If you don’t pay for trip insurance, you can’t use it

Judith Andrews was forced to cancel her upcoming cruise because of a flare-up of a medical condition. She was surprised when the cruise line refused to return her deposit and when she discovered that her trip insurance policy wouldn’t cover this cancellation either.

Andrews’ story is one that we see on a frequent basis. We hope that it serves as a warning to future travelers to make certain that you have read your cancellation policy before you pay the deposit.

And if you wish your trip to be protected by travel insurance, it is imperative to confirm that you actually have purchased a policy.

Unfortunately, for Andrews, she wasn’t clear on either of these details concerning her cruise.

“I booked a cruise with SmarTours and paid a $300 deposit,” she reported to us. “The trip was for August 2017. I subsequently had a recurrence of severe sciatica. My doctor wrote to SmarTours to confirm. My travel companion and I are both in our 80s and cannot afford to lose our deposits.”

When I initially reviewed Andrews’ request for help, I assumed its resolution would be easy. She told me that she had travel insurance, and her doctor had provided her with the necessary documentation.

My assumption was incorrect, as I soon found out.

I asked Andrews if she had already filed a claim with her travel insurance company. This is where the case started heading downhill.

“The travel insurance was included in the final payment, due in May,” she told me, “which I have not yet paid.”

I explained to Andrews that until a traveler pays for a policy, there is no policy. Therefore, the investment in the trip is not protected.

Related story:   Legendary Journeys apologizes for selling Prime Travel Protection policies, plans lawsuit against Watson

Facing that dead end, I turned to Andrews’ cruise contract with SmarTours. My outlook on this case did not improve there either.

Part of my job as a consumer advocate is to read all of the fine print of the contracts that our consumers present to us — even if they haven’t.

Reading these contracts can be tedious, but it is vital for a traveler to do so if they wish to assure that their investment in their trip is protected.

When I read Andrews’s contract I noted that travel insurance was not included in the price of the cruise. Her contract does note that SmarTours recommends trip insurance and includes a link to TripMate Travel Insurance.

I then took a look at the cancellation policy as it pertains to Andrews’ deposit.

The cancellation terms clearly state: Cancellation charges per person are: Up to 90 days before departure: $300.

I showed Andrews the cancellation policy, and I regretfully informed her that we could not get her money back.

For her part, Andrews was quite gracious and told me, “I am disappointed that I could not receive a refund for my deposit, but am certainly not disappointed with your help in attempting to do so. Christopher Elliott’s column is one of my favorites, and I will continue to read it faithfully.”

She ended her letter by pointing out, “Next time I take a trip anywhere, I will be sure to understand (the contract) and purchase the travel insurance beforehand.”

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. As the managing director of Elliott.org, she leads the advocacy, editorial and production departments. Read more of Michelle's articles here.

  • Alan Gore

    The right time to insure for expenses when you are exposed to them. She could have bought insurance at the time of making the deposit, but the cost would probably have been more than the deposit itself. She would then have been in the position of paying more than the $300 itself to get the $300 back. Buying insurance with payment of the balance on the cruise protects that larger balance. As it stands now, she lost just the $300.

  • finance_tony

    “My travel companion and I are both in our 80s and cannot afford to lose our deposits.”

    Only a deuce in the Deck of Misfortune. Better luck next time.

  • sirwired

    Have to give her props for her response of “Whoops! My bad!” when shown the source of the confusion.

    That’s the sort of customer I’d feel good about while pretty-please asking for at least a credit for the lost deposit.

  • LDVinVA

    You can buy insurance little-by-little, so to speak. Pay a deposit, insure only that amount, then as you make additional payments, increase the insurance. That is what we are doing with a long cruise we are taking next fall, and since the cruise fare has dropped about $1000pp I am glad we did not pay the full amount upfront.

  • ctporter

    This shows up so clearly why when we book our own trips it behooves us to KNOW WHAT WE ARE DOING, full stop. Does putting down a DEPOSIT mean you have purchased anything? Not in any other area of commerce, why should it apply to travel? Tedious, onerous, etc. does NOT remove my responsibility to know what I purchase and what it covers. Why does it absolve others?

  • michael anthony

    I love how gracious and thankful she was to you, even though nothing could be done. It’s not something you see often. I wish her better health and hope she can book a trip in the near future.

  • cscasi

    When you do that the way you mentioned, does your travel insurance company charge you an extra charge for adding on more insurance? Does it have to issue a new policy with the increased coverage and charge you a reissue fee? I am just asking because many companies I know, do.

  • LDVinVA

    I do not believe so but that is a good question. When we first took out the policy I called both the broker and the insurance company itself and both said it was fine to buy the insurance in stages. Neither mentioned any extra fees involved.

  • Fishplate

    If you can’t afford to lose the deposit, how can you afford to take the trip?

  • Charlie Funk

    I know of no U.S. insurance underwriter that charges a fee for adding additional coverage, nor do they issue a new policy (rather an amendment of the change) or charge a reissue fee. The OP’s problem started when she booked on her own rather than using a travel professional.

  • Charlie Funk

    The OP’s first step on the slippery slope began when she booked on her own rather than using a travel professional whose job is to know and advise on such matters. She would have also had an advocate for her cause.

  • Annie M

    No you don’t have to buy a new policy, you can simply add the rest of the amount onto your existing policy and pay the new cost for the extra coverage.

  • Lindabator

    but this only works with 3rd party – and I always recommend to my clients as well.

  • Lindabator

    no – they just amend the original policy and charge the difference (TravelGuard and TravelEx both work this way)

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.