What a Difference Eleven Days Make!

It’s hard to believe that only eleven short days ago, we were weighing the pros and cons of canceling our trip to Morocco. Unless you are living in a cave, on an island, without cell reception, you know how the world has been turned upside down by the CoronaVirus. The tragedies in China, Iran and Italy are all heartbreaking and sobering.

On March 4th, when I last posted, the conventional wisdom (and internet info) said that if you washed your hands, didn’t touch your face, stayed six feet away from sneezers and had a relatively robust immune system, then you were in good shape to win the CoronaVirus battle. Okay, then. The more cautious (or as my mother used to say–the more REASONABLE) member of this traveling duo voted for immediate cancellation, while the other advocated to “wait and see”. My family has absolutely no problem figuring out who was who.

Ultimately we did both. We waited five more days, then canceled. It seemed like every hour, we were getting notified that something else was being postponed or canceled, like basketball, political gatherings, Broadway shows, our speaker series. As it turns out, a few days later, our tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel announced that ALL March and April departures were canceled. Those who had not yet canceled could get a voucher for a future trip.

Some friends are currently out of the country. I just heard from one in Egypt. She said that OAT is cutting her trip short because of all the flight cancellations. Her group will be getting a pro-rated refund. Talk about a positive attitude–the group is already thinking about when they will be able to return. Another friend made it to JFK, then learned that Argentina had closed its borders to all travelers from countries with CoronaVirus outbreaks. HER trip ended before it even started.

We are concerned about the impact this is having on the wonderful tour guides we traveled with over the past several years. We hope that they, especially the ones in Italy, are safe and are not economically hurt too badly by this slow down in tourism.

So, where are we now? For the past few days, we have been practicing “extreme social distancing”. Today, we were notified that our local Y is closing for two weeks. We had stopped going two days ago, not because we are panic stricken, but because we wanted to do our part to help keep our community safe. Let’s hope that together we can all take the necessary steps to “flatten the curve”.

To GO or Not TO GO, THAT is the Question

In September of 2018, we signed up with Overseas Adventure Travel for a March 2020 trip to Morocco. Why plan so far in advance? We wanted to travel with friends, OAT limits their groups to 16, and popular trips sell out quickly. We had no difficulty recruiting 11 friends to go on the tour with us. So far so good. Fast forward to today, with departure date rapidly approaching. As my favorite philosopher, John Lennon, once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Well ol’ John was right. “Life” has certainly jumped up and slapped us in the face. Within the last two months three travel buddies had to drop out. One member of a couple was diagnosed with a serious medical issue, then another fell and fractured her knee. Their future absence made us realize how much we were looking forward to spending time with them.

Because the trip is so popular, their spots were quickly taken by other OAT travelers –also known as friends we haven’t met yet. So, there will still be 16 of us on the trip. But wait, we aren’t finished. Unless you are in a coma, you have probably heard about the coronavirus. So far, none of us has allowed it to disrupt our plans.

Fortunately, according to our State Department, Morocco is looking safe. Still, we have to fly to get there and back, and our plans include a three day stopover in Paris before we enter Morocco. Although the State Department hasn’t identified France as a “do not travel” country, another source indicated that several cases have popped up in France.

What to do? Sadly, we have to acknowledge that being over 65, we have aged into the “at risk” group. Fortunately, we are relatively healthy, and are up to date on all of our shots. Still, we recently experienced another country’s health care system, and although the outcome was positive, visiting my spouse in the Alice Springs Hospital was not a high point of our trip to Australia. (Clearly, it wasn’t my spouse’s either.) On a positive note, although we learned just how wonderful our medicare supplement coverage is when we are outside of the USA, we hope to never have to use it again!

As of today, according to the US State Department, Morocco and Paris have only the usual warnings about terrorist activities, but that is the world we live in. Given our record of gun violence in schools, churches, shopping malls, movie theaters, we could just as easily be mowed down by a home grown terrorist shooting his assault weapon. I refuse to let terrorists, either here or elsewhere, win. A virus, however, is another matter.

As of today, Morocco has reported its first case of the coronavirus; its victim, a man who returned from a visit to Italy, is being treated in a Casablanca hospital.

In Paris, a protest by workers closed the Louvre for two days, until the Museum staff assured the workers that “proper measures” to ensure their safety were being taken.

What happens if we get to Paris, and Morocco decides not to let anyone into the country from France –or from the USA? Let’s face it, several states have reported outbreaks, with many of the victims having no known source of contact. Our response is being managed by Mike Pence, who is not noted for his expertise in the medical and scientific arena. Maybe other countries will view US as being problematic? What if we make it to Morocco, an outbreak occurs and we can’t fly home? What if we catch a cold or some other nasty thing on the flights, either to or from our destination and we have to be quarantined until we are tested and certified as okay? So many “what ifs”. One thing that’s certain, if we go, my plan to travel with “carry on only” has been abandoned. I want to be sure we have enough clean clothes to get us through any “what ifs” that come our way.

In addition to cancelling all trips to China, South Korea and Mongolia, OAT has allowed travelers that signed up for their Italy trips the option to cancel right up to the date of departure, choosing either to apply their payment to a future OAT trip or to get a refund, minus a small processing fee. That gives us peace of mind.

What will we do? We will prepare as if we are going to take the trip, watch the news, check the internet and wait to see how it all unfolds.

