Here’s how travel insurance can help during the COVID-19 pandemic

Travelers make their way through Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 in Charlotte, NC.

Travelers make their way through Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 in Charlotte, NC.

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The travel industry was among the first to feel the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After travel bans were implemented during the early stages of the outbreak, international tourist arrivals declined in 2020 globally, with 1 billion fewer travelers compared to 2019, according to the World Tourism Organization.

Since then, travel industry experts have predicted that there would be an increase in passengers from 2020, signaling a recovery from the financial hit taken over the last two years as people desire to make up for lost time.

“People are booking their trips further out,” said Amanda Coppola, the branch manager at the Mann Travels Arboretum location in Charlotte. “With cruises, you can book them two years out, so I do have a lot of cruises for 2023 already on the books.”

In addition to wearing a mask in airports and on other transportation hubs to protect from COVID-19, travel insurance is recommended for travelers to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions.

What is travel insurance?

Travel insurance is coverage designed to protect against risks and financial losses that could happen while traveling.

What does the insurance cover?

Depending on the coverage you select, travel insurance can cover a variety of damages and losses, including:

  • Injury or sickness: Travel insurance can help cover medical expenses that are not covered by your health insurance plan. Most health insurance plans don’t provide full coverage in foreign countries.

  • Lost luggage: Travel insurance can help cover expenses stemming from lost luggage. This can be useful when an airline loses your bags since it can be difficult to get reimbursed.

  • Last-minute cancellations: Most resorts or cruise lines won’t give you a full refund when you cancel. Some resorts charge cancellation fees if you cancel more than two weeks before your trip, and most will not give you any refund if you cancel within two weeks.

Many airlines also offer pre-departure waivers, Coppola said, which allows passengers to revise or cancel their bookings at any time and receive a full refund for the cost of their trip.

“It really protects their investment and gives them peace of mind that they can get their money back if they feel unsafe, or if something comes up like a positive COVID-19 test,” she explained.

How much does coverage cost?

Travel insurance typically costs five to 10% of your total trip cost. The amount can be influenced by several factors, including your age, how much you’re spending on the trip, the amount of coverage you’re choosing and the number of people covered under your policy.

“Sometimes it can be as low as $100 per person, and that’s a very low price when you’re looking at a trip that’s $5,000, since you can get your money back,” Coppola said.

The most important factor in determining pricing in trip cancellation coverage is age, according to Berkshire Hathaway. The older you are, the more likely you may be forced to cancel your trip.

Trip cancellation makes up a large part of most companies’ claims. A trip where the upfront cost is extremely high means the company would have to reimburse you more if that trip were canceled.

Other factors that impact prices

  • The number of travelers: A single travel insurance policy can cover multiple family members on the same trip, however, some companies offer family-friendly packages.

  • Destination: When determining rates, the destination is a factor for some insurance companies. Companies may examine crime statistics and injury rate for tourists when setting their prices.

  • Trip length: There is a higher chance that something will happen to you on a longer trip. Longer trips also tend to be more expensive trips taken by more exotic destinations, often with many people covered under the same policy.

Airline cancellation policies

After the pandemic essentially halted air travel for months, major airlines in the U.S. implemented policies to give passengers more flexibility to change or cancel them.

  • Allegiant Air: As of May 21, 2021, Allegiant’s change/cancel fee has been reduced to $25 per person, per flight segment. A flight segment is one takeoff and one landing.

  • Alaska Air: The airline’s policy allows travelers to change or cancel their tickets if they were purchased on or before April 30, 2021. Tickets must be changed or canceled prior to the departure of your original flight. If you purchased tickets through a third party, contact them directly.

  • American Airlines: The airline has eliminated change fees for short-haul international and select long-haul international flights. Basic Economy fares bought on or after April 1, 2021 are non-refundable and non-changeable.

  • Delta Air Lines: Customers who purchased Basic Economy tickets on or before April 30, 2021 can make changes or cancel their tickets and receive an eCredit. Cancellation fees and change fees do not apply to these tickets. Tickets purchased in 2022 can be canceled, but are subject to a cancellation fee that will be deducted from the value of your ticket.

  • Frontier Airlines: Change and cancel fees have been waived for bookings made through March 31, 2021. Fees for flights booked from April 1-July 26 are waived if changes or cancellations are made more than 60 days prior to departure.

  • Hawaiian Airlines: Any Main Cabin or First Class ticket purchased or expiring in 2021 now won’t expire until Dec. 31, 2022. Main Cabin Basic tickets purchased between Aug. 17-Oct. 31, 2021 for travel on or after Aug. 17, 2021, May 1-Aug. 16, 2021 for travel on or before Oct. 31, 2021, between Jan. 1-April 30, 2021 and tickets purchased between March 1-Dec. 31 2020 can be changed without a fee.

  • JetBlue: Change and cancel fees for customers traveling through Jan. 31 will be waived. A few airports in the U.S. and abroad have specific change/cancellation fee policies.

  • Southwest Airlines: Southwest has a policy of not charging change or cancellation fees. Non refundable tickets not flown on the travel date, but canceled in accordance with Southwest’s No Show Policy, can be applied for future travel for up to one year from the original purchase date.

  • Spirit Airlines: Flight changes can be made 60 or more days in advance without fees. Changes made seven to 59 days prior to departures will incur a $49 fee, three to days prior incur a $79 fee and zero to two days from departure incur a $99 fee.

  • United Airlines: Change fees for most economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S., or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean have been removed. Redeposit fees for award flights are also being waived.

Is booking a cruise now still a safe option?

Although cruise lines have started operating again, the CDC recommends avoiding cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status, as the chance of contracting COVID-19 on a ship is “very high.”

While it may not be a good time to board a cruise ship, Coppola said those looking to travel on the water over the next couple of years should book now, since many cruise lines have implemented variable cancellation policies due to the spread of COVID-19.

“Now is a good time to book everything because the prices are so low,” said Coppola. “If they need to change from going to Europe to the Caribbean, it’s super easy. There’s a lot of flexibility with all of the cruise lines.”

Christopher Lewis

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