(6:30: p.m. EST) -- With recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, volcanic ash shutting down airports in the U.K., bad weather and rogue waves impacting cruises, and hurricane season rapidly approaching, you might be wondering how to protect your cruise vacation from a natural disaster or other unforeseen event. Cruise Critic always recommends buying third-party travel insurance when you're paying for a cruise and associated travel in advance -- but do you know what's covered and what's not?
We spoke with some insurance agencies to get you all the latest information on just how insurance works when disaster strikes.
"Travel insurance doesn't cover state of mind -- just events," says Dan McGinnity, vice president of Travel Guard. If your flights or cruise are canceled or delayed, and you need to make alternate arrangements or are forced to cancel your vacation entirely, your insurance plan will help cover costs. Coverage may fall into the following categories: Trip Cancellation, when you can't go on your trip at all; Trip Delay, when you are delayed in reaching a travel destination by more than a few hours; and Trip Interruption, when a problem arises mid-trip.
However, if you're simply nervous about traveling or don't think you should vacation in a city or country affected by a recent disaster -- but the hotels are open, some flights are getting in and out, and your cruise is still on schedule -- you'll receive no help from the insurance company. That is, unless you've booked special (and expensive) "Cancel for Any Reason" coverage.
What Are Covered Reasons?
Which types of unforeseen circumstances does travel insurance cover? Here are some examples, with the language taken directly from a sample Travel Guard policy:
Inclement weather causing delay or cancellation of travel.
The insured's principal residence or destination being made uninhabitable by fire, flood or similar natural disaster, vandalism or burglary.
Sickness, injury or death of an insured, immediate family member, traveling companion or business partner.
Strike, resulting in complete cessation of travel services at the point of departure or destination.
Financial default of an airline, cruise line or tour operator, resulting in the complete cessation of services.
Being involved in or delayed due to a traffic accident en route to departure.
In order to be covered, these incidents must be unforeseen. That means that, once a strike is announced or a hurricane is bearing down on your homeport, you cannot go out and buy travel insurance and expect to be covered for such events.
"The two things you want to look for in a travel insurance policy," says McGinnity, "are what are the covered perils (which are clearly listed in your policy) and what are the general exclusions." Look at how the plan you're considering defines things like weather or pre-existing medical conditions. If the policy does not cover the circumstances you're concerned about, look for a more comprehensive plan.
Because you'll want your insurance policy to cover as many circumstances as possible, it's best to buy travel insurance immediately after booking your trip (or at the same time if your travel agent sells third-party insurance). That's because you'll only get coverage for a pre-existing medical condition or financial default on the part of the travel provider if you buy within a certain time frame after you book your trip (often about two weeks). Plus, you don't want a hurricane or bad snow storm to be predicted before you get around to buying insurance.
Again, it's always advisable to buy third-party insurance, rather than the cruise line's protection plan. That's because the cruise line's policy won't help you out should your cruise line go out of business, and, with some lines, will only cover the travel bought through them and not flights or hotels you booked independently.
What to Do When a Problem Arises
Call your insurance company's travel assistance hotline. "Our travel assistance department is ready to help customers 24/7/365 who may need help with travel arrangements or may need us to arrange medical care or even medical evacuation," says Daniel Durazo, director of communications for Access America. Your insurance provider can help you schedule alternate transportation and give you advice on how to handle the situation. Consider it one more level of support when travel troubles affect your cruise vacation.
For more on travel insurance, read our article, Travel Insurance -- Pros and Cons.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
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Cruise Insurance: Are You Protected in a Natural Disaster?
April 14, 2010