Travel insurance for a cruise vacation is one of those things that experts say we need but is viewed by many travelers as an extra, optional expense. Many try to get the minimum coverage for as cheap as possible. After all, odds are staggeringly against needing to use it. But like most insurance, it seems expensive until we need it. Then? Instant bargain. I found that out first-hand not long ago, spending a nice pile of cash on a simple thumb-crushing injury on board Princess Cruises Grand Princess.
Travel experts seem to agree about two things when it comes to travel insurance: Get it and don’t buy it through the cruise line.
“Get it” is universally sound advice. Travel agents typically receive calls from those who did not buy travel insurance but need to cancel their cruise just before sailing for a variety of reasons. They are usually always out of luck and lose most of what they paid.
“Don’t buy it from the cruise line” is advice of a more self-serving nature. Third-party insurance programs are big money makers for travel agencies, commonly earning a commission of 20% or more of the cost of that third-party program.
But that advice of not buying travel insurance through the cruise line has another, not mentioned, element that sometimes surprises travelers.
When it comes to the medical coverage part, travel insurance commonly provides secondary benefits, tapped only after a traveler’s primary health insurance has denied a claim or been exhausted. That means for the travel insurance company to pay, a claim must be made with the primary insurance carrier first. Then, whatever they don’t pay, should be covered by the third-party insurance. It is a bit of a hassle but in the end the traveler gets reimbursed.
It’s that “reimbursed” part that catches travelers off guard. They assume that since they have travel insurance, if something goes wrong, they are covered … as in the travel insurance pays the service provider, if they even think that far ahead. Most don’t. In reality, that’s often not the case.
First, the claim must be for a covered reason, usually some medical event that happens while on vacation. In my case, we were in rough seas on the Grand Princess with the ship listing a bit from side to side. My thumb just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught between a metal doorframe and a metal door. Of the door, doorframe and my thumb, guess which one was out of place when the door shut? It happens.
How It Works-
Off I went to the ship’s medical center, a facility fully equipped to handle my injury, much like the emergency room at a major hospital. I was treated immediately, given discharge instructions and pain medication, then sent on my way.
I travel quite a bit and have an annual travel insurance plan from a major insurer just in case something like this would happen. In the end, I suffered no financial loss and was reimbursed for all expenses associated with the injury.
But I had to pay for the medical center services before leaving the ship, then get reimbursed. Had I bought the cruise line insurance, I would have paid nothing. Ever.
What If I Can’t Pay?
So what if I was on a cruise, had maxed out my credit cards and had no other sources to tap for up-front payment at the medical center? Do I walk the plank? Wash dishes?
Probably not, but its a good idea to call the travel insurance company, either the company that administers the cruise line insurance or the third-party insurance company and ask one very important question:
“If I buy your insurance, have an injury on my cruise and get treated on the ship, do I have to pay for those services before I get off the ship?”
Knowing the answer can eliminate a rather unpleasant surprise later.
[Photo Credit: Flickr user Manachar Bandicoot]