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The Dirty Secret About Travel Insurance

Pandemic exposed travel insurance gaps

When the pandemic was announced more than a year ago, international borders closed, and travelers, travel agents, airlines and many others scrambled to help people return home quickly and safely. Vacations were cut short, business trips canceled and leisure travel plans abruptly scratched. Almost no one was prepared to handle the sudden, massive movement of people trying to escape what would become the first pandemic in a century.


Fear of the coronavirus gripped the world, and everyone desperately wanted to get away, get home to family, friends and safety. Government officials rushed to transport expats to their home countries. Commercial airlines, routinely scheduled to fly with full passenger loads, struggled to re-route and re-book customers who were impatient to return home safely.


At the same time, borders were shutting down with little notice and near-absolute rigor.

Travelers quickly learned a dirty secret: their travel insurance did not provide the protection they expected.


Travelers Required To Quarantine In Hotels At Their Own Expense


“When the pandemic struck, many travel insurance policies failed to cover COVID-19-related trip interruptions and cancellations,” according to a report in The New York Times.


Travel insurance coverage “limitations have been brought into stark relief during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving would-be travelers frustrated over denied claims for hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars,” reported the Chicago Tribune.


“Plane tickets, vacation homes and other excursions are going uncovered even though some say they couldn’t have reached their destinations because of ski resorts shuttering, beaches closing and governors urging everyone to stay home.”


Travelers who assumed their health and travel insurance would pay for the cost of travel cancellations, fees and upcharges tied to flight changes, expenses related to quarantines and costs for testing and healthcare abroad discovered they were wrong.

Safety Facemask

Many travelers were dismayed to find out that trip cancellations would not be covered by their travel insurance, even if they had Cancel For Any Reason protections. “[F]ear of contracting the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, is not covered under a standard policy,” according to experts. “And because the spread of the pathogen is now considered a known factor for travel — meaning it’s a declared pandemic — it is likely to be excluded from coverage.”


It didn’t matter if U.S. government and health officials advised Americans to reconsider or not travel. “These advisories do not invoke coverage for standard travel insurance policy holders if they decide to cancel or change their plans,” reported USA Today.


The new reality was an expensive development for travelers who were required to quarantine in hotels at their own expense, but vacationers sequestered on cruise ships may have escaped those charges. “In the case of several cruise ships in East Asia that underwent quarantine, the cruise lines themselves assumed the cost of accommodations. In most other cases, individual travelers are responsible for managing their self-quarantine,” reported Time magazine.


Air travelers often didn’t need travel insurance to cover flight cancellations or schedule changes. “As the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted international travel, airlines have offered waivers that allow people to cancel or change their flights without the usual penalty,” reported USA Today.


NPR reported “in some countries, expats [were] not be eligible to receive care from public health services while private health insurance policies [did] not cover the cost of testing if the test [was] not considered medically necessary.”

Travel Insurance vs. Medical Evacuation Services

The pandemic raised awareness among travelers about the limitations of travel insurance, and the importance of medical evacuation services. In short, medical evacuation coverage is not travel insurance. There are some travel insurance companies offering policies with medical evacuation coverage. However, it’s up to the individual to find an evacuation service, pay for it and submit a claim for reimbursement. True medical evacuation services, like Global Rescue, are sold as a membership.


Global Rescue memberships include emergency field rescue from the point of illness or injury worldwide. The costs associated with the emergency ground or air transportation are taken care of: There’s no deductible or co-pay. Membership also includes direct traveler assistance to help with local health care systems, visa and passport issues, translation, legal locators and real-time event alerts.


When the coronavirus spread started, travelers and expats found themselves trapped in an escalating series of government directives and medical orders to contain the sweep of the virus. Soon, government authorities, public health officials and travel administrators restricted nearly all flights. The COVID-19 outbreak pushed Global Rescue into overdrive to help our members evacuate during a time when international travel restrictions were tightening on a daily basis.

Rescue Hiking Hills

Global Rescue Brings Traveling Members Home

The unprecedented circumstances made efforts to return travelers to their homes more challenging, but didn’t prevent Global Rescue from helping our members.  Global Rescue committed its deeply experienced security and intelligence teams to use its logistical know-how, bureaucratic fluency and relentless focus to help return individuals home.

Global Rescue typically manages hundreds of operations every month. The coronavirus outbreak boosted operational activity and intensity significantly. Nearly 500 operations were completed to help return travelers home, provide medical or security evacuation and advisory – most of the operations took place in the first few weeks of the pandemic.


Our operations team were involved in medical, security and travel operations on a daily basis in more than 90 countries worldwide. Medical evacuation isn’t only for pandemics, rather it’s an essential for any traveler for any emergency whether it’s due to a natural disaster, a pandemic, civil unrest, or simply needing emergency help when you’re traveling.


An emergency requiring a medical evacuation can happen at any time and travelers are well served to fully understand what options are available. Global Rescue is the leading provider of medical and security advisory and evacuation services. With services for the leisure traveler to the extreme adventurer, Global Rescue is trusted by more than one million members worldwide.


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