Aug 9, 2022
What to know about insurance in 'summer of travel hell'
More demand for travel insurance among flyers, finds Leger survey
Passengers have been stuck for hours in airports, or in planes that were in limbo on tarmacs; airlines have cancelled or delayed scores of flights; and COVID-19 rules across various jurisdictions have evolved. And that’s only for those who have been lucky enough to get their passports and visas issued or renewed on time.
Former Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee says we’re witnessing “a summer of travel hell.”
“Airlines will very likely be processing significant numbers of requests for refunds and compensation,” Dee said via email. “The complicating factor in Canada, however, has been the disproportionate number of flight delays and cancellations caused by government service failures at airports, specifically delays at security and customs, which have persisted since early April. In those instances, airlines will have to determine the appropriate course of action on a case-by-case basis.”
With delays and other problems expected to continue for some time, industry experts say it’s a good idea for travellers to consider buying travel insurance for their trips; and more importantly — understand what they will be covered for.
“A lot of customers tune out when we talk about insurance,” says Richard Vanderlubbe, president of Tripcentral.ca, a Hamilton, Ont.-based travel agency.
UNDERSTANDING THE POLICY
Travel insurance can include many components, including emergency medical coverage, trip cancellation and interruption, and lost or delayed baggage.
Two years ago, insurers excluded or capped claims for COVID-19 treatment in their emergency medical policies. They started including it this year, but it’s important to read the fine print.
“Our emergency medical insurance covers COVID-19 if the traveller followed their provincial/territorial Health Authority’s protocols,” says Brad Dance, the customer experience officer at Canadian travel insurance provider TuGo, about coverage for vaccinated travellers.
A recent survey by Leger for BNN Bloomberg and RATESDOTCA suggests almost half (46 per cent) of Canadian travellers plan to buy travel insurance, and that figure reaches 63 per cent among those planning to travel by plane. For those who plan to buy travel insurance, half of respondents said they will purchase additional coverage.
“There’s a stronger desire for cancellation insurance than there ever was,” says Vanderlubbe, who also sits on the board of directors at the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies. He advises travellers to understand their policy well, noting that many people made wrong assumptions last fall during the Omicron wave of the pandemic.Martin Firestone, president of Toronto-based travel insurance brokerage Travel Secure, says emergency medical has traditionally been the most popular coverage among travellers, but the other policies have become more popular this year.
He also advises travellers to read the fine print, explaining, “'I don’t want to travel because cases are rising at my destination’ is not a valid reason. The only covered reason is if you get COVID before you travel.”
Travellers cannot expect coverage for delays in getting their passport or visa, or if there is a Canadian government advisory against travel to a destination.
Another policy that could look appealing to travellers who are nervous about scenes of airport chaos is baggage insurance. Firestone says he’s not a fan of the product, noting that many insurers only pay for essentials if bags are delayed beyond three to six hours, and for lost baggage after 30 days.
While travel agents say their sales are still not back to pre-pandemic levels, it’s clear that pent-up demand has boosted bookings this year.
Vanderlubbe says business at Tripcentral.ca bounced back near 2019 levels in the spring. While May and June saw a drop, he says advance bookings for the fall and winter are way up. The percentage of his customers buying travel insurance is up nearly a third compared to pre-pandemic years, he says.
TuGo’s Dance says the company cannot disclose details of sales, but confirms travel insurance purchases this year are close to equalling 2019 levels.
In its latest report, released last year, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA) said that in 2020, insurers paid out $950 million in travel insurance claims, mostly related to trip cancellations. The CLHIA’s report for 2018 showed the industry paid about $900 million in travel insurance claims that year.
So far, according to insurers and travel agents, there has not been an unusual increase in premiums due to the rising demand.
“At this time, TuGo hasn’t planned for an emergency medical premium increase,” Dance says.
Sheila Burns, a director at the CLHIA, which also represents 28 travel insurers, says there has been no change to premiums in response to travel disruptions this year.
According to Vanderlubbe, travellers can expect to pay anywhere between $50-$150 for additional coverage depending upon factors, including their age and type of insurance chosen. Some policies may include a “cancel for any reason” waiver that could refund up to 75 per cent of a trip’s cost.
Many travellers can rely on their group plan from employment or coverage offered by their credit cards, but must be familiar with the extent of coverage and any conditions.
For instance, coverage offered by a credit card would only be applicable if the bookings are made on that card.
According to the CLHIA, among Canadians who are covered for extended health benefits, nine out of 10 would be covered by group plans. Emergency medical coverage during travel could be part of many of these plans, but travellers need to confirm this.
It’s up to buyers to weigh the costs and benefits of travel insurance against the likelihood of their travel plans being affected, and it’s crucial to understand in advance what’s covered, by whom, and under what circumstances.
At the end of the day, Firestone says this is what every insurance buyer needs to know: “Be very clear about your coverage before you get on that plane – and also if you cannot get on it for any reason.”
TYPES OF TRAVEL INSURANCE
- Emergency medical
- Trip cancellation
- Trip interruption