Child’s emergency near takeoff time voids rebooking despite ‘Flex’ airfare

Family purchased Transat’s Option Flex, which allows flight changes up to 3 hours prior to departure

Kate Bueckert · CBC News ·

A family from Fergus, Ont., had a vacation dream dashed after a medical emergency and now they’re warning others to pay close attention to the differences between flexible tickets and travel insurance.

Mark and Nicole Ruzycki and their two children were at the airport early in the morning on May 22, set to celebrate their daughter’s 8th birthday in Cuba. But about an hour before boarding, 3-year-old Jake developed a rash.

Airport paramedics recommended they not fly and instead, go right to the hospital.

“This has never happened to us, it was quite the scare,” Mark Ruzycki said.

The doctor at the Toronto-area hospital where they first went said it appeared to be a virus and sent them home. On the way home, Jake’s conditioned worsened and his face swelled up. They went to the emergency facility at the Fergus hospital, where doctors determined it was an allergic reaction.

It’s unclear what Jake reacted to and he has recovered, but the family missed their flight.

When Ruzycki tried to rebook their flight, Air Transat said they couldn’t rebook without further payment.

Credit offered

Ruzycki says the family paid $5,000 for the trip, including $59 per ticket for Option Flex through Air Transat. Option Flex allows people to change their flight up to three hours before the scheduled departure.

Because Jake had to go to the hospital less than three hours before takeoff, Air Transat has said the family cannot rebook without payment and will not get a full refund.

“When you book your dream vacation, you want to make sure you enjoy the ultimate level of flexibility should something unexpected happen. Option Flex lets you,” the airline states on its web page.

Air Transat has offered the family a $2,000 travel voucher, which is equivalent to the tax and fuel surcharge from their unused tickets.

The website also notes, “Option Flex allows travellers to change their departure date, destination or hotel up to three hours before departure, or to transfer their vacation package to a family member or friend up to 30 days before departure. They can also cancel their trip and obtain a full refund.” A footnote explains that the three-hour notice period also applies to cancellations.

Not insurance

The airline declined an interview request with CBC but in a statement said it’s “important to distinguish” between travel insurance and the Option Flex service.

“Option Flex is not a travel insurance and does not replace such insurance coverage, both of which should be purchased prior to departure,” Air Transat’s marketing director of social media and public relations Debbie Cabana told CBC in an email.

“The purchase of travel insurance could have prevented these customers from losing the value of their package.”

They did not purchase travel insurance, Ruzycki said, because they didn’t expect they’d have to cancel for any reason and if something were to happen, they’d just want to rebook the trip.

‘Feels for the passengers’

Ruzycki said his wife worked part time to pay for the trip.

“My wife was in tears,” he said. “Every penny she saved for this has gone down the toilet.”

The family says it’s considering taking the $2,000 travel voucher so they don’t lose all their money.

Gábor Lukács, founder and co-ordinator of Air Passengers Rights, says he “feels for the passengers.”

But unless an illness happens while on board the flight or is caused by the airline, it’s not the airline’s responsibility. He said the airline is within its rights in this case.

Lukács also said this kind of situation would not fall under the new airline passenger bill of rights recently introduced by the federal government. Lukács has been critical of the new bill of rights, saying it favours the private interests of airlines over legitimate concerns of travellers.

‘It just breaks your heart’

The Ruzycki family took a smaller vacation to Collingwood to celebrate their daughter’s birthday.

Ruzycki says his daughter was upset about not going to Cuba, but she understood the situation.

“We keep saying, ‘Look honey, we will go another time. But right now we have to concentrate on your brother’s health,” he said.

“But even our boy, now that he’s getting better, he goes, ‘So are we going to go on a plane now?'” he said. “It’s hard. It just breaks your heart.”

Ruzycki says he hopes Air Transat will change its mind and allow them to rebook their tickets rather than giving them money back.

“We just want to go on our family vacation that our kids and my wife were just so ecstatic to go on,” he said.

An unexpected medical emergency could be an ‘astronomical expense,’ agent warns

Read more

Money – Saving Strategies for Buying Travel Insurance

The excerpted article was written by By Barbara Peterson | Consumer Reports

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5 tips for navigating to the right choice for your trip

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If you’re planning a summer vacation, thinking about what could go wrong is probably the last thing you want to do.

