Sep 1, 2021
When Covid-19 hit early last year and most travel ground to halt worldwide, would-be vacationers scrambled to get refunds from hotels, airlines, cruise lines and other travel suppliers — or to file travel insurance claims for canceled trips.
They often hit a wall on both fronts. Suppliers struggled, or sometimes stonewalled, with refunds — making those without insurance wish they’d bought some. Meanwhile, the “insured” often discovered the plans they’d purchased didn’t cover Covid-related travel or medical expenses.
“People were trying to get their money back, trying to navigate through credits versus refunds, and put in travel insurance claims,” said James Ferrara, co-founder and president of the Delray Beach, Florida-based InteleTravel network of some 60,000 home-based travel advisors. “They were also looking at travel insurance for their next [trip] and making sure that insurance would cover another occurrence of a pandemic because this all caught a lot of people by surprise — including the insurance industry.”
In the wake of those epic “burns,” many Americans once again hitting the road now that pandemic-era restrictions are being lifted are insuring their trips — and their health — as they plan travel. They’re doing so both to avoid future trouble and, in some cases, because they have to. More than two dozen countries, for example, require visitors to have medical and sometimes travel expenses coverage that includes Covid-related incidents.
“There was a good handful before [Covid], but more now,” said Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer and data specialist at trip insurance comparison site Squaremouth.com. “It makes sense when you think about how expensive getting care abroad can be.”
Squaremouth, based in St. Petersburg, Florida, maintains an online list of about 26 countries that currently require visitors to have Covid-specific medical coverage. (U.S. health insurance plans generally do not cover medical care abroad.)
In addition, to visit Dubai, for example, you need at least $100,000 in general emergency medical coverage and $50,000 for medical evacuation. And for trips to Antarctica, where various nations control different areas, tour operators often require at least $100,000 in both medical coverage and evacuation expenses.
The amounts are warranted. Jeremy Murchland, president of travel insurer Seven Corners, said his team regularly helps with evacuations and “we’ve had a couple of cases in the last year that have exceeded six figures.”
It’s not just destinations and tour operators requiring coverage. In the hard-hit cruise industry, Royal Caribbean Cruises announced that unvaccinated passengers must buy travel insurance, CNBC has reported. “There’s going to be a [push] from travel suppliers,” Moncrief said. “But we’ve seen [sales] almost 100% from consumers who are just kind of shell-shocked and wanting to know what their coverage options are.”
In June 2020, Indianapolis-based Seven Corners was among the first to offer Covid-specific medical coverage, as part of three plans targeted at international travelers, students and frequent travelers. (The company, which sells both comprehensive travel insurance policies and medical coverage-only plans, has also introduced a new Claims Your Way service that pairs customers with their own agent to ease the claims process.)