With travel rules and restrictions changing regularly, cruisers are being urged to purchase travel insurance for their trips -- for good reason, as it's nice to have peace of mind that you won’t be on the hook for COVID-19 related delays, interruptions or quarantines.
But what happens if there's a clause in the fine print of your policy that ends up voiding the entire thing? Some insurance policies have clauses that specifically pertain to travel warnings issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And given the agency’s Level 4 advisories not only for many countries, but also for the cruising industry as a whole, your policy might not cover your upcoming sailing.
Here’s what you need to know.
Why the CDC’s Level 4 Cruise Advisory Matters for Travel Insurance
In reading the fine print of my own travel insurance policy, an annual plan by Allianz, to prepare for an upcoming sailing, I discovered a concerning clause: "You or a traveling companion must not have traveled against the orders or advice of any government or other public authority at any location to, from, or through which you are traveling on your trip."
While it's relatively common for travel insurance to exclude trips to destinations with government-issued travel bans (which are usually issued by the U.S. Department of State concerning current events such as civil unrest), the inclusion of "advice of any government or other public authority" makes this clause stand out.
That phrasing means that any travel to a destination with a Level 4 "do not travel" advisory by the CDC might not be covered by the policy. And given that the cruising itself is under a Level 4 advisory, that means your sailing might not be covered at all, which an Allianz agent confirmed in a phone call. Furthermore, even if the CDC were to lift the cruising advisory, an insurance policy with such a clause could be rendered void if your cruise makes port in any Level 4 country.
After the publication of this story, an Allianz representative issued the following statement to Cruise Critic: "While the language in our policy that you point to in your story does apply to other dangerous situations such as war and civil strife, it is not our intention to apply that clause to CDC and State Department warnings for COVID and we continue to provide coverage to customers visiting countries that are under those warnings."
The representative also directed us to Allianz's COVID-19 Coverage Alert, which was updated on January 20, 2022. It includes the following provision regarding its Epidemic Coverage Endorsement: "Please note, until changed in a future version of this Coverage Alert, the above accommodations and other coverage for which you are otherwise eligible under your plan continue to apply regardless of any U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of State travel alerts regarding COVID-19 that exist on the effective date of this Coverage Alert."
Fortunately, this kind of clause isn’t that common, according to Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer of travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth.com. "On the contrary, we have a few policies on our website that have travel alerts specifically written into their coverage, although this also isn’t the norm," she tells Cruise Critic. "We anticipate travel bans and warnings to become a more commonly covered event. In fact, some of our underwriters have already mentioned bringing new policies to the market with this benefit."
Still, with dozens of travel insurance plans on the market, it's best if you carefully read your entire policy to make sure your cruise will be covered regardless of any CDC advisory — or call up your provider to ask about exclusions directly.
What About Insurance Policies Offered by Cruise Lines?
The vast majority of cruise lines offer their own travel insurance policies, and right now, they generally don’t have exclusions based on CDC advisories. Still, each cruise line offers a different plan, so you should read the one specifically offered for your sailing, just to be sure. Plus, it's important to be aware that travel insurance is an ever-changing world right now — coverage and exclusions could be altered at any point.
One of the biggest pros to purchasing cruise-offered insurance right now is that the policies are designed to provide maximum flexibility for cruisers, largely to boost confidence in potential guests. Many specifically provide extensive COVID-19 coverage.
Some cruise lines even offer COVID-19 protections outside of their insurance policies. Royal Caribbean, for instance, pledges to cover onboard COVID medical treatment, the cost of land-based quarantines and the cost of transportation home for vaccinated guests (as well as guests unable to be vaccinated) who test positive during a sailing through April 30, 2022.
What You Should Do Before Buying Travel Insurance -- Or If You’ve Already Bought It
Always read travel insurance policies in full before purchasing, and reach out to the insurance company if you have any specific questions -- the language in policies isn’t always the easiest to interpret.
"The worst thing a traveler can do is assume they are covered for 'anything' that could happen," Moncrief says.
If you discover that a policy you're interested in purchasing has too many restrictions, including exclusions based on CDC advisories, it's best to shop around for a more comprehensive one.
And if you've already purchased a policy that doesn't have the coverage you desire, you may be able to get a refund. "The good news is most cancellation policies come with a 'free look' window, typically two weeks following the purchase, during which the insured can cancel their policy for a full refund," Montcrief says. "Depending on the policy type, this window can even extend up to your departure date."
If you can't be refunded, there's also the option of purchasing a second insurance policy from a different provider to get the coverage you desire. In that case, if you're filing a claim, you'd likely have to disclose that you have multiple plans to both companies. Just note that you won’t be able to double-dip and get multiple payouts. Your providers would negotiate terms of payment (if approved) with each other; in some cases, one company might shoulder the full burden, while in others, the two companies could each contribute to the payout.