Insurers are warning you many have to cover your own hospital costs if you ignore CDN travel advisories

Insurers are warning you many have to cover your own hospital costs if you ignore CDN travel advisories

Vancouver Sun | Randy Shore

If you are tempted to take advantage of a cheap flight to COVID-19 hot spots such as Italy or China, you could be paying your own hospital bills if you get sick.

Pacific Blue Cross is warning its clients that that will not be covered for medical expenses related to infectious disease if a travel advisory or health warning for your destination is issued by the Canadian government and publicized before your departure date.

The company advises members to check for government health advisories for their destination.

“If you have or want to purchase travel medical or trip protection insurance or if you are covered under a group travel medical plan, you should be aware of your coverage before you travel,” the company said in a statement.

Canada has issued Level 3 travel advisories for China, Iran and northern Italy to “avoid non-essential travel.” Travelling to a country under a Level 3 or 4 warning typically voids your coverage for medical expenses.

In practice, that means that your medical claims will be honoured as long as there is no Level 3 or 4 advisory for your destination on the effective date of your medical coverage, travel industry insiders say.

A Level 1 travel advisory means exercise normal security precautions, Level 2 advises a high degree of caution. Level 3 advises avoiding non-essential travel, while Level 4 advises Canadians to avoid all travel to the affected region.

Level 1 health notices have been issued for Singapore and Hong Kong, and Level 2 notices are in force for South Korea and Japan.

Confirm the exact terms of your health care and travel coverage with your insurer, as there is considerable variability among companies and policies are changing almost daily in response to the growing crisis.

Canada Life Financial “will continue to assess” claims related to COVID-19, including those that occur during travel to a country with a travel advisory warning.

The company has expedited disability claims related to COVID-19 and is also considering claims from people under quarantine at the direction of a physician, a company official said.

BCAA also will not provide trip cancellation or trip interruption coverage on claims related to COVID-19 on policies purchased after March 5. TuGo will not provide coverage for claims related to COVID-19 on policies purchased on or after March 4.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, have also recommended that people “avoid all cruise ship travel.”

Canadians who take a cruise against that advice may not be able to return home on a government-organized repatriation flight, or may have to pay the cost of returning should they become ensnared in a quarantine, the agency said.

If the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is detected on your ship, you could be subject to quarantine aboard the ship or in a foreign country under local rules. Your access to consular services may also be limited by local authorities.

Ports in India, Malaysia, Doha, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates have banned cruise ships outright, while many other countries have banned passengers from China, Iran, Italy and Korea from disembarking.

The cruise warning is not a Level 3 advisory, so there are no insurance implications, yet. It’s effect has been devastating, nonetheless.

“That advisory is the single biggest blow to the industry since this virus became headline news,” said travel agent Claire Newell. “I was surprised because there are hundreds and hundreds of ships in regions that haven’t been affected.”

The onslaught of holiday cancellations has triggered an overhaul of the insurance products being offered to travellers, many of them temporary offers.

“A lot of package tour operators are offering worry-free clauses in their cancellation policies,” she said.  “The industry has been hit very hard and they are trying to spur bookings because people are afraid.”

However, the cancellation windows vary from 30 days before departure to as little as 48 hours. Most allow you to rebook free, but do not offer refunds.

Discounts of up to 75 per cent are available for people willing to book a cruise.

“That’s what is going to get people over their fear, a hell of a good deal,” she said, adding that more than 90 per cent of people who are booking a holiday also buy cancel-for-any-reason insurance.

The COVID-19 epidemic is fuelling demand for “self-driving” holidays and Canadian destinations such as Niagara and the Gaspé, as well as destinations such as Iceland, Scotland and South America, where only a handful of cases are confirmed.

“There is a lot of interest in Peru, which is a great bucket list destination,” said Newell.

Canada’s largest airlines waiving fees to change flights because of coronavirus

By Ross Marowits

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Canada’s largest airlines are waiving change fees in light of concerns about the novel coronavirus.

Air Canada says a one-time change is permitted for tickets purchased from the airline between March 4 and March 31 for travel within 12 months.

It also applies to Aeroplan flight reward bookings and Air Canada Vacations has implemented flexible booking policies.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. says the one-time change fee waiver applies to new bookings made between March 5 and March 31.

Air Transat has two policies, including one that applies to Venice, a hot spot for the virus called COVID-19. All customers who booked flights on or before March 2 for travel until June 30 can change their date or destination for a trip until Oct. 31.

