If there is an upside to the ongoing volcanic eruptions in Iceland and the shutting down of much European and transatlantic airspace, it may be a heightened awareness of the importance of travel insurance.
John Stone, media relations manager for Travel Insured, reports that the current crisis, which has seen tens of thousand of passengers delayed and massive flight cancellations, is only one of several major incidents since January.
Stone cites the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, followed by the February 27 disaster in Chile, the April 4 quake in Mexico and the April 14 earthquake in Western China as reasons why travel insurance is critical to travelers and agents.
Extensive consumer media coverage of the current crisis, including unprecedented flight cancellations and stranding of passengers, has focused consumer attention on the need for travel insurance, Stone believes. “Travel insurance is affordable and commissionable and there are enough imponderables in travel to make it an integral part of travel,” he said. He also noted agents commissions can be protected up to 15 percent.
Travel Insured is closely monitoring the situation and advising customers to change or adjust their travel schedules as best they can. Airlines are generally refunding the cost of tickets that cannot be used, or will rebook flights when possible.
Judy Sutton, product development manager for Travel Insured, agrees. “The result of this crisis will certainly build awareness of the value of travel insurance,” she said. “When you add to the disasters such as the impact of snowstorms this winter on domestic U.S. travel it adds up to a powerful incentive to have travel insurance. In my view travel agents have a profession obligation to recommend travel insurance to clients. It’s an extra step for our agents but its vital.”
Some hotels and tour operators are also reported to be refunding their fees if the customer is unable to travel to their destination. The airport situation may change quickly and clients are urged to check with their air carrier. (Travel Insured: 800-243-3174).
One agent, Betsy Bouchard of Uniglobe Travel in Virginia, offered a case study of the value of travel insurance. Her honeymoon clients bought a Travel Insured policy well before anything was known about the Iceland volcano impacting European airspace. They were able to recover their trip to Greece ($7,000 trip) and reschedule for a honeymoon in the Caribbean. “Way back when my honeymooners were planning a $7,000 trip to Greece, the subject of insurance came up,” Bouchard said. “Now being honeymooners and in their mid 20's, they didn't expect any cancellations due to change of plans or medical issues.
“I did talk them into insurance - because you never know” Bouchard continued. “Who would've thought Iceland would blow up over Europe making it next to impossible for them to get to Greece. But by having their insurance in place, I was able to save their honeymoon to a Caribbean destination, and they are protected. As I write this, they are on their way to Disney World for four nights at the Hilton in a Junior Suite, and will be sailing on Royal Caribbean's brand new Oasis of the Seas in a balcony cabin for seven nights. Their honeymoon was saved.”
As a rough guide, if travel insurance was purchased before April 13, consumers should check the policy wording to see what is covered. Volcanic eruptions are typically included in the definition of natural disaster or hazard, terms that appear in several coverage benefits.
The U.S. Travel Insurance Association is expected to issue a statement later today. “Thousands of our customers have been affected,” Daniel Durazo, director of communications for Access America Travel Insurance, told The New York Times, “and we expect to pay out up to seven figures in travel insurance-related claims.”
Jim Grace, president of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, said that the figure cited by Durazo could be “across the board or larger” for the industry. “Industrywide it is larger than 10 million,” Grace said. “This will be a significant claims event for the insurance industry.”
Travel Insured considers this event to be adverse or inclement weather. Certain Travel Insured plans offer benefits for some effects of adverse weather. Customers are strongly encouraged to read their Certificate of Insurance or Insurance Policy for details regarding their available coverage.
Travel Insured offers all of our customers’ immediate access to its Assistance Services for emergency travel arrangement and concierge service. Call toll free in the continental U.S. 1-800-494-9907 or collect 1-603-328-1707 for assistance with alternate travel arrangements or any personal assistance needs.
Squaremouth.com, on online site for comparison shopping of travel insurance, urges travelers impacted by the crisis to check their policies carefully. “For most carriers, if you bought travel insurance after April 13, it’s quite likely you won’t be covered,” warned Squaremouth’s Chief Executive Chris Harvey. “In general, travel insurance policies don’t cover events related to natural disasters that are in progress or that have just happened. Even an approaching hurricane wouldn’t be covered if officials have already given it a name.”
Travel Guard North America, reports that it has travel insurance plans that provide coverage through unforeseen events, if the plan was purchased before Tuesday, April 13.
Travel Guard’s core plans include coverage for trip cancellation, interruption and delay in the event of a natural disaster or inclement weather. Travel Guard North America offers all its customers affected by ash-related delays emergency travel assistance services including flight rebooking, hotel booking, cash wire transfers, passport replacement, translation services, message relay and emergency travel arrangements.
Travel Guard’s Assistance service centers are handling an unusually high volume of calls from U.S. travelers trying to get to Europe, as well as those stranded in Europe, the company reports. Visit www.travelguard.com or World Service Center at 1-800-826-1300. Like other major insurers, CSA Travel Protection reports a high call volume.