Free travel insurance (limited time only)! Cancel for any reason and get a 100% refund

By Wayne Wirtanen
This item appears on page 48 of the April 2003 issue.

In what may well be a travel industry first, Uniworld, to encourage the travel-shy, is offering free travel insurance on most of their 60 European river cruises in April and May of this year.

With Uniworld’s “Worry-free Travel Protection Gold Plan,” guests can cancel for any reason up until the day of departure. Cancellation coverage guarantees a refund of 100% of the cruise cost in cash and travel certificates.

There are no forms to fill out, no doctor’s notes to request or adjusters to deal with. If the customer wants to cancel (no reason required), he/she simply informs Uniworld in writing and is reimbursed.

This Gold Plan also provides upgraded insurance once the passenger departs. Enhanced protection against such unexpected circumstances as trip interruption, trip delay, medical expenses and baggage delay is also included.

The fine print

There are no age limits and no preexisting-condition clauses. Emergency medical evacuation coverage is unlimited.

Refunds include cash and certificates for use on a subsequent cruise within two years.

There is a sliding scale that determines the cash/certificate ratio. Cancellation penalties that result in certificates increase as the departure date nears: 121 days or more, $100 per person; 120-90 days, 10% of the cruise price; 89-60 days, 35% of the cruise price; 59-30 days, 50% of the cruise price, and cancellations fewer that 30 days from departure, 100% of the cruise price.

For example, if you canceled their $1,598 “Holland Tulip” cruise 89 to 60 days before departure, you’d receive a refund of $1,038.70 in cash and $559.30 in future travel credit.

Airfare coverage

The above refund schedule pertains only to the cruise price, not international airfare. If you had purchased an “all-inclusive” package that included airfare and there was an airline cancellation fee, it would be deducted from the cash portion of Uniworld’s refund. 

Airline cancellation fees vary and Uniworld could only say that, “A significant amount of the airfare is refundable in cash when originally booked through us.”

There is no penalty for air cancellations made 31 days or more out, because airline tickets are not issued until 30 days before departure.

Advantages of Uniworld’s plan

I’m not aware of any standard travel insurance policy that will allow trip cancellation for any reason.

Unlike Uniworld’s plan, standard travel insurance policies are increasingly adding age-related clauses, reducing insurance benefits, increasing costs and sometimes refusing coverage at all above age 69.

I’ve seen the complete text of standard travel insurance terms, conditions and clauses that runs to 10 pages — with further complex text referred to. Uniworld’s plan appears to be very “customer friendly,” easy to understand, and filing a claim sounds uncomplicated.

Uniworld’s “free travel insurance” offer is the equivalent of a significant discount on their cruise packages with insurance coverage features that aren’t to be found in a standard insurance policy.

Disadvantages of the plan

The only disadvantage that I can see is the “travel certificate” portion of the refund. I see this as a pretty minor negative, when you consider the pluses. It’s reasonably likely that a customer would have no trip cancellation-related net loss because of his ability to use the credits on a future trip.

Standard travel insurance policies, however, will pay your total loss pay in cash, if you can file a claim that successfully threads its way through their terms, conditions and exclusions.

Uniworld was not able to say if they would be continuing this plan beyond May of this year. A pioneering small group of tour companies is beginning to offer travel insurance coverage tailored to their own tour itineraries that has terms and conditions that are more “customer friendly” than run-of-the-mill policies. I hope that this trend continues so that I can more positively recommend travel insurance.

For more information

For more information on Uniworld’s European river cruises and their new travel insurance offering, call 800/733-7820 or visit

River cruises are a great way to travel. There are no “port fees” and few, if any, extra costs for sightseeing. On some itineraries the ships move at night while you are asleep, so there’s no time wasted sitting on a crowded bus between destinations.

Unpack only once while your relatively small floating hotel takes you to your next sightseeing excursion. Saima and I have done this on the Rhine River, the Volga River and, in Russia’s Far East, the Amur River and we highly recommend it.