Does travel insurance cover a pre-existing condition and the death of a loved one?

Robert Hamilton was looking forward to his six-night stay in Colorado that he booked through VRBO and Turnkey Colorado. But he also knew that with his mother-in-law hospitalized, he probably should buy travel insurance just in case the unthinkable happened. It also led us to wonder if travel insurance always covers a pre-existing condition and the death of a loved one.

Hamilton’s story is a tragic, yet important reminder that not all trip insurance policies are created equal, and that timing is important when you buy one.

“My wife and I were required to pay for the rental in advance, with no cancellation and no refund,” Hamilton explained. “Because there were no refunds for cancellation, we were concerned and were referred/encouraged to purchase trip insurance from CSA Travel Protection, as recommended on the VRBO website. Two days after booking the reservation and purchasing the insurance, and several weeks before our planned travel, my wife’s mother passed away.”

Calls on that day to Turnkey, VRBO and CSA were unproductive at most. “The response to our first call to Turnkey was that ‘we are not able to do anything about it and you need to contact CSA – the trip insurance company,’” Hamilton said.

CSA then told Hamilton that he needed to talk with the owners. When Hamilton called back Turnkey, a representative told him to talk to VRBO. A call to VRBO resulted in no help but a warning to “make sure you notify Turnkey so that they can put the property back in the rental pool.” So, Hamilton called back Turnkey a third time. They were quick to point out their policy of no refunds. Hamilton told them he knew that and was just calling back to notify them so that the property could be put back in the rental pool (as instructed by VRBO). “The response was quite abrupt,” Hamilton related. “They didn’t take down our name or property information, just thanked us and hung up.”

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Hamilton then filed a claim with CSA, and after gathering piles of documentation, and after several calls to the claims agent, CSA denied his claim because he “reasonably could have foreseen the illness.” Hamilton claimed that his mother in law had been ill for much of the past several years. What he said he could not foresee was her sudden turn for the worse and death, which is what caused him to cancel.

“So, after booking and then two days later canceling our reservation, we were out not only the nearly $1,900 cost of the stay but also the premium for the insurance coverage, which turned out to be worthless,” Hamilton lamented.

Hamilton then contacted our advocates, who reviewed the paper trail between Hamilton and the companies.

It turns out that not only had Hamilton’s mother been ill on and off for the last several years, but that she actually was hospitalized at the time the policy was purchased.

The terms of the CSA policy Hamilton purchased clearly states,

Covered Events: The Sickness, Injury or death of you, your Family Member, your Traveling Companion or your Service Animal. The Sickness or injury must first commence while your coverage is in effect under the Policy, must require the in-person treatment by a Physician, and must be so disabling in the written opinion of a Physician as to prevent you from taking your trip (either because your condition prevents your travel, or because your Family Member, Traveling Companion, or your Service Animal requires your care).

Clearly, the death of Hamilton’s mother in law was a pre-existing condition under this policy, and Hamilton did not have a valid claim. He would have been better off purchasing a “cancel for any reason” policy, which is sold by various companies. We offer tips on how to buy travel insurance on our website.

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Hamilton realized that he would not receive a refund for his canceled vacation. Nevertheless, he wanted us to share the story of his Case Dismissed in order to warn other travelers to closely check the terms and conditions of a policy before purchasing it and to make sure it applies to their situation.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined. Read more of Mark's articles here.

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