Should I Buy Travel Insurance?

A couple of years ago I booked a couple on a summer trip to Italy.  On the day of departure, their outbound flight was canceled.  They were promptly booked on the next day’s flight at no additional charge; however, they lost an entire day of their vacation.  The hotel was non-refundable as was the excursion they missed on day two.  Fortunately, they purchased travel insurance when they booked their trip and we were able to file a claim to recover the costs of the missed hotel night and the excursion.  Without it, they would not have been so lucky.

I like to tell this story because it illustrates the value of travel insurance.  For many, the assumption is that travel insurance is just extended medical coverage, and for healthy travelers this would seem redundant to their current plan.  Travel insurance, in reality, has very little to do with medical coverage (although most good policies include emergency medical services) and is really a catch all to cover most events that could go wrong during a vacation.  A sample policy that I might offer to my clients usually consists of the following:

–          Trip Cancellation up to 100% of insured cost;
–          Trip Interruption up to 150% of insured cost;
–          Trip Delay up to $1000;
–          Lost or delayed baggage up to $1000;
–          Pet care boarding if you are delayed from returning home for medical reasons up to $300;
–          Emergency Medical Expenses up to $50,000;
–          Emergency Medical Evacuation or Repatriation up to $500,000;
–          Travel Accident Dismemberment or Death up to $10,000; and
–          24-Hr Worldwide Emergency Assistance

Some clients think that their medical coverage provides out-of-network care overseas, but that is usually limited to bigger cities. In the middle of a crisis, the ambulance will likely take you to the closest emergency room which may or may not be affiliated with your home medical coverage.

And even if by some lucky miracle the ER is affiliated with your home medical coverage, I can guarantee with absolute certainty that any emergency medical evacuation costs are NOT covered.  A medical evac or repatriation can cost upwards of $300,000.  When a plan – such as the one above – might cost an extra $180 it’s hard to think of a reason NOT to have the coverage on hand just in case.

It’s also very important to really understand what the basic coverage includes and doesn’t include.  Trip cancellation, for example, is usually limited to very specific circumstances such as (but not limited to): disabling sickness or injury of the traveling party; financial default of an airline, cruise line or tour operator; inclement weather; and the destination being devastated by flood, fire, volcano, or tornado.

Travel insurance also comes with optional coverage which I may recommend to clients depending on the nature of their trip.  Such optional coverages include:

–          Cancel for ANY reason;
–          Sports coverage;
–          Renters Collision Insurance; and
–          Increased limits to Medical and Baggage Coverage

Again, it’s important to know the limits of the coverage especially as it pertains to sports.  The coverage was designed for “low-risk” activities like skiing or even skydiving (in some cases), and may not cover accidents or injuries caused by other sports such as jet skiing or rapelling.  Even more so, if you were negligent or reckless in a covered sport, your claim for accident or injury will be denied.

I don’t go on any trip without travel insurance.  With more and more flights being delayed and cancelled, I want to know that I’ll be taken care of since the airlines no longer compensate you for anything less than a mechanical failure.  I’m also rather accident and sick-prone, and if I were to ever come down with a sudden case of malaria or fall and break my ankle, I never have to think twice about seeking medical assistance.

There are a number of great providers out there that offer quality plans in terms of coverages, limits, and premium price.  My personal preference is Travel Guard and Travel Insured.  (Travel insurance policies offered by airlines and cruise lines offer very different exclusions and waivers and it’s extremely critical that you understand what those are if you are considering purchasing through those carriers.) Both Travel Guard and Travel Insured offer a variety of plans to best suit the nature of your trip.  A basic worldwide plan, with optional cancel for any reason, costs on average about $250.  For an 8-day trip to Italy that costs about $5,500, that works out to about $30 a day.

At the top of this page, I’ve included a link to Travel Guard if you’re interested in seeing what a plan may cost for your upcoming vacation.  I encourage you to check it out and to bookmark this page to return to when you’re ready to purchase your travel insurance policy!

And now I’ll leave you with this great infographic which compares Marvin and Mark’s vacation and how travel insurance can really pay off in just a few unfortunate, but very realistic, scenarios:

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Have you ever purchased travel insurance?  
Now that you’ve learned more about it, will you in the future?

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Would You Pay More for a Better On-Board Experience?

I read an interesting article the other day comparing air travel preferences between Millenials (those born between 1980-early 2000s) and Generation X (those born between 1960-1980) travelers.  The big takeaway from this study of nearly 3000 participants was that Millenials were willing to pay more for flights in return for a better on-board experience.

The type of on-board experiences contemplated by Millenials ranged from “open-bar” alcohol access, themed seasonal flights with matching snacks, drinks and movies, and in-flight connectivity to ideas so extreme as child-free planes.  Generation Xers, by comparison, saw these as nice-to-haves, but cared more about reasonable airfares and on-time arrivals.

