Eye on Travel Insurance » Travel insurance update

By Wayne Wirtanen
This item appears on page 58 of the June 2009 issue.

by Wayne Wirtanen

This month I’m going to discuss several aspects of today’s travel insurance scene.

STA Travel and travelers over 35

The complete travel insurance packages of STA Travel (800/781-4040, www.statravel.com) were originally established for the student “backpack” set, who generally traveled independently, very economically and often for extended periods.

STA’s travel insurance rates are based on the length of a trip rather than the cost of a trip. (Coverage for a trip of 16 to 22 days, for example, cost only $100.) These rates were well below the costs of comparable policies issued by “standard” travel insurance companies.

STA Travel’s policies have been available for travelers of any age and for any type of trip, and I have been recommending this company to ITN readers since April 2006. It was a good deal for mature travelers… while it lasted.

Effective Feb. 1, 2009, STA’s travel insurance policies have changed dramatically for the 35-and-older set. Therefore, I have reluctantly withdrawn my recommendation of STA Travel for the over-age-35 traveler, for two reasons. (Policies for the under-age-35 set remain unchanged.)

1. Full-coverage travel insurance policies (through Travel Guard) are now on a sliding scale, based on the age of a traveler and the cost of the trip.

For example, in addition to a $6 service fee, a 45-year-old taking a 16- to 22-day trip costing $4,000 would pay $122 (or 3.05%); a 65-year-old taking the same trip would pay $180 (4.5%), and, for that same trip, a 75-year-old would have to pay $292 (7.2%) for travel insurance.

These prices are in the ballpark of most other travel insurers’ costs, making cost comparisons with other companies’ offerings appropriate, particularly for over-age-65 travelers. If you have access to the Internet, punch in “travel insurance comparisons” on Google.

Among the information, you’ll find Insuremytrip.com (800/487-4722), which, for example, lists some 30-plus travel insurance providers with package costs for a 65-year-old running from $176 to $486 for a trip comparable to the one described above. A number of keyboard clicks will provide complete descriptions and comparisons of the various policies.

2. The most important reason for withdrawing my recommendation of STA for the over-age-35 set is their onerous new policy regarding preexisting medical conditions.

Most other travel insurance providers will waive the preexisting-condition clause if one purchases the policy within some predetermined amount of time after making the first deposit on a trip, typically 14 days. While STA has no preexisting-condition clause for under-age-35 travelers, it does have the following preexisting-condition clause, including a “six-month look-back,” for the 35-and-older traveler, with no waiver option:

“PRE-EXISTING MEDICAL CONDITIONS EXCLUSION: The insurer will not pay for any loss or expense incurred as the result of an injury, sickness or other condition of you, your traveling companion, business partner or immediate Family Member which, within the 180 day period immediately preceding and including your coverage effective date, first manifested itself or had symptoms which would have prompted a reasonable person to seek diagnosis, care or treatment; or for which care or treatment was recommended by a physician; or required the taking of prescription drugs or medicines, unless the condition remains controlled without any change in the prescription drugs or medicines.”

Employment layoff coverage

Because of a possible employment layoff or firing, these days many people are concerned about trip-cancellation coverage. Many plans do provide a benefit for this unforeseen occurrence, but there are many that do not.

When planning a trip, ask your travel agent or travel insurance vendor about this detail before purchasing insurance. Following is a brief rundown of several travel insurance companies’ plans and, for each, the text describing the conditions under which a layoff claim would be accepted for payment.

Travelex Insurance Services (800/228-9792, www.travelex-insurance.com) — Travel Plus, TraveLite, Travel Max, Travel Select and Travel Basic are the travel insurance packages offered, and the line pertaining to employment-layoff coverage reads as follows: “… you are terminated, or laid off from employment subject to one year or longer of continuous employment at the place of employment where terminated.”

CSA Travel Protection (800/873-9855, www.csatravel protection.com) — FreeStyle and FreeStyle Luxe plans: “… involuntary employer termination affecting the insured or a person(s) sharing the same room with the insured during the Insured’s Covered Trip. Employment must have been with the same employer for at least three (3) continuous years.”

TravelGuard (800/826-4919, www.travelguard.com) — Cruise, Tour & Travel Platinum and Adventure Travel Protection plans: “… termination of employment or layoff affecting the Insured or his/her Traveling Companion; … must have been with the same employer for one year or longer.”