Other passengers travelling outside the eco budget fare class can change their travel dates, destination or hotel at no charge for bookings made between March 4 and March 31 for travel through Oct. 31.

“Although almost all of our destinations are very safe and the government of Canada’s advisories currently affect only one of our destinations located in northern Italy, we are aware that the outbreak and progression of the coronavirus may raise questions and even concerns among some travellers,” Transat said in a news release.

“The situation is evolving rapidly, and in order to reassure travellers and enable our clients to carry out their travel plans, we are offering them peace of mind by deploying a highly advantageous flexibility policy.”

Most airlines will waive the fee for changes made at least 14 days before travel. However, Transat passengers can change their booking up to 24 hours before departure.

All airlines require passengers to pay any fare difference between the original and new flights.

Sunwing says its destinations have not been impacted to date but its waiver applies to all new bookings made March 4-19 for flights until June 24.

Sunwing passengers can purchase insurance starting at $50 per person that provides full cancellation coverage up until three hours before departure for any reason.

Canadians are starting to rethink their travel plans as illness spreads

Canadians are starting to rethink their travel plans as illness spreads

The excerpted article was written by Sophia Harris · CBC News

As the coronavirus spreads globally, Canadians may start rethinking their travel plans. However, pulling the plug could be costly, depending on what type of travel insurance you have.

Here’s what you need to know before cancelling or booking a trip during the coronavirus outbreak.

Consider trip opt-out insurance

Mike Mitchell and his wife, Marlene, started getting cold feet about a month before their Feb. 27 Asian cruise. The coronavirus was already spreading outside China and their three-week cruise included stops in several nearby countries.

The tipping point for the couple was when news broke in early February that passengers were stuck in quarantine for two weeks onboard the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked in Japan.

The Mitchells’ cabin on their ship had no windows, so they didn’t want to risk the same fate.

“If we were stuck in this inside cabin for two weeks, what would we do? We would go crazy,” said Mike Mitchell, who lives in Victoria. “I thought, ‘There is no way I want to go on this cruise.'”

However, there was a problem. Mitchell had bought travel insurance — even opted for a premium plan which included extra coverage. But it didn’t include a “Cancel For Any Reason” (CFAR) option, so he’d be on the hook for the entire $5,400 cruise if he and his wife cancelled due to coronavirus fears.

“There was nothing in the rules of the insurance that we could use as an excuse,” said Mitchell. “We would lose all that money.”

Travelling amid coronavirus: What you need to know

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While regular trip cancellation insurance protects people if they say, get sick and can’t travel, it typically won’t cover customers who cancel a trip due to fears that something might go wrong — such as catching the coronavirus.

Travel insurance expert Will McAleer said travellers who want extra protection right now should consider purchasing the CFAR option.

“It essentially allows people — just because they don’t have a good feeling — to make changes to their travel plans,” said McAleer, executive director of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada.

To note, the CFAR option is an added cost and McAleer warns that it generally won’t cover the full amount of a cancelled trip.

Check Canada’s travel advisories

For travellers who only have regular cancellation insurance, McAleer said they typically will only be covered for a coronavirus-related cancellation if they booked a trip before the Canadian government issues a travel advisory to not travel to, or to avoid non-essential travel to, their destination.

The government has issued an advisory to avoid non-essential travel to China, Iran and parts of South Korea. But that wouldn’t have helped Mitchell, who had none of those destinations on his cruise itinerary.

“You get to the point where you say, ‘OK, well, I guess we’re going to lose our money,'” said Mitchell.

However, his luck changed about a week before the trip when his cruise company, Norwegian Cruise Line, sent him an email announcing that it had cancelled the cruise due to growing coronavirus concerns. As a result, Mitchell would get a full refund.

“The weight was off our shoulders,” he said.

Ask for mercy

For travellers who want to cancel their trip and have no travel insurance options, McAleer suggests asking their travel provider for mercy.

“See whether there was anything they could do to change those dates, because what we’re seeing is, airlines and other travel suppliers are becoming much more flexible.”

Currently, Air Canada is waiving the change fee for travellers who want to rebook flights to or from China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Italy, which have widespread cases of coronavirus.

However, that offer doesn’t help Air Canada passenger Vanessa Le, who was set to fly from Vancouver to Tokyo this past Friday to race in the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday.

On Feb. 17, marathon organizers restricted the race to a small number of elite runners after a case of COVID-19 — the illness caused by the coronavirus — was confirmed in Tokyo.

Le, who lives in Langford, B.C., decided to cancel her trip, which cost $2,400 in airfare for herself and her husband.

