When everyone was feeling a rush of relief that Y2K hadn’t crashed our technology infrastructure, I was feeling a rush of excitement for my first international trip. At the time, United offered “Experience the World” fares for travel agents to do just that: Experience the world of possibilities they’ve been selling to their clients for years — and do so at a reasonable price.
As a new travel agent, I was on a tight budget, having yet to make the big bucks. However, like many of my clients, I was overcome with wanderlust and wasn’t going to let money (or the lack thereof) keep me from experiencing the world, so I booked a trip to Australia with the goal of learning to surf. I soon had all my bases covered. Airfare? Check. Hotel? Check. Australian visa? Check. Surf lessons? Check. Blue Mountain day trip? Check. The only things that weren’t covered? My health and trip investment. Travel insurance was an additional $98 that I just didn’t have, so I went without it.
I would soon find out that travel insurance can be the linchpin that holds together an entire trip, and without it, travelers risk letting their perfect plans fall apart. Cue: Day two of my surf lessons. I had just pushed off the shore and was steadying myself on my board when another surfer crashed into me, effectively running me over. I spent three days in my hotel with a broken wrist, missing all the activities I had booked. I avoided going to the hospital to get the medical attention I needed, because I knew I would face a bill I couldn’t afford without travel insurance. This decision to wait led to surgery and long-term damage to my wrist — all of which are far from what I pictured when booking my trip.
Sixteen years later, this experience still serves as a basis for my conversations with clients. Here are the lessons I learned and how you can use my experience to educate your clients on the importance of travel insurance:
You Can’t Control the Uncontrollable
Try as we might, we can’t prevent unexpected events from happening. (After all, that’s why they’re called “unexpected.”)
Just as I had no control over the surfer who rode right over me, your clients have no control over a number of factors that can prevent them from taking a trip or cause them to head home early. These uncontrollable perils can be grouped into two categories: pre-departure and post-departure.
Weather. Hurricane warnings at the destination and inclement weather that halts airline services are just two ways weather can keep your clients from leaving for their trip.
Consider this scenario: Your client has found the perfect chalet for a long ski weekend in Switzerland. After reserving the chalet and booking flights, he embarks on a trip to the airport with his family — only to arrive and learn that the flight has been cancelled due to heavy snowfall at the destination. Your client saved up all year for this vacation, but now unexpected weather conditions threaten to ruin his investment.
In addition to canceling flights, weather can also quickly delay flights. In fact, nearly one-third (32.8%) of flight delays in 2015 were due to weather conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.1
Health. Anything can happen to your clients’ (or their family members’) health, preventing them from taking their long-awaited trip. Whether it’s the flu, a broken bone, a death in the family or another covered illness or injury, these things unfortunately happen and can quickly derail your clients’ plans.
Having travel insurance will protect your clients’ financial investment if a covered injury or illness were to occur, causing them to cancel their trip.
Terrorist Incidents. Terror threat levels are at an all-time high, making U.S. travelers more cautious when booking trips overseas. Nearly half (48%) of Americans surveyed by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (UStiA) in 2015 said they are more concerned now than in the past about traveling, with civil unrest being one of the underlying reasons for their heightened concerns.2
Two International Medical Group® (IMG®) members realized first-hand the basis for these concerns last year. They were scheduled to arrive in Paris on Wednesday, November 18, 2015 — five days after the city of Paris was attacked by militants. The travelers had prepaid for transportation, hotel and sightseeing, but couldn’t take their trip due to U.S. government travel warnings issued at the time. Luckily, they had purchased travel insurance from IMG, which provided coverage for their trip cancellation.
Weather. Yes, weather again. It can continue to impact your clients’ trips after they arrive at their destination, forcing them to pack up and head home early. Natural disasters and mandatory evacuations are among the weather-related reasons your clients’ trips may be interrupted. This may help put it into perspective: More than 18,000 disasters are in the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters’ Emergency Events Database, including floods, cyclones, avalanches, earthquakes, fires, snowstorms, heat waves, landslides, hurricanes and more.3 That’s 18,000 weather conditions that have had the potential to impact travelers’ plans.
Accidents & Illnesses. We would all like to think that we’re impervious to danger, but being realistic is vital when it comes to protecting your clients’ health. Remember: I wasn’t planning to get injured on my trip to Australia. Had I really considered the dangers of leaving without travel insurance, I’d like to think I would have purchased a policy — which could have prevented the long-term damage I now suffer from waiting too long for medical care.
Damage, Loss and Theft. Imagine: Your client has traveled to Barcelona and is walking along Las Ramblas, a pedestrian walkway known for its lively entertainment, when her phone is stolen. Your client didn’t realize Barcelona is one of the world’s worst cities for pickpockets. Theft, especially of important items such as a cellphone, can quickly ruin an international stay. However, with the proper coverage, your client could have been reimbursed for her losses from a documented theft.
Carrier-Caused Interruptions. Even when your clients’ trips are over, they still must face perils associated with their return flights. Mechanical breakdowns, missed connections and delays caused by air carriers are just a few more ways your clients’ trips can be interrupted.
