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Travel insurance tip from the experts: Read the fine print

Those with big travel plans in 2020 had their trips upended by the coronavirus pandemic, leaving many would-be travelers to wonder if they’ll be able to recover any costs from the travel insurance they purchased.

The answer, according to travel experts: It depends on the policy.

Since the beginning of March, the Better Business Bureau has received more than 1,500 complaints related to travel insurance, with almost 68 percent filed because the policy didn’t cover cancellations caused by the coronavirus or travel bans enacted around the world.

But those who purchased policies that include Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) coverage may still be able to receive at least a portion of their money back, says Livin’ Upstate contributor Deb Metcalf, co-owner of Travel Agents International in Greenville.

Many of the airlines, including Delta Vacations and American Airlines Vacations, offer CFAR insurance. In many cases, however, travelers have recovered only 75 percent of their investment. When it comes to cruise lines, many TAI clients were able to obtain a refund, but it took more than 90 days to receive it, Metcalf said.

“Every travel insurance policy is different than the next,” said Metcalf. “I always recommend that you purchase travel insurance, but pandemics typically are not covered in these policies, so make certain that you read the fine print.”

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Rather than request refunds, several vacationers with plans for 2020 Caribbean or European River cruises were able to successfully apply their deposits to a rescheduled trip in 2021, Metcalf said.

When thinking about purchasing travel insurance, the BBB and Metcalf offer these tips:

  • Travel insurance is intended to help with unexpected events such as an illness or loss of a job. Once an event is a “known event,” meaning it’s been forecast such as a hurricane, it may not be considered a covered reason for cancellation if a traveler books a trip after that date.
  • Read the fine print. If CFAR is purchased, confirm the specific wording and all details regarding this benefit.
  • Be flexible with travel plans. Dates, times and arrangements can change at any given time especially during a pandemic. Make plans but leave room for the unexpected.
  • Use a reputable company. TAI suggests Chubb Travel Insurance and Travel Guard-Member of AIG. Consumers can also check a company’s BBB rating for any complaints filed by the public.

If people still desire to travel during COVID-19, they should be aware of travel warnings issued by the U.S. State Department and Canadian Travel Advisories and follow recommendations on how to stay safe and healthy. The Centers for Disease Control also offers a list of frequently asked questions for domestic, international, air and cruise travel on the CDC website.

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