The recent case of Jill and Dodge Melkonian has once again brought to light a sometimes confusing travel-related subject: insurance.
The Clearwater couple were enjoying their first night on a "Circumnavigating the Black Sea" cruise on the Azamara Journey when Mr. Melkonian fell in his stateroom, breaking his hip. From this incident, a storm of media coverage arose, most citing parent company Royal Caribbean's treatment of the elderly couple...'abandoning the couple' at a small Turkish hospital where no one spoke English, and with 'no cruise company or insurance representative' accompanying them.
Click to read the original story: The Melkonians' Nightmare
The Melkonians did have travel insurance, purchased directly through Royal Caribbean, but, unfortunately for Jill and Dodge, the company only lived up to the letter of their contract, and initially nothing more.
RCI's statement at the time: "We helped arrange transportation via ambulance to the closest area hospital. Once ashore, we worked closely with the travel insurance provider, as they have the expertise to deal with local authorities and medical facilities. One of our care team specialists is still in contact with them today." As an aside, it is NOT unusual for Cruise Lines to want injured or sick passengers off their ships as quickly as possible (liability, inability to properly diagnose or treat).
From a public relations standpoint, the cruise giant mishandled this particular incident from day 1, but recently, under that same PR pressure and to alleviate more bad press, Royal Caribbean eventually agreed to cover all the Melkonians' expenses.
WHAT INSURANCE IS ENOUGH INSURANCE?
The story here, however, is the lesson we can all learn from the unfortunate experiences of Jill and Dodge: what insurance is enough insurance?
In this case, the couple's travel agent truly went to bat for them, hiring a local guide to communicate and assist in getting them to a more well-equipped hospital in Istanbul. In many, if not most cases, travelers in trouble are on their own without insurance, and seriously underfunded even with insurance. And most do not have the support of such an invested travel agent.
The first thing for a traveler to know is that there is virtually ALWAYS sufficient insurance available. Having purchased insurance for travel all over the world, I can attest that purchasing travel insurance from a reputable "3rd party" travel insurer is not only a better option, but quite easy.
This advice from CBS's Travel Expert, Peter Greenberg: "Do you buy the insurance from the travel provider and I would suggest that you don't, you want to go to a third-party provider that doesn't necessarily have the language in their policy that the cruise lines have in theirs."
Most all travel agents will assist with this process, but in buying such insurance, the traveler has to understand the options, and what's at stake.
While "Post Departure Benefits" (Emergency Medical, Dental, Luggage, etc.) are an important consideration, Medical Evacuation and Repatriation should be the first thing on one's mind when purchasing travel insurance. The cost of your trip is one thing...the potential cost of your health and even life is quite another.
Medical Evacuation and Repatriation are a part of many travel insurance offerings which basically allow for enough emergency medical coverage to ensure proper treatment and care of an ill or injured traveler, while providing funds for a return 'home'...to a hospital or doctor's care of the traveler's choosing. Some reputable companies even advertise the ability to transfer 'to the care and to the doctor of your choice'.
According to Dan Durazo from Allianz Travel Insurance, one of America's leading travel insurers, the Melkonians could certainly have benefitted from such coverage.
Allianz, for example, has Global support in that they're a global company: in this case, they have an office in Turkey which could have arranged everything for the Melkonians without all the additional stress they suffered. According to Mr. Durazo:
-The couple would have had escort from the ship to the closest appropriate medical facility
-The escort would have been a Medical Escort, which was not the case in their circumstance
- Depending on the insurance purchased, the couple could have had up to $1,000,000 for air ambulance and air transport home, and Durazo stresses the importance of air evacuation and repatriation (return to your home country). The potential cost to an injured traveler without proper coverage is astronomical.
Generally, travel insurance is 5-7% of trip costs, under normal circumstances, but "you get what you pay for" is obviously a motto for all business, not just insurance. The bigger, more expansive policy you buy, the more benefits and 'help' you get. The key to enjoying a vacation, and feeling safer about it, is education...knowing what you need.
Many insurers use 'bands' to differentiate clients based on age (and resultantly, possible risk). Our Clearwater couple would have fallen somewhere in the 80+ band, but like all travelers, they would have the choice of coverage options, similar to the following:
From a "Basic" plan, providing $10,000 Emergency Medical, Dental, Luggage, etc., but also including $50,000 for air ambulance and transport home
"Deluxe" plan, providing $50,000 Emergency Medical, Dental, Luggage, etc., but also including $1,000,000 for air ambulance and transport home
So when it comes down to it, is the cost of insurance, something you'll almost certainly never need, really worth spending the money on? If the Melkonian case doesn't answer the question for you, it at least raises awareness to what could happen. You may have a caring and forceful travel agent who will fight for you, like the Melkonians had, but the chances a travel supplier changes their mind and picks up your entire tab are virtually nil. Not to mention the loss of a long-planned journey.
Remember, the educated traveler will always enjoy and take away more from the experience as a whole, and the educated traveler is always aware of potential risks and their options...options that will get them home safely.
Eric Bungay, WTSP Travel Editor