In great big broad general terms, travel insurance, as it applies to cruise travelers, covers two unfortunate events: cancellation for a covered reason and medical expenses incurred while traveling. Some travelers skip it, playing the odds that they will not ever need it and for good reason: most travelers don’t. The majority of cruise vacations sail off without issues; everyone gets to the ship on time, there are no injuries while sailing and they make it home unbroken. Still, the same can be said of driving a car, renting an apartment or owning a home. We do have and eventually use that sort of insurance for one reason or another. Nothing new there. The issue, for the odds players, then becomes a matter of frequency. Driving a car back and forth to work every day provides many more opportunities to use insurance protection than once-a-year cruise vacations. Here is where we have new reason to re-visit the issue of travel insurance: we cruise more often than ever before.
Call it an improving economy, huge influx of boomer generation traveler now with more time to do so or an extreme cruise line focus on attracting families, millennials, solo travelers and more. More people are sailing now than ever before and there seems to be no end in sight for this outstanding growth.
“When you’re lounging on the sun deck, it’s easy to forget you may be hundreds of miles from the nearest properly equipped medical facility,” says Dr. William Brady, MD, Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Virginia. “And while you may be in perfect health, you can never predict when you might break an ankle, suffer a heart attack or catch the flu.”
Thinking along those lines, more families bring more children and children do get hurt from time to time in common ways like broken bones, scrapes and cuts. Sure, we can bring along a first aid kit with some bandages ($3 each on a cruise ship) for common every day injuries we might treat at home anyway. But what if a trip to the cruise line medical center is in order? Cruise line medical centers operate and are priced much like the Emergency Room at a local land-based hospital. $70 to $100 will get an exam with pricing for services varying by procedure. During high seas on a cruise not long ago, a metal cruise ship smashed my thumb that was in the wrong place when the door swung closed: $1,500+ out of pocket, due at the time of service and added to my shipboard account. Frankly, that could have happened to anyone, any age, any physical condition. Kids too. It was my turn.
Also third-party insurer Allianz Global Assistance’s U.S. Medical Director, Dr. Brady reminds us “most ship doctors provide prompt medical care, but for serious health emergencies, passengers may need to be transported to the nearest appropriate medical facility for treatment.”
Accidents can also occur on cruise excursions where activities may be sponsored by a cruise line, but are not without risk. Cruise lines are commonly not responsible for the actions of independent excursion companies. That is almost universal among cruise lines, which begs questions we simply don’t know the answers to:
- Is the local excursion provider insured, licensed and properly trained? Hard to say and hard to find out on the insured and licensed issue. “Properly” trained too is a tough call. We often judge a tour operator by how interesting the tour is, what we get out of it and how much it costs. No where in there is a concern for licensed and insured.
- Has the cruise line evaluated the reliability of the local excursion provider? Probably so. We know that cruise lines will send crew members and other employees on excursions secretly to evaluate the tour guides and quality of the tours.
- Have the cruise line and/or the local excursion provider disclaimed liability for injuries that passengers might sustain during excursions? This is most commonly something that does not come up, one way or another, with the tour operator. The cruise line, however, is covered against liability as part of the passenger contract we agree to in order to sail.
Whether it’s a medical issue from an injury incurred while on tour or on the ship or cancellation due to a covered reason, a travel insurance policy from can provide peace of mind…but at what cost?
Traveling outside of the United States, many hospitals may request cash payments in the thousands before treatment even begins. Many U.S. health insurance policies (including Medicare and Medicaid) may not cover international travel; those that do may not cover the cost of medical evacuation.
Even if cancellation and losing the amount of the cruise fare is of no concern, medical expenses incurred while traveling should be. For that reason, we buy annual travel policies from TravelGuard also a third-party insurer that cover medical expenses, expenses incurred due to travel delays, replacing lost luggage and its contents and more. We’ll gamble with the cruise fare. Like many of you reading this right now, it would take a lot for us to miss a scheduled sailing.
Playing the odds though, the other coverage of travel insurance is where considerable value can be found:
Lost Luggage coverage: I have used that
Delayed flights causing me to need a hotel for the night, not offered by the airline? I have used that too.
Medical expenses incurred while traveling: As noted, my injury was covered and reimbursed me for medical expenses not covered by our primary health plan.
Good Reasons For Travel Insurance And Good Places To Find It
As always, a good place to start on the hunt for the best travel insurance value is your personal insurance agent, the company that might handle your auto, health, home or life insurance. That trusted source might have some options or direction for you.
Also, check with your credit card company. We are finding that many include some form of travel protection when we use their card to buy travel. Just call the number on the back of the card and ask.
The cruise line insurance is usually a good fit for most people and is often the most affordable option for travelers in the 50+ age category. Still, as with any of the above, know the details of that coverage. Just assuming coverage is a very dangerous way to go.
Most common misunderstanding about travel insurance as related to cruise vacations: It covers you in case of a hurricane. Nope. ‘Acts of God’ are not covered.
The effects of those acts like travel delays: Covered.
Cancellation because you are worried about a named storm coming your way: Not covered.