Between June 2003 and July 2016, 5.59% of aircraft delays were due to circumstances within the airline’s control, including maintenance or crew problems, aircraft cleaning and more, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.4 Although it may not seem like a large percentage, it accounted for more than 170 million delayed minutes throughout that time period — nearly six times as many delayed minutes than that caused by extreme weather conditions.5
You could have saved your clients time, hassle and money by offering travel insurance to protect against unexpected instances such as these.
There’s a Lot at Stake When You Aren’t Covered
I learned this lesson the hard way. Not only did I risk my financial investment, but I also risked my health when I traveled to Australia without trip insurance.
I didn’t book my trip thinking that I would get hurt or have to miss all of the activities I had prepaid for and planned — and that’s the problem. Most people don’t have a realistic mindset when they’re booking a trip; they’re picturing the perfect vacation, not all the potential dangers they could face.
It’s your role as an agent to remind them of the what-if scenarios, and provide travel insurance that meets their needs and budget.
What’s at Stake: Finances
When your clients travel without the proper coverage, they leave themselves vulnerable to losing the investment they made in their trip, and paying high out-of-pocket expenses if they fall ill or have an accident while they’re away from home.
Costs for different medical treatments can be steep and vary drastically by country. For example, treatment for a femur fracture could cost $8,400 in Portugal, but $44,800 in Thailand, according to charges received by IMG. Treatment for pneumonia could cost $25,000 in Austria, but $94,500 in China.
Depending on the severity of your client’s injury or illness, an emergency medical evacuation may also be required — the costs of which can range from $20,000 to $170,000, based on where they’re located and how far they need to be transported.
What’s at Stake: Health & Well-Being
Like me, your clients put their health and well-being at risk when they travel without insurance. They could face long-lasting and even life-threatening injuries if they don’t have the benefits and assistance they need in an emergency.
Common causes of injuries among travelers include motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports injuries, boating accidents and more. Some injuries or events may even be fatal. Between October 2002 and December 2015, more than 11,000 U.S. citizens died in a foreign country from “non-natural” causes, according to the U.S. Department of State.6 That’s more than two people each day.
Along with threats of injuries, your clients may also become ill during their trip. Take, for example, one IMG member from Toronto, Canada, who had to cancel the remainder of her cruise in Athens, Greece, to seek medical care after doctors discovered she had a collapsed lung. After she was determined to be unfit to fly, IMG coordinated her journey back to Toronto by land and sea, where she would receive the care she needed. Under her travel insurance policy, the trip interruption was covered and she received the emergency assistance she needed.
If this happened to your clients, would they know where to go to seek medical care? Would they have the support they needed? Without travel insurance, the answer is probably no — but that’s where you come in.
How You’re Covered is Key
Partnering with an insurance company that offers the support and products you and your clients need will help you better protect them during their travels.
First, however, it’s important to dispel common misconceptions about where they get their coverage (and what it includes).
Your clients may think they’re covered by other policies when they travel internationally, but they’re often not. For instance, they may assume their U.S. health insurance or Medicare will provide international cover in case of travel or medical emergencies. However, that isn’t always the case. Not all domestic health insurance policies provide international cover. Those that do often provide limited benefits — and none of the emergency assistance benefits your clients would require when facing an emergency outside of the U.S.
What’s more, Medicare does not provide coverage outside of the U.S. Most Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage plans only provide emergency treatment, but require seniors to pay out of pocket, receiving reimbursement only after they have translated their receipts and made currency conversions.
Other clients may think they have adequate international coverage through their credit card company. However, many cards do not provide any protection or reimbursement in the event your clients are injured or sick while on their trip.
Additionally, most credit card companies will only provide coverage if the entire trip was booked using the credit card. Some credit cards have deductibles and most credit card companies charge a fee to use their benefits, often making it the same cost to purchase more comprehensive coverage through a third-party insurance company.
The Right Kind of Coverage
On the other hand, there are two insurance options you should always offer your clients when they’re going on an international trip: travel insurance and travel medical insurance.
The former is a bit obvious. Along with coverage for baggage and travel delay, missed connections, change fees and more, travel insurance protects against many trip cancellation and interruption perils, as previously outlined.
The latter is not as well-known, but is just as important. Travel medical insurance provides individual, family and group coverage usually for five days up to two years. It’s designed to protect your clients in the event of an illness or injury when they’re traveling outside of their country of residence.
Although more than 85% of trip protection products purchased in 2014 were trip cancellation/interruption packages, travel medical and medical evacuation products accounted for 7% of total consumer spend on travel protection, according to the UStiA.7
It’s important to note that travel medical insurance is even required for entry into some countries. For instance, those traveling to the U.S. on a J1 visa are required to have coverage for the full length of their program. Additionally, anyone applying for a Schengen visa for travel throughout the 26 European countries is required to have travel medical insurance that meets certain standards.
Wherever your clients are traveling, make sure they have the proper coverage. With so many factors out of their control, anything can happen to derail their perfectly planned trips. Don’t let your clients travel unprotected, risking their health and investment like I did.