While ships have good medical facilities, you’ll pay for treatment

There’s usually nothing more carefree than sailing away on a luxury cruise. And once people have selected their ship, destination and travel dates, there’s nothing else to worry about until the trip is over. Or is there?

About two weeks before they were scheduled to embark on a Seabourn cruise this past spring, good friends of mine had to cancel their trip when one of them became unexpectedly ill. Unfortunately, since they had not purchased Trip Cancellation and Interruption insurance for the trip, they were out of pocket for the entire cost of the cruise – about $15,000. And my friends are not alone.

Cruise Critic is a good source of information on cancellation rules

Every year, thousands of people get stuck paying for a cruise they never take or must cut short because of an illness or family emergency. In these kinds of circumstances, many people think the cruise line will refund all or most of their money. However, according to the Cruise Critic website, most cruise companies give no refund at all if you cancel less than 14 days before sailing (some cruise lines refund nothing within 30 days of sailing). And if you cancel between 120 to14 days, there are usually penalties that get higher as the sailing date approaches.

As expensive as cancelling or interrupting a cruise can be, it can cost even more if you also travel without medical insurance. Take the story of the Cortes family who were put ashore in the Bahamas during a 5-day cruise with Royal Caribbean in 2008.

If a sick passenger is at risk, he/she can be transferred to land-side medical facilities at their own cost

At one point during the cruise the family’s 8-month old baby began vomiting and having diarrhea, so they took her to the ship’s doctor. The doctor diagnosed Baby Zoie as being severely dehydrated and in need of hospitalization ashore.

As a result, the family were rushed off the ship late at night in Nassau and sent to the local emergency room where Zoie was diagnosed with nothing more than a common cold. Unfortunately, by this time the ship had left Nassau and the Cortes family was stranded in a foreign country without passports, lodging or transportation.

The family eventually made their way back home, but not without incurring close to $2,000 in expenses for medical bills, new passports and transportation back to Florida, never mind the cost of a ruined vacation. And the Cortes family got off lightly — if they’d been cruising further from home with a seriously ill child, they could have easily spent more than $20,000 just for medical treatment and emergency evacuation.

Travelling without insurance can be a costly mistake

The saga of my friends and the Cortes family are good examples of why most vacationers – especially those travelling on expensive trips and outside their own country — should have some travel insurance. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the full range and types of travel insurance available, or the risks of not buying it before their trip.

Even when sick or injured passengers can be treated by a doctor in the ship’s medical facilities without being put ashore, the treatment will be charged to the customer, and it can be quite costly.

There are three main types of travel insurance used by vacationers:  Medical/Life insurance; Trip Cancellation/Interruption; and Baggage Loss and Personal Effects Coverage. Some of these may be covered up to a limited amount in your home insurance policy, your credit card policy, or your company benefits program.

Medical/Life: Coverage can vary by provider, but the best type of policy will cover medical treatment, prescription drugs, emergency evacuation (if warranted), accidental loss of life, sight and limb, and repatriation benefits (flying home remains). It will also provide a toll-free number for personal assistance. This can be bought for a single trip or for multiple trips in one year.

CAFII is a good source of information on travel insurance

Trip Cancellation/Interruption: Reimburses the policy holder for travel costs lost due to cancellation of the trip (for legitimate reasons) and/or disruption of the trip while in progress. This is a good way to protect the cost of your cruise fare should you have to cancel your trip (conditions apply). The cost of this insurance usually runs between 3 to 8% of the total cost of the vacation that you are ensuring.

Baggage Loss & Personal Effects: This policy typically covers you for loss or delay of baggage, and for personal property stolen en route or in hotels. It also provides a set amount that can be spent daily while waiting for lost luggage to arrive.

These types of policies can be purchased separately, or bundled together as a package, which can be a better deal. However, depending on the coverage you already have via home insurance and credit cards, you may not need all of them.

Seabourn is one of the cruise lines that provides no refund for cruises cancelled within 30 days of departure

Insurance can be purchased from your travel agent or the cruise line when making your initial booking, or at a later date before the final payment is due. Or, you can buy it from an insurance broker or a financial institution that offers travel insurance. I usually compare the cost and range of coverage provided by the cruise line with what I can purchase elsewhere, and choose the best deal.

But wherever you get it, make sure you understand what you are buying. A good starting point is to visit the Canadian Association of Financial Institutions in Insurance website where you can find helpful descriptions of the various types of travel and travel medical insurance. Cruise Critic also has a good description of the various types of travel insurance coverage you can buy.

If you do buy a policy, scan the terms when it arrives to ensure you understand what conditions and exceptions may apply. And if you have any questions, don’t be shy about asking.

Hopefully, your next vacation will be trouble free and you’ll never need to use your insurance. But if something does happen, you’ll be grateful you didn’t pull up the anchor and sail away without it.

Feature image – advertisement for cruise travel insurance

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