How to protect your next vacation

How to protect your next vacation.

Is there a surefire way to protect your next vacation? Travelers like Dean Kato want to know.

He’s optimistic about his 2021 vacation. Kato is planning a Danube river cruise through Germany, Austria and Hungary in August. But he’s also realistic — and thinking of new ways to protect a potentially risky adventure.

“I guess a river cruise will be safe by then,” says Kato, a business consultant from Kirkland, Wash., “as long as there’s a vaccine.”

But he’s not taking any chances, and neither are other travelers. They’re looking for new ways to protect their 2021 trips. Among their strategies: taking advantage of more-permissive booking policies, buying new travel insurance policies that specifically cover a pandemic and subscribing to services that can help them at their destinations.

How one traveler protected his vacation

Kato safeguarded his upcoming adventure in several ways. His first step was to book with a company that has a lenient cancellation policy. Viking, his cruise line, allows him to change his cruise date up to 24 hours before departure without paying a penalty. He turned down Viking’s offer of a 3 percent discount if he paid by cash. That way, if something goes wrong, he can dispute the charges on his credit card.

“I’ve also maintained my annual travel insurance plan with Allianz, which provides some cancellation coverage and covers repatriation and emergency medical expenses,” he says.

Want to protect your next vacation? Here’s what’s changed

Airlines also have eliminated some, though not all, change fees. Generally, you will still pay a change fee for extra-cheap economy-class tickets and international tickets, though policies vary from airline to airline. Taken together, these amount to some of the most consumer-friendly booking policies in a generation.

“Airlines are now offering incredible flexibility,” says Juan Fernandez, operating partner at Elli Travel, a travel agency in Larchmont, N.Y. “For hotels, it’s important to book refundable rates.” He says travelers can take the extra step of calling and asking a front-desk manager or in-house reservations manager how the hotel handles credits and refunds.

Fernandez’s advice applies to any kind of travel booked for 2021. If you want to know how a travel company will handle pandemic-related disruptions, or cancellations for other reasons, just ask. Chances are, the airline, cruise line or hotel has a policy in place. Knowing it will help you protect your next vacation.

Take advantage of flexible booking policies

Sometimes you can pay a little extra for some peace of mind. For example, Alaska Tour & Travel offers what it calls a “worry-free” cancellation waiver that allows travelers to cancel an Alaska tour up to 31 days before the trip. It costs 3 percent of the price of the tour, which is about half the price of travel insurance. The waiver also provides a full refund for a cancellation because of a medical emergency or a death within the traveling party or the immediate family, as long as the company receives cancellation notice at least 24 hours before the start of your tour.

“The one thing we can count on is uncertainty,” says Bailey Foster, a vice president at travel insurance company Trawick International.

How about travel insurance?

Foster recommends finding a travel insurance policy that includes trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage. Most travel insurance doesn’t cover a cancellation made because of fear of a coronavirus infection, but some policies do cover pandemic-related treatments and mandatory quarantines.

That’s a big change from earlier this year, when travel insurance coverage for such treatments and quarantines was “unthinkable,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage, a company that sells medical insurance for travelers. “There was nothing available for travelers facing the potential of contracting covid-19 to purchase.”

The availability of this insurance is the good news for those trying to protect their 2021 vacations. The bad news: Benefits and exclusions vary widely. And coverage is largely untested. In other words, travelers have filed relatively few covid-19 claims, and we don’t know how the insurance companies will process these claims.

The travel insurance site Squaremouth reports that 81 percent of policies purchased include trip cancellation benefits. Twenty-two percent of all policies provide “cancel for any reason” insurance, a 552 percent increase from last year. Policies that cover any cancellation will cost 10 to 12 percent of the cost of your trip — roughly double the price of regular travel insurance — and they refund 50 to 75 percent of the cost of your trip. The travel insurance site AARDY.com says more than half of its customers are choosing cancel-for-any-reason coverage, despite the higher cost.

Don’t forget health insurance if you want to protect your next vacation

Health insurance is an item often overlooked by travelers. “Most U.S. health insurance plans will not cover you outside of the United States in the event of a medical emergency, such as an injury or sickness that requires hospitalization or evacuation,” says Christine Buggy, vice president of marketing at Travelex Insurance. The fix is a supplemental health insurance plan. (If you’re on Medicare, look for a Medigap policy that covers you overseas.) Many travel insurance policies also cover health-care expenses on international trips.

Cautious travelers can go beyond travel and supplemental health insurance. They buy a membership in a service such as Medjet or Global Rescue. Coverage has changed to address the coronavirus outbreak. In October, for instance, Medjet added new covid-19 coverage to its plans. If you’re infected and hospitalized while traveling in the United States, Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean, Medjet will transport you to the hospital of your choice at home.

And for the extra careful traveler, there’s this

Extra-cautious travelers may also want to consider a travel assistance plan offered by a company like FocusPoint International, which specializes in travel risk management. You can buy a FocusPoint plan as part of Medjet coverage or as stand-alone protection. FocusPoint assistance includes evacuation for medical emergencies that result in hospitalization. Its plans also provide help in such situations as natural disasters, riots, strikes and, of course, pandemics.

But there’s one thing you can’t do: Make your next trip risk-free. No refund policy or travel insurance company can protect your vacation from everything. (I should know — I solve travel problems every day.) Looking ahead to 2021, experts are cautiously optimistic that the pandemic will end and that normal travel will resume. But no one knows for sure when — or if — that will happen.

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Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Global Rescue

Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. Founded in 2004, Global Rescue has exclusive relationships with the Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine Division of Special Operations and Elite Medical Group. Global Rescue provides best-in-class services that identify, monitor and respond to client medical and security crises. Learn more about Global Rescue.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

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