With three cruise lines canceling cruises recently – Norwegian, Celebrity and Princess all scuttled sailings in late August, the latter two leaving passengers dockside – the murky issue of travel insurance, particularly what it does and does not cover, has caught fire on the Cruise Critic forums.
Celebrity Millennium, grounded in Ketchikan with a pooped-out propulsion motor, ended its itinerary and canceled Alaska trips for the rest of the season. In Singapore, Sun Princess stopped an August 2013 cruise because of a malfunction in the main power switchboard.
In both cases, the lines refunded the cost of the cruise to the passengers left dockside, plus a 100 percent future cruise credit (people who had been booked on subsequent Millennium Alaska cruises are getting 50 percent and 25 percent, depending on how close the cancellation was to their sail dates). The lines also either chartered or paid for flights home and hotel expenses while stuck in port.
Of course, the affected cruisers incurred other expenses as well: pre- and post-trip airfare, change fees for flights from major airports and prepaid hotel and excursions. “Many people presume that travel insurance covers every possible contingency that could cause financial problems from events that cancel or disrupt their vacation,” Cruise Critic member Lsimon said. “But the fact is that the policies only cover certain specified events.”
At Cruise Critic, we’ve advocated travel insurance for a long time (and this article spells out the different types). Most important tip: Read your policy thoroughly so you know exactly what your insurance covers before you buy it.
Terms such as “trip interruption,” “trip delay” and “trip cancellation” are broad, and each insurer might define it differently, said Linda Kundell, spokeswoman for the U.S. Travel Insurance Association. “It depends on the company and the policy.”
Passengers also need to be savvy about language and how it might be interpreted – and make sure they invoke the right section of their policy when making a claim. While cancellations because of mechanical problems aren’t spelled out in insurance policies from Allianz Global Assistance, most provide a travel delay benefit, including reimbursement for meals, hotels and transportation, if the trip is delayed for six hours or more by the carrier, spokesman Daniel Durazo said.
Ditto with a comprehensive policy from Travel Guard, which typically includes coverage for reimbursement of “reasonable expenses” – defined as meals, lodging, taxi fares and more by Lori Whitt, VP of Marketing for Travel Guard North America – incurred during a trip delay, as long as the cruise line itself is not already providing assistance. “Should their trip be canceled entirely, due to mechanical or equipment failure of the common carrier, coverage is typically available for prepaid, nonrefundable trip expenses as well,” she said.
Still, each situation is carefully reviewed against the language in the policy purchased, Whitt said. “People need to ask the right questions. I would always encourage people to call us.” That advice applies before the cruise, when travelers might have questions about what exactly is included in their policies, and when problems crop up during the trip, as some policies offer services such as message relay, translation help and finding hotels, she said.
From an insurance point of view, the situation with Norwegian, which in August 2013 canceled several Mediterranean, cruises on Norwegian Jade because the ship had been privately chartered as a hotel for the Sochi Winter Olympics in February 2014, could be different.
“Travel insurance is for emergency-type of situations and unforeseen circumstances,” Kundell said. “You could argue whether this is foreseen.” The best insurance to protect yourself, she adds, is the kind that allows you to cancel for any reason (although these type of policies are usually much more expensive than a regular travel insurance package).. “It allows for a broad range of circumstances.”