What is specialty cruise insurance and do you need it?

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By Christopher Elliott

Cruise lines are continually trying to outdo each other with new onboard amenities such as rock climbing walls, zip lines and rollercoasters. But now there’s a new option to consider: specialty cruise insurance.

At least three travel insurance companies have launched cruise-specific travel insurance policies since the beginning of the year. Their arrival has rekindled a debate among travelers, who wonder how much travel insurance is necessary — or whether it’s needed at all.

Here are the new specialty cruise insurance policies

As of now, at least three travel insurance companies are offering special cruise policies. They include:

✓ Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, which was the first out of the gate this year with WaveCare. Its plan offers higher medical and evacuation coverage limits for a cruise trip. It also includes a special fixed benefit if the cruise ship is disabled along the way.

✓ April Cruise, from April Travel Protection, which launched earlier this year. It includes coverage for transportation and other expenses for passengers who miss their cruise departure because of a flight delay or other unexpected reason. It’s available through InsureMyTrip.com, a travel insurance comparison site.

✓ SafeCruise, a new insurance product from VisitorsCoverage, a global insurtech travel insurance provider based in Silicon Valley, and International Medical Group. It allows travelers to recoup 75 percent of prepaid costs with “cancel for any reason” coverage and up to 100 percent of covered incidents with SafeCruise’s specialized trip interruption insurance.

“The SafeCruise plan is filling a gap in the travel insurance industry to meet the demands from an increase in cruise travel being seen worldwide,” says VisitorsCoverage CEO Rajeev Shrivastava.

Perhaps. But travelers are as divided as ever about travel insurance — and confused. That’s because cruise lines sell a similar trip “protection” product, which acts like insurance. Meanwhile, travel agents offer yet another product. Now there’s a special cruise protection option. Often, cruise passengers don’t even know if they need insurance in the first place.

Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection covers consumers and their travel dreams, backed by Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company’s financial strength and security. Choose travel insurance designed specifically to your trip and travelers, plus the fastest claims payments in the travel insurance industry. Get more information at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.

Sorry, Mom, but maybe you need specialty cruise insurance

As I write this, my mother and aunt are on a Caribbean cruise with Holland America. Before she left, Mom asked me if I thought she needed insurance.

“Are you kidding?” I said. Then I spent the next ten minutes sharing a few horror stories from this very advocacy site, of people kicked off their cruise after suffering a medical emergency, among other things.

I only needed a blood transfusion. Why did my cruise line leave me in St. Kitts?

Can you cruise with just Medicare? She has a painful warning

My mom listened and then said, “Nothing’s going to happen to me.”

But what if it does?

Justin Tysdal, CEO of Seven Corners, a travel insurance company, explains:

Flight delays or cancellations caused by poor weather conditions are, unfortunately, a common occurrence for many travelers. Aside from the major headache delays can create, they can also lead to a missed embarkation of a highly anticipated cruise! Luckily, with a travel insurance policy, some of the additional expenses from a missed cruise or missed connection can be avoided or refunded.

Maybe if Mom hears that from Justin, she’ll believe it.

How much coverage do you need? Sheryl Hill, the executive director of Depart Smart, an educational nonprofit for travelers, says the minimum is $500,000 in emergency evacuation coverage.

“That’s for when you are so sick or hurt you can’t wait for port,” she says. Like me, she’s seen cases — a young girl who had ketoacidosis from the onset of Type 1 diabetes, or a man who fell down slippery steps and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

She also recommends $1 million in primary, prepay health coverage. “Primary — as in we are taking care of it,” she says. “Prepay — as in no reimbursement of fees owed, the insurance company pays up front.”

Are you listening, Mom?

Which insurance is right for you?

Cruise insurance is complicated. Your options include buying cruise “protection” directly through your cruise line, or buying a policy from your travel agent or online, or — God forbid — going without.

Cruise protection like Carnival’s Vacation Protection are a hybrid of cruise “protection” and traditional travel insurance. Among the benefits: trip cancellation, trip interruption coverage, and travel assistance.

Protection plans like those may work, but they can be pricey, have less coverage than you need, and might not always work as advertised. Jerome Westheim remembers filing a claim after his wife fell ill on a cruise from Bayonne, N.J. to Quebec City last September. The cruise line paid the entire claim, but it took a while.

“It took three months for the claim to be processed,” he remembers.

Stan Sandberg, the co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, a travel comparison site, says passengers are better off shopping around before they decide on a policy.

“While many cruise lines offer some form of travel protection, comparing all available options can often improve cruisers’ coverage and save them money on their travel insurance,” he says. “It’s very important to know what your cruise line’s protection plan includes, especially if you are purchasing airfare separately.” (Related: My cruise is gone and so is my upgrade.)

Where should you look for your cruise insurance coverage?

Howard Leight prefers going directly to a travel insurance company for his cruise coverage.

“We have always used Travelex, which is a primary insurer which means they pay upfront for any major claims,” he says.

In 2009, Leight took a fall in Brussels and fractured his humerus. The X-rays and cast were only $500 which he charged to his credit card. “When I returned home, I filed a claim and received reimbursement quite quickly,” he says.

In 2015, he fractured his femur in Japan, which required surgery and eight days in the hospital. Total cost: $12,000. Travelex sent a nurse with him all the way from Kyoto back to his home in Tucson.

“We had no out of pocket expenses,” he says.

Specialty cruise insurance programs add another layer of complexity

You have to do a deep dive on the coverage to find out if it’s right for you. For example, WaveCare includes trip cancellation and trip interruption, emergency medical evacuation, and travel medical insurance. It also adds coverage for cruise disablement, with a fixed benefit of $500. If you’re confined for more than five hours on a cruise ship without power, food, water or restroom facilities, you’re covered.

Are these benefits worth it? Maybe. We probably won’t know the answer until the first passengers buy these policies and file claims on them. That’s when my advocacy team and I can better determine whether these policies are worthwhile.

It might not be as exciting as a new onboard waterslide, but picking the right cruise insurance just might save your next vacation.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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