Trip Insurance–Is it Worth It?

Here’s the Cliffs Note version: It all depends. For some, trip insurance is definitely worth it. But there are caveats. Know what you need, know what you are buying, choose a reputable company, consider other options.

If you read my Australia blog posts, you will recall that my husband had a freak accident, which put him in the Alice Springs Hospital for three days. We missed several days of our trip, but were grateful that everything ultimately turned out well.

Tips for Filing a Claim

  • Notify the insurance company as soon as you realize you will be submitting a claim. They can email you the claim form, tell you what to include when you submit your claim and provide moral support. The medical team at AIG Travel Guard was wonderful. Although I didn’t need their help, it was nice to know they were available, if I wanted them to check up on me and my husband.
  • Keep ALL receipts. I immediately bought a spiral bound notebook and scotch tape, so that I could enter every receipt, by day, into the notebook, with notations indicating what the expense was for. It is very easy to lose small pieces of paper, like taxi receipts.
  • If you can, pay everything with one credit card. It makes documentation much easier. If you are in a foreign country, your credit card statement will have a record of the currency exchange rate for that item. You simply match the receipt against the credit card charge, and you save the claim examiner that extra task, which brings me to the next point.
  • Make it as easy as possible for the claim examiner to pay the claim. A claim for trip interruption is far more complicated than one for trip cancellation, so more information was needed to process our claim.
  • I created a “claim package”, with a cover letter and a table of contents. I explained what was being provided and identified the attached exhibits. I also created a spreadsheet showing what I expected to collect. It took me a day to get everything organized, but I didn’t have any back and forth with either insurance company.
This will give you an idea of the paperwork I submitted. Can you see why I wanted to help the claim examiner out?

Know What You Need
Medicare does not cover you when you are out of the USA, so for some people, the main reason for buying trip insurance is to get medical coverage. We are fortunate enough to have a very generous medicare supplement, which DOES cover us for emergency services wherever we are in the world. So, for that reason, I chose the AIG policy that offered minimal medical and dental coverage, and the medical coverage was secondary. (That means they will pay after other insurance has paid first. So, you need to submit to your primary carrier, and then whatever isn’t covered, you would submit to the secondary carrier.) If your health plan has a high deductible, and high out of pocket maximum, then you may want or need more generous travel insurance benefits.

For some people, “cancel for any reason” protection may make sense. This might be true for someone still in the work force, who may have to change vacation plans because of work responsibilities.

Our main concern has been trip cancellation for health reasons (either ours or a family member), or trip interruption. Remember when the volcano in Iceland erupted and people were unable to continue with their original travel plans? That’s the sort of thing that worries me.

You can get plans that offer trip interruption at 100% of the cost of the trip (the amount you are insuring) or 150% of the cost of the trip. Why would you want to purchase coverage for more than the cost of the trip? Well, if your trip is interrupted, you may have to stay in another country longer than planned or you may have to change flight arrangements (which could be very expensive).

But what if you are not on a group tour? What if you are traveling on your own, to hotels that allow you to cancel within a day or two of arrival? You may not need any trip insurance at all.

Know What You are Buying
I use Insuremytrip.com to compare various travel insurance options. There are other companies, such as Squaremouth.com, but I’ve had good luck with Insuremytrip, so they are the only company that I have had experience with.
Others may be more comfortable using an insurance agent to find the plan that best meets their needs. If you DO decide to do it on your own, be sure to download the complete policy and read it carefully so that you know exactly what you are getting.
Things to look out for: Pre-Existing condition exclusion clauses, what qualifies as a covered reason for trip cancellation, what level of coverage is offered for things that are important to YOU and is that coverage primary or secondary?
For example, I never check anything valuable when I travel, so I don’t care about the level of coverage for lost luggage. The airlines offer some coverage for delayed or lost luggage, and the airline is usually considered primary.
If you are uncomfortable purchasing a plan from the internet, you can speak with a representative for Insuremytrip.com. They are not paid commissions, so they do not have a financial interest in your choice of plan. That may be true of similar companies.

Choose a Reputable Company
Take the time to read the reviews. Insuremytrip, for example, includes Better Business Bureau ratings, AM Best ratings, years in business, and reviews by users for each of the companies offered, and allows you to do a side by side comparison of the plans. You can also do a google search.

Other Options
Check your credit card for any coverage they might offer. You need to read the booklet that they give you when you first enroll, or compare the benefits of the various companies on line.
I had never considered the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, because of its $450 annual fee. Then I read a post from a fellow traveler who explained that Chase reimburses you up to $300 for any travel expenses you incur during the year. They also offer trip interruption and cancellation insurance up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per occurrence, with a $40,000 per year maximum. That coverage is easily worth the remaining $150 per year charge to us.
Some of my friends swear by one of the premium American Express cards. It is also possible that Citibank has something competitive, but I have had no experience with either.
You may also consider purchasing the insurance that your tour group offers. I always take a look, but so far, have been able to find more attractive options. That may change as we get older.

Bottom Line
It all comes down to how risk averse you are, what you want to spend, what coverage is important to you, how much time you want to spend researching alternatives.
Every situation is different. Make sure you choose the best option for YOU.
Please feel free to share YOUR experiences and trip Insurance knowledge with the rest of us. Happy travels!