She said she called Air Canada repeatedly, but that the airline wouldn’t offer a refund or any other options, because Le had bought a discounted, basic economy ticket — which means no refunds or flight changes are allowed.

“It sucks. It’s a lot of money to lose,” said Le. “We shouldn’t be penalized by Air Canada for taking safety into our hands.”

Air Canada didn’t respond to a request for comment in time for the publication of this story.

A happy ending

Sometimes, persistence does pay off. Saidi Chan of Toronto wasn’t covered by travel insurance when she decided to cancel her two-week Asia cruise with Norwegian, leaving on Feb. 6.

Chan was concerned about the spreading coronavirus and feared her flight home from the cruise’s final destination — Hong Kong — would be cancelled as COVID-19 cases mounted in the region.

At the time, Chan said that Norwegian declined to offer a refund or travel credit. However, Chan persisted by continually calling and emailing the cruise line to make her case, she said.

“I didn’t give up,” said Chan, whose cruise included four family members and totalled $14,000. “I felt like it was very unfair.”

On Feb. 23, she got good news. Although the cruise hadn’t been cancelled, Norwegian informed her family by email that they would receive a full refund for the trip.

“I was very extremely relieved and very happy,” said Chan.

CBC News

Edmonton travel agents field calls, re-book and cancel trips over COVID-19

The excerpted article was written by  

Approximately 100 people working in tourism gathered Thursday in Edmonton for an industry conference that touched on the novel coronavirus and its impact on travel.

The coronavirus COVID-19 has reached every continent except for Antarctica and has upheaved the travel industry, disrupting flights, accommodations and tourist attractions around the world.

The conference included tour suppliers as well as independent travel agencies in the city, and some agents said they are busy fielding calls from concerned travelers.

Hidar Elmais, manager of Travel Gurus, said the agency was busy last month repatriating travellers who were stuck overseas in infected areas.

He said this month, the agency is working with travellers who are uncertain about booking a trip or mulling whether a trip should be cancelled.

Elmais said travel insurance is an important consideration, adding that if the federal government said Canadians should avoid non-essential travel to certain countries, travel insurance would kick in to offer a full refund for those looking to cancel or bring travellers who are already overseas back to Canada.

“Travel insurance can be purchased at any time. The problem is it has to be unforeseen. If you were to purchase travel insurance after Canada had declared non-essential travel to that country, you won’t be covered because it was foreseen. The earlier you purchase travel insurance, the better,” Elmais said.

He said that the most important period of time to purchase extra coverage, such as cancel for any reason coverage, is within the first 72 hours of booking a trip.

Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours and Expeditions, said there has been a roughly 10 to 20 per cent drop in business to certain countries. He said that business to Asia has come to a standstill because of the virus.

“Fear is real. People look at this and say, ‘What do I do?’ There’s a lot of questions,” he said.

However, Sanghrajka said the industry has experience in dealing with major disruptions, citing the SARS epidemic as well as concerns over Ebola.

He said travellers have asked to postpone their trips by a year or have asked to re-book in different parts of the world, such as Africa and Latin America.

He said that it is important for travellers to understand their travel insurance and its limitations.

“This is what will happen. Your deposit does become non-refundable because of this, this and this. Understanding all of that. Much like when you’re buying a car, much like when you’re investing in a portfolio,” he said.

Leah Wood of Peace River has been planning a family trip to England and Scotland since last year but the coronavirus prompted her family to re-think their plans.

“The rate of spread. The videos I was seeing out of China. It just was really concerning and now it seems to be spreading – not just in China, everywhere else. I just didn’t want to put my family at risk,” Wood said.

Wood said her family intended to book this month but has decided to postpone travel overseas until the risk of the virus lessens. They could explore Canada instead, she said.

“We’ve seen a lot of people stuck on cruise ships, people stuck at hotels. I did not want to be quarantined to an airplane or another country where I’m not from there and I don’t have family,” Wood said.

“It broke my heart. [But] the safety of my four kids and my family is more important than just a vacation.”

Can you cancel a flight due to fear of Coronavirus?

Pat Foran  | CTV News Toronto

TORONTO — Travellers are growing increasingly nervous and concerned as the novel Coronavirus continues to spread globally.

People working in the travel industry tell CTV News Toronto that they are receiving frantic calls from people who have already booked vacations and business travel, but are wondering if they can cancel.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook with people wondering if they can cancel trips,” said Martin Firestone, who works with Travel Secure, a company that specializes in travel insurance products.