But travel insurance could come in handy if your trip is canceled or interrupted due to a medical emergency, a natural disaster, or another unforeseen event. And deciding whether you need it—and if so, what kind—means planning for the worst.

The first question is whether you need a policy at all. The answer? Not always, according to Jeffrey Miller, a travel law attorney and professor at Florida Atlantic University, who says that much depends on your personal situation as well as the type of trip.

“The millennial going to Las Vegas doesn’t need travel insurance,” he says. “But if you’re in your 40s and have elderly parents who might fall ill and cause you to cut short your holiday, then yes, you should definitely get coverage.”

In general, it’s probably prudent to protect any trip that’s valued at more than a few thousand dollars. Beyond that, other factors to consider might be the age and health of the travelers and whether your itinerary takes you into remote or risky territory.

“Our No. 1 claim type is trip cancellation,” says Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection vice president Carol Mueller. So bear in mind that you don’t always need a Cadillac plan that covers everything from lost baggage to medical evacuation costs.

There are, of course, a multitude of plans to choose from, and you can narrow it down with the help of a travel agent or an online aggregator. Generally, policies fall into three categories—basic, midlevel, and premium—with coverage and prices rising accordingly.

Typically, premiums for comprehensive coverage range from 4 to 10 percent of the total tab of your trip. In recent years, however, travel insurers have come out with tailored policies at lower prices. For example, Berkshire Hathaway has a no-frills “Air Care” plan that just covers flight mishaps like delays or lost bags, starting at $26 for a simple round trip.

If you do decide you need to cover all bases, however, you might want a broad-based policy. Just bear in mind that it’s important to know exactly what’s covered.

Inquiries to travel insurance companies typically soar after high-profile events like acts of terrorism, or an outbreak of a disease like the Zika virus.  For example, calls to insurers spiked after the recent grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, according to the comparison site Insure My Trip. But as anxiety-provoking as events like these may be, under most travel insurance plans, they’re not considered valid grounds to get a full refund if you cancel your trip.

Here, five guidelines to make sure you get what you need without overpaying.

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Check Your Existing Insurance Coverage

You may already have some travel insurance as a perk of your credit card, but you’ll need to check.

Some credit card issuers offer coverage for car rental damage, lost luggage, or trip cancellation, but any protection they do offer is likely to come with some limits on the ultimate payout. For rental cars, your personal auto insurance may cover you, too.

Nonetheless, if you have credit card coverage, you may be able to get by with a less expensive general trip protection plan. And when it comes to baggage, know that coverage from travel insurers is typically considered secondary, meaning it will pay only for anything in excess of what you’re entitled to if you file a claim with your airline.

It’s also worthwhile to look into your health insurance and whether it will cover you when you’re on the road. Medicare, for example, won’t help if you’re not in the U.S., but other insurers might.

Aetna, for instance, covers policyholders on international trips, but the care is reimbursed as “out of network,” which means higher out-of-pocket costs. And if you have an accident and need to be airlifted to a hospital, the costs of care can skyrocket.

If you’re buying travel medical insurance, be aware, too, that some policies won’t cover pre-existing conditions. Even when they do, they’re often dependent on your purchasing the policy close to the date when you bought the trip. (Some have a “look back” clause that can search your health records for as long as a year prior.)

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Comparison Shop

If your trip planning begins with booking an airplane ticket, you’ll almost certainly be prompted to buy trip protection from the airline before you hit the purchase button. Don’t rise to the bait, says Miller. “It’s better to seek out all the options before you buy.”

Whether or not you buy through them, websites like InsureMyTrip and SquareMouth provide free quotes from multiple insurers and make it easy to filter search results by your customized needs.

In many states, travel agents who sell trip insurance are licensed for that purpose, and their knowledge and experience can also help narrow your choices appropriately. Whatever source you use, think carefully about what benefits you actually need before putting your money down.

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Be Aware of Timing Provisions

Perhaps it’s hurricane season, and you’re having second thoughts about having paid in full for that upcoming beach holiday in the tropics. Can you take out an insurance policy to ease your worries?

You might be able to, but don’t wait until a particular storm threatening your vacation is powerful enough to have been christened, advises Berkshire Hathaway’s Mueller.

