Insurance & Travel in the Time of Covid
A Classic RiverCruiseKing.com Blog re-post from 2019
I want to preface this post by saying I am not an expert on insurance and the comments below are my opinions based on experience, observations, and attempts to educate myself as much as possible. The goal of this blog post is to give you things to consider (or be aware of) when booking your AmaWaterways trips, but can also be applied to travel in general.
As Summer 2020 begins and the first months of the Covid-Effect are felt throughout the world's travel destinations, there are so many issues to consider when contemplating upcoming journeys that one's head spins. For me, one word dominates my travel planning: strategy.
Without the benefit of a crystal ball, I can not tell you if/when a cure, vaccine or treatment will allow us to once more freely hop around the planet, but I am definitely planning for when that happens and AmaWaterways is the best partner to work with to make that a reality. Not only have they responded to this crisis commendably (as described in my last blog post) but they are making it easy to re-book and reschedule river cruise adventures already into 2023! I myself have been busy booking new groups, transferring guests to future dates, and expanding my escorted offerings. I always say "it's lovely to have something to look forward to" and a little traveling in my mind will have to suffice until we can do the real thing.
The biggest variable at the moment aside from 'when will countries re-open?' is travel insurance. Who and what will be covered now in these Covid times? Whose policies give the best flexibility? Money back or just credit? The list goes on and on. So I came up with my own Who, What, Where, When and Why list to help guide my guests as we plan their AmaWaterways adventures.
WHO?: During my years of organizing trips and traveling with AmaWaterways I have seen their insurance in operation and learned very early on that while protection for cancelling a trip is often in the forethought of most people's original reasons for getting travel insurance, it's that moment that an unforeseen event occurs and the ship continues on without them that the medical and repatriation side of insurance planning became the smartest decision of that vacation. I've sent the same lady home twice (Hi Pat! Love YOU, see you for Tulip Time 21!), we've left gentlemen in German and French hospitals to receive life saving heart procedures (right, Jim and Jim?), I've watched dental issues disrupt a dream trip, and even organized a bucket of necessities for a woman that wasn't part of my own group who found herself in a Myanmar hospital and in need of TP and essentials (remember that, Dick?!!).
Trust me when I say, "Do not leave the country without a plan on how to handle such a situation!" and unless you have unlimited funds, choosing the right travel and medical insurance is as important as picking a destination and a cabin. In my opinion, EVERYONE needs travel insurance, but the absolutely most important part of this equation will be YOU and whether or not you take the time to understand your options and how you can exercise them if needed.
WHY? Buy a Travel Insurance Plan: Travel Mishaps Occur Every Day
Family member gets sick.
Your baggage is lost.
Your trip is delayed.
Your passport is lost or stolen.
You need last minute travel arrangements.
Weather prevents your travel.
A medical emergency while traveling
Growing up I very often heard the phrase, "it's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it," and while that was either a very clever way for my mother to control whether we brought a jacket or if a great insurance marketing company wrote it as a slogan, it has become the mantra of my travel insurance recommendation. I have indeed seen people get into difficulty while traveling and rue the day that they decided not to get insurance. For me the "why" of travel insurance comes down to "Do I want to be stranded far away from home and needing medical care and wanting to return home quickly?" That answer is no for me. You have to answer that question for yourself.
WHAT? With so many options on the market it can be hard to decide which is the best travel policy for you. Just a quick google search brings up dozens of companies, variations on coverage, whether one gets cash back or credits in the event of a claim, and limits on medical. No wonder it can feel overwhelming. For me, I simplified it down to a few sources and types of coverage.
Primary or Secondary Coverage: One of the questions that should come first when looking into coverage is if it is primary or secondary coverage. Primary pays a claim first, even if you have other coverage and the Secondary acts as a supplement, paying the amount left over and unpaid by the primary. If you buy a policy that is listed as "secondary" it will act as a primary policy if you do not have any other coverage, but require a little more documentation.
I see this come into play when people have an "included travel insurance" from another source and they use that to augment their search for travel cancellation insurance. Credit cards are perfect examples.
Credit Card Benefit Coverage: Several high end credit card products have travel and medical coverage built into the card holder benefits so it behooves all travellers to familiarize themselves with what would (or could) be covered simply by paying for their trip and travel with a particular card. Some credit cards have medical coverage included, but not cancellation. So be sure to read what is and is not included in these "card benefits". Make sure you know the limits and the triggers and check to see if it makes sense for you to use a combination of those included benefits and a privately purchased travel insurance through an independent provider or even from Ama directly.