The answer, he said, is usually no, unless the Government of Canada issues a travel advisory to an area, which advises people to avoid all non-essential travel to that area.

If an advisory is issued, then a passenger, who has bought trip insurance, would have their trip cancelled, and they will be refunded, Firestone told CTV News Toronto.

“You have to have bought trip cancellation insurance to a destination that the government of Canada issues a travel warning for non-essential travel to – that’s the trigger that will allow you to get a refund,” he said.

Firestone said that even if someone has travel insurance, they would not get a refund if they are cancelling a trip because they are concerned about the virus, but there is no advisory.

“There is no insurance yet for fear of travel – it just doesn’t exist,” he said.

Firestone said that Canadians should know their government is keeping an eye on the situation. He said that while it’s important to be cautious, people with planned trips should not be too concerned.

He said he advises people to communicate with their airline or travel company or insurer.

“If the Canadian government is allowing you to travel somewhere then believe me there is not going to be any issues,” he said. “If they have concerns they would create a travel warning which would trigger trip cancellation.”

There is, however, a newer insurance product offered by some companies called “change your mind” insurance, which would let someone cancel a trip for any reason they want, but it can be expensive and does come with some limitations.

Will travel insurance cover coronavirus? Experts break down why and why not

The excerpted article was written by  

The decision to travel amid a viral disease outbreak can be harrowing, but that’s what purchasing travel insurance is for — right?

According to experts, it depends on when.

The general consensus is that the coronavirus will be covered by travel insurance providers as long as the insurance was purchased prior to a government “no non-essential travel” or “do not travel” advisory.

John Shmuel, managing editor at Lowestrates.ca, said that whether or not insurance will cover disease outbreak is less about the coronavirus itself being covered, as much as it is the conditions surrounding when a person is travelling — in this case, flying to a country for which the Government of Canada has issued a travel advisory, specifically China.

“It’s not coronavirus that’s being covered per se, it’s any medical emergencies,” he said.

“If you’re buying travel insurance right now, most consumer policies will deny you because there is an advisory in place.”

Shmuel said a variety of consumer policies include epidemics and pandemics, provided consumers purchase insurance before they happen.

Those looking to purchase travel insurance after the government advisory change may be out of luck.  However, “if you bought your insurance before this outbreak happened, before the advisory, and you get sick, then your insurance company will cover it, they’ll cover your treatment there, and they’ll likely fly you back home,” Shmuel said.

He added that trip cancellation insurance, which often goes hand-in-hand with travel insurance, could save someone thousands of dollars on typically non-refundable flights with major airlines.

n February, the Canadian government updated its China travel advisory, urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel in and out of the country.

In the province of Hubei, the advisory was updated to “avoid all travel,” including the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou, due to the imposition of heavy travel restrictions in order to limit the coronavirus from spreading.

The Canadian government said many of the initial cases of the disease outbreak were linked to the Huanan Seafood Market (also known as Wuhan South China Seafood City and South China Seafood Wholesale Market). The market was closed Jan. 1 for cleaning and disinfection, but the source of the virus is still unknown.

Chinese health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the disease could be spread from human to human and that transmission is occurring, but it is unclear how easily the virus is transmitted between people.

So far, the latest figures show 24,642 cases and 493 deaths.

Anne Marie Thomas, an insurance expert with Insurance Hotline, told Global News there are many reasons an insurer wouldn’t cover disease outbreak following a ‘do not fly’ travel advisory, but it boils down to this: anybody travelling once a travel advisory is in place is making a choice to proceed to an area in which they could get sick.

“Travel insurance is designed to protect you from unexpected or unanticipated illness or delays,” she said. ”

If there is a travel advisory in place, it’s not going to be something that’s unexpected, like if you get sick over there or if your flights get cancelled.”

To her knowledge, Thomas said there are no “cover-all” insurance policies that will waive a government travel advisory. Those required to travel for work purposes, like diplomats or medical officials, for example, could have specialized insurance provided through their employers that would cover the viral outbreak.

Could the coronavirus affect your finances?

Thomas said the coronavirus could have “an extremely detrimental effect” on a person’s finances if they were to get sick abroad without already-purchased travel insurance.

Hospital and ambulance bills, medication costs and flights could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in certain countries.

“A simple hospital stay, if you think about it even in the U.S., if you had a hospital stay with tests and medications, that could be tens of thousands of dollars for one day,” she said.

“You pay a little bit of money to purchase a travel insurance policy and that protects you financially from potential devastation.”

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