Travel Insured International (800/243-3174, www.travelinsured.com) — Worldwide Trip Protector, Trip Protector Gold, Trip Protector + Protector Lite, and Trip Protector Lite Expanded plans: “… You or Your Traveling Companion are terminated or laid off from employment subject to three (3) years of continuous employment at the place of employment where terminated.”

MH Ross Travel Insurance Services (818/895-6500, www.mhross.com) — Trip Insurance Basic and Enhanced plans: “Involuntary termination of employment or layoff affecting You or Your Traveling Companion. Employment must have been on an active full-time basis and with the same employer for one year or longer immediately preceding the termination or layoff.”

TravelSafe (888/885-7233, www.travelsafe.com) — Vacation Insurance: “… your involuntary termination of employment or layoff which occurs more than 30 days after your effective date of (travel insurance) coverage and was not under your control. You must have been continuously employed for two (2) years prior to the termination or layoff. This provision is not applicable to temporary employment, independent contractors or self-employed persons.”

ITravelInsured (866/347-6673, www.itravelinsured.com) — Elite Vacation Plan: “You must have been employed with the same employer for at least one (1) year, and You must have worked at least 30 hours per week, excluding time off for paid vacations, for the entire period of employment.”

Little-known travel insurance tip

There’s a strategy that’s perfect for travelers who fit the following particular profile: Medicare recipients (or others) who do not particularly need cancellation/interruption coverage but would like overseas medical expense insurance and emergency medical evacuation coverage (with no preexisting-condition restrictions), protections that generally are not provided in your at-home health policy but which I recommend as minimum insurance coverage for overseas travelers.

It’s called a “$0.00 dollar trip cost, post departure policy.

When filling in the information for a policy purchase, declare the cost of the trip as zero. That way, you will have deleted the trip-cancellation/trip-interruption coverage (the most expensive portion of a travel insurance policy) and still will have retained the balance of the policy provisions. These remaining provisions come into play only when you depart, thus the phrase “post departure policy.”

Most plans do not offer Trip Interruption coverage unless you have insured the trip cost. However, there are plans that do offer a benefit at no extra cost without insuring the cost of the trip.

Generally, such a plan allows a claim for $1,000 to cover “return air only,” should there be a death in the family or other insured event. Travel Guard’s Cruise, Tour & Travel Plan has it; Travel Insured International’s Worldwide Trip Protector and the WorldWide Trip Protector Gold plan has it, and Travelex Insurance Services has it in their Travel Select and Travel Max plans.

Typical text reads, “Trip Interruption (Return Air Only up to $1,000 if $0 displayed for Trip Cancellation on Your Confirmation of Benefits): return home or rejoin the original Land/Sea Arrangements (airfare limited to the cost of one-way airfare).”

As always, read the plan’s details before purchase.

Depending on the travel insurance company, you could get $50,000 in medical expenses, emergency medical evacuation, coverage for baggage loss, etc. For two 65-year-olds on a trip of up to 30 days, the cost could be as little as $80. In my opinion, that’s an attractive package price!

Also, you can buy the policy online the day before departure. The policy would be delivered to you via e-mail. Simply print it out and you are good to go.

According to travel insurance broker Dan Drennen, two companies still offer the preexisting-condition waiver (even on $0.00 trip cost post departure plans) if you purchase their insurance within 24 hours of making your final trip payment. These two companies are CSA Travel Protection, with their FreeStyle and FreeStyle Luxe policies, and HTH Worldwide(888/243-2358, www.hthtravelinsurance.com), with their Trip Protector and Trip Protector Gold plans.

Help in choosing a travel insurance policy

As you can see from the above variety of travel insurance companies and the complexities of the policies, choosing the right one for you could involve quite a bit of research and reading of fine print.

If you would like to talk to a live person for recommendations that suit your trip circumstances, contact Dan Drennen at Travel Insurance Center (8420 W. Dodge Rd., 5th Floor, Omaha, NE 68114; phone 866/979-6753, ext. 3621, or 402/343-3621 or e-mail dan@travelinsurancecenter.com). He is a travel insurance broker who sells policies from most insurance providers.

Happy trails!