Zika virus impact to spread into insurance as it doesn’t cover cancellations

The Province

Travel insurance will not cover people cancelling trips to areas hard-hit by the Zika virus, says the president of the Travel Insurance Association of Canada.

Alex Bittner said Wednesday the association is trying to clear up any confusion about the mosquito-borne virus and trip policies to places like Brazil.

“The reason for the confusion is the policies themselves haven’t contemplated the type of health risk,” said Bittner.

“A health risk like the Zika is not an insurance benefit under a travel insurance trip cancellation policy.”

And while travel insurance will not cover cancellations due to the recent concerns over the Zika virus, Bittner said it will be an issue that they will look at.

“As an industry we need to look at policy language that addresses health risks,” he said.

Bittner said the best advice they are giving people is for them to plan ahead. He noted airlines that fly to warmer destinations where the Zika virus is a concern have been helping customers reschedule flights.

“I know the airlines have been fantastic,” he said.

Other than pregnant women, Bittner said, there are no real travel warnings for destinations like Brazil.

“They should absolutely not entertain travel to those destinations if pregnant,” said Bittner. “Know where you are going and know your policy in the event of a pandemic,” he advised.

The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to serious birth defects in Brazil. The virus has been confirmed in Mexico and the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico and Martinique.

Zika is native to parts of Africa and Asia and gets transmitted by the daytime-biting Aedes mosquito.

Last year the virus in Brazil hit an estimated 440,000 to 1.3 million people.

Zika causes mild symptoms like fever, a rash, red eyes and joint pain. Some people get no symptoms at all.

Health researchers are studying the virus over concerns it is a possible cause of small heads and undeveloped brains in some newborns whose mothers may have been infected while pregnant.

Zika travel cancellations unlikely covered by insurance

By Emma Jolliff | 3news.co.nz

Health officials say they can’t issue more than a precautionary travel warning over the Zika virus because the link between it and brain deformities in babies hasn’t yet been proven.

That means insurers are unlikely to cover those who voluntarily cancel their travel plans.

In the past five months in Brazil, 4000 babies have been born with abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly, and linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

But ‘linked to’ isn’t the same as ’caused by’.

“The World Health Organisation have not come out with evidence to say it’s a causal link. Therefore, you must cancel your holiday plans, all we can do is be ultra-cautious,” Dr Shirley Crawshaw, Deputy Director of Public Health says.

The latest advice is if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant it’s probably best to avoid travelling to countries where there’s active transmission of the Zika virus.

The Centre for Disease Control has listed 23 countries where Zika is a risk — mostly in Central and South America, but also Samoa.
“A recent epidemic in Samoa has been downplayed because not many people developed the disease,” Marc Shaw, GP with Worldwide Traveller’s Health said.

The Samoan Director-General of Health says there were just three cases of Zika in Samoa last year and the travel warnings were issued without consultation.

Dr Shaw says 80 percent of people who get this infection get a mild infection which could be just a transient cold.

House of Travel has had just two clients cancel bookings to Samoa. It says while claims are assessed on a case-by-case basis, generally “travel insurance policies won’t offer travel refunds if it is the customer’s choice not to travel and there is no travel advisory recommending not to travel, as is the case with Samoa”.

Where it’s not possible to avoid travel, all precautions should be taken to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Dr Shaw says New Zealanders need to be aware of, but not alarmed about, Zika and should consult with their doctor if they have any concerns about travelling.

C

Don’t leave home without it: The importance of travel insurance

By Craig Wong

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Sunscreen, check. Beach hat, check. Camera, check. How about travel medical insurance?

As you prepare to head south on your winter getaway, travel experts want you remember to check your insurance coverage.

“The minute that you leave your home province you need medical coverage,” said Tina Richardson, business development manager for CAA Travel.

“Even within our own country, outside of province we still need travel medical insurance.”

Your provincial health care plan only provides limited coverage for emergency medical costs outside of Canada and even within Canada you may face costs that are only partially covered or not at all.

On its website, the Ontario government strongly advises people to purchase additional health insurance every time they leave Canada to cover any expenses not covered by the provincial health insurance plan.

You may already have medical travel insurance as part of your benefits package at work. Some credit cards also offer emergency medical and other coverage if you use them to pay for your tickets.

But you need to understand what you already have and where gaps in coverage may be before heading off on holiday. You should know what limitations there are to your coverage and you may or may not be covered, including your spouse and children.