As an American Express Platinum card member, I know that there are certain degrees of coverage for baggage loss or delay, medical assistance, repatriation, legal assistance and coverage for car rental, but I augment that coverage with "Any Reason" cancellation coverage.
Remember that it is very important to pay for the entire purchase with the same card to enact coverage. It is also a good idea to print out a copy of the terms and conditions and keep a copy in your suitcase or take a photo screen shot of those pages and save it to your hand held device. This way you can access info without WiFi.
The most popular filters that I see being used when searching what to cover are:
Pre-Existing Medical Condition
Emergency Medical & Evacuation
Cancellation & Interruption
Loss of Luggage
Tip on Year Round Policy vs. Single Journey: Many of my guests take multiple trips per year so it may be to your advantage to look into a year round travel protection policy.
WHERE: Where or from whom should I get my insurance? Should I get my insurance directly from AmaWaterways or should I get it privately? Private Insurers: There are literally hundreds of private travel insurance plans out there and they all offer different things based on the state that you live in, so giving a general "one company" meets all recommendation is absolutely impossible. Off the top of my head the ones I see used most by my guests are TravelGuard, Allianz, TravelEx, Access America, AXA, Prudential, & Seven Corners.
My best answer on "where to get your private insurance" is to use one of the reputable travel insurance comparison websites. The ones I see used the most are insuremytrip.com or squaremouth.com. You can simply enter the data for your trip into their calculator, adjust the filters for what is most important to you, and within seconds you have a list of the best policies and their plans at your finger tips. You can use the information you find at these sites to compare to your credit card policy (if you have one) or AmaWaterways' plan for your state. There may also be other sites out there that you prefer, I only mention these two since I hear their names the most from my guests.
International Readers Beware! The above sites are for my North American audience. Those in Australia, Europe and Asia will have to search their own countries' best insurance offers.
Insurance thru AmaWaterways: AmaWaterways has created their own travel & medical insurance policies with various companies over the years. The actual providers and minor details of the plans have changed due to so many insurance regulations which change state by state. Therefore, it has happened that guests cruising in one year have their Ama insurance underwritten by TravelGuard and the next by TravelEx. I have watched both in action processing claims from past Ama passengers and I was impressed by the responses in each case, but there are both pros and cons about booking insurance thru Ama. Those thoughts have evolved over the years and now changed in the advent of planning travel during Covid19. So let's get into Ama's coverage.
Ama's Cancellation and Medical Insurance: The base of Ama's cancellation and medical cancellation is similar to most policies offered privately. This is a Primary, Money Back policy and is enacted once a claim is made which meets the criteria for payment. In the example below of Ama's insurance coverage for Florida residents on European departures, you can see what their coverage covers and what it pays IF the cancellation criteria are met and the required documentation is provided. When deciding if Ama's insurance is right for you or not, be sure to pay attention to WHEN coverage begins, WHY and HOW you can cancel, and WHAT is needed to file a claim.
Generally, coverage relates to the insured traveler, the travel companion, direct family members and/or business partners. Ama's policy covers unforeseen events ranging from sickness, death, injury preventing travel to being hijacked, quarantined, subpoenaed, required to serve on a jury, or required to appear as a witness in a legal action, fired or laid off, etc. The link above will let you see your state's exact coverage and exceptions, but you can see everything listed here at the Florida resident's insurance offer link to get an idea.
Ama's coverage is pretty good in my humble opinion, but beware that there are conditions that invalidate a claim such as being intoxicated, being involved in a crime, disrupted by civil disorder, or you travel against the advice of your doctor. No matter where you get your insurance, be sure to read the exclusions closely!
The BIGGEST question I am getting right now is, "Are we covered for Covid under Ama's Cancellation and Medical insurance?" The answer is yes and no. You can read the details here, but the long and short of it is that Covid is now a known event (not unforeseen) and cancelling for a Covid reason that is not connected to your own (or travel partner's) medical condition would NOT be covered. However, if you, your travel partner, etc. have a direct Covid event that requires a doctor's care, this would be covered. It is a tad tricky, but the distinction comes down to are you medically affected by Covid or are you situationally affected. Medical events are covered: "We don't feel comfortable to travel due to Covid" is not. This is where Ama's Worry Free Waiver becomes a great tool.
TIP: The one drawback to using Ama's insurance is that AMA COVERAGE ONLY COVERS THE PARTS OF YOUR TRIP BOOKED THRU AMAWATERWAYS. Any portion of your trip that you do not book thru Ama will NOT be covered by Ama's travel insurance including airfare, hotel stays, transfers or tours, etc. If you book Ama's insurance and you book anything extra on your own you will need to cover those things separately as they will not be covered by Ama's insurance.
