Self-insurance works with no cancellation fees. Travel insurance can work as well. Read the fine print. Not all policies cover epidemics.
Note: The travel world has changed. This article was originally published at the beginning of the pandemic. In recent weeks American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines have eliminated international change fees. This has made self-insurance of international travel much less expensive.
The travel world is awash with questions about how travelers can protect themselves from the COVID-19 virus (coronavirus). Travelers can purchase travel insurance or they can self-insure for COVID-19 travel. Make sure that insurance coverage will include pandemics or epidemics. If planning on self-insurance, follow these rules.
Many of the major travel policies do not cover travelers for epidemics or pandemic issues. However, many do. Make sure to read the fine print. Check out the insurance coverage restrictions noted later in this article.
The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 virus a public health emergency of international concern on January, 30. This announcement aims to help those countries with weaker health systems to strengthen their disease defenses, especially in Africa.
Travelers often want to discover new worlds and find surprises along the way. However, with travel insurance, the fewer surprises one discovers, the better. Travel insurance is one product where travelers should read carefully and know exactly what they are purchasing before the insurance is needed.
Self-insurance for COVID-19 travel — even your airfare
Airfares for passengers flying on many airlines at the start of the pandemic were impossible to self-insure. Only in the last few days American, Delta, and United have eliminated international cancellation fees. Earlier in the pandemic, they eliminated all domestic cancellation fees as well.
However, note that all airlines have not eliminated all change fees. And, note that travelers, even after canceling flights, will only get flight credits for a future flight. Finally, travelers will have to pay the difference in airfare between the original flight and the next airline ticket they buy.
If a traveler decides to cancel or change they will get the airfare returned as well as any extra fees that they may have paid. That takes the sting out of lost airfare. Now, on airlines that have removed cancellation fees, travelers can self-insure.
For overseas hotel reservations and vacation rentals, purchase refundable rates
Protecting oneself from changes in travel plans is relatively easy and affordable when it comes to ground arrangements. For lodging costs, remember to always purchase the refundable room rates, In Rome, the refundable rates for hotels are only about 15 percent more than non-refundable room rates. In Madrid, the difference is about the same.
Always book the refundable rate. If your travel plans do not change and the non-refundable rate is available, travelers can win by booking the lower rate and canceling the more expensive one.
NOTE: VRBO.com and Airbnb.com have excellent refundable lodging rates. So do hotels. However, travelers must select the refundable lodging rates rather than the slightly less expensive non-refundable rates.
Buy refundable rental cars
The same rules for accommodations can also be used for rental cars. Always book refundable car rentals. AutoEurope.com (1-800-223-5555) normally provides a full refund if the automobile reservation is canceled. Some online travel agencies charge less for pre-paid automobile rentals, However, for most auto rental operations, reservations can be canceled at will. In some cases, there may be special supplier rules that require 48-hour notification. Read your rental contract carefully.
Look in your wallet for travel insurance — your credit cards often have built-in insurance. Plus, call your insurance provider
Find the page with the benefits offered by your credit card. READ IT CAREFULLY. Some credit cards include trip cancellation insurance. Others include medical insurance that will fly a friend to your bedside. Some will provide repatriation insurance. Read the fine print. You will be amazed at how much insurance is built into credit cards these days.
Call your medical insurance provider. Some providers provide coverage for trips anywhere on the planet. Often, they have all bills sent directly to the insurance company and then pay the health service providers directly. In other cases, the traveler pays the bill with a credit card and will be reimbursed by the insurance provider. Note: Medical insurers may not offer any international coverage. However, they may offer domestic health coverage. Medicare and Medicaid are only useful in the United States.
Carefully examine the travel and medical insurance that you have already through personal insurance or credit cards.
Buy travel insurance directly from insurers, not from links at the end of the booking process
The easiest travel insurance to purchase is normally offered at the end of the booking process on airline websites and online travel agencies. BEWARE: These add-on policies may not cover pandemics or epidemics. Make sure to read the small print. Remember, travel insurance can be purchased directly from insurance providers. It does not have to be bought from airlines or online travel agents (OTA) immediately after your purchase.
Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization now recognize the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) as an Epidemic. Many travel protection plans exclude losses caused directly or indirectly by an Epidemic. Most plans, including Cancel Anytime plans, contain general exclusions from coverage for any loss directly or indirectly due to any loss, condition, or event that was known or foreseeable when the plan was purchased, or due to an epidemic. Realize that Cancel Anytime plans only insure travelers for a percentage of their travel costs — not 100 percent.
Both Allianz and TravelGuard are the two primary travel insurance companies that provide insurance at the end of the reservation process on airline reservation sites and OTAs. These examples are from the current insurance policies in effect as of February 28. The situation may change in the near future.
On January 21, 2020, Berkshire Hathaway and Travelex Insurance changed their COVID-19 policies. From January 21, there would be no coverage for trip cancellations because of the coronavirus.
More refund techniques for nonrefundable tickets
Christopher Elliott, in USAToday.com, adds these thoughts to dealing with this deadly virus that is filling the news.
Remember the 24-hour rule. When flying domestically, you can cancel most tickets within 24 hours of booking them. Airlines will try to offer a flight credit, but if you cite the 24-hour rule, you should get an immediate refund.
Use a travel agent – and get travel insurance. A travel professional often has insider contacts at an airline and can help negotiate a refund if necessary. Some larger online agencies even have entire departments dedicated to processing “waivers and favors” for customers who want an exception to the refund rules.
“Use a travel agent when possible,” advises Julian House, founder of a discount promotional codes website. Also, ask your agent about an insurance policy that may cover you if you have to cancel your flight.
If you can’t get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket, salvage the credit. “Your odds are much better of changing the date or repurposing the ticket,” says Andrew Weinberger, a frequent air traveler who works for a real estate company in New York. He’s managed to change his ticket to a different destination and dates, paying a change fee. It’s far better than throwing the ticket away.
MORE GOOD ARTICLES ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE:
A good site to comparison shop for travel insurance.
NerdWallet Travel Insurance Overview.
When all else fails, complain to DOT
Finally, if faced with any problems, make sure to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation. Often, this will be simply forwarded to an airline. However, DOT will keep track of complaints that are received. Those will be used in the future to make changes to federal policies.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.