“Now would be the time to read the details on the policy, find out what you’re covered for — and more importantly, the exclusions, what you’re not covered for,” Richardson said.

If you need additional travel insurance you can buy it on an as-needed basis. For frequent travellers, there is multi-trip coverage that can offer some savings.

The cost and coverage depends in part on the typical length of trip you make and will need topping up if you are going to take a longer holiday that usual.

Travel insurance can also be more than just emergency medical coverage.

Flying in Canada in winter is not for the impatient. With ice storms and blizzard-delaying flights not uncommon, there is the possibility of delayed flights and missed connections.

If the delay is caused by weather, the airline is unlikely to provide any compensation, potentially leaving you on the hook for a night in a hotel or an uncomfortable sleep on a bench in the airport.

Travel delay insurance can take the sting out of an unplanned layover due to a missed connection, while baggage delay insurance can help cover the cost of a new toothbrush and other necessities if your checked luggage doesn’t arrive with you.

Travel agent Omar Guechtal says it may seem like an unnecessary expense, but if something happens it can help manage your stress on what is your vacation.

He says trip cancellation insurance can also be a way of ensuring that the great deal you found on a flight to Paris doesn’t become a loss if something unforeseen happens and you can’t use the ticket.

“Ninety-eight per cent of those incredible rates are 100 per cent non-refundable fares,” says Guechtal, an assistant team leader at Flight Centre in Ottawa.

“We don’t think that we need cancellation (insurance), but when things happen to you between the moment you book and the moment you travel there are circumstances where you would be forced to cancel your flight.”

But if you’re looking to save a few bucks on a trip, Richardson says medical insurance coverage isn’t the place.

“Never skimp on the medical insurance,” she said. “Always understand that the minute you leave your home province you need to be covered.”

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Family of Barb Johnston, 54, warns Canadian travellers to have emergency plan

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Save money on vacation: 5 tips to find the cheapest airfare, car rentals and lift tickets

Save money on vacation: 5 tips to find the cheapest airfare, car rentals and lift tickets

By Scott Mayerowitz

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK _ Vacations are a great way to relax, reconnect with family and escape the daily grind of work. But they can also quickly drain your savings account. So here are five of our favourite tips to save a bit of cash on your next trip.

SEARCH FOR JUST ONE AIRLINE TICKET

Airlines set aside seats in a series of fare buckets or classes. We aren’t talking about first class vs. economy class. No, these classes are those tiny letters you often see next to a flight, such as L, Q, K or U. The seats are the same; the price isn’t.

A fare bucket might have nine tickets left for sale or just one. And here’s where it gets tricky. If there is just one ticket left but you are searching for two or more seats, the airline will skip over that cheapest ticket and offer seats in the next fare class up.

Bargain hunters should always search for one seat at a time. Then increase your search up to the number of tickets you actually want. If the price is the same, go ahead a book it. If the price is different, consider booking two separate itineraries; the first at the cheaper price, the second for the remaining passengers at the higher price. But beware: If your flight is cancelled, your party might be split when rebooked onto a new flight.

AVOID BAG FEES

Getting an airline branded credit card can mean no checked luggage fees. This isn’t always advisable, but can save a large family substantially.

Airlines typically charge $25 each way for the first checked suitcase. For a couple checking two bags, that means an extra $100. Add in a suitcase for a kid and you are looking at $150.

American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines all have credit cards that waive those fees. The cards carry a $95 annual fee, so you really need to do your math.

Make sure to read the fine print. All three airlines require you to use the credit card to book your flight. United only waives the fee for the cardholder and one companion. American allows three companions and Delta waives the fee for up to eight others. Everybody must be on the same reservation.

SAVE ON LIFT TICKETS

This is one area where paying in advance almost always saves money. Most ski resorts now offer online ticket sales at a pretty substantial discount. The catch: you must commit to the mountain and _ in many cases _ exact dates. If the weather is poor, you are out of luck.

For instance, Colorado’s Aspen Snowmass resort is offering four-day adult lift tickets during the peak of this year’s season for $476 at the ticket window. Purchase the same ticket at least a week in advance and save $40.

Some mountains offer more flexibility. Utah’s Brighton sells a one-day ticket for $75 at the mountain. But a print-at-home ticket valid any day during the season is just $68.

For further savings, consider Liftopia.com, which sells advance tickets for specific dates. Locking in a lift ticket now for an early January Tuesday at Brighton brought the price down to $53. In some cases, Liftopia adds in ski rentals or food vouchers, which can save more.

