Morocco, FINALLY!

When we signed up for this Overseas Adventure Travel trip in August of 2019, the world was certainly a different place. Even 20 months after shutdown, Covid STILL has a significant impact on our daily lives. I will admit, we had some reservations about leaving home, even after being fully vaccinated, but through Facebook, I was able to connect with Rocky and Julie who traveled to Morocco with OAT in September. They kindly “friended” me, and because of their photos and posts, we felt comfortable forging ahead. My goal is to do likewise, but rather than posting on Facebook, I’ll be communicating via this blog. So, if you want to tag along with us to see whether you’d feel safe visiting Morocco, just sign up and you’ll get a notification via email whenever I post.

This first post might be boring for those who are not planning to become future Morocco travelers. It’s really a compilation of information I would have found helpful, prior to leaving home.

Getting there

Initially, we were flying to Casablanca via Paris on Air France, stopping in Paris for four days. Although we normally enjoy being on our own, because of Covid, we realized that we wanted the comfort of having a guide look out for us. Plus, with different countries having different rules, we figured those four days were a complication we could do without, so I hit the internet, to determine whether it was possible to get from JFK to Casablanca non-stop.

The only non-stop I could find was via Royal Air Maroc, which has one daily round-trip flight. It is a codeshare with American Airlines, but unfortunately OAT does not have an agreement with those airlines, so we were on our own. I’ll be honest—it was a little complicated, because with the code share, we had two different flight and booking numbers, and two different customer service phone lines. AND, although we booked and paid through the American site, we couldn’t use that site to select our seats. We also were unable to check in on-line, and print our boarding passes, something we normally do. A hassle, yes, but we avoided changing planes in Paris, and we arrived in Casablanca seven hours earlier than we would have if we’d stayed with Air France.

Royal Air Maroc

Our flight was scheduled to leave JFK at 8:40 PM, so we left our house at 3:45 PM because of NY traffic. It took almost 2 hours to get to the airport, but checking in and getting through security was relatively easy.

Our flight would arrive in Casablanca at 8:30 AM local time, 3:30 AM our bodies’ time. (It actually departed and arrived on time!) Knowing how poorly I do with sleep deprivation and jet lag, (picture a toddler who needs a nap) we decided to book business class on the way over so we could stretch out and sleep.

Business Class also included admission to the Primeclass Lounge in terminal 1. I’m not sure if Covid is responsible for the food offerings, but let’s just say that particular perk was not a selling feature.

Like USA Airlines, Air Maroc has lay flat seats in business class

I was surprised that dinner was provided on an 8:40 PM departure. In fact, I thought the appetizer was the whole deal and it was enough for me, so I skipped the hot entree. All I can tell you is there were three choices. We also got a decent breakfast.
The business class perks that WERE selling features were a special line in passport control and priority luggage handling, so it was waiting for us when we arrived in baggage claim. In fact, the whole process went so fast and so smoothly, we were off the plane, through passport control, baggage claim and customs, had gotten money at the ATM and were outside the terminal in 25 minutes.
To make the cost reasonable, we opted for economy on the way back. I promise to report on THAT flight too, so you, dear reader, will know what to expect from each option, should Air Maroc be in your future. Our return flight departs shortly before 1:00 PM, versus 7:30 AM (the Air France option), so we should be rested enough to deal with whatever version of economy Air Maroc offers.

Arrival

Our hotel, the Radisson Blu, arranged for a car to pick us up at the airport. The cost was 500 MAD and we were able to pay with our credit card. Our guide had warned us that only passengers are allowed inside the terminal, so we knew to look outside for our driver, right after we hit the airport ATM for some local currency. He also told us the most we could withdraw is 2000 MAD, ($235.22) delivered in 100 and 200 bills, so we were prepared for that.
It took about an hour to get from the airport to the hotel, because of traffic and a couple of accidents.

Mohammed VI’s image is on the front of all bills, but the reverse varies. The hotel changed a large bill for us

Packing

Mostafa, our guide, sent us a wonderful welcome email, full of useful information, like where we would be able to have laundry done, (Fes, Ourazazade and Marrakech), and what to pack (bathing suit and hairdryer, among other essentials.) For a while, we seriously considered traveling with carry on only. After very carefully reading the luggage allowances on Royal Air Maroc’s website, I became concerned that ONE carry on meant just that, with no “personal item” allowed. We would have been really bummed if we had eliminated things that we wanted to bring, only to learn at the airport that one of our two carry-ons would have to be checked. So, out came the duffle, and in went more ”stuff”. Mike was able to easily include his laser pointer and binoculars, in anticipation of the dark skies in the Sahara. He’s an astrophysicist, so interested fellow travelers can look forward to a professional explanation of what we are seeing in the heavens.

Map

The image at the top of this post was created courtesy of Google maps. The cities we will be visiting are listed in order, with the blue pins giving you an idea of the ground we will be covering. Are any map aficionados out there? If so, this link will allow you to get additional information about the cities we are visiting by clicking on the blue pins.
https://goo.gl/maps/Np8GEL1ripWqEgx57

For the past two years, we have been “Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’, plannin’ and dreamin’ “ about traveling to Morocco. (Who remembers that song? Extra credit if you remember who sang it.) Right now, dreamin’ is Mike’s choice, but I’m going to check out the pool so I’ll be sunnin’ and swimmin’.

Trip Insurance–Is it Worth It?

Things are slowly starting to open up, despite the Covid variants. We restless souls are once again thinking about traveling. Several of my friends have asked about travel insurance, so I decided to update this post that I originally wrote oh so long ago, in 2019.

Is Trip Insurance 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.

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.

In the past, before Covid, our main concern had 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).

What about Covid? Different travel companies have different policies. If a trip has been canceled by the tour company, most are offering the travelers a choice of either a refund or of rebooking with some kind of bonus. It is wise to check the tour company’s policy before submitting your deposit.

What if YOU cancel? Again, check the tour company or airline/hotel/Booking site for their policy. We are frequent travelers with Overseas Adventure Travel. They will allow travelers to rebook without any change fees up to 24 hours before the original departure.

But what if you are not on a group tour? What if you are traveling on your own, driving 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 have used 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 $550 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. To us, that coverage is easily worth the remaining $250 per year charge.
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.
If the thought of doing all that research gives you a massive headache, you can always choose an agent who is knowledgeable about trip insurance and can help you find the coverage that best meets your needs. If you don’t already have an agent, Dan Drennan was highly recommended by a traveler on a travel forum, and rightfully so. I’ve had positive experiences with Dan and am pleased to share his phone number with you: 402-343-3621.

Tips for Filing a Claim
Sadly, in 2019, on our trip to Australia, we had the opportunity to investigate in great detail how Trip Interruption Coverage works. We were pleased (and quite frankly, amazed) by the speed with which we were reimbursed for our expenses.
Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the claim process, should the need arise.

  • 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?

Let’s hope we are all safely traveling again, real soon. Happy trails!