From what I can gather, the airlines are listening to what the Millenials have to say.  Nearly all major U.S. airlines offer wifi on many its planes.

Virgin America and Airtran offer it aboard all of their flights.

Virgin even takes the concept of on-board experiences to a new level by offering guests with an array of extra options such as: seat-to-seat delivery; virtual chatting with other guests on board; and even an “open tab” concept for food and drink all through its seatback entertainment system.

With flight times growing longer and longer, and passengers spending more and more time in transit, it’s no wonder that the on-board experience is so critical.  From my own experience, there is nothing more insufferable than a 10-hour flight to Dubai with a broken entertainment system.

As a Millenial myself, I like inflight wifi, and can certainly get behind the open-bar concept so long as flight attendants reserve the right to cut off any guest who has reached a point of excess before said guest creates any distractions on-board.  But as we make all of these tech and entertainment upgrades to our flights, let’s not forget about other in-flight services that enhance guests’ comfort that have slowly been phased out of the U.S. domestic market  in recent years: the availability of pillows and blankets, free headsets for flights longer than 3 hours, free checked luggage, and gratis meals in economy class (like in Europe).

And for everything else, you can charge my Visa.

Cruise Control

If you’re considering an alternative to an urban city vacation, a cruise might be a great vacation choice for you.

My husband and I recently went on our first cruise.  I had long been a cruise skeptic.  I didn’t understand how hopping from port to port each day, spending an average of 6 hours at each port, was enough time to see and do everything…to really get to know a place!  I spent 5 days in Rome and still didn’t see everything.

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The Celebrity Summit at Port

So we went jumped in head first and went on a 7-night cruise throughout the Southern Caribbean.  It was definitely one of the best and most stress-free vacations I’ve ever been on!  With over 2,000 guests on board, we never felt like the ship was crowded.  We didn’t have to worry about packing, unpacking and changing hotel rooms while waking up in a different city/port of call each morning.

We were kept very busy by the variety of on-board amenities, activities, and entertainment options.  After spending all day at port sightseeing on our own or as part of an organized excursion, we would freshen up and enjoy a coffee or beer while watching our favorite singer/songwriter on board in the late afternoon before dinner. Others would lounge by the pool.  Some would nap.  The beauty of cruising is you can do whatever you want whenever you want.

Before we cruised, we gathered some GREAT tips from a variety of sources, including websites such as cruisecritic.com and from veteran cruisers.  All of this greatly enhanced our experience and helped us make the most of our time at sea.

TIPS FOR FIRST TIME CRUISERS

Spend a little time learning about what to do at Port — No matter how big or small the port of call is (say, Dominica vs Venice) you want to make the most of your time.  A little research ahead of time will help you learn if there are any must-see attractions and what shore excursions are offered (and if they’re offered within the time the ship docks and departs). Waiting until the last minute could result in an excursion being sold out.

Gratuity is expected — Tipping is expected for almost everything on a cruise.  If you didn’t upgrade to a premium drink package (the most basic of which usually includes soft drinks and alcohol up to a certain dollar threshold), your drink bills will automatically include tips. If you don’t pre-pay your dining and room tips up front when you book your cruise, you will be asked to leave cash on the last day before you disembark.

The suggested tip rate is about $12/day/person.

Anytime Dining/My Time Dining May Require Reservations for Prime Time Seating — Not hungry at 6pm, but don’t want to wait until 8pm?  Most cruise ships today offer some version of “anytime dining” which allows you to dine at your leisure typically between 6pm-10pm.  But there’s a catch.  With more cruise guests opting for freedom from fixed dining times and dinner companions they could do without, you will find yourself waiting for a table if you haven’t reserved a table for your preferred dining time.

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Typical Oceanview Stateroom

Mind the Dress Code — Most ships have an evening dress code.  While it’s beach casual during the day throughout the ship, dinner in the dining rooms or ship restaurants will be more “resort casual.”  Flip flops and shorts are often not allowed.  For those that opt not to participate in the formal nights, guests can head to the buffet and enjoy a meal there. We opted to forgo the formal nights, but there were those on board that truly enjoyed the formality of the evening.  Don’t ruin it for them.

Bring Cash — Even though most of your on-ship purchases will be settled using a common card (and linked back to a credit card), cash will come in handy to pay for services or souvenirs at port.  Some places may not accept credit card, and there are some places where you might not want to hand over a credit card.  Use discretion and be prepared.

Post-Cruise Motion Sickness — It wasn’t until after the cruise that I experience motion sickness.  Apparently, it’s very common for your brain to still think it’s on the ship.  It took a few days for my body to regain its equilibrium.

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Lobster and Champagne Lunch during our Catamaran Excursion in Grenada

As first time cruisers, we were amused and amazed at everything, particularly how relaxing it was to not be on a schedule, not feel bound to museum opening times, and not feel pressured to see famous monuments if we didn’t want to.  I can’t wait until our next one!

Do you cruise?
What are some of your favorite tips?