Eye on travel insurance »Long-term travel insurance coverage

By Wayne Wirtanen

A letter from Grace Slavsky of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, asked, “Is it possible to buy travel insurance covering trip cancellation/medical evacuation, etc., on an ANNUAL basis for us travelers who take several trips throughout the year? It would save us frequent travelers a lot of hassle. Frequent business travelers are covered. Why can’t the leisure travelers be covered under a similar policy?”

In answering Grace’s question, my research has uncovered only one company that presently offers a policy that covers the usual protections plus trip-cancellation coverage.

ACCESS AMERICA (phone 800/284-8300 or visit www.accessamerica.com) offers an annual plan, the “Deluxe Annual Travel Protection” policy, for $254. No individual trip can be for more than 90 days. The catch is that they provide only $1,000 of cancellation coverage per year! Also, there is no available waiver of the preexisting-condition clause.

There have been policies available in the past with higher cancellation limits and there continues to be a demand for such a product. I understand that there is at least one company working on this project, but nothing is ready for an announcement of availability.

By the way, Access America has a “Basic Annual Travel Protection” plan that provides relatively bare-bones medical and evacuation coverage for $119.

TRAVELEX (800/863-9995 or www.travelexinsurance.com) offers an annual policy for $250 that includes medical coverage of one million dollars and other similarly upgraded coverages but, of course, no trip-cancellation protection.

Generally, these policies require that no individual trip be longer than 90 days. If one is planning to be out of the USA for extended periods, medical insurance is available for three, six or 12 months. A typical policy for a 55-year-old male would provide $5 million of coverage (with a $500 deductible) for $2,608 per year.

• If you would like more information on any of the above travel insurance coverages or have specific questions regarding choosing a policy or a company, I advise contacting one of a number of travel insurance brokers that handle many insurance companies’ offerings. One such broker is Dan Drennan of WORLD TRAVEL CENTER (call 800/786-5560, ext. 3131, or, more directly, 402/343-3621).

These brokers can also save you some time if you are price/coverage comparison shopping (such as looking for which policies offer the option of waiving the preexisting-condition clause). Tell them what you are looking for and they probably have the information at their fingertips.

The Internet has many types of travel insurance comparison pages, but I’ve found that a call to Drennan gets me an answer to a specific question quicker than any other approach. (Imagine, talking to a live person — and the same one every time!)

Travel insurance caution

My thanks to lifetime ITN subscriber Jane B. Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, for this tip: “Be sure to find out whether your travel insurance company will cover payments made away from home after you’ve started the trip. Some companies don’t.”

She continued, “I have always been satisfied with CSA TRAVEL INSURANCE (800/348-9505 or www.csatravelprotection.com), but for a November-December ’05 trip to India I went to ‘InsureMyTrip’ (www.insuremytrip.com is a source for comparison shopping — Editor) and found what I thought was a better price with TRAVELSAFE (800/523-8020 or www.travelsafe.com).

“We often buy travel insurance incrementally, adding insurance coverage as we make additional payments for the trip. I first purchased just enough to cover the nonrefundable air and initial deposit. We planned to pay the balance of the trip cost to Swagatam Tours & Travels once we arrived in Delhi. Fortunately, before we left and before I increased my coverage with TravelSafe, I asked the right question and learned that TravelSafe won’t cover payments made once the trip has begun.

“I called my old, reliable CSA and learned that they will indeed cover payments made in foreign lands once the trip has begun as long as the original deposit is made before departure. I bought an additional policy from CSA for a small amount just to cover nonrefunfable fees yet to be paid in Delhi.

“It turned out to be an important discovery and purchase. Our initial flight on United was delayed, causing us to miss our connections to Frankfurt and Delhi. United paid for our hotel in Washington and for two meals, but we had to pay for an additional meal in transit. And we lost the cost of a night’s stay in our Delhi hotel and the cost of our car and driver for the first day in Delhi, which were the nonrefundable parts of the arrangements we paid for when we arrived in Delhi. Our CSA policy covered those losses. TravelSafe’s policy would not have. In fact, we were cheerily reimbursed more than we paid CSA for the policy.

“Had I not asked the right questions of TravelSafe and had we not needed to make a claim, I probably would never have learned about this new glitch in some travel insurance policies.”

Airlines are now selling travel insurance

An article by Scott McCartney in the June 14, 2005, issue of The Wall Street Journal starts out as follows: “Along with selling meals and charging to check baggage, some airlines have a new product to hawk: insurance.”

The article continues, “Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines and America West Airlines are all now selling insurance against trip cancellations. You’ll be offered ‘Ticket Protector’ once you click to buy a nonrefundable ticket from the airline’s website or from the online travel seller Orbitz, Inc. The pitch — pay an extra 4% or more and if you cancel you’ll get your money back.”

The “Airline Ticket Protector,” at 4% of the cost of airfare, covers only that airfare (with an upper limit of $3,000, plus the payment is only for “covered reasons”).

Continental Airlines additionally offers a “Comprehensive Trip Protector” that has trip-cancellation/interruption, emergency medical and dental, emergency medical transportation, travel delay and concierge services for about 5.5% of the total trip cost, according to Emily Porter of ACCESS AMERICA (800/284-8300 or www.accessamerica.com), the underwriter of these policies.

The 5.5% package is nearly identical to traditional travel insurance policies offered by traditional travel insurance companies. Without comparing the “fine print” of these policies with other products on offer, my opinion is that they are not as good a value as some standard policies, if only because they will not waive the onerous preexisting-condition clause.

Happy trails.