“When a hurricane is named, it is no longer an unknown event and no longer covered as a reason for cancellation” if you haven’t already purchased the policy, she says.

That’s not the only timing factor to consider. A terrorist attack in your intended destination could be grounds to cancel under some policies with a terrorism clause. But usually that coverage applies only if you’re traveling within 30 days of the event. If your trip is still six months away, the insurance won’t pay out simply because you no longer want to go.

In general, you may be able to buy some types of trip protection up to 24 hours before your departure, but waiting until that point might mean you can get only basic coverage like baggage loss or damage protection and emergency medical coverage, according to Allianz Travel Insurance.

For more comprehensive coverage that includes benefits like a pre-existing medical condition waiver or protection if a trip is canceled because of a terrorist attack or an airline bankruptcy, a policy typically must be purchased within 14 days of making the initial trip deposit.

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Look Into Annual Plans

If you’re taking more than two major trips per year, an annual plan could be a better deal than paying as you go with single-trip policies, according to Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com. Both types of plan can cover the same occurrences (trip cancellation, medical emergencies), but the year-long coverage could bring your pro-rated costs down.

For example, insurance provider April Travel Protection recently launched a customizable annual plan that covers an unlimited number of trips per year, both in the U.S. and abroad. Customers can choose their level of coverage for trip cancellation or interruption, medical care, evacuation, and other events.

Prices start at $75 for those under 30, rising up to $179 for those 60 years or older. This policy isn’t sold in all states, however, and the state of Washington doesn’t permit annual plans of any type to be sold there.

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Be Careful About CFAR Insurance

Every insurance policy has sits own specific rules about what triggers coverage. That’s why you should be skeptical of “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) insurance, which sounds appealing but is pricey, frequently running 40 percent more than basic insurance. What’s more, this coverage often pays out only from 50 percent to 75 percent of your total expenses vs. the full cost paid by regular travel insurance.

Some states, such as New York, may limit or prohibit sales of CFAR policies. (The New York Department of Financial Services explains that because insurance is intended to protect against unforeseen events, CFAR can’t be considered real insurance since it allows the buyer to control the reasons for filing a claim.)

So keep in mind that trip insurance, like all other protection policies, is subject to state regulation, which can vary widely around the country. Check with your own state’s regulator if you’re concerned whether you can buy a particular type of coverage.

Travel insurance now more important than ever

By Bob Boughner,  Postmedia News

Travel health insurance coverage is about to become more important than ever before.

The Ontario government plans to eliminate OHIP’s out-of-country travel insurance coverage by Oct. 1 as part of its larger initiative to reduce the provincial deficit. The province has been spending $2.8 million to administer approximately $9 million in claim payments through the program annually.

OHIP currently covers up to $400 per day for emergency in-patient services such as intensive care and up to $50 per day for emergency outpatient services and other doctor services.

Jill Wykes of Snowbirdadvisor.ca tells me that while these amounts may seem significant, they are actually quite minimal when you consider the cost of medical treatment for Canadians travelling abroad. For example, the typical cost for an inpatient stay in a U.S. hospital can be $10,000 per night and, in most cases, an individual without supplemental travel medical insurance would only be able to recover about three to five per cent from OHIP for the cost of emergency medical treatment received outside Canada.

Wykes tells me that, unfortunately, many travellers are currently under the false impression that their provincial health plan will cover most or all of their out-of-country medical expenses.

She says this false sense of security can lead these individuals to not purchase supplemental travel medical insurance, which can result in serious financial hardship if they require emergency medical treatment outside Canada.

Wykes tells me that insurance companies are still digesting the recent change to OHIP coverage but it’s likely that the cost of travel insurance will increase to cover the amount that no longer will be covered by OHIP.

Wykes says that because the amount currently covered by OHIP is quite small, it’s likely that any premium increases will be relatively small as well.

It’s also interesting to note that Canada plans to begin tracking snowbird exits and entries.

Snowbirds who spend long periods of time in the U.S. can face a variety of negative consequences if they violate certain residency rules in Canada or the U.S. Canadian snowbirds need to be very clear about the rules that affect their various benefits at home as well as how long they can stay in the U.S.

