Eye on Travel Insurance » STA Travel, an alternative travel insurance source

By Wayne Wirtanen

STA Travel (7890 S. Hardy St., Ste. 110, Tempe, AZ 85284; phone 800/777-0112, fax 480/753-5847, or visit www.statravel.com) is primarily a student travel agency, but their modestly priced and comprehensive travel insurance policies are available to anyone.

The cost of most traditional travel insurance companies’ policies are based on a percentage of the trip’s cost, typically 4% to 8%. At 6%, for example, coverage for a 3-week trip costing $4,000 would cost $240. However, STA charges are based on the length of a trip. An STA travel insurance policy for any trip lasting 16 to 22 days costs only $100. Maximum trip cancellation coverage at STA is $20,000.

Following are some of the important “fine print” details of an STA travel insurance policy. There is no upper age limit. The medical expense maximum is $100,000. The emergency medical evacuation maximum is $250,000. The preexisting-condition clause will be waived if insurance is purchased within 14 days of making your first trip deposit or other trip-related expenditure. Included are most of the usual other protections such as baggage loss/delay and travel provider financial insolvency.

From the STA website — “Notice to State of Washington Residents: This is NOT your insurance policy. To obtain your state-specific insurance policy, call (800) 453-4090. Certain provisos and limitations detailed in this Description of Coverage may differ from your insurance policy.”

Protection against bankruptcies

It pays to be aware that not all travel insurance policies cover the bankruptcy of a travel provider.

Look for the phrase “financial default of travel provider” in the list of covered losses. Most travel insurance policies that provide this protection will exempt coverage of some financially shaky companies. A section of your travel insurance policy entitled “Travel Supplier Restrictions” may have a list of some companies exempt from bankruptcy coverage.

Total Travel Insurance Company (45 Park Terrace West, Ste. 3-G, New York, NY 10034-1536; phone 866/226-7500) maintains a website, www.totaltravelinsurance.com/bankruptcy-insurance.asp, which defines various levels of travel supplier “financial difficulties” and has a list of companies with financial problems. A recent check of that website revealed 48 tour companies, 16 cruise lines and 30 airlines in a category described as “Some insurance companies have decided not to insure these travel providers.”

Four travel insurance companies do not have travel supplier restrictions, but they cover bankruptcy losses only if you bought travel services from a travel agent. Those companies are M.H. Ross (16933 Parthenia St., Ste. 200, Northridge, CA 91343; 800/423-3632 or 818/895-6500 or www.tripinsurance.com), CSA Travel Protection (Box 939057, San Diego, CA, 92193-9057; 800/873-9855 or www.csatravelprotection. com), TravelSafe Insurance (40 Commerce Dr., Wyomissing, PA 19610-6050; 800/523-8020 or 888/885-7233 or www.travelsafe.com) and HTH Worldwide (One Radnor Corporate Center, Ste. 100, Radnor, PA 19087; 610/254-8700).

Your best protection from travel provider bankruptcy loss is to pay for your trip by credit card.

Cancel-for-any-reason insurance policies

CSA Travel Protection (800/873-9855 or www.csatravelprotection.com) has a cancel-for-any-reason option available with their standard travel insurance policies that lets you cancel up to two days before the trip.

This is an extra-cost option with a sliding-cost scale that lets you choose 50%, 75% or 90% of your nonrefundable payments. For a middle-aged traveler, the 75% option would cost about $65 over the cost of the standard policy. Seniors’ options cost more.

TravelSafe has a cancel-for-any-reason option on their Vacation Insurance plan that lets you cancel up to two days before the start of a trip. The cost for a 75% return of your nonrefundable loss costs about 40% more than a standard policy. Quotes are available at this link: www.world travelcenter.com. Or you can call Dan Drennen at World Travel Center (800/786-5566, ext. 3621, or 402/343-3621).

Cancel-for-any-reason tour company programs

Collette Tours (800/832-4656 or www.collettevacations.com) has had their “cancel any time/any reason” policy in effect for decades.

Overseas Adventure Travel (800/493-6824 or www.oattravel.com) has a Guaranteed Travel Protection Plan with a sliding scale of cash/voucher refunds dependent on how soon before departure the cancellation is made.

Tauck World Discovery (800/468-2825 or www.tauck.com) has offered travelers a “cancel any time/any reason” program for 40 years. One can cancel up to the day before the beginning of a trip. Costs for this option vary depending on the trip. For a trip within the USA, the extra cost will be $135. for a European trip, the extra cost will be $285. They refund in cash.

• If “cancel any time/any reason” is of interest to you, check out the following tour companies that also have a variety of relaxed cancellation policies: Uniworld River Cruises (Uniworld Plaza, 17323 Ventura Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 91316; 800/733-7820 or www.uniworld.com) and Grand Circle Travel (800/553-1129 or www.gct.com).

Domestic partner coverage

Domestic partners traveling together are covered in the “Travel Companion” travel insurance policy text for cancellation coverage. But what about nontraveling domestic partners? What if they were ill or injured and would be the reason for a cancellation or trip interruption? Travel insurance policies are gradually adding domestic partners to their definition of “family member.”

Nontraveling domestic partners are included in the description of “family member” by TravelSafe (address above), HTH WorldWide (address above), CSA Travel Protection (address above), Travel Guard (1145 Clark St., Stevens Point, WI 54481; 800/826-4919 or www.travelguard.com), Travel Protect International (8420 W. Dodge Rd., Omaha, NE 68114; 866/979-6753) and Travelex (Box 466, Owatonna, MN 55060; 888/407-3854).

Not yet providing this domestic partner coverage is iTravelInsured (Indianapolis, IN; 866/347-6673 — sells exclusively through travel agents).

A domestic partner is generally defined as a person who is at least 18 years old and can show 1) evidence of financial interdependence, such as joint bank accounts or credit cards, jointly owned property, and mutual life insurance or pension beneficiary designation or 2) evidence of cohabitation for at least the previous six to 12 months or 3) an affidavit of domestic partnership if recognized by the jurisdiction within which they reside.

2006 travel insurance tip

Recent predictions are that the 2006 hurricane season will be worse than the 2005 experience. I reported (Feb. ’06, pg. 45) that the accommodations that an ITN reader had paid for were destroyed in the 2005 Asian tsunami. His trip-interruption claim was denied because his policy would only allow a claim due to airline service cessation at the destination. (The accommodations were gone, but the airport was still open.)

Travel Guard (address above) is the only travel insurance company that I’ve been able to discover that has text in their Protect Assist policy that will accept a claim if there is 1) “Weather which causes complete cessation of services and prevents You from reaching your destination” or there is a 2) “Natural Disaster at the site of Your destination which renders Your destination accommodations uninhabitable.”

If you are planning a trip this year to a hurricane-prone destination, you would be wise to check the language of an insurance policy being considered to determine the details of what weather-related and natural disaster losses are covered.

Happy trails.

—Eye on Travel Insurance is written by Contributing Editor Wayne Wirtanen.