often have to pay those expenses up front and get reimbursed later.
Most good travel insurance policies average between 6 and 10 percent of your trip cost, but rates vary on the type of coverage and age of the traveler. The US Travel Insurance Association has information about trip insurance, including what to look for in a policy and a directory of companies. Visit www.ustia.org.
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