Complying with U.S. residency rules is a must for Canadian snowbirds from both a tax and immigration standpoint. While most snowbirds are aware they can face negative consequences in the U.S. if they spend too much time south of the border, fewer snowbirds are aware they can also face negative consequences back in Canada if they spend too much time outside the country. There is a possible risk snowbirds could lose federal benefits such as the OAS and guaranteed income supplements.

Minister: Ontario will cut government-run travel insurance program

TORONTO — Ontario is pushing ahead with a plan to eliminate basic out-of-country travel insurance, saying the program is very costly and does not provide value to taxpayers.

The insurance currently covers out-of-country inpatient services to a maximum of $400 per day for a higher level of care, and up to $50 per day for emergency outpatient services and doctor services.

Health Minister Christine Elliot announced the decision to scrap the program on Wednesday, following a six-day public consultation.

The province spends $2.8 million to administer approximately $9 million in claim payments through the program every year.

“We know that is not good value for Ontarians,” Elliott said. “People should be making their own plans to obtain coverage, which can be obtained quite inexpensively and provide them with full compensation if they sustain any health problems while out of the country.”

The change is expected to come into effect Oct. 1.

Elliott said a broader public outreach effort will be needed to remind travellers to purchase health insurance before they leave the country.

“I think many people didn’t even know there was any level of coverage before,” she said. “But it is important and we will have a public campaign to advise people because we don’t want people to have that unfortunate shock if they have a health problem while out of country, to have those costs which can be quite extraordinarily high.”

Opposition politicians have said ending the program will hurt snowbirds and frequent travellers.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath criticized the move, saying it was part of the province’s larger plan to reduce health-care spending.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said people deserve to have health coverage wherever they are, at home or travelling abroad.

“Changes to the program are essentially equivalent to taking away health insurance from people,” he said.

Last week, the Canadian Snowbird Association urged the government not to make the move and said it would not only impact the snowbird community who travel south during the winter months, but also cross-border shoppers and anyone planning a family vacation.

In her 2018 report, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said the Ministry of Health processed an average of 88,000 out-of-country claims per year over a five year period and paid an average of $127 per claim.

Lysyk also noted the high administrative costs of the program, but said they arise because staff must check varying physician services fee rates and process claims manually. She recommended that the government seek ways to reduce administrative costs by adopting a single reimbursement rate for all health services obtained out-of-country.

She also recommended the government bolster efforts to inform Ontarians of the limit on reimbursement rates under the program and on the need to purchase private health insurance before travelling.

Snowbird Migration: 10 things to know about protecting your wealth

But a few years ago, while enjoying their time in Florida, Hilton started having double-vision and his eyelids were drooping. “I knew something was wrong, so I got to an emergency room right away,” says Hilton. After an angiogram, MRI and a CT scan confirmed an arterial blockage in his head, Hilton underwent emergency surgery.

“Doctors said getting him home to Canadian soil would be impossible,” recalls Deanna. “The pressure in his eye was so bad, that the doctor discouraged flying.” That meant that Hilton would have to have surgery in Florida. The couple knew that the medical bills would be exorbitant but breathed a sigh of relief knowing that they had purchased a travel medical policy that would cover this type of situation.

They were right.  The medical bills came in at half a million dollars. Hilton says thankfully, “because we thought ahead and purchased travel insurance, we paid nothing out of pocket.  That kind of bill would have been financially devastating otherwise.”

Hilton and Deanna’s story is strong proof that packing shouldn’t be the only thing on your snowbird to-do list.  For snowbirds, planning for a healthcare emergency shouldn’t be left out in the cold.

1. Don’t Count on Canadian Health Care

Your Canadian government health insurance plan, when you are outside of the country, may cover less than you think; and when it comes to emergency medical treatment, provincial healthcare may pay only minimal amounts — and at the same rates as they would pay for services in your home province.  “It might cover a few hundred dollars when the actual costs could be in the thousands,” says Anna Kavanagh, VicePresident of TD Insurance.  Just to put that into perspective—treating a broken leg in the U.S. can cost about $3500 USD 1, whereas a provincial plan may pay $50 for an outpatient hospital visit 2.

