Finally booking that long-delayed vacation? Travel insurance now covers COVID as well as trip cancellations

It’s been three years since you’ve gone on a summer vacation, thanks to COVID.

Now, with pandemic-related travel restrictions falling away, you’re considering a trip to California or finally taking that dream vacation to Europe. But you’re still a bit gun-shy, thanks to Omicron and its variants spreading around the globe.

You’re not alone, according to travel insurance experts, who say would-be travelers are calling in droves ahead of April 1, when testing requirements for vaccinated people flying back into Canada will be dropped.

“We’ve never really had anything like this, where people have been basically stuck in place for so long. People are just aching to travel again,” said Tanisha Kishan, a travel insurance expert at Ratesdotca, and chartered insurance professional.

According to data from Ratesdotca, the day after the federal government announced it was dropping the remaining testing requirement, travel insurers saw interest soar, with a 17 per cent rise in the number of quotes compared to a typical day.

With Omicron variants still spreading, and two years of on and off lockdowns, travelers are wary — not just of catching COVID, but of having their trips cancelled, either by airlines, or government restrictions, Kishan said.

“Things can change really quickly, so people would really rather err on the side of caution,” said Kishan.

The average quote for travel insurance for a family of four traveling to Mexico in the first quarter was $309, according to Ratesdotca, while the average for a trip to the US was $233.

Veteran insurance broker Marty Firestone said many potential travelers are reassured to find out that they’re now able to get coverage in case they get COVID while traveling, something that wasn’t available earlier during the pandemic.

“You have to be fully vaccinated to be covered for COVID. That’s a caveat. But having said that, you can be covered for care, and all the attention and medical needs, including getting you flown back home if that’s one of the requirements,” said Firestone, president of TravelSecure.

Still, says Firestone, the devil is indeed in the details — not all policies offer the same amount of coverage. And that’s especially the case for policies included when you buy your trip with your credit card, says Firestone.

Medical issues — even non-COVID ones — often end up not being covered by credit card-issued insurance policies, Firestone says. And you wouldn’t know that until well after you’d submitted your bill.

Credit card insurance should not form the foundation of your travel insurance, whether it be cancellation, medical or interruption. I hate to say it, but you get what you pay for,” said Firestone, adding that credit card travel insurance is typically underwritten — confirmed by the insurer — after a claim is made.

“They’ll underwrite it at time of claim and go ‘oh, no no. You had your blood pressure meds changed a week before you went away. We’re not covering that heart attack, you weren’t stable.’ Well how did I know that? So it’s best to purchase a product that is underwritten at time of application as opposed to time of claim,” Firestone said.

One thing that won’t be covered with any policy you buy, though, is if you cancel the trip because COVID numbers at your destination are rising.

“COVID is a known cause with every insurer, and you cannot cancel because … you don’t want to go to that country because their case count is high. It 100 per cent will not be covered,” Firestone said.

Some travelers, said Firestone, are also concerned about booking a trip to Europe right now, because of fears Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could spark a wider conflict. If it does, booking sooner — with insurance — is actually the safer move, financially, said Firestone.

Countries neighboring Russia or Ukraine, like Poland, Lithuania or even Finland, aren’t currently subject to an official travel advisory from the government of Canada. If that changes, said Firestone, getting cancellation or trip interruption insurance would be a non-starter.

“If you’re booking the Baltic states, you’d better book it before there’s an advisory because otherwise you’re too late to get coverage,” Firestone said.

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