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Travel Insurance

It seems we are plagued with insurance. Large chunks of our pay checks go out every month for insurance. Premiums for car, health, homeowner's, life, and dental insurance are the major culprits. However, there another type of insurance that may provide piece of mind and be worth the cost travel insurance.

Vacations are often planned up to or more than a year in advance - probably because we plan another vacation as soon as one is over! They can involve making and paying for reservations for hotels, airlines, cruises, etc. What happens when those plans are dashed by an emergency illness, a death, or other unpredictable catastrophe?

Mostly because my wife nags me, I use trip insurance when booking a vacation that involves pre-paid hotel rooms and airline tickets. Personal experiences have proven this to be a valuable expense, and those same experiences could happen to anyone.

Years ago, we planned a trip to Disney World in Florida almost a year ahead. It was to be a family adventure--I, my wife and our 3 kids--traveling by air, staying at a hotel, and having pre-paid Disney World admissions. Our son was hospitalized and released shortly before the scheduled departure. His doctor said we could not take him, and we certainly did not want to go without him. Fortunately, we had purchased trip insurance through the travel agent. After getting a letter from the doctor stating our son could not make the trip, we were able to get refunds on the plane tickets, hotel reservations and even the pre-paid Disney World passes. The insurance was well-worth the cost.

Many years later, after my wife and I had planned a vacation which included air travel and hotel reservations, I needed surgery, which made the trip impossible. Due to trip insurance, we got all of our money back.

As these examples show, if a vacation entails airline and hotel reservations, and your plans are ruined by a medical emergency, not a pre-existing condition, that delays the trip, trip insurance is a blessing.

Another popular big-ticket vacation is a cruise. Never having taken a cruise, I contacted the American Automobile Association Travel Insurance Division to ask how travel insurance applies to cruises. Most horror stories involving cruises concern problems with missed connecting airline flights or delayed or canceled flights. I was surprised to learn that if you have the cruise line book your air travel, and there is a problem with your flight(s) (other than bad weather) which causes you to miss the cruise, the cruise line will refund the cost of your cruise! Cruise lines usually have an agreement with a particular airline which they use, which requires the airline to get passengers to the ship on time except for problems with bad weather. If, however, you use frequent flier certificates or book your own air fare either through an airline or with a travel agent, the cruise line will not refund the money should you miss the cruise due to an airline delay.

I was advised that you can purchase insurance for a modest sum on the cost of the cruise itself, which would cover you if you had to cancel for any reason other than a pre-existing medical condition. Travel insurance seems most useful when guarding against a medical emergency.

AAA has available a "TripAssist" brochure, which gives information about an insurance company sponsored through AAA. The brochure charts different benefits, features and prices for various types of trip insurance--comprehensive, trip and health, or trip cancellation/interruption only. Within those packages, different coverage is offered. For example, a family package (covering the traveler, spouse and accompanying dependents under 23 years of age) would cover such things as trip cancellation/ interruption, travel delay and emergency medical, baggage loss, damage or delay, travel accident coverage, collision loss damage, emergency medical help, legal travel help, and emergency medical transportation.

I called Trip Assist's toll-free number and asked if buying their policy would help me recover the cost of a cruise should I miss the boat due to a delayed flight. The answer was "no", and I was told the airline should make other arrangements to get me to the ship. As a follow-up, I contacted the airlines, and checked on their "missed cruise" policy. If a cruise ship leaves without you because the airline didn't get you there on time, the maximum the airline is liable for is the cost of your plane ticket--not the cost of the cruise! This is governed by Federal Law and "Tariffs" which provide that airlines are not required to pay "consequential damages". When I reviewed a recently purchased airline ticket, I noted the airline's liability is limited in terms of consequential damages, the losses you suffer as a consequence of someone else's actions or failure to act. Therefore, if a plane is late and you miss a cruise, the airline is not liable for the cost of the cruise.

Nothing's easy--not even taking a vacation. When planning your vacation, plan for the unexpected, even if it means paying a few extra dollars and asking questions about how to protect yourself should catastrophe strike.

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