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Travel Insurance: Not something to gamble with

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Travel experts seem to agree on two things about travel insurance:  Get it and don’t buy it through the cruise line.

The first part of that, “get it”, is universally sound advice. Over my years as a travel agent, I received a number of calls from those who did not buy travel insurance and were pretty much out of luck when canceling after final payment had been made on their cruise. They would get back their port charges for the ports they would not be visiting but that was about it.  If they had pre-booked shore excursions or spa treatments, bought drink cards, other pre-cruise buying option or sent Bon Voyage gifts, that would eventually come back to them also.  But the lions share of the package was gone, never to be seen again.

The second part, “…and don’t buy it from the cruise line”  is of a more self-serving nature as third-party insurance programs are big money makers for travel agencies.  It is not uncommon for agencies to make twice the amount of commission on a third-party insurance plan as they do from adding on the cruise line plan.  Still, while every travel insurance plan I have ever seen is different from every other plan, having it is a good idea.

That said, we move along to an actual accident while cruising, my accident,  and go through to the end of the claims process.

My Insurance plan

I am perfectly healthy.   I have no prior medical conditions that might cause me to miss scheduled travel either by land or sea.  Yet I do travel quite a bit so an annual travel protection plan from TravelGuard seemed an appropriate thing to buy.  This is a plan that covers the medical but not the cancellation aspect that all cruise line plans cover in one form or another or that Travelguard can cover from a variety of plans.  It made sense for me because I would never, ever cancel a cruise.  Being a “if I am alive, I will sail” sort of person, the annual medical plan from TravelGuard was a good fit.

I never expected to need it but the peace of mind it provided for a nominal fee was worth the expense.  Little did I know, when boarding Princess Cruises Grand Princess, that I would need that insurance and be quite happy I had the protection it provided.

The Accident

I was going to wash my hands upon returning to the cabin, something they drill into passengers here like we are all about to perform surgery and that’s a good thing.  We know that hand to (insert name of body part) contamination is a major way to spread the dreaded Noro Virus that gets a lot of attention from time to time.  We have done a number of articles about the virus, its effects, how to avoid it and even  research in the works for a nasal vaccine that looks promising.

So in the bathroom I was, dutifully washing my hands when the ship rocked to the left, causing the door, hinged on the right and not closed all the way, to open.  Just by habit,  I reached for the door handle with my left hand while bracing myself against the hinged side of the door frame with my right.  At about that same time, the ship rocked back to the right and so did the door that I was also pulling at the same time.   My thumb was no match for the metal vice it was it and smashed it got.

The Medical Center Experience

Once their system is in motion, things move along really quickly.   Equipped with everything they need, much like the emergency room at a land-based hospital,  it’s one-stop shopping for all your emergency medical needs.  There’s no scheduling an operating room,  we just went there and took care of business.  There’s no going to a pharmacy to fill a prescription, they have what they need right there.  Even the billing department is simple, one of the nurses who worked on me printed an itemized statement along with the signed statement from the doctor that I would need to file my insurance claim.

The Claim

Knowing how important it is NOT to leave the ship without the documentation that I knew TravelGuard would require, I had everything in hand.  Back home, one quick phone call to TravelGuard completed a personal interview where a TraveGuard agent is listening to the story and making an initial determination as to if the incident is covered.  It was. Everything was going according to plan as I had told so many travelers over the years how it would go.

The one and only surprise was when the TravelGuard agent told me that we needed to provide one of two things:

  1. A copy of the section in our personal heath care policy that specifically states that it does not cover claims outside of the continental United States.  OR
  2. Documentation that the claim was filed with our health care service provider and rejected.

You see, travel insurance is what is called a “secondary policy” payable only if our “primary insurance” does not cover the claim.  I did not know that. The general consensus of opinion in the travel industry is that personal health care does not cover outside of the continental United States.  Ours did.  A little bit.  So that had to be processed first.

Actually, our policy basically said that it does not cover outside the continental United States except in cases of accidents.

To make a long story short, of the $947 bill that was paid on board Grand Princess, $247 was paid by our primary health care provider and $700 was paid by TravelGuard.  The entire process from the day the accident occurred until we closed the case was right at 6 weeks.

The lessons learned

  • Know and document what your personal health care plan covers outside of the United States before sailing.
  • Remember and never forget: You will have to pay the ship before you leave for health-care services.  Travel Insurance reimburses those expenses if covered.  I don’t know what they would have done if I had said “…but I don’t have the money to pay you.”
  • Buying a plan that was a good fit for me was a really good idea.  The annual TravelGuard plan cost me $222.  I hope I never use it again but I already paid for it more than three times over.

Armed with this new real-life experience, count on some slightly modified insurance tips to come from this in the near future.  Some tips previously mentioned might be modified, others eliminated and new ones added.  At the end of the day though, the decision to buy travel insurance is, to me, more sound than ever and highly recommended.

 

Chris Owen is a travel writer from Orlando Florida charged with sharing frank, inside information on cruise vacations with travelers. Certified a Master Cruise Counselor by the Cruise Lines International Association, Chris can be found via the popular travel blog, ChrisCruises.net and on the long-running cruise information website, YourCruiseDream.com.

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