In an effort to give cruise passengers more reassurance about future bookings, a handful of lines are starting to include another safeguard against the unexpected: comprehensive travel insurance packages that include coverage for COVID-19 related expenses and illnesses.
While still not the norm for cruise bookings, the lines that are offering it are making it either complimentary or less than the price of a couple cocktails onboard. And it could be a trend that catches on, as cruise lines position themselves as a safe vacation alternative in the COVID-19 era.
Mediterranean cruising specialist Celestyal Cruises has become the latest line to roll out inclusive COVID-19 insurance.
Between now and November 30, 2020, Celestyal Cruises is providing complimentary COVID-19 travel insurance on all of its sailings in the March to June 2021 timeframe. This includes the line's debut sailing on March 6, 2021 aboard the line's newest fleet member, Celestyal Experience.
In an email to Cruise Critic, a Celestyal Cruise representative confirmed that the policy is available to all passengers booking with Celestyal, regardless of nationality, and will be available as an extra-cost option after the November 30, 2020 deadline for complimentary insurance.
Covered by Allianz Global Assistance, Celestyal's COVID-19 insurance plan includes transportation costs to the nearest hospital; all medical and hospitalization expenses, including specifically those for COVID-19; travel costs to the next port of call; and travel expense coverage in the event that passengers need to return home due to illness. The coverage also includes reimbursement for the unused part of the cruise.
Celestyal's coverage by Allianz also includes the option to upgrade their policy to include full trip cancellation coverage for an additional fee at the time of booking.
When it restarted its first Mediterranean journeys in August, Geneva-based MSC Cruises rolled out a host of health and safety protocols that included, among other things, the option to purchase COVID insurance.
Available for European Union citizens only at this time (only EU-citizens are able to participate in the line's current Mediterranean voyages), MSC priced its comprehensive COVID-19 insurance at just 18 Euros per person, per voyage -- the rough equivalent of two martinis onboard.
While not medical insurance per se, MSC's coverage provides insurance to passengers in the event they are denied boarding due to COVID-like symptoms; have to cancel their cruise voluntarily; or are stricken with coronavirus during the sailing.
MSC's insurance provides for a refund of the cruise fare, along with transportation costs in order to repatriate or quarantine affected passengers.
"It is comprehensive coverage which I believe will be very much appreciated by our guests," said MSC Cruises' CEO Gianni Onorato. "This insurance is quite affordable and covers numerous aspects."
Several airlines around the globe, including Air Canada, Emirates, Ethiopian, Eurowings, and WestJet are all offering COVID-19 insurance on a complimentary basis for most international routes.
Other airlines, including most major carriers within the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom, routinely offer optional insurance packages that may include certain COVID-19 coverages for a fee.
The fine print on many of these policies, however, specifically states that any form of cruise travel, river or ocean, is not covered.
In other words, if you came down with COVID-19 on the flight, or in the hotel, you'd be covered. If you became ill while on a ship, in direct contravention to the airline's stated terms and conditions, your policy would be void and you would be liable for costs incurred.
Insurance packages that are being rolled out by cruise lines during the COVID-era could help to cover the gap created by these and other third-party packages that may have ship-related exclusions.
While it sounds scary, the reality -- or new reality, at any rate -- is that consumers may have to rely on more than one insurance policy as they cruise. Coverages provide by airlines and or cruise lines will likely supplement additional heath and trip cancellation/interruption policies that passengers may already have through extended health care providers or credit cards.
“Our customers and our business partners have asked for help in protecting travelers, to get travel moving again," said Ida Luka Lognoné, CEO International Health & Travel at Allianz Partners. "We are working with partners like Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada Vacations, and other airlines, to provide specific COVID-19 benefits, while complying with local regulation standards, so that customers will be more protected while flying again.”
If you are going to cruise or travel at all while the COVID-19 pandemic is going on, having adequate insurance for all your travels, including those by air, land and sea, is more critical now than ever before.
"Beyond the health and social distancing measures implemented by the industry to provide reassurance that travel is safe, confidence will only truly return if consumers know that they can get specific COVID coverage," an Allianz Partners spokesperson told Cruise Critic.
As with any insurance, it is imperative to read up on the terms and conditions of each policy, no matter which company offers it.
Expect the issue of travel insurance covering COVID-19 to become a major addition to the cruise and vacation booking process going forward.