KEEP CHECKING CAR RENTALS

Most car rental reservations can easily be cancelled or changed up until you pick up the vehicle. If prices fall, you can rebook at the lower rate. But most travellers don’t have the time to constantly recheck prices.

That’s where AutoSlash.com comes in. The site tracks your rentals. First, book a reservation with one of the big car rental companies. Then enter the reservation details into AutoSlash. The site will email you if a better deal is available.

DECLINE CAR RENTAL INSURANCE

Car rental firms sell collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance for up to $25 extra a day. It offers protection from theft, vandalism or other damage.

Your personal insurance policy likely covers rentals. It probably also extends liability insurance. But confirm this with the insurer long before you get to the rental counter.

Many credit cards offer rental car insurance. Some offer primary insurance. Most only cover what your personal insurance does not. And cards have plenty of exclusions. If you are renting for more than two weeks or travelling to Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Australia, Italy or New Zealand, you might not be covered. Exotic and luxury cars, some vans, motorcycles and SUVs aren’t covered.

Debit cards typically don’t offer much coverage.

 

Airlines are Getting Better at Handling Bags but Winter Remains the Worst Time for Lost Luggage

Heading into winter, fliers should take extra precautions with their checked luggage _ December and January are traditionally the worst months for lost bags.

To avoid problems, arrive at the airport early enough to let your bag get to the plane, and print out a copy of your itinerary from the airline’s website and stick it inside just in case all the tags get ripped off.

planeIn the U.S. during the first nine months of this year, 3.3 bags for every 1,000 passengers didn’t make it to their destination on time, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That’s not great if you are one of those people whose bag is delayed or lost. But consider this: during the 2007 peak in air travel, airlines were mishandling more than twice as many suitcases _ 7.2 bags per 1,000 passengers.

Globally, the baggage-mishandling rate has fallen 61 per cent from its peak in 2007, according to SITA, an aviation communications and technology provider. That has saved the industry $18 billion.

The vast majority of bags _ 80 per cent _ aren’t lost but just delayed, according to SITA. And it takes about a day and a half to reunite passengers with their bags. Another 14 per cent are damaged or have their contents reported stolen. And nearly 6 per cent of bags are lost or stolen completely.

December and January tend to be the worst months because there are a lot of infrequent travellers checking multiple bags, and a few snowstorms can add to delays and suitcases that miss connections.

The overall improvements to baggage handling come after carriers spent millions of dollars to upgrade their systems.

Tug drivers now get real-time updates of gate changes so they can change their path and ensure that bags make their connection. Scanners allow bags to be tracked throughout the system, preventing a suitcase bound for Chicago from being loaded onto a plane to Detroit. Gate agents have printers to help tag bags that are checked at the last minute because of full overhead bins. And, overall, fewer bags are being checked because of bag fees.

“We continue to invest in technology and in processes so we understand where bags are at all times, and we can manage the failure points,” says Bill Lentsch, senior vice-president for airport customer service and cargo operations at Delta Air Lines.

Airlines are also starting to empower passengers _ or at least keep them better informed.

Delta was the first airline to allow fliers to track their own checked luggage, first on the airline’s website in 2011 and then on its mobile app in 2012. Bag tags are scanned when the suitcase is dropped off, loaded onto a plane, loaded onto a connecting flight and then again before being placed on the carousel at baggage claim. Passengers can see all those scans.

American Airlines followed suit in August, allowing passengers to see when a suitcase was loaded or unloaded from a plane. Right now, it is only available on the airline’s website but will eventually be part of the mobile app.

Sitting on a plane ready for takeoff and knowing that your suitcase isn’t in the hold below might be frustrating. But airlines say they would rather have passengers know it then and talk immediately to a baggage representative, once on the ground, instead of standing at the carousel waiting for a suitcase that isn’t there.

If your bag is late, you might be able to get some bonus frequent flier miles or even a voucher toward a future flight.

Since 2010, Alaska Airlines has promised that suitcases will be on the carousel within 20 minutes of the plane arriving at the gate. If not, passengers get a $25 voucher for a future flight or 2,500 bonus frequent flier miles. Delta copied that policy this year, offering 2,500 bonus miles to existing members of its frequent flier program _ but no voucher. Act quickly: Alaska requires you to reach out within two hours of arrival; Delta within three days. And ultimately it’s your stopwatch against the airlines’ _ they are the final arbiter of tardiness.

And if you wanted to get that $25 checked bag fee refunded, you are out of luck.

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