2. Get Insured

The costs of medical care while outside of Canada can add up, even for small incidents. Depending on the policy, insurance can cover everything from prescription medication to hospital care. Travel insurance for long trips can get pricey, so shop around. “What you really need to look for is the duration of coverage to match the duration of your trip,” says Kavanagh. “You want to ensure that you are covered for the full duration you’re away.” Deanna and Hilton both have coverage through their former employers for being out of the province for two months at a time. They make sure they top up their winter stay in Florida with coverage that kicks in after their employer’s coverage ends— making it cost efficient. Ensure you bring all those policy documents with you when you cross the border, as well as proof of when you left Canada—like a boarding pass, or even a receipt from the border duty-free store.

3. Cover It All

A policy that covers you for $1,000,000 may seem high, but if it’s not cost prohibitive, consider buying as much coverage as you can.  An annual policy, which would be effective for a year, may be less expensive than a policy that covers you for a single trip.  “You can buy an annual plan and that will not only cover you for your winter trip, but also a summer vacation.” relays Kavanagh.  “It will protect you year after year, if you choose to renew.” Some annual plans limit the number of days you are covered while out of the country, so if you need to top up the number of days on your annual plan for an extended trip, be sure to contact your insurance company before you leave.

4. Disclose Everything

When it comes to insurance, honesty is the only policy.  Even though it might cost more to purchase insurance if you disclose previous or existing health issues, it will minimize the risk of your insurer denying your claims. “If you spend the time to purchase a travel policy, you want to know you’re covered,” says Kavanagh. Disclose any and all conditions, injuries or symptoms that had given rise to any form of treatment or medication in the two years before taking out a travel medical insurance policy.  Kavanagh also advises you tell the insurer if you will be doing anything adventurous on your trip, like bungee jumping or mountain climbing, as some insurers will not cover what they consider hazardous.

5. Not Going to the US?

Many snowbirds are heading to Mexico or other sunny spots outside North America.  Even though the cost of getting medical treatments may be relatively inexpensive in some countries, a travel medical insurance policy may still be a good idea.  A visit to the doctor might only cost $35 in some countries, but it could cost $50,000 or more if you need to be airlifted back home.

6. Know Before You Go

Wherever you go, do a little research ahead of time to identify services that you might need in an emergency.  Locate a nearby clinic, hospital and know what to dial.  911 will access help in the U.S.  But in Mexico or elsewhere the emergency number may be different.

7. B.Y.O.P. (Bring Your Own Prescriptions)

If you have prescription medications, some provinces will allow you to obtain a 200-day supply of medication for travel purposes.  “I would advise travelers to bring enough medication to last the duration of the trip,” says Kavanagh. “Sometimes, outside of Canada, dosages may be different or certain medications may not be available.” Always bring a copy of your prescriptions with you. If you do need to fill a prescription at a U.S. pharmacy, you’ll need a local doctor to write the prescription, but you’ll know what you need. For ease of customs clearance, have your medication close at hand, and in clearly labelled containers.

8. The Power of Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney is essential to allow someone else to make decisions on the medical care you need. While out of country, it is important to have your powers of attorney up-to-date. Additionally, you may consider executing the powers of attorney in the state where you will be staying to ensure that they will be recognized.

9. Good Things Shouldn’t Come To An End—Especially Health Care

Different provinces have different rules for how long you can be out of the province before you lose your government health insurance benefits.  If you are out of province for a prolonged period, you may have to reinstate your benefits by living in your province for a pre-determined period of time.  Make sure you know the rules and are able to prove you have fulfilled your residency requirements.

10. Writing It Off

Come tax time, health insurance, including out-of-province travel medical insurance premiums, may be eligible as part of the medical tax credit —a nice perk. You can include the premiums for extended health and dental programs up to a limit based on a ceiling or a percentage of income—whichever is less. Ask your insurer for a receipt stating the cost of your medical coverage (excluding any trip cancellation or lost baggage coverage).  Medical expenses you incurred outside of the country may also be eligible.

Bottom Line

Since even a small accident can mean a significant medical bill in the U.S., Deanna always makes sure she and her husband are insured, even if just going cross-border shopping for a day.  “We leave our insurance information with family members, keep our own copies with us, and carry family phone numbers with us wherever we go,” says Deanna, “better safe than sorry.”

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