Travellers need to pay close attention when shopping for travel insurance: experts

Canadians who are eager to be part of the first wave of travellers to head abroad once border restrictions ease should pay close attention to what their travel insurance will and will not cover, experts say.

Canadians who are eager to be part of the first wave of travellers to head abroad once border restrictions ease should pay close attention to what their travel insurance will and will not cover, experts say.

There may be many exemptions in coverage at the moment since the Canadian government is still advising against non-essential travel to all foreign countries, the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada said.

In particular, travellers should confirm that their policy covers trip cancellation and COVID-19-related health emergencies, said Will McAleer, Executive Director of THIA.

“The key thing to look for is will your policy cover you if there’s a travel advisory to avoid all non-essential travel,” he said.

According to McAleer, most insurance providers will not currently cover trip interruptions that happen before you leave and are a direct impact of the pandemic.

In addition, many providers will likely make changes to how much compensation you’re entitled to for common claims.

He said many insurance providers have lower maximum payout amounts for issues related to COVID-19, and may only pay a small per diem in certain scenarios, rather than a large overall amount.

For example, he said some insurance providers capped per diem payments at around $150 for people who get COVID-19 and incur expenses related to quarantine measures and testing.

One way to maximize what you’re entitled to is by getting vaccinated, McAleer said.

The travel association said some insurance companies are already mandating different maximum payouts for people based on their vaccination status. McAleer said one insurance agency he knows of has a maximum payout of $5 million for a COVID-19 related medical emergency for fully vaccinated clients, compared to only a $1 million payout for those who aren’t.

Even if you do your due diligence, consumers should expect to have to pay some money out of pocket if their trip is disrupted, said Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business. 

“There’s lots of fine print restrictions,” said Lee. 

“Anyone who says, ‘I just want to be completely insured so if I go abroad I don’t lose a penny to get back home,’ I think that’s an expectation that’s not valid.”

He said travellers should be aware that insurance companies can change their policies on a whim, and said those companies need to protect themselves from taking on too much risk.

According to Lee, the top risk facing travellers is the threat of border closures that spark a mad rush to change flights and get back home.

Both McAleer and Lee say they expect travel insurance will start returning to normal when there is more certainty around the end of the pandemic, and when countries lift their travel advisories. 

McAleer said consumers should also carefully consider where they decide to spend their holiday, since the security situations of certain destinations have changed.

He pointed out that the global pandemic has been an economic crisis as well as a health crisis, and there may be an increase in crime in countries where economic conditions deteriorated.

“Some of the destinations that were once very safe and secure may not be any more,” said McAleer.

“The world might be a bit different out there, and early travellers might be more susceptible to some of the more minor petty crimes and pickpocketing and things like that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2021.

Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version used an incorrect abbreviation to refer to the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada.

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