Protect Yourself for When You Suddenly Need to Cancel that Flight
How to Easily Avoid Mistakes When Choosing Travel Insurance
by Billy Gozum
All your bags are packed, no wait, they’re not.
You’re days away from that trip that you’ve planned for so long but now you’re not even sure you’ll be able to go.
Everyone seems to have their travel plans up in limbo right now, even if they’re not traveling to Europe, Korea, or China.
The WHO just declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, so it’s only natural to feel worried about flying. It’s not just exposure to the virus on planes that people are afraid of, but also exposure in high-traffic areas like airports, tourist spots, and even lines for taxis or rideshares.
As if you’re not nervous and confused enough, the news just adds fuel to the fire.
Everywhere you tune in, reports mention airlines cutting domestic and international flights due to a drop in demand, and how more and more flights are flying almost or completely empty.
Not to mention the market is crashing, but that’s another story.
So what do you do if you’ve already made vacation plans? What do you do if you want to make travel plans for the future? We’re here to break down your options so you don’t have to scour the internet, which was already a scary place to begin with but is much worse now.
There are plenty of resources for Coronavirus Travel Tips and Advisory, but this article will focus on Coronavirus travel insurance options and advice on getting refunds when you want to cancel your trip.
Planning for Future Travel
Should I Purchase Travel Insurance?
A lot of people are in the “insurance is a totally unnecessary expense” camp, and I get it. Coughing up extra cash for something you’re unlikely to use feels like throwing your money away. You need to save that dough for that yummy airport sushi, amirite?
But air travel is a completely different story, especially now.
You have to consider all the variables that come into play when you fly, and sadly, you don’t have control over a lot of them.
First are the ever-popular flight delays, which can be caused by technical difficulties or by traffic on the tarmac.
Then there are the unforeseen setbacks. Inclement weather due to heavy rains, ice, and other disasters can leave you stranded in an airport for hours or days. Worse yet, they can sometimes lead to total flight cancellations.
Lastly, you also have to consider that your plans may shift. Maybe you need to leave earlier or later than planned, or maybe you need to postpone your trip for a much later date. Maybe you met the person of your dreams and need to stay there forever (hey, it could happen).
If you’re not properly covered, you may be on the hook for the entire purchase price of your tickets and no amount of groveling or grumbling to customer service will help you get your money back.
That’s why you should consider purchasing trip insurance, especially now. But does travel insurance cover Coronavirus?
Not all travel insurance companies are created equal, so it matters to compare travel insurance even more carefully.
You’ve probably come across this company before and casually ignored them. They’re that pesky “but wait, there’s more” step at the end of your airline ticket purchase journey on Expedia that you thank you, next and skip altogether.
But now, you actually want to pay attention to what they’re offering because they could help you save money. Up until recently, Allianz has denied coverage to cancellation requests due to COVID-19.
But CNN reports that Allianz’ policy has changed, stating that “until further notice, [they are] allowing claims for some Coronavirus-related medical care and trip cancellation issues.”
Travelers who purchased their Emergency Medical Care and Emergency Medical Transportation travel health insurance will be covered if they become sick with COVID-19 while on their trip.
Those who purchased their Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption insurance can cancel their trip if you become sick with Coronavirus before or during the trip.
Allianz has some date-specific coverage information, which is also important to note. Per CNN:
An additional benefit for those with Trip Cancellation insurance: it will cover expenses for those who bought travel to mainland China, South Korea or the Lombardy or Veneto regions of Italy before coronavirus became a known event on January 22. The coverage applies to travel that departs before April 1, 2020.
Travel Guard by AIG
Travel Guard Insurance is arguably Allianz’ biggest competitor in the USA for providing trip insurance, so they have similarly issued a statement regarding coverage they offer as it relates to Coronavirus.
As of this writing, Travel Guard says that they will cover travelers who contract Coronavirus prior to and during their trips if they can provide a medical diagnosis confirming their condition.
As far as wanting to cancel trips and requesting reimbursement, they’re pretty ambiguous about the language they use. Which is pretty surprising for insurance companies. Not.
On their Coronavirus FAQs, they keep going back to their “unforeseen covered reasons” verbiage which basically tells you that if your reason is Coronavirus, they’ll likely deny your claim.
Due to all the news reports about COVID-19, insurers can now claim that this is no longer an unforeseen event, so this is why I caution you to carefully read the fine print of the travel insurance policy before you click on that Purchase button.
What is CFAR and Do I Need to Opt-In to It?
CFAR stands for Cancel for Any Reason. It’s an add-on to the basic travel insurance policy that–as the name implies–lets you cancel your trip for any reason.
I’m actually interested to hear stories from claims adjusters receiving those calls; pretty sure those reasons would make for awesome Jeopardy answers.
Anyway, here are the caveats to be aware of before you get your CFAR on:
- Usually, you can only purchase CFAR at the time that you purchase your travel insurance policy. So if you change your mind and want to get it at a future date, most insurers won’t let you.
- There are levels of coverage to consider when you purchase the CFAR add-on. So the amount you’re refunded back in case you cancel your trip is a percentage calculated off the level of coverage you chose.
And if you live in New York, there’s some good news for you.
Previously, New York residents have been unable to purchase CFAR due to state regulations.
But in light of recent events and thanks to some good old consumer complaining (cue teacup clinks from complainers all over the world), new statewide regulations have been put in place that allow travelers living in New York to get CFAR on top of their travel insurance policies.
When You Need to Cancel or Rebook Your Flight but Don’t Have Travel Insurance
If you’ve already bought your airline tickets and are outside the window to also purchase travel insurance to cover that purchase, not all is lost.
A good course of action is to contact the airline directly.
Yep, you have to–gasp–talk to an actual person. So brace yourself, put on your nice phone voice, and practice some human interaction.
Ask them what their policy is for postponing a trip, whether there are rebooking fees, and whether you can recoup some of your costs if you end up canceling.
Most airlines have been understanding with their customers’ concerns over Coronavirus so a lot of them have policies set in place to accommodate these requests.
During any other time when flights are full or sometimes even overbooked, it can be a daunting task to talk to airlines about rebooks and refunds, but you don’t have anything to lose by calling and asking what can be done if you really can’t travel on the dates you previously chose.
Usually, the fees charged for canceling or rebooking also vary, so be aware of that as well. For lap infants, you’re usually out only a percentage of the ticket price.
Child tickets which are at a discounted rate from the adult fares will also have smaller fees attached to them, so it’s best to clarify these with the airlines so you know how much you’re getting back.