Caution for freighter passengers

By Wayne Wirtanen
This item appears on page 66 of the February 2002 issue.

Graham Collins of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, found out the hard way that the fine print in his Trip Mate travel insurance policy did not cover an unexpected change in his freighter’s itinerary.

Early in 2001 he boarded a freighter for a round-trip Vancouver/Chile/Vancouver itinerary. When booking with TravLtips, he was encouraged to purchase a travel insurance package for US$340.

TravLtips stated in their literature, “Vessel, itinerary — including projected ports of embarkation/disembarkation — and sailing date are subject to change. TravLtips strongly recommends purchase of travel insurance to protect your travel investment and yourself.”

While at sea, Mr. Collins was told that the ship would not return to Vancouver, and he decided to terminate his trip in Peru, happy in the belief that his travel insurance policy would cover the extra costs associated with this unanticipated event.

His travel insurance claim for the $1,300 in additional costs to return home from Peru was denied, however.

When I contacted Ed Kirk of TravLtips, he told me, “It is rare, but such a major change in freighter itinerary does occur from time to time. I know of no insurance coverage that would cover the circumstances that Mr. Collins encountered.”

The problem here was that trip cancellation/interruption policies allow claims for a specific list of described events, and claims for any other problems are not covered.

TravLtips newsletter

Ed Kirk of TravLtips sent me a copy of a “Notes from the Editor” column in the July/August 2001 issue of the TravLtips newsletter discussing this very issue. With his permission, I reprint it below.

“There has been some misunderstanding over several topics relating to travel insurance recently. Since this is a very important issue and a critical component of your travel
investment, we feel it should be once again addressed in this column. The traveler should know who provides the coverage and what the benefits of the insurance are, and understand exactly what circumstances are covered by the benefits.

“Please understand that TravLtips does not underwrite nor administer any insurance coverage. We contract with an insurance provider — currently Trip Mate — to provide an economical ‘group’ travel program so our members can have the benefit of relatively low-cost, comprehensive travel insurance. The group name for the coverage is ‘TravLtips,’ but we are not the insurance company and do not make any decisions regarding claims.

“Similarly, many cruise lines offer insurance coverage for passengers booking their cruises. The cruise lines are in a comparable position to TravLtips, but, since they are the ‘carrier,’ they are unable to offer carrier default coverage which is included in the TravLtips plan.

“Insurance coverages are specific. Probably the primary component of a comprehensive travel protection plan is trip cancellation/interruption. The benefits for this coverage are of great concern to most members planning long and unusual cruise travel — and the coverage is mandatory on most freighters. This is likely the section of the insurance brochure that is read first.

“However, what some travelers have failed to realize is that the description of coverages for trip cancellation/interruption is limited to specific causes for the cancellation or delay. The other coverages of travel insurance plans are also limited to distinct definitions. Passengers should read the full brochure and not just the benefits.

“The causes and events listed in the TravLtips Protection Plan — or any other travel insurance description of coverages — are the only events covered by the benefits of the insurance. For more detailed information regarding insurance coverage questions, we recommend you contact the insurance provider directly.”

Kirk’s article continues: “Freighter travelers, take note: the rerouting of a freighter is not a covered event.The rerouting of vessels is an inherent risk in freighter travel and is pointed out in the booking conditions.

“Also, please understand that ‘deviation insurance,’ which is added to the fare of many freighter lines along with port taxes, does not insure you. Deviation insurance protects the carrier in the event the ship has to deviate from its schedule due to a passenger emergency.”

TravLtips recently has begun to include this information prominently on travel insurance application forms.

Avoiding misunderstandings

Read and understand the coverage limitations that are clearly defined in that travel insurance policy that you are considering purchasing.

Happy trails.