Ama's Trip Cancellation and Travel Medical insurance is 13% of trip cost and must be purchased before final payment. If purchased with deposit it will cover pre-existing medical conditions. Full payment is required.
Ama's Travel Waiver Plus Protection: Ama's second level of protection is for those times when a cancellation does not meet a covered reason. Their Worry Free Waiver allows the guest to cancel and receive a travel credit to be used within 24 months should something arise that prevents you from traveling, but does not meet the level of criteria for a cash back claim. I call this "The Dog is Mad" coverage and although I know many guests prefer money back, in the instance that your insurance won't cover you, a credit is better than losing your whole vacation.
Pre-Covid, this waiver used to only be offered in connection with Ama's insurance and had to be purchased at deposit. Now it can be added up until 48 hours before the trip start date regardless of whether you have Ama's Travel Guard insurance or your own private policy. Currently all booked guests can purchase the Travel Waiver Plus up until 48 hours prior to departure, however this policy can change at any time!
Originally, this offer was only for Europe and Asia, but has now been extended to include Egypt (despite printed material saying otherwise) and can also be used for guests booked for Africa (but only at their final payment.)
Furthermore, to all the guests who recently received a Future Cruise Credit for suspended sailings, the Worry Free Waiver is the ONLY way to protect those credits at Ama once they have been applied!!! I am applying the Worry Free Waiver automatically for ALL of my guests applying their FCC credits in order to protect you!
Ama can withdraw this offer at any time so I encourage you to consider your strategy on how to use this very special offer. Once things settle down from Covid I expect Ama will revert to the original rules, so get it while you can!
Tip: If you are pricing private insurance if you put in "Any Reason" into the filter you can compare Ama's Worry Free credit to a cash back option that private insurers offer. Knowing what Ama's waiver costs will help you decide what is best for you.
The cost is $80pp as an addendum to the Ama Travel insurance or $175pp if purchased in connection with your own travel insurance (or as a stand alone policy).
WHEN? So when to buy insurance is the next biggest question. As I mentioned above, guests with pre-existing conditions need to pay extra attention to when they purchase their insurance in order to ensure coverage. In general, a pre-existing condition is anything you have been to the doctor for (or are taking medication for) in the last 6 months. There are some exceptions, but again, those details must be read on the state by state plan description at Ama's insurance link.
Tip: If you do NOT have a pre-existing condition, in my humble opinion there is no rush to decide which insurance plan to choose until you know what the totality of your trip looks like.
STRATEGY! So now that you know the basic run down of of Ama's Travel Insurance and their Worry Free Waiver vs. Privately Purchased Travel Insurance you need to decided what is best for you.
Guests with pre-existing medical conditions need to make some decisions at the time of deposit and whether they want Ama's insurance or a private provider.
Guests who do not have pre-existing conditions can wait and see how much of their trip will be booked thru Ama and how much of their trip will be booked privately to determine where they would be best served.
Compare Ama's Worry Free Waiver to the cost of an Any Reason cancellation policy offered by private providers and make a plan whether (or when) to add the Worry Free Waiver. Since Ama could revert to the old rules at any time, it is smart to add Worry Free while it is available, however, if any rule changes are announced I would alert all my guests.
Keep in mind that Ama requires full payment for their insurance, so unless you need to protect a pre-existing medical condition, the cost of insurance will be more than a cancellation fee (as long as you are outside final payment) so it might be better to wait.
Insurance purchased through Ama is attached to each booking and can not be refunded or moved once applied and the insurance takes effect (there is a 14 day cancellation window).
Tip: The flip side of "Ama insurance only covers what is purchased thru Ama" is that Ama's full coverage with their worry free waiver covers EVERYTHING you book with them including airfare, land packages, transfers and any cruise credits you might have used. This is one of the best arguments to book every aspect of the trip with Ama and let it be covered by their insurance and Worry Free Waiver. That way, no matter what happens to any aspect of travel, you would be covered one way or another. That means you don't have to deal with multiple providers, multiple policies and even have your airfare protected!
The above comments apply to all of my AmaWaterways groups and individually booked guests EXCEPT my 2021 Tulip Time Special Charter. Because I have chartered the ship, thus making me 100% responsible, neither Ama insurance nor the Worry Free waiver can be purchased for that departure and as advised in the Info Mail, the Cabin Offer and the You're Booked mails, YOU MUST PURCHASE PRIVATE INSURANCE for that departure.
All my other Ama bookings including Stars of Africa, Secrets of Egypt & The Nile, Vietnam & Cambodia and all European departures can book